Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bracing the Nuclear Tide

Ever since the Iranian and the North Korean nuclear programs became the headlines and the India – US nuclear deal was inked in New Delhi in March this year that subsequently being approved unanimously by the US Congress last week, there has been a tendency among developing nations to follow the India way: building an alternative source of energy through nuclear technology.

With cheaper oil price is nowhere in sight and the possibility of expansion of the technology for peaceful purposes to even those NPT non-signatory states, the nuclear tide is surging high and fast. The latest to join the tide is the oil-rich Arab states, which declared last Sunday that they also want to acquire the technology for peaceful purposes.

Following the footpath of the Developing-8 Group, which declared its intention early this year after a summit in Bali to pursue the N-technology, the new ambition by the Arab states to pursue the same technology needs to be scrutinized. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman are known for their substantial oil resources. Under the banner of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the group announced on Sunday that it commissioned a study on setting up a common program in the area of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, which would abide by international standards and laws.

Why these oil-rich Arab states so suddenly and so eagerly want to pursue the N-technology?

If we follow the recent development in this region, there is one very important factor that bothers these Arab states: Iran.

In the past months Iran has been so defiance toward the call by the US government and its European allies to suspend the uranium enrichment to support Iranian nuclear ambition. Even though Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes including generating electricity, but suspicion among the US government and its European allies is high that Iran is also pursuing nuclear weapon technology.

The Sunni – Shia factor is also on the table. Iran is a Shia state while Sunni Muslims are the majority in the region, including those of six Arab states. With no sign of immediate end of Sunni – Shia sectarian violence and domination of Shia party in Iraq and the overt Iranian support for the Palestinian’s Hamas-led government and the Hezbollah group in Lebanon, there is a growing worry among the Sunni states on the increasing Iran’s influence.

This Iranian factor has forced the Arab states to react. Kuwaiti columnist, Fouad al-Hashem wrote in Al-Watan newspaper that the declaration by the GCC is a clear, strong and courageous message to Iran that GCC nations will not sit and watch while Iran presses forward with its nuclear program. And with the help of their allies, these Arab states want to balance the power equation in the region by developing nuclear technology, even though they do not really need it.

It is true that double standard is apparent on the nuclear technology issue. Iran, a democratic state and a signatory of the nuclear NPT that has been religiously following the guidelines given by the international atomic body, the IAEA, has been prevented from pursuing its rightful choice to develop peaceful nuclear technology.

The US and its European allies have been arguing that Iran is not fully pursuing the technology for peaceful purposes but it intends to build a nuclear weapon technology. Reasons like Iran’s defiance to stop its uranium enrichment program and that Iran is among the largest country in the world that possesses substantial natural resources have been used as the basis of suspecting Iran’s ill intention.

On the other hand, countries like Pakistan, India and Israel, all are non-signatories of the NPT, have developed and possess nuclear technology, both for civilian and military use. Pakistan and India have declared themselves as nuclear power states while Israel has been in denial about its nuclear weapons. But the recent admission by Israeli PM Ehud Olmert in a TV interview in Germany claiming that Israel possesses nuclear weapons proved this double standard.

Asked about Iran’s nuclear program, Olmert said, “… when they [Iran] are aspiring to have nuclear weapons as America, France, Israel, Russia?”

Furthermore, with the final approval by the US Congress to a Bill on the Indo – US nuclear deal signed in March this year came this week that will allow the transfer of nuclear technology and material to India, the nuclear apartheid is even clearer.

To conclude, developing nuclear technology is the basic right of any country, be it India, Iran, Indonesia, Israel or even the Gulf countries. This is not an exclusive right of the P-5 nations. As long as the country is acting responsibly and uses the technology for peaceful purposes like generating electricity and medical research, there is no need to prevent them from acquiring such technology. The decision by the GCC to pursue the nuclear path to join the tide should not be of a worry as long as they act responsibly and for the benefit of humanity.

What is needed is strict guidelines and control by an independent international body like the IAEA with regard to the usage and development of such technology so as not to be deviated into military purposes like developing nuclear weaponry. Treaty like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is of no use when even the signatory to the treaty is prevented from developing the technology while the non-signatories of the treaty freely develop the technology.

When there is a possibility to develop cheaper, more sustainable alternative source of energy to suffice the growing, insatiable energy need, why don’t we join the tide and enjoy the ride? Concerns about a regional nuclear arms race is understandable but concerns about the benefits of the technology for humanity is also important.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Is Indonesia a Muslim State?

Recently, I came across this article discussing the lack of democracy in Muslim world. Citing examples on Muslims states in the Middle Eastern and Gulf region like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Oman, several African states like Libya, Egypt, Morocco and Tanzania as well as in South, Central and Southeast Asian region like Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Malaysia, it says that,

“It is hard to find a purely democratic country in the Muslim world, one that is governed by the people directly or through elected representatives. But pseudo-democracies abound and have various names: "guardian controlled," "military-based," "dictator-based," "religious-based," "unstable," "limited" and "puddle," among others.”

I cannot agree more with the statements above. Democracy is visibly lacking, or rather, if it ever exists, it is limited, unstable or controlled like in Malaysia and Iran. But there is a part in the article that made me beg to differ. It says,

“In the largest Muslim state, Indonesia, democracy is unstable. Corruption, communal riots and political clashes have plagued Indonesian democracy.”

While I agree with the fact that corruption, communal violence, political clashes and relative stability are the features of Indonesia in the post-Suharto period, but is Indonesia a Muslim state? What defines it as a Muslim state?

Is it just because the majority of its population follows the teaching of Islam and it is a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference then Indonesia is a Muslim state?

What about Suriname or say Thailand? Suriname is a member and Thailand is an observer of the OIC but the majority of their populations do not follow the teachings of Islam. Can we call them as Muslim states merely due to their association with the OIC?

Asghar Ali Engineer once wrote about Islamic state. He said that Islamic state has no Qur’anic sanctions and that, “Muslim countries claiming to be Islamic states are far from these ideals. The greatest ideal projected by the Qur'an is justice ? both in personal conduct and in distribution of wealth. It is conspicuous by its absence in the Muslim countries.”

