Archive for April 13th, 2007

Conversation With My Son

April 13, 2007

We had a very good discussion in the ‘Globalization and European Identity’ class today. For today’s class, we read the classic stuff on history, identity, and nationalism from Eric Hobsbawm, Michael Mann, Ben Anderson and many others, and related them to the current process of European integration that seems to be halted.

Many scholars pointed their fingers at the top-down approach applied by the relatively small circle of elites in Europe (politicians, diplomats) to explain the slow progress of the European Union. The notion of ‘invented tradition’ coined by the great historian Eric Hobsbawm seems to be useful in explaining the relative failure of the elites of Europe in creating the desperately needed European identity.

History tells us that elites, according to Eric Hobsbawm, always try to deliberately create certain traditions or symbols, try to impose them on the common people in order to preserve their priviledges. But, whether these invented traditions will hold on is a different story. People react differently, they may accept or reject the invented traditions imposed by the elites. The French and the Dutch have recently decided to reject the proposed European Constitution in the referenda, which surely created a major blow to the dream of a fully-integrated Europe.

Coincidentally, I had a very interesting conversation with my oldest son this afternoon on our way home from a visit to our dentist. My two sons just had their routine dental examination.

In the car, my oldest son asked me: “Do we have to go back to Indonesia when you have finished your study here?”

I was wondering why out of the blue he asked me that question. Somehow I quickly decided that it’s about the right time to get the sense of how he felt about ‘nationalism’.

So, I replied to him: “Why you asked? You’re happy here, aren’t you?

From the rearview mirror I could see he nodded his head. “Well, we have to go back to Indonesia once I am done with my study here,” I continued.

“Will you die for Indonesia, your country?” I asked him.

Frankly, I just didn’t know how that question made its way out of my mouth. He is only a third grader.


Then he asked: “Why should I die for my country?

Now, silence on my side, trying hard to think how I could best respond to this.

Finally, I asked him: “Mmm, will you be willing to die in defending your country, let’s say, if we’re attacked by another country?

“Why should we go back if there is a war there? It does not make any sense!”, he harked back. My wife and I laughed so hard upon hearing his response.

Actually, that was the second time he got me squarely on my face. I remember another conversation I had with him a few years back. We just settled back in Jakarta after spending two years in Australia where I pursued my Master degree. After a while in Jakarta, in one occasion at my parent’s house, my son asked me: “When are we going back to Australia?”

Attempting to invoke some kind of religiosity, I calmly responded: “Why don’t you pray to God so we can go back to Australia?” I did not tell him that what I meant was for him to pray that I would win another scholarship. I was not in the mood to explain what a scholarship was all about to a kindergarten kid.

He innocently replied: “What?? If you want to go to Australia, you have to buy airplane ticket, not praying!”

My mom, dad, my wife, and my sisters were there around the table, laughing at me while I was speechless…:-).