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ALF 2015 Questions of Conscience

In the beginning, we were only trying to make literature relevant again. Then we also wanted to create a platform where writers and scholars from the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can get to know each other and exchange ideas on how they can contribute to the solution of the problems of society. Then we wanted to help build the ASEAN Community, which will be officially launched by the end of the year. Now we are trying to do all of these because we believe that culture – in this case literature – is an essential element in any community.  To know the culture of a nation is to know and understand its people and how they live. Indeed, ASEAN will not become a community if its members do not strengthen their cultural links with one another. To this end, robust people-to-people contact among member nations is indispensable.
Then we also wanted to show the world that the region could produce literary works and ideas that can match those from other parts of the globe. The countries of the ASEAN region have many things to be proud of—including the achievements of its literary writers. Unfortunately, until today, these writers and their life’s work have not been adequately supported and promoted.
While our neighbors in Northeast Asia, such as Japan and China, and South Asia, especially India and Pakistan, are globally recognized as the continent’s literary powerhouses because many of their writers have gained worldwide readership, only a few Southeast Asian writers are well known beyond their national borders. It's time for ASEAN writers to also shine.
The first ASEAN Literary Festival held from 21 to 23 March last year, we believe, has contributed to the eventual achievement of that goal. Considering the attendance and media coverage and the quality of the discussions that it generated, it was a huge success.
Now, we are back. We burn with the same enthusiasm that marked our efforts last year. We will build on what we have so far accomplished. We are confident that we are establishing a tradition that will outlast all of us. A tradition that we hope will endure over the decades so that it will never cease to provide opportunities for writers to develop and enjoy the appreciation that is their due.
The central theme of this year's Festival is the imperative to question what are considered the norms of today: consumerism, information technology and social media.
The advances of information technology and the emergence of the social media have mesmerized the people of Indonesia and the rest of ASEAN, and even those beyond the region, including China, Japan and South Korea. We cannot reject technological advances outright. But neither should we totally surrender to them and thereby lose our humanity. We refuse to get shallow and be capsulized in 144 characters.
We believe that the antidote to the intellectual lethargy of a society given to overconsumption is literature. 
In a world that puts a premium to digital hype, noise and materialism, it is easy to dismiss the fundamental role of writers and their work. After all, it seems that literature is the last thing that most people need in the struggle to survive in the world of today.
And yet the words written by poets, fictionists, dramatists and other creative writers will continue to provide us the peoples of the region with uncommon sense, conscience and wisdom that will guide us through upheaval and uncertainty long after politicians and bureaucrats have left the arena of power and have descended to oblivion.
Thus, we the organizers of the ASEAN Literary Festival, hope that the Festival can help spark discussion on issues that are at the core of our aspirations and anxieties, and raise our people’s awareness of the healing power of literature in a time of hype and madness.

Posted : 2015-06-26
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