He further explains that,

“… the Qur'an presents a concept of society, not of any state. … The Qur'an was greatly concerned with establishing a just society. It exhorted the rich to be sensitive to others' suffering and required them to redistribute their wealth and levied Zakat (alms) which was to be spent on the poor. … The Qur'an laid stress on justice and benevolence in all socio-economic matters.”

And as for the Madina state founded by the Prophet in which Islamists believe to be the ideal concept of an Islamic state, Asghar has something to say about it. He said that, “Madina was a pluralist society and there was no attempt whatsoever to impose Islam on anyone unwilling. It was `secular' in as much as plurality of religion was recognized.”

Thus it needs to emphasize here that Qur’an does not explain about an Islamic state but it gives the concept of an ideal society. Furthermore, during Prophet’s tenure as the head of Medina society there was no imposition of Islam on anyone unwilling. The Prophet had given full freedom to all Medina populace to practice their respective religions, be it Christianity or Judaism. Medina was a pluralist, secular society in the sense that there was an equidistance of respect and recognition of the variety of religion.

Now, let’s return to the question about whether Indonesia is a Muslim state or not. Before answering this question, it will be interesting to explain here the basic idea about Indonesia.

Indonesia is a country which has more than 190 million Muslims. More 80 percent of its populace follows the teachings of Islam but Indonesia never declares itself as a Muslim state. The Indonesian state is based on the idea of Pancasila (five principles) that covers the idea of a belief in God, humanitarianism, unity in diversity (pluralism), representative democracy and social justice. It is nowhere to be found in the Indonesian Constitution that mentions about Indonesia being a Muslim State.

As for the Islamists who have been fighting for the establishment of an Islamic state in Indonesia, they have been defeated both through bullets and ballots. The successful suppression of rebellion by Islamists in the turbulent days of the 1950s and the results of the democratically administered general elections in Indonesia held in 1955, 1999 and 2004 are clear proof to this conviction. In these elections, even though Islamist parties secured quite a number of votes but they never came up as a majority in a country where more than 80 percent of its populace follows Islam. Secular-nationalist and religious-nationalist parties secured better results in these elections.

The recent and current resurgence of Islamic leaning parties in Indonesian politics needs not to be worried. It is just an integral part of an evolving Indonesian democracy. The recent media coverage about the imposition of local laws based on Islamic tenets by a ruling Islamic party in their districts has been blown out of proportion to create an impression that Indonesia is controlled by Islamists. Islamists do not control Indonesia.

It must be remembered here that even though these so-called Islamic parties supported an Islamic ideology, but once they go to the masses to appeal for their votes in the elections, they choose political pragmatism over ideology. Because they know Islamism does not sale and the voters know that it is the economy, social justice, eradication of corruption and eradication of other social illness that matter the most.

Thus to say that Indonesia is a Muslim state in the same brackets as those states cited in the beginning of this article is misleading. Indonesia is not a Muslim state. But going by the suggestion about an Islamic society as explained by Asghar Ali Engineer, Indonesia is definitely going into that direction. It is still a long and winding way ahead but surely, a pluralistic Indonesia is the best ideal that all Indonesians must strive for.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Skeptical Note on Bush’s Recent Visit to Indonesia

On Monday, 20 November 2006, the US President, George W. Bush was on a brief visit to Indonesia, the largest Muslim populated country in the world. He was in an Asian tour from Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia. Indonesia was his last stopover before returning home. Accompanied by U.S. Secretary of State Condollezza Rice, Bush held a meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, followed by a discussion with several prominent Indonesian scholars and thinkers in economics, educations, politics and regional development. The visit was only six hours, but the preparation for and reactions to the visit had become headlines in the Indonesian media for weeks.

To welcome the six hours visit, the Indonesian government must spent a whopping 6 billion Indonesian Rupiah (more than half a million US Dollar), not a small amount of money for a country like Indonesia, just to build two unused helipads especially meant for President Bush’s arrival in Bogor in the vicinity of Indonesia’s famous Bogor Botanical Garden, a major center for botanical research that host many exotic plants. And to make matter worse, the Bush entourage did not land there and instead the landed in a sport stadium nearby and used motorcade to arrive at Bogor Presidential Palace to meet President Yudhoyono. The helipad is a total waste of taxpayer’s money and at the same time, it poses some danger to the ecosystem in the Garden.

Civic groups have called the preparations for Bush’s short visit in Indonesia simply overwhelming. The security was over-prepared, the guards were over-acting and no wonder that the people, too, were over-reacting. On the contrary, the government said that preparations, including the construction of two helipads in Bogor Palace and the interruption of public communications and transportation during the visit, were acknowledged as a normal measure.

Why so much preparation by the Indonesian government to welcome President Bush when the reaction on the ground against the visit was so overwhelming?

To begin with, Indonesia is the largest Muslim populated country in the world while President Bush is considered to be the public enemy number one in the Muslim world. Moreover, in the post-9/11 world, the American image worldwide and in Muslim world in particular is declining each day. The invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of war against terror and spreading democracy contributed to this major decline of American image worldwide. These policies have been considered as direct confrontation against the Muslims.

So, even though the fundamentalist Muslim group is a minority and the majority of Indonesian Muslims are moderate, but these policies have angered even the moderate Muslims. If the fundamentalists consider Bush as public enemy number one, the moderate vent their anger and protest as an expression of solidarity to the suffering of their Muslim bothers and sisters in countries dominated and exploited by the US and its allies. It is thus of anyone’s guess that a personality like President Bush is not welcomed.

Similarly, other local issues such as U.S.-based multinational companies operating in various parts of Indonesia, which have been criticized for running their operations based on unfair agreements and the lack of responsibility to the environment, is also on the minds of most protesters. With issues like these, the protestors against Bush do not solely belong to Muslim groups alone but also from other groups belonging to other ideological affiliation who are against the hegemonic policies of the US government.

