17 August 2017

Laksmi Pamuntjak's Oxford University Keynote Speech for 9th EuroSEAS conference

Keynote Speech by Laksmi Pamuntjak (the other keynote speaker: Dr Kasian Tejapira)
Laksmi Pamuntjak: "Between Hope and Despair: On "Living with Difference" in Indonesia"


The business of formulating today’s troubled world—as writers, as public intellectuals—has become ever trickier. The rise of right-wing populism, bigotry, and what David Frum calls “repressive kleptocracy” has made the need for critical thinking, new language, and fresh ways of moving forward all the more urgent.

In Indonesia, a country long celebrated for its pluralist traditions, the persecution of minority groups such as the LGBT community and Islamic movements deemed deviant has become more blatant, with women’s rights routinely undermined. There is growing intolerance towards divisive subjects such as the anti-Communist massacre of the 60s. Religious conservatism is on the rise, and a steady mainstreaming of the fascist Right seems to be the order of the day. There is a sense of fear that Indonesia—that great and continuous lesson in living with difference—is rudderless and crumbling.

In these uncertain times, there is a notable shift in Islamic critical thinking, and it is taking place in that unlikeliest of sites—social media. As popular, self-styled religious preachers known as ‘infotainment/celebrity ustadz” thrive by selling piety and prosperity to the middle classes, a counterculture of progressive, epistemologically sound, and equally media-savvy Islamic scholars has emerged, and is steadily gaining popularity. Not only has this new breed of intellectuals—with their potent mix of solid Islamic theological background, theoretical sophistication, and ferocious wit—revived serious intellectual debate but it has also shrewdly utilized social media to suit their purposes: as a new battleground of ideas. Meanwhile, in the realm of contemporary literature, more writers are transcending borders. While the extent of their influence remains to be seen, there exists a glimmer of hope: that people can turn to writers and public intellectuals to guide, provoke, and stimulate them.