Plagiarising For Peace? An Indonesian Teen Is Paying A Heavy Price For Support Of Pluralism.
Asa Firda Inayah (alias Afi Nihaya Faradisa), 18, is an Indonesian teen who shot to fame thanks to intelligent, heartfelt and inspiring posts about religious tolerance posted on her Facebook page.
In one viral post called Compassion In Our Religion published on May 25, 2017, Afi (to call her by her social media nickname) writes,
“[Compassion is a theme] found in all the major world religions. Starting from Jesus who stands for defenders of the near-judged adulterers, to Guan Yin who is venerated in East Asia as the Goddess of Mercy who hears the suffering of the world.
The religions of this world may be different in the shari’a and legal formal, but are merged in the same essence as they rise to the next level. The ideals of rahmatan lil ‘ālamīn (compassion for the universe)…..With a gun we can kill terrorists, but with a good religious understanding we can kill terrorism.”*
Eloquent and inspiring yes? Parts of this post were plagiarised. Afi herself has admitted to this. How do you feel about the teen’s words now? What happens when a hero lets us down? I am not comparing the teen to Martin Luther King but think for a second, would his words have less meaning if we were discover they belonged to an unacknowledged second party?
Before we delve into the potential ramifications of Afi’s plagiarism, let us first assess why Afi and her messages are important.
Afi gives hope that pluralistic ideology is still the way of the future in Indonesia at a time when it is needed most. In May of this year the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as Ahok), was convicted of blaspheming against Islam and sentenced to two years in prison, charges that seem ridiculous to an everyday Westerner like myself. The controversy centers around a verse in the Koran that the governor told potential voters does not mean Muslims cannot vote for Christians. The trial has made international observers and countrymen alike wonder how religiously tolerant the nation really is.
Indonesia is identified as being the world’s largest Muslim nation with a population of around 257.6 million, approximately 202.9 million identify with the Islamic faith. While Indonesia is seen as an Islamic nation it is actually constitutionally secular. Islam is but one of five recognised religions, with the number of those identifying with different faiths and ways of life still ranging in the tens of millions. Put it this way, the non-Muslim population of Indonesia is larger than the entire population of Australia. The recent case with governor Ahok reveals how difficult it is for the government to strike a balance between pleasing its majority Muslim-faith constituency with other groups. This is not a new issue. Since its inception as a nation, differing ethnic groups and ideologies have fractured Indonesia. The Dutch invaded the region, conquering one island and ethnic group at a time, uniting groups that would have otherwise remained separate and eventually setting the parameters for the archipelago nation as we know it today. When Sukarno, first President of Indonesia, and his nationalist committee wrote the Pancasila (five pillars at the crux of the country’s constitution which are: belief in God, national unity, humanitarianism, people’s sovereignty and social justice and prosperity), terms were deliberately kept vague to cater to the different religious beliefs and ideologies. As you can see religious tolerance and pluralism has historically been and will continue to be pivotal to peace in Indonesia.
This is why Afi’s messages, and more importantly the fact that they were so well received, were seen to be of vital importance. We live in an age where extremism is a constant threat with terrorist attacks occurring frequently. Fear makes people want to choose sides, especially in countries like Indonesia where events like governor Ahok’s blasphemy charges highlight how tenuous pluralism can be. While Afi’s messages—her own words or not—were by no means new, they came in a package people were willing to get behind—an unassuming fresh faced girl. An unassuming fresh faced girl who plagiarises.
It has been proven by screenshots posted in forums that at least one of Afi’s popular Facebook posts—the post I shared an excerpt from above—contains elements lifted from another post. A post titled Religion of Love by a Facebook user called Mita Handayani published on June 30, 2016. A post that is no longer published on Mita’s Facebook page and now only exists in images.