Thus, before and during Bush’s visit to Indonesia, there were reports on anti-US demonstrations staged by these groups in various parts of Indonesia. From Yogyakarta to Jakarta, from Surabaya to Surakarta, demonstrations were endless with American symbols such as McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken had been targetted by the demonstrators, while Bush effigies were burnt.

On the other hand, Indonesia is still struggling to re-build its economy and other social structures devastated almost a decade ago by the Asian crisis. The transition from authoritarianism into a full-fledged representative democracy is hard and demanding. The rotten system has to be overhauled and it is not an easy task. Helps and cooperation from various sources must be utilized in the best possible way for the benefit of Indonesia. A lending hand from a government like the US, the oldest democracy in the world, is welcomed.

This, I think, is the reason why President Yudhoyono was very enthusiastic to welcome President Bush to Indonesia. But was it worth enough for Indonesia to make such a meticulous preparation just to welcome a President that has a dipping popularity at his home front? What will Indonesia gain from this brief, seemingly insignificant visit?

Many analysts in Indonesia have been skeptical about the outcome of this visit for Indonesia. The lack of important substance discussed during this brief visit added to this skepticism. Quoting Bantarto Bandoro from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Jakarta, the visit is much more important for Bush than to Indonesia’s need. With the depleting support at home, a successful visit to a Muslim nation like Indonesia would boost the confidence of Bush to take the challenges at home and abroad in the months to come.

Expressing similar view, Dewi Fortuna Anwar from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) said that the visit would have helped restore the US’ image among Muslims in Indonesia in particular and, most importantly, in the Muslim world. But what is important now is for America to realize its promises to Indonesia, she said. During this visit, Bush had offered Indonesia financial help to fight bird flu, assistance in establishing a tsunami early warning system, and technology for alternative energy. In addition, the U.S. had committed US$55 million to support Indonesia's fight against graft and to develop economic strategies for more jobs, and $157 million for assistance in education and health.

Muslim intellectual like Azyumardi Azra, the former rector of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University Jakarta, said that the visit would give less to Indonesia but would give major boost to the US’ image worldwide. The fact that the $157 million in aid promised in 2003 to President Megawati for education and health had yet to be disbursed was a clear indication of Bush’s reluctance to engage Indonesia more seriously. It is more of a lip service than a genuine effort to engage an important partner like Indonesia.

To conclude, apart from being in the headlines of national and international news agencies, Indonesia virtually gained nothing from this visit. So much wasted, yet so little gain. I think the following quotation from a citizen who wrote in a leading Indonesian newspaper, not untypical of many, can serve as a reflection to this visit.

He wrote: “Bush came to Bogor to discuss education and economic development for ordinary people. But what was the use of these discussions when the schools in the surrounding areas were closed in order to provide high-security and while all street vendors were banned during his visits? ... We are sick of U.S. intervention...Stop your unilateral acts Mr. Bush!”

But then, will President George W. Bush ever learn “something” from his Asian tour this time? I don't think so.

Monday, October 16, 2006

North Korea’s Nuclear Threat and the Bush Doctrine of Pre-Emptive Strike

On Monday, October 9, 2006, the North Korean government proudly claimed to have successfully conducted an underground nuclear test near Kilju county in North Korea’s northeastern province of Hamkyung. The international community reacted almost unanimously to condemn the nuclear test and urged the world body, the United Nations, to take immediate actions to contain future “nuclear threats from North Korea”.

This universal condemnation is the standard response when any nation joins the nuclear club, as India and Pakistan discovered in the summer of 1998. And there is little surprise, in a gathering U.N. consensus on rebuking North Korea, with Russia and China likely to sign off on some symbolic sanctions to punish it. China is the closest ally of North Korea.

Later in the weekend, the UN Security Council, pushed hard by the US, unanimously approved tough sanctions against North Korea for its claimed nuclear test. This US-sponsored UN resolution demands North Korea to eliminate all its nuclear weapons but expressly rules out military action against the country; orders all countries to prevent North Korea from importing or exporting any material for WMD or ballistic missiles; orders the nations to freeze assets of people or businesses connected to these programs; and, ban the individuals from traveling.

However, division for the implementation of the sanctions soon cropped up. Even though China concurred that the sanctions have sent “a balanced and constructive message", but it refused to collaborate in the effort to inspect cargo leaving and arriving in North Korea to prevent any illegal trafficking in unconventional weapons or ballistic missiles.

Wang Guangya, China’s UN Ambassador, said that China strongly urges the countries concerned to adopt a prudent and responsible attitude in this regard and refrain from taking any provocative steps that may intensify the tensions in the region. Furthermore, Chinese foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao said in a statement on the ministry’s website that China maintains that the action of the Security Council should clearly state the firm stance of the international community, create conditions conducive to the peaceful resolution of this [North Korea] issue through dialogue and negotiations.

On the other hand, other countries like South Korea, Japan and Australia promised to immediately enforce the sanctions and said to be considering a harsher imposition of penalties of their own against North Korea.

Rejecting this resolution, North Korea’s Ambassador to the UN accused its members of a “gangster-like” action, which neglects the nuclear threat posed by the United States.

The Bush Concept of Pre-Emptive Strike

A pre-emptive strike is a military attack designed to prevent, or reduce the impact of, an anticipated attack from an enemy. It could cover all the branches of the military, names the land, air and sea borne forces or may be confined to just one wing. It can also be used to describe any offensive (as opposed to defensive) action that is taken to prevent, or reduce the impact of, an anticipated offensive action by another party. These actions can be either physical or non-physical.

However, in the post 9/11 world, the legality of pre-emptive strikes became a particular issue after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq by the USA. This was an attack against a sovereign state, aimed explicitly at removing its internationally recognized government, without specific authorization from the United Nations Security Council, not in response to a prior act of aggression, and carried out not by a multilateral organization but by the world’s greatest military power, acting alone or with the backing only of a few loyal allies.

