Tucked neatly amid the hustle and bustle of Jalan Cikini Raya is an amiable looking coffee house. The corrugated rattan chairs, golden wayang inserts on the wall and subdued canvas lanterns lend Kedai Tjikini an impressionable antiquated charm. Last Thursday, though, it was in this very atmosphere of nostalgia that a pressing, current-day dilemma was discussed: religious intolerance, fundamentalism and radicalism.
The Maarif Institute held a press conference to launch and discuss its latest publication, “Membuka Mata Tertutup,” a compilation of reviews, newspaper articles and academic criticism to the highly controversial 2011 film, “Mata Tertutup” (literally: “Closed Eyes”; or more accurately, in context: “Blindfolds”). The anthology brings to light, or “opens up” as its title suggests, the frequently closeted responses regarding the thought-provoking movie.
Tackling the issues of religious fundamentalism, director Garin Nugroho has carefully drawn from Indonesia’s recent violence and extensive cultural research to create a narrative about the seduction of youth by Islamic militant groups. The film chronicles the no-longer-clandestine recruitment of youngsters by the outlawed Indonesian Islamic State (NII) and other fundamentalist groups. “I found it urgent to make this film because the issues are important, and no one has done it for the big screen,” Garin said.
Despite the film’s silver-screen release, its sensitive content meant it only screened for two days. As the discussion began, the film’s executive producer, Fajar Riza Ul Haq, expressed disappointment about this. The key to broadening its exposure, he suggested, was to exploit social media to aid in information dissemination.
“When looking at the March 2011 case of bombing attempts in Medan, it is obvious that the Internet houses a disquieting ‘dark side,’ ” Fajar, also the Maarif Institute executive director, said. “If anyone can gather sufficient information in order to create a fully-functioning bomb through social media, then surely as a communicative platform, it makes for a convenient ‘anarchist’s cookbook.’ ”
But there are two sides to the coin. Fajar said social media can be harnessed to strengthen the campaign against radicalism. “Through targeting the youths of the Internet-dependent middle class, we will become more able to reach out to them and create awareness.”
He believes that public schools have become a fertile ground for the growth of religious fundamentalism and cultural violence. Distributing the film so that it becomes widely and easily accessible to the young will educate them to question the doctrine of “black and white” preached by radical groups. Fajar closed his argument with an appropriate idiom: “It’s best if we don’t add salt into the sea, but instead spread all the salt so that we can move into fresh, uncharted waters.”
By the time film critic Hikmat Darmawan took over the discussion, the subdued murmurs and the clanking of coffee cups had come to a sharp stop. Decked in a green military jacket and oversized glasses, Hikmat exuded a casual attitude of nonchalance without being too relaxed.
He started with a single-minded statement: “The issues the movie ‘Mata Tertutup’ directly deals with are much too important to be ignored, even five years from now. Perhaps their significance may surpass even the momentousness of who our next president might be in 2014.”
The cavalier approach “Mata Tertutup” takes to shedding light on significant matters is its biggest selling point. Its simplicity, from the casting of unknown actors, to the use of obscure, unnamed locations, gives the film the universality it needs to make it applicable to every Indonesian.
Using a regular video camera, Hikmat added, meant reality was not sacrificed for beauty. Hikmat also mentioned that it was through such a strategy that a close rendering of the issue is possible.
With optimistic zeal, Hikmat assured the audience that “Mata Tertutup” would be the start of a growing “revolutionary movement” against religious conservatism and the radicalization of youngsters.