Jakarta: Beleaguered outgoing Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama has revealed an unexpected source of inspiration as he fights allegations of insulting Islam: a small clownfish called Nemo.
A week after losing the gubernatorial election to former education minister Anies Baswedan, the maverick governor known to all as Ahok mounted a typically unorthodox and allegorical defence in his blasphemy trial in the North Jakarta District Court.
He told of inviting kindergarten children to watch a scene from the animated film Finding Nemo in his office last April after they asked him: “Why are you going against the current, against everybody?”
“I explained the moral message of the movie,” Ahok said. “If you swim upward, you will go into the net. Most fish swim upward. So Nemo must swim against the current. It is the same.
“We must go against the current. Although many are dishonest, it’s fine, as long as we keep being honest. It does not matter if no one says thanks for what we have done for them.”
Ahok, who is Christian and ethnically Chinese, is on trial for allegedly insulting Islam.???The blasphemy allegations, which many analysts believe were trumped up, spring from reckless comments he made to fishermen from the Jakarta regency of Thousand Islands in September last year.
Ahok told the fishermen that clerics had used verse 51 of a sura, or chapter, of the Koran called al-Maida – which some people interpret to mean that Muslims should not be led by non-Muslims – to “deceive” them into not voting for him.
The allegations and subsequent blasphemy trial proved catastrophic for his re-election bid despite polls showing that Jakartans were overwhelmingly satisfied with the reformist governor’s performance in office.
Ahok was defeated on April 19 following an ugly sectarian campaign and widespread anti-Chinese vilification. He faces a maximum four years’ jail, although prosecutors have not requested that he be imprisoned.
In their sentence demand, delivered a day after Ahok’s greater-than-anticipated loss in the election, prosecutors said they accepted he did not intend to blaspheme against any religion.
They asked that he be given two years’ probation for the lesser charge of inciting hostility against a group of people.
Ahok said poet Goenawan Mohamad, the former editor-in-chief of investigative magazine Tempo, had written that he was a victim of slander.
“He did not insult Islam, but the charge had been continuously repeated. If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes ‘the truth,’ the Nazi’s propaganda chief used to say,” Goenawan wrote.
“We hear it at mosques, in social media, in everyday conversations; the allegation has been turned into a conviction.”
Ahok said his only intention when addressing the fishermen that fateful day in September was to encourage them to participate in a fishery program.
No doubt Ahok hopes the judges will be as persuaded of his arguments as the kindergarten children apparently were of his Finding Nemo morality lesson.
“After that the kindergarten children clapped their hands,” Ahok told the court. “Their applause was a consolation for me to continue doing what is right, just like Nemo the fish. If one asks: ‘Who are you?’ I would say I am just like the little Nemo fish amid Jakartans to help the poor. Although I was insulted, because of my faith I just keep working.”
Anies Baswedan will take over as governor in October.
The judges will deliver their verdict and sentencing in Ahok’s blasphemy trial on May 9.
Follow Jewel Topsfield on Facebook