The justification of this concept by the Bush administration was that an attack against Iraq would be an act of self-defense against the threats of terrorism on the US. Because of the new threats that the United States faces, it is claimed, a proper understanding of the right of self-defense should now extend to authorizing pre-emptive attacks against potential aggressors, cutting them off before they are able to launch strikes against the US that might be devastating in their scale and scope. Furthermore, it said that the traditional strategies of deterrence and containment were no longer sufficient.

Thus deterrence meant nothing "against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend" and containment could not work "when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies." Under these circumstances, President Bush concluded, "If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long."

These are the bases on which President George W. Bush justified his concept of pre-emptive strike on Iraq: an American self-defense from a possible WMD attack by Saddam Hussein.

President Bush proved to be wrong: no WMD in Iraq, no relation between 9/11 with Saddam Hussein, no real threat to the US from Saddam’s Iraq. The pre-emptive strike on Iraq was thus illegal and destructive.

In conclusion, the wariness of North Korea on the possible nuclear threat from the US through a pre-emptive strike is understandable. Iraq is an example and the nightmare must be in the minds of the North Koreans. At the same time, the main reason behind the acquisition of nuclear weapons technology by a country like North Korea is, I think, more of a diplomatic tactic than to creating threats to the political stability in the region and to protect itself from a possible fate like Iraq. In today’s world, a reliable source of national security is often defined by the “N” word. India, Pakistan, Israel, and now North Korea are examples of countries that claim that the main reason for the acquisition of nuclear weapons technology is for its national security and not to pose threat to anybody.

In the end, without writing off the possibility of a nuclear threat form North Korea, we have to be ready for any eventuality of such WMD to fall into the wrong hands. The nuclear threat is apparent but it is relatively lesser than the threat posed by a possible pre-emptive strike by the mighty US forces.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Revisiting Political Pluralism: India and Indonesia

In general term, pluralism means the affirmation and acceptance of diversity. The concept is used in a wide range of issues like religion, philosophy, science, politics, etc. In science, the concept of pluralism often describes the view that several methods, theories or points of view are legitimate or plausible. This attitude may arguably be a key factor to scientific progress. In politics it is popularly known as political pluralism.

Political pluralism is the affirmation of diversity in the interests and beliefs of the citizenry. It is one of the most important features of modern representative democracy.

Political pluralism is a participatory type of government in which the politics of the country are defined by the needs and wants of many. Political pluralism is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. In a politically pluralistic society there is no majority or minority and the basic ideas of government are seen through the ideas of individuals and groups to ensure that all the needs and wants of society are taken care of. Thus in a politically pluralistic society a tolerance and mutual respect for divergent thinking tends to develop easily as a way to accommodate the differences in aspiration.

Political pluralism is an effective form of running and governing a heterogeneous country. It allows the accommodation of the diverse aspirations that emerge from the diverse contituencies. However, for pluralism to function and to be successful in defining the common good, all groups or constituents must agree to a minimal consensus regarding shared values, which tie the different groups to society, and shared rules for conflict resolution between the groups. This minimal consensus on shared values acts as a unifying force amidst diversity. As such, mutual respect and tolerance become the most important values to keep political pluralism in place.

Mutual respect and tolerance will allow different groups to co-exist and interact without anyone being forced to assimilate to anyone else's position in conflicts that will naturally arise out of diverging interests and positions. Differences in social and personal values are engaged in a critical, but respectful, dialectic of reciprocal evaluation. Conflicts that might arise can only be resolved durably by dialogue which leads to compromise and to mutual understanding. Coercive action is used only when another mode of life or cultural expression causes harm, otherwise it engages in a dialogue of critical evaluation of different modes and expressions through persuasion. Thus, stable democratic principles, standards of life, consistent directives, vital and practical democratic norms, skills and traditions become the common features in pluralistic society.

Defining Common Shared Values

India and Indonesia are examples of pluralistic societies. People of different backgrounds (religion, caste, culture, language, ethnicity) are bound together as a single unit. While Hindus and Hindi speaking people are the majority in India, Muslims and Javanese speaking people are the majority in Indonesia. Other groups of people belonging to different backgrounds also live and share the space in both India and Indonesia. India and Indonesia are developing societies with political pluralism as its backbone.

Having diverse groups of people belonging to different backgrounds, it is natural for this kind of society to follow a participatory type of government in which the politics of the country are defined by the needs and wants of many. The government in these societies is built from the people, by the people, and for the people. And since the basic ideas of government in these pluralistic societies are seen through the ideas of individuals and groups to ensure that all the needs and wants of society are taken care of, the majority groups in India and Indonesia must willingly share an equal partnership with the smaller communities.

The differences in aspiration among the constituents in the society are accommodated equally to preserve the ideas of mutual respect and tolerance. At the same time, a minimal consensus on shared values, which tie the different groups to society, and shared rules for conflict resolution between the groups must be agreed upon by all the contituents so that to create a unifying force amidst diversity.

This affirmation and acceptance of diversity in India and Indonesia is clearly defined in their national Constitutions. In India, drawing extensively from Western legal traditions, the Constitution enunciates the principles of liberal democracy and elaborates the principles that reflect the aspirations of the Indian people to end the inequities of traditional social relations and to enhance the social welfare of the population. The Constitution has provided so much impetus toward changing and rebuilding society for the common good. It ambitiously wants to secure for all its citizens justice (social, economic and political), liberty (of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship), equality (of status and of opportunity) and to promote fraternity to assure the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.

Furthermore, it agrees to follow secular and democratic principles as the minimum shared consensus. Secularism in Indian concept implies equality of all religions and religious tolerance; no official state religion; and that every person has the right to preach, practise and propagate any religion they choose. The government must not favour or discriminate against any religion and it must treat all religions with equal respect. All citizens, irrespective of their religious beliefs are equal in the eyes of law.

While democracy in India means that the people of India elect their governments at all levels (Union, State and local) by a system of universal adult franchise. Every citizen of India, who is 18 years of age and above and not otherwise debarred by law, is entitled to vote. Every citizen enjoys this right without any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, colour, sex, religion or education.

Indonesia adopts similar position in this regard. To accommodate and to reflect the affirmation and acceptance of diversity in Indonesia, the Indonesia people agreed to a minimal consensus regarding shared values, which tie the different groups to society, and shared rules for conflict resolution between the groups in the form of Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution. Pancasila stipulates the five principles of Indonesia: Belief in God, Humanitarianism, National Unity, Democracy, and Social Justice while the 1945 Constitution elaborates these principles even further. With humanity and humanitarian concern as its core ideas, the Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution serve as the guiding principles for the Indonesian government and the people of Indonesia to live together in diversity. Its national motto is unity in diversity, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.

With democracy, secularism, Pancasila, and humanitarianism, the people of India and Indonesia defined the minimal shared values among themselves in which all members in both societies must follow and respect. These shared values become the basis in which mutual respect and tolerance are shared and observed among the populace.

Political Pluralism in India and Indonesia

Political pluralism is nothing new for both India and Indonesia. It is a natural phenomenon in such pluralistic societies. Pulls and pressures from the different sections in the society become the norms of the day. Moreover, in a democratic and heterogeneous society in which every individual is equal before the law, he/she shares the responsibility to fill any missing gap in the society. Politically speaking, he/she has the equal share to lead the country and define the national policies for the shake of achieving better future, being ultimate in diversity. And to achieve this goal, he/she must always respect the minimal shared values and maintain mutual respect and tolerance towards others.

The Indian history of a participatory type of government in which the politics of the country that are defined by the needs and wants of many has been continuous barring the short period of dictatorship in the late 1970s. Ever since its independence in 1947 political pluralism has always been regarded as the most effective method to accommodate the diversity of aspiration.

Since representative democracy is observed and practiced religiously in India, political parties play an important role as the medium of communication between the system and the people. It acts as the unifying vehicle for the diverse aspirations that emerge among the different groups in Indian society. The Indian National Congress Party, the biggest national party in the early years of an independent India, acted as the unifying umbrella for the various groups to voice their concern and aspiration. The INC successfully accommodated the aspirations of the Leftist, the Centrist, the Rightist, the Secularist, the Regionalist and other groups. However, the mounting pressure from these diverse constituents forced the INC to split into different, competing political groups. As such, there is now the Congress Party, the BJP, the Communist Party of India, the Samajwadi Party, the AIADMK, the Trinamool Congress Party, the National Conference as well as various other parties of national and regional stature. They compete and cooperate with each other to create the current face of party politics in India: diverse, competitive yet constructive.

This transformation process of party politics in India is quite natural. It is very unlikely for such a pluralistic society to have a single unifying party to accommodate the diverse political aspirations. It is an opposition to the concept of political pluralism. The heterogeneity in the society compels the Indian people to accept diversity. Every single citizen of India has the same right and is equal before the law. Their political aspiration is also diverse and often times contradictory with each other. Some of them might even resort to the use of violence to achieve their goals. But with the agreed shared values in the form of democracy dialogue between conflicting factions in the society become the most effective means to durably resolve differences. Furthermore, with secularism as the core uniting value in India, the pulls and pressures of either Right or Left block is avoidable. It acts as a balancing platform for these forces. Selfless, visionary and charismatic leadership in the early years of an independent India had also given important contribution to the celebration of political pluralism. Together, this combined elements created a unifying track that balances the diverse groups in the Indian society. It helps the perseverance of the concept of unity in diversity. It also created mutual respect and tolerance between factions in Indian society.

Indonesia, on the other hand, has a different history of political pluralism. Even though the early days of the Republic witnessed the observation of a pluralistic society and the democratic principles, but there was an unfortunate deviation from these norms in the Republic for over three decades.

The first fifteen years of Indonesian independent was a witness to political pluralism at its best. The diversity of Indonesian society was accommodated and accepted as an unavoidable consequence for such a pluralistic society. With democracy and Pancasila, the formative years in Indonesian history was filled with the celebration of unity in diversity. Indonesia was built to be ultimate in diversity. The Leftist, the Centrist, the Rightist, the Regionalist and other groups were represented by their various hues and color in Indonesian society. The politics was colorful and the pulls and pressures from various factions in the society were very imminent. Mutual respect and tolerance was observed by these diverse elements in Indonesian society during this period.

However, it was this colorful representation of diversity and the mounting pulls and pressures from various factions in Indonesian society that unfortunately brought a dark history in Indonesian celebration of unity in diversity. Unlike in India, which has a continuous history of unity in diversity barring a brief dictatorship period in the late 1970s, political pluralism in Indonesia experienced a great set back when the curtain of diversity was closed and uniformity was being forced into the Indonesian society for over three decades by civilian leader as well as by men in uniform. During this period from the early 1960s to the late 1990s political pluralism in Indonesia was a mere lip service. The noble ideas of democracy and Pancasila were hijacked to suit the needs of those greedy personalities who claimed to be the champions of Indonesian unity in diversity.

Fortunately, under such a complicated situation, the curtain of diversity in Indonesia was finally re-opened in the late 1990s. With this new lease of life political pluralism is celebrated rigorously by the new generation in Indonesia. The present face of Indonesian politics is similar to India’s: diverse, competitive yet constructive.

The question now is: why India, a much larger, diverse, multi faceted society is capable of preserving its political pluralism rigorously and continuously whereas Indonesia, a smaller reflection of India, must learn the hard way to achieve what it gets today?

It is going to be difficult to answer the question above. But considering the facts explained in the beginning of this article, it would be interesting to conclude this article with some possible suggestions.

To begin with, India and Indonesia possess similar features as pluralistic societies but they have a strikingly different history. Even though the British colonial ruler in India plundered and divided the country into various, warring factions to suit its colonial interests, it somehow allowed the celebration of a limited civil liberty. It educated the masses in the hope of making it a “partner” albeit the lack of equality in it.

These colonial incentives opened up the door for establishing a united society out of diverse and contradictory elements. The presence of selfless, charismatic and visionary leaders in the name of M.K. Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, just to name a few, contributed a lot of help in this process. At the same time, a unifying vehicle to accommodate the diverse aspirations of the people in the form of a political party, the Indian National Congress, added to the possible celebration of political pluralism in a pluralistic society like India.

Indonesia, on the other hand, experienced a bloody struggle against the ruthless colonial masters. The Dutch and the Japanese were no different: they ruthlessly ruled its colony for the sake of its own benefits without any real intention to establish an independent colony. Such incentives given by the British ruler in India was absence in the East Indies. Prominent nationalist leaders like Sukarno, Hatta, Haji Agus Salim, Mohamad Natsir, just to name a few, were charismatic, inspirational and visionary yet they were diluted with their personal concepts of Indonesia. A unifying political vehicle for the diverse interests in the society was also absent. How would it then be possible for Indonesia to celebrate political pluralism?

Indonesia did celebrate political pluralism amidst these contradictory facts. But in the absence of important features like the ones appeared in India, Indonesia succumbed to dictatorship and authoritarianism. Democracy and Pancasila as the minimal shared values were being failed and thus sending political pluralism into graveyard.

To revive and preserve newly found political pluralism in Indonesia, it is important for Indonesia to learn from the Indian experience. Even though the Indian experience is far from perfect, but it has been successful so far to accommodate the varying interests of its populace. The long tradition of mutual respect and tolerance along with selfless, charismatic and visionary leadership in the early years of an independent India proved to become important factors that helped in cementing the concept of political pluralism. Without these factors, I believe, it would be very difficult for India to accept the fact that India is a united entity made of diverse and contradicting elements.

In the end, if India, a country twice the size of Indonesia that has a much more complex and complicated constituents, can celebrate and observe political pluralism religiously, why should there be any difficulty for Indonesia to practice the same? I believe it is a matter of time for Indonesia to really respect political pluralism as a consequence of a pluralistic society.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

My Response to Askanazi

This post is about my responses to the e-mail queries of Evan M. Askanazi, a student at Ohio State University.

(Note: Q stands for Askanazi's Question while A stands for my Answer)

I noticed on your blog your apparent interest in Middle East affairs.

First of all, I would like to stress here that my academic interest is more into the politics and society in South Asia, especially India. Middle East affairs just happened to be one of those affairs in international politics that attract the attention of most of political scientist or political analysts. I fall into the category of those political scientists/commentators who are interested in this Middle East affairs but do not consider myself as the specialist in this matter.

Anyway, being a student of political science, I would like to share the knowledge I’ve learned in the classroom in the hope of spreading the knowledge to wider audiences.

Just wondering, do you see the Israel-Palestine conflicts as entirely the fault of Israel or do you feel Israel, Palestine and Hezbollah share responsibility?

Talking about responsibility, I see the responsibility lies in the hands of all the participants in this conflict (Israel – Hezbullah conflict). All parties are responsible for the humanitarian tragedy inflicted upon the population in the region. These innocent people, regardless of their nationalities and religions, are the ones who suffer the most in this conflict. They were, and still are, trapped in the conflict of interest of those greedy personalities who disregard the value of human lives.

Bigger players in international politics like the US and its European allies also share this responsibility. In my opinion, it is these governments that created the mess in the first place. Israel and Hezbullah are like the peons in a chess game. They are forced to fight against each other while the big boys standing in the periphery, waiting for the tragedy to unfold.

As for the Israel – Palestine conflict, I see it as something slightly different from the Israel – Hezbullah conflict. Israel was created by the victors of the WW II in the land that belonged to the Arab Palestinians (both Muslims and Christians), justifying the move as the implementation of the Biblical description of the Promised Land.

In my opinion, Israel was a mere puppet state created by these victors to wash out their hands from the responsibility of the Holocaust tragedy. If they really wanted to repay the mistake they made for letting the European Jews to be killed mercilessly in the Holocaust during the WW II, they should have integrated the Jewish people back into the society they belonged to instead of creating an exclusively Jewish state in the heart of the Middle East and in doing so, they robbed the fundamental rights of the Arab Palestinian people to live peacefully in their own land. The creation of a Jewish state of Israel in the Middle East was not the correct solution to the problem and instead it created more problems in the region. The subsequent Israeli – Palestinian conflict is the outcome of this shortsightedness, or I may say that it was purposely designed to serve the greed and interest of these powers?

Do you think Israel has a right to exist, but simply disagree with their policies, and protect itself, and how do you think Israel should have responded to the kidnapping of its soldiers?

Every human being has the right to live. Both Palestinians and Israelis have this same right. We have to respect this fact. And since we cannot turn back the time, I see there is no problem for Israel to exist. At the same time, Israeli government should have no problem for an independent state of Palestine. Don’t you think that the Palestinian people have the same right to create an independent state of Palestine in their own land?

As for the kidnapping case, if Israel is really a “democratic” state, they should conduct dialog and negotiation to solve the problem instead of using their superior military prowess to kill innocent people in the region. I think dialogue is the best way forward to achieve a meaningful solution to the problem. What is your take in this matter? How Israel should have responded to the kidnapping of its soldiers?

Do your Indonesian friends on a whole support or condemn Israel? Does the divide between support and opposition occur solely on religious grounds or are there Indonesian Muslims who support Israel and Indonesian Christians who condemn Israel?

Indonesia is an independent state. Indonesian Constitution firmly rejects all kind of occupation and colonialism. If it is true that Israel is wrongfully occupies the rightful territories of the Palestinian people, it is justifiable if Indonesia condemns Israel.

I cannot say much about the personal views of my fellow Indonesians as a whole. But if you want to know about it, you can browse the Indonesian blogosphere to see the reaction yourself. Religion, apart from this national philosophy, is, I believe, also plays a part in the reaction to this conflict.

I should add as a disclaimer that my opinion of the Middle East is influenced as well, being of Jewish heritage and the son of holocaust survivors. I feel Israel's apparent hostilities toward Hezbollah are due to the fact the Jews were loaded onto trains and put into ovens the last time they tried appeasing their enemies. Personally see Israel as in a fight for its survival; to me it seems that if Palestinians lay down their arms, there is no more war but if Israel lays down its arms, there is no more Israel. Moreover, I don't see Israel's conduct as being fundamentally different from other countries and find it has been actually mild compared to how countries like Indonesia, Algeria, Pakistan, the
Sudan and China conduct themselves militarily.

