In a similar manner that social media helped to catalyze the Arab Spring, Indonesians are increasingly using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to reach out to others, build awareness of social issues, harness support and eventually create positive changes that the country needs.
One of the forerunners in Indonesia’s social media activism scene is Mme.Fahira Idris. Born as the daughter of real estate tycoon and former cabinet minister Fahmi Idris, the shooting sports aficionado had already carved out her own name as a successful entrepreneur before involving herself in various social enterprises in recent years. While there are plenty of other Muslimah activists around the world fighting for different issues in various ways, what’s most interesting to me about Fahira’s activism is the assortment of issues that she addresses, through both the faceless, character-limiting media of Twitter as well as direct dialogues.
In a country that is home to 29 million registered Twitter users, it is not unusual that a public figure like Fahira has followers that number up to 100,000 or more. But not as many Indonesian public figures have the guts to take an open stand on controversial issues and even fewer can further the dialogues to come up with meaningful solutions the way Fahira does.
For example, in August 2010, Fahira received nationwide media attention when she bravely paid a visit to the headquarters of Front Pembela Islam (FPI), a hard-line Islamic faction that allegedly had caused unrest in many parts of Indonesia. The visit was a culmination of her series of tweets during the period that sought to open a dialogue channel with the right-wing group. Her move was so bold that even Habib Rizieq, the leader of FPI, praised her by saying that while the FPI was accused of many things, very few people had bothered to come and discuss with them. Asked by a reporter of the purpose of her visit, Fahira said that she was troubled by the animosity and tweet-war among Muslims caused by FPI activities, which had escalated only a few days before Ramadhan. In her visit, Fahira passed the complaints about FPI that were sent to her e-mail address, which she said amounting to more than 1000 e-mails, and appealed to the hard-liners’ better judgment on how Muslims should behave to reflect the peaceful message of Islam.
Fahira’s activism has since expanded to other areas. Early this year, through her Twitter account she protested against the launch of Cinta Tapi Beda (Love But Different), a movie about interreligious marriage that she felt was biased against Islam. She tweeted:
“A lesson on tolerance should be exemplified well. This movie teaches a ‘pushover’ type of tolerance. If Diana were indeed a tolerant Catholic girl, she wouldn’t have asked Cahyo to cook Rica Rica Pork. If Diana were a tolerant girl, why did she serve two pork dishes when she invited Cahyo to her house? If I were a Catholic and intended to officially invite my boyfriend to my house, I would have specially cooked a halal dish!”
Her reasoning sends a message to anyone who reads her tweets that while it is one thing to shed light on important issues such as religious tolerance and interfaith marriage, by no means should tolerance be interpreted or portrayed as being a doormat. In a country that has been struggling to find the balance between traditional values and modernization, Fahira’s strong voice gave a breath of hope.
As always, she followed up her Twitter campaign with a direct dialogue by visiting the movie’s production house. Cinta Tapi Beda was pulled out of Indonesian cinemas in January 2013, following intense public protest. Interestingly, when the movie won a regional award, Fahira tweeted her congratulations:
“Every accomplishment should be congratulated… I’m sure that Hanung’s and Hestu’s [the directors] genius will create the best movies that won’t hurt any ethnic or religious group.”
Even while managing her business ventures, Fahira still finds the time to manage her ever-growing portfolio of social projects. Recently, she leads a multi-approach campaign, including an online petition and a blogging competition, against the growing phenomenon of liquor sales to under-age children. When one of her followers raised a concern about LGBT education at public schools, Fahira tweeted the issue on her timeline. Her critical comments inevitably earned her some followers as well as foes, to whom she replied in another series of tweets:
“From the bottom of my heart, I seek the apology of my LGBT friends who felt offended by what I said… I understand very well and accept the existence of LGBT community in Indonesia. I also have friends who are LGBT and we socialize in good terms… So it is important that you know that I do not hate nor wage war with anyone, including the LGBT community…”
She continued her open statement by reporting her meeting with representatives from six LGBT-affiliated communities that discussed better ways to address the issue of LGBT education.
And yet Fahira does not only concern herself with seemingly controversial issues. For instance, she masterminds a weekly twitpic contest that aims to promote support for traditional markets. Additionally, once a month the mother of one offers a Twitter matchmaking service in which she re-tweets every tweet containing personal ads that lands on her account. After a few months of operating the service, she said that she had been able to help seven pairs of singles to meet and court.
Through her projects, Fahira Idris has emerged to be one of the most influential forces to be reckoned with in Indonesia’s social media activism scene. One may like or hate her, but one thing for sure is that Fahira has served as –and will continue to be– a role model on how Indonesians can utilize social media to facilitate positive discourses that lead to real change. In one of the world’s largest democracy and third-largest market for Twitter, having such a role model promises a future of optimism.