The phenomenal success of both the movie and the book Ayat-Ayat Cinta (AAC) is a reflection of our social conditioning and aspirations. What is interesting is that AAC has been able to dilute the “differences” in such conditioning and aspirations to the extent of being unrecognizable. The movie and the book have been equally appreciated by our President, our clergy and normal people.

The question is, do we need a book or a movie like AAC to unite us? If we do, then we have some very serious problems here.

“Ayat”, to my understanding, is Arabic for “proof” or “evidence”. “The proofs or evidences of the Lord’s presence are scattered all over.” All our scriptures agree on this. “Those with eyes can see them clearly.”

Does AAC bear witness to the “presence” of our Lord?

Or does it bear witness to the presence of a “God” as envisioned by one particular religious group? The book clearly promotes certain religious values, as “understood” by the author based on his social upbringing.

A Christian girl praising Islamic values and falling in love with a young Islamic hero is not only acceptable but desirable. For a change, what about a Muslim girl praising Christian values and falling in love with a young Christian hero?

I wonder what would be the reaction of our distinguished clergy who spoke so highly about the film, and even appeared on television to promote the same.

I wonder if the producer of AAC would be willing to produce a movie along the above “opposite” line. As pointed out by a dear friend of mine, writer Ayu Utami, this is a “dakwah movie”. It promotes “certain” religious values. I agree with her. The author does too. So, it is quite natural that those particular values are upheld over others.

The producers of the movie may not be interested in promoting anything other than their business. After all, they are entertainers. They would rather keep away from polemic. Had they been in the West, they would be filming just the opposite of AAC — a Muslim hero or heroine appreciating Christian values and falling in love with a Christian. Ayu Utami rightly says that the movie has the same plot as Hollywood movies of the 1950s.

What does this prove? What are these ayats pointing at? First, we are still very much conditioned by our narrow religious upbringing: I can tolerate you, but whatever is said and done, my religion is the best.

Second, my business is business. Do not confuse me with other things. I am just an entertainer. I believe in the second part of Machiavelli’s doctrine of “food and circus” to keep people busy, so they do not think critically and do not pose any problems to the establishment.

The movie is pluralistic in the sense that it has a Christian character. I hope we do not believe that to be the definition of being pluralistic. Even then, the author Habbiburrahman has been criticized by hard-liners. They argue, “Why should a Muslim defend the rights of an American in Muslim Egypt?” The author’s defense is actually based on civil and human rights. And this is my third point: many of us are not appreciative of other peoples’ rights.

No wonder we are not sensitive to the plight of the Ahmadis. They are being persecuted, but our authorities, our clergy and an overwhelming majority of our people are not at all concerned about it. Madi of Selena village was brutally killed; the Ahmadis could be killed too. At least one of our hard-liners is caught on video shouting and screaming, “Kill, kill, kill the Ahmadis.” We are silent.

Our dear and beloved President could shed tears watching AAC, but his eyes are dry at the plight of Madi, Ahmadis and others. Or, perhaps we lack paparazzi. Perhaps, he has been shedding tears in private. Perhaps the media just haven’t caught him doing it.

I have nothing against AAC and its author. Let us however see AAC in the light of our indigenous cultural values as enshrined in the five points of Pancasila. What are the highest spiritual and universal values in the movie that are not found in Pancasila? Indeed, Pancasila is at least one important step ahead of AAC. A Christian does not have to convert to Islam to appreciate the universal values in Islam and in the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon Him).

Our people are mesmerized by the Middle Eastern, Egyptian setting of the movie. We value their traditions above our own, and we are both sentimental and emotional about them. The Egyptians, however, did not reciprocate our sentiments. The producer of this movie had to film some scenes in India, for a purely “material” reason.

AAC holds “males as the hero”. Women are subordinates. They are all around the hero, and not vice versa. This is not Indonesian. This is very Middle Eastern. The “male” and the “masculine” in AAC are so implicitly but definitely promoted, that one begins to wonder if love is masculine.

AAC is truly a reflection of our present society. It has served well in pointing out to us the conflict going on within us. AAC’s stand on polygamy is a reflection of such conflict. This is my fifth and last point. Deep inside we are torn between foreign and indigenous values. Just consider our reaction to Ustadz A.A. Gym, Wong Solo, and their polygamy. We could not accept it.

This article is also published on Jakarta Post | Tue, 05/06/2008 9:40 AM | Opinion

Source by Anand Krishna