About the conduct of the Indonesian military, I should say that they made mistakes in the past. A lot of human right abuses have been done by the military in conflict areas like Aceh or the erstwhile Indonesian province, the East Timor. But you have to understand that these mistakes occurred during the military regime of General Suharto and with tacit approval from Washington. Just like what the Israeli government is now doing with the clear approval from President Bush.

One thing should also be cleared here that the case in Indonesia is different from Israel. Indonesia was under an authoritarian rule, a military regime, while Israel follows democracy. Aceh is a rightful territory of the Indonesian state. The military was used by the government to curb the separatist group from advocating the independence of Aceh from Indonesia. East Timor is a total mistake. It was against the Indonesian Constitution.

At present, Indonesia is a democratic state and the military is under the leadership of a civilian leader. The current Indonesian military is different from the one under the Suharto regime.

What about Palestine and the suffering of the Palestinian people? Would you comment about it?

Also, I've heard that in Lebanon, the towns being bombarded are largely towns accused of hiding terrorists; Christian areas have remained untouched. I personally view that as a sign Israel is simply trying to hunt down its enemies. Would your views on Israeli attacks be any different if the civilians being bombed were largely Christian?

Hunting down enemies? Why Israel occupies Southern Lebanon? Whose territory is Southern Lebanon? Christian territories remained untouched? I suggest you to re-check your reference.

The advance of the IDF to the Southern Lebanon in the recent conflict was a total disregard of international laws and the action could be termed as an occupation, military aggression. Just like what Saddam did to Kuwait. What’s your take in this matter?

For me, any attack is inhuman. I would condemn all kind of attack towards any kind of group of people or population, regardless of the region, religion, ethnicity or any background they belong to. Being an integral part of multi faceted societies like India and Indonesia, I am blessed to learn to respect human lives regardless of their creed or skin color.

Lastly, if this is about Muslim solidarity and/or Middle Eastern solidarity, does it also exist for the Sudanese Muslims massacred by Arabs, the Lebanese Catholics massacred by Palestinians in the Lebanese civil war or Kurds and other civilians massacred by Saddam, for instance?

Personally, I should emphasize once again that all atrocities as inhuman and I condemn them all. It is very sad and unfortunate that we have to be a part or to witness these tragedies. I hope that we all can live in peace and harmony.

Interested in your response.

Thank you.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Cowboy Vs Tyrant: Iran or the US?

"Why do you always want to settle world affairs by using force and weapons? This era is finished and we are in the era of thought and culture."
(A response by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to President George W. Bush of the USA who recently branded him as tyrant and threatened to use force to solve the nuclear dispute)

In diplomacy, words play very important role in conveying messages from one government to another. The diplomats might put the messages in flowery words to disguise their real intentions but often time the words are straightforward and directly targeted. President Bush of the USA and President Ahmadinejad of Iran are examples of diplomats or heads of states that do not mind the use of direct wording in conveying their messages across.

Remember the time when President Ahmadinejad told his supporters that “Israel should be wiped out of the world map” and “the Jewish holocaust by Nazi is a myth”? And remember the day after September 11 attacks of WTC in New York when President Bush said that “either you are with us or against us” as reference to Al-Qaeda? And his recent comments on “Islamic fascists” and description of Iran's leaders "tyrants," compared them with Al Qaeda terrorists and that the world's free nations would not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon?

These are examples of direct use of words in diplomacy that tends to convey some confrontationist and aggressive policy.

It is a public secret that Iran and the US have not been able to get along well ever since the Islamic revolution took place in Iran in 1979. Moreover, the hawkish policy of the US government in the region and towards Muslim countries as a whole has provoked even further the disenchantment between the two governments. The latest is the Iranian ambition to acquire nuclear technology and strong opposition from the US government regarding the matter. Accusing Iran of building nuclear weaponry in the disguise of developing peaceful nuclear technology, the US use all its resources to block the realization of Iranian nuclear program.

Acquiring nuclear technology is the right of any sovereign nation. This is not an exclusive right of certain group or countries to possess the technology. As long as the concerned country is responsible and using the technology for peaceful purposes, there should be no objection to it. Iran, as well as other country like India or Indonesia, is eligible to acquire the technology for peaceful purposes. The increasing needs of energy to sustain the development of these developing countries have urged them to find sustainable source of energy. Nuclear technology is one of the ways to fulfill this energy need and thus they should not be denied of this right to acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

Coming back to the quotation above, it is interesting to see that the president of a country that claims to be the leader of the “world’s free nations” and the oldest democracy in the world used strong and even confronting rhetoric to force its personal agenda of “dominating the world”. The use of “language of force” or threats to solve differences is an opposition to democracy and democratic principles. It is like a cowboy who always pulls his gun whenever and wherever he wants to solve problems he is confronting. In the free world, cowboys only live in movies, not in reality. Instead, dialogue, deliberation, discussion as well as the rule of law are the guidelines that should be followed by all inhabitants to solve problems. The use of force is no longer an acceptable way to resolve problems. On the contrary, the use of force will only add to more problems.

President Bush’s use of language of force in this free world against Iran’s “stubbornness” to defend its right as a sovereign nation is like a cowboy who is eager to pull the trigger of his guns to resolve his problem. Once enemy’s dead, problem’s solved. Simple. But look at Iraq, Afghanistan or Lebanon in recent time. The use of force only added to more misery and complication of problems to the populace in these countries. It did not solve their problem.

Realizing the grave outcome of any use of force, President Ahmadinejad said that the cowboy’s era is finished and “we are in the era of thought and culture”. Iran, a country led by a “tyrant”, is ready to discuss the nuclear dispute between Iran and the rest of the world and listen to the argumentations in order to arrive at the solution to the problem. Iran is against the use of force and weapons and it is against the US and British plans to dominate the world.