In a Facebook post discussing the issue that was published on June 3, 2017, Afi confirms that she did plagiarise. She writes,
“Did I ever plagiarise? Yes. We all have. Who has never done it? Starting from the school since elementary school, college papers, exams, up to photo caption in social media. Even if we claim to have a copyright on a brilliant idea, then the idea is still the accumulation of everything we succeed in absorbing everyday. No idea is really pure, original.”*
The post is neither aggressive nor apologetic. Afi wants us to know she never wanted to be a hero, she is human, “I’m not perfect and I never will be”.*
Perhaps this all comes down to an error in judgment. Teens are more predisposed than most to share their innermost thoughts on social media, it’s a normal practice and not necessarily done with a purpose like fame or influence in mind. Afi was sharing ideas on her own platform. She copied something she read somewhere and didn’t bother to credit it, this wasn’t a school assignment after all. Plus no idea is really original, right?
And yet I took a look at the post in question on Afi’s Facebook wall and noticed something unsettling. She had added a copyright symbol to the beginning of her writing. If Afi knew enough to add a copyright symbol to her own work then she knows better than to use someone else’s work without credit. Furthermore, if Afi valued her work enough to add a copyright symbol on a Facebook post, then one would assume she has enough awareness to understand that this value should be extended to others.
And yet Mita Handayani has commented to the New York Times saying she has no issue with Afi’s use of her work, and that perhaps Afi was being targeted due to her messages of religious tolerance. Indeed, Afi has received death threats by extremists and as a result she is under the protection of a moderate Muslim militia group, as reported by The New York Times.
In a post titled Apology published just yesterday Afi apologised for the plagiary and announced that she and Mita discussed and resolved the issue long before it reached the media. Furthermore Afi writes,
“I implore that as a conscientious human being, before offering any allegations and prejudices, at least do tabayyun (Islamic term for thorough checking), clarification, and proof. You know, every second I have to receive cynical, bullying, demeaning, even threatening messages to my FB, Instagram, or WA account (until I have to change a new number). To this day, the number is tens of thousands”.*
I have not been able to source the screenshots that show the extent of Afi’s plagiarism. I do not know how much of Mita’s copy Afi used. I do question the extent of Afi’s transgression in light of Mita’s and Afi’s remarks. Afi does not fit the extreme plagiaristic stereotype of the Machiavellian schemer who lies to steal glory. A stereotype extremist Islamic groups would love us to adopt of Afi.
In an article about the issue by The New York Times, recent Indonesian college graduate Pradewi Tri Chatami is quoted as saying, “I liked her [Afi] because she was a sophisticated young woman who was brave enough to share her thoughts. But to idolize someone is ultimately to sacrifice them.”
“I may still be able to survive, but please do not ever do the same to other children just because you see me still alive today”*, writes Afi in Apology.
In her first post discussing the issue Afi points out she never wanted to be a hero. Everyone else turned her into one. Afi was merely sharing her thoughts and concerns and they happened to go viral. Suddenly she was “praised and cursed, admired and hated”*. Regardless, Afi did not shy away from the spotlight that was shone upon on her. In the last fortnight Afi was a guest on a popular talk show, featured in newspapers nationwide and publicly met the President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo.
Afi’s words are powerful, even crudely translated into English as I have been reading them. They cause one to think deeply about religious and moral issues. I was reminded of this when I was reading the teen’s latest post. My heart truly felt for her. Here is this young girl who has been brave enough to share her thoughts in a country where doing such things can be incredibly dangerous. As a result Afi has received love and hate in equal measure, praise and criticism.
Has Afi’s plagiarism ruined the power of her message? Is plagiarising for peace, okay? If her Facebook comments are anything to go by the teen is still supported, accepted and idolised (there is a huge increase in troll activity too) but the controversy is clearly taking a toll on Afi. Only time will tell whether Afi’s messages will continue to have a strong effect on support of religious pluralism in the country. I for one believe Afi made a mistake but is still every bit as courageous, clever and articulate as I initially thought her to be. I hope she weathers the storm emotionally and spiritually, whether the teen decides to remain in the spotlight or not. We are all imperfect as Afi has reminded us in several posts. The result of imperfection are people who do not like us, and as a quote by Taylor Swift on Afi’s Facebook account aptly puts it, “Haters gonna hate”.
* Please note all quotes from Afi have been translated from Indonesian to English via Google Translate. They therefore make no claims to complete accuracy.
The main image of this article is from Afi’s Instagram account: @afi.nihayafaradisa.