The Dignity of the House of Representatives and the new MD3 law

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arly this year in Indonesia, the House of Representatives (“DPR”) passed a law which stipulates that the House’s ethics council (“MKD”) can take legal actions against a person, a group of people or a legal entity that disrespects the dignity (“kehormatan” as stated in the article) of the House and its members. The issue while serious, isn’t that the DPR members and law members are acting in their self-interest. That’s nothing new and everybody acts in their self-interest anyway. The real issue and dangerous assumption behind this, is the idea that “kehormatan” is under the dominion of the state, not with us.

Of course everybody has the right to have their honour or dignity defended. In schools, we have principals and teachers. In communities, we have parents and friends. Between us, we have our “guts”, pride and position. But when it comes to the government, that’s a wholly different and dangerous matter.

Before the government, which includes the DPR and MKD, begin to take any action to defend the dignity of their esteemed members, they have to first of all define what in the world they mean. If member A’s kehormatan is disrespected or offended, you still have to ask the question, how? To the credit of the DPR, one of their members, Mr. Arsul Sani, shared the same concerns. He suggested the word “kehormatan” shouldn’t even be used but instead, defamation would be more appropriate.

But they have left the word open ended and undefined. And when they do try to speak and define the terms kehormatan, it may even sound reasonable to us. But the real crux of the issue is giving them even one bit of an opportunity to do so, because for them to even start would not only be undemocratic, it’s borderline tyrannical and Orwellian.

It’s because dignity is an absolute value and principle that have always existed in all people. It is something innate, sacred and foundational that each and every human must have. Yes, it can have different degrees under a religious, social or philosophical perspective but honour and dignity isn’t something from the state.

As U.S Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas states in his dissent in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, “the government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.” He further concludes that “the government would be incapable of bestowing dignity” because “human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate.”

And indeed it is. “Kehormatan” or dignity belongs to us, our conscience and our hearts. You take that away, and the principle of our dignity is no longer with us, but with a state with very different and arbitrary agendas.

For what right does the government have in defining and placing “kehormatan” in law, a value and principle that individuals, communities, tradition and religions have always held and defined. Our “kehormatan”, including the public and the members of DPR, is too internal and valuable for someone else to take. If we really value our honour and dignity, the state should have no monopoly to have kehormatan discussed and plainly stated according to their whims.

We are not only conceding the power of more legal coercion to the government, but conceding more power for them to define what is honourable or not, potentially changing our language, speech and then minds. It’s not just a threat to the freedom of speech as many observers have argued with this law, but also a threat to our freedom to think. For us to disagree and think otherwise with the DPR’s definition of the basic principle and value of kehormatan, we could be threatened with legal action and jail.

Instead, the government will define it for us, either implicitly or not. We would have to conform to what the state’s definition of dignity is. Kehormatan is and should be universal and objective for all of us. Confined to a small group, let alone a state, it becomes subjective, dangerous and almost pointless.

Decades ago, societies and individuals needed no state or government to defend the dignity of any one person, including state officials. If someone dishonoured you or offended your dignity, either you take it or you deal with the person who offended you personally.

So, honourable members of the DPR, I have just one simple question, which I really hope doesn’t disrespect your kehormatan. Why do you need to protect your dignity through the government or law? I don’t think you need to. Your dignity is already and should be regarded as one of the highest, being a public servant compared to the rest of us plebs. But once you let the state or some group or “council” define and decide what dignity means, your dignity is actually put in a fragile position. It’s no longer under the universal or moral realm, but found in the precarious political realm. It’s no longer yours. It’s somebody else to use and abuse.