Furthermore, President Ahmadinejad last month invited President Bush to a television debate "under the condition that nothing is censored". However, the White House rejected the invitation terming it as a "distraction" from the nuclear dispute. It is an attempt by Iran to “threaten” the US.

Iran’s insistence to conduct dialogue, discussion and negotiation to resolve problems and differences instead of confrontation and the use of force and weapons shows that in the world of free nations even a “tyrant” prefers the peaceful means of discussion and dialogue and the rule of law to solve problems. The era of settling problems and world affairs by the use of weapons and force is over and the era of thought and culture has arrived in which reasons and dialogue rule. It is now “the era of people and nobody should believe that they can sit in their glass houses and rule over the world.”

Who is the tyrant and who is the cowboy? Is it something of two faces of the same coin? Or is it really two different things? The answer is up to you to decide.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Unjust Racial Profiling

After the thwarted mid-air bombing earlier this month in Britain, suspicions toward Asian (brown-skinned, non-white people) are on the sharp increase. Consider these illustrations:

Immediately after the failed plot to blow airline mid-air, the British police arrested 24 British Asians for their suspected involvement in the failed plot. Two weeks later, only eight out of that 24 initially arrested were formally charged with conspiracy to murder and plotting acts of terrorism, and another three for lesser crime.

Last week, two male passengers in their twenties were offloaded from a Mornarch Airlines flight from Spain to Manchester, the U.K. because they looked like Middle Eastern and ‘may have been speaking Arabic.’ Their ‘suspicious behavior’ was the reason for this action.

The latest incident was the detainment of 12 passengers on board a Northwest Airlines plane from Amsterdam to Mumbai by the Dutch authority for 12 hours simply because they ‘looked’ and ‘behaved’ liked Islamic terrorists. According to Dutch authorities, US marshals on board of the flight got suspicious because the 12 passengers, later known to be Indian nationals, were using mobile phones, talking laudly and changing seats.

Isn’t there any racial issue involved? If not, why all these terrorist-suspicion related incidents involved Asians? Are Asian (non-white) terrorists? If it is so, can’t we consider this attitude as racism by the White, a racial stereotyping?

Many have thought that with globalization – increased migrations and more ethnicities living geographically together – racial hostilities and anxieties would diminish and become the thing of the past. After all, the old colonizing mindset of superiority was based on power and on general ignorance about ‘other’ peoples. Unfortunately, things have changed dramatically in the post-9/11 world.

Ever since the report on 9/11 tragedy in the US was released in which Arab Muslim terrorists under the banner of Al-Qaeda were allegedly conducted this inhuman attack on civilians, suspicion on non-whites, especially Asian, by the majority community (read: the white people) are on the increase. Terrorism became the popular word and non-whites are the targets. Whenever there is security alert on the possibility of terror attack, Muslims and Asians (brown-skinned people) are the first to be suspected and be held responsible. Illustrations above only support this argument.

True that being vigilant is necessary and natural in which we all have to be alert from any eventuality. But being constantly suspicious towards certain groups of community or ethnicity for their ‘distinct behavior’ is an overzealous suspicion at its worst. This vigilant attitude is amount to baseless fear and sheer paranoia. Adding to the worsening of the situation is the reactions from the security officials, whose job is to actually be able to not make dangerous generalizations, who seem to be as ignorant as the regular Joe racist. They would immediately jump to the conclusion of imminent threat of terror for any ‘suspicious behavior’ of non-white, brown-skinned people. Moreover, the ethnic profiling that has been in practice in Europe has so far mostly caused trouble to air travelers, especially to people with brown skin (non-whites) regardless of their faith. It was reported recently that Claude Moraes, a London Labour Member of European Parliament, has claimed that he has been repeatedly treated as a suspected terrorist while traveling because of his ‘distinct appearance.’

It seems the racial jump made to equate all Muslims or brown-skinned, non-white people regardless of their faith with a threat of terror has been too easy and immediate. This is very dangerous and if it is not checked and remedied immediately, we could possibly witness a clash of civilizations as the result of little else but sheer ignorance.

Rooting out this kind of knee-jerk behavior based along racial lines is hard but not impossible. Ignorance is, in my opinion, the root of this mess. Thus to root it out, we have to first eradicate this ignorance through dialogues and discussions between the different groups in the society in order to build up an understanding of their issues and differences. It would educate the members of the majority community about the ‘other’ people. This kind of inter-faith or inter-racial dialogues and cooperation can be used as an important opening to solve the problems.

At the same time, the government should be more pro-active and genuine in improving the situation. Government sponsored programs to integrate the minority communities into the mainstream can also be considered as important step towards rooting out this problem. Once this process is successful, insecurity feelings among minority communities and suspicions that prevalent in the minds of the majority community can be eradicated.

This is the homework that must immediately be cleared up by the authorities, especially the Western authorities. At the same time, in regard with terrorism, they have to re-think the way in identifying the potential of terror threat. There should not be any generalizations in this perspective and they should learn and care more about parts of the world and the peoples outside their vicinity. Ignorance is the very source of enmity and ignorance of ‘other’ people is a stop closer to terrible, civilizational tragedy.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Building Democracy in Myanmar

This week, in the sideline of the five-day meeting starting Monday between Southeast Asian ministers in Malaysia to put plans for a European-style single market, an Asean Economic Community, by 2015 on the fast track, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also plan to sign a pact to facilitate trade and investment with the United States -- a step closer to a free trade agreement that signals stronger linkages with ASEAN’s number 1 trading partner.

The proposed pact will be called a “trade and investment facilitation arrangement”, a cooperation pact that is less formal than an agreement. Foreign ministers from ASEAN countries will sign the pact and the US Trade Representative, Susan Schwab, will represent the US government. Downplaying the significance of the wording, ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong said that it was a flexible arrangement to overcome any potential US congressional opposition.

Since Washington imposes sanctions on Myanmar, one of the members of ASEAN, an informal arrangement like this does not require congressional approval to be operative. The decision to call the pact as an arrangement is, according to Ong, a tactical move to expedite the process. The arrangement will enable deeper business dealings between the US and all the members of ASEAN, including Myanmar, without Washