Fragility and Accountability

People of different races, cultures, religions, nationalities have some specific ways to depict collective memories of important events deemed crucial to their lives. Certain historical moments are remembered by some in a heroic light, as occasions that fill them with pride, while for others they are remembered as dark memories. The Javanese, the group that I belong to culturally, were quite late in adopting systematic literacy and relied more therefore on collective memories. As such, they acquired skills to ‘name’ events. For instance, the Javanese would depict the era of Dutch Colonial Rule in Java as “zaman bodo” (era of ignorance), the time of World War II as “zaman rekoso” (era of extreme difficulty) and as “zaman angel pangan” (era of no food). I do not know, how such eras are remembered by people of other cultures or nationalities, for instance by the Dutch, by the Japanese, by the English, by the American, by the Germans, etc.

Now the pandemic of COVID-19 has struck and affected people globally without distinguishing between levels of education, career, property or position that people have in society. We have read reports about prime ministers, presidents, government ministers, business owners and other important people in various countries who have suffered with the virus. On 13 October 2020, more than 38 million people are reported to have been infected by COVID-19 and more than 1.08 million globally have died because of the virus. It is very clear from the cases that the top security guards, the ministries of defence of the most developed countries in the world have failed to stop the virus from attacking the most important people in their respective countries. How fragile human beings are in the face of this very little tiny, un-seen (by the naked eye) creature!

In Indonesia, COVID-19 has claimed more victims from the middle through to the upper classes in terms of economics than from the lower ones. Ministers, regents, university professors, medical doctors, business owners have been attacked by the super tiny viruses that their body guards cannot defend them from. Again, the fragility of human beings in the face of the ‘un-seen’ virus is evident here. In Java, compared to those who are well-off, most people of low income are affected more by COVID-19 through indirect ways: they lose their jobs; have no adequate internet access to help their children to continue their education and learn online or to promote their home-made products;  have no access to other necessary information; as well as reduced access to health services and the like.

The impacts of this COVID-19 pandemic have been vast and deep for us, especially for the Javanese. I speculate that the Javanese would call this year of 2020 and probably a few years after this one as “zaman covid/corona” (era of covid/corona). The collective memory will be told about it generation after generation, as I have received their memories about other “zaman”, mentioned previously.

In this reflection what I would like to put forward here is, what sort of “memory” we would like to leave to later generations about our efforts, the things we do, to address the COVID-19’s threats and challenges of this era. Currently there are different opinions, views, and theories presented and argued for by people on what COVID-19 is, where it came from, who spread it, why it is spreading the way it is, what impacts it has on our life as a nation, as a particular religious community, and many more questions that have been analysed differently by different agencies. Speeches on these issues have become part of presidential campaigns in different countries, for public policy enactment considerations and other significant political debates. 

I see that, with its focus on ethics in higher education, could become an oasis for those people looking for the ethical considerations and ways to address the challenges of COVID-19, thus leaving ethical legacies to the generations to come. Higher education has been an important pillar for social changes almost everywhere, along with religious organizations, and the State. Now that the States’ policies on COVID 19 have been received by people as not very clear and confusing, informed and authoritative voices in higher education gain more trust from the common people who are looking for information on the various issues. It is, therefore, very strategic that strengthens higher education by providing ethical approaches in response to the COVID-19 challenges and in anticipation of new life styles in the post-COVID-19 era.

Undoubtedly, we have a very limited capacity and ability to know about the virus, but as a ‘non expert’ on viruses, we may have choices to act upon issues ethically. Our common responses will be examined by our contemporaries, and will be recorded in the collective memory of people to come, and even now recorded on the Internet. At the end, according to the Islamic faith in which I am growing up and becoming mature, each individual, with our fragility, will have to be accounted for. All that we do in this life will be accounted for; it will be our hands and our feet, not our mouths that will give the answer to the question, ‘What did they do in this life?’  The Holy Qur’an, Surah YaaSiin [36]: verse 65, states “That day shall we set a seal on their mouths. But their hands will speak to us, and their feet bear witness, to all that they did”.

Siti Syamsiyatun Board Member
Associate Professor in Modern Islamic Islamic Thought at UIN Sunan Kalijaga
Member of Board of Trustees Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) Founded by UGM, UIN Sunan Kalijaga, UKDW


This refelction was made on the 16 October 2020 at the Board of Foundation Meeting from 16 to 17 October 2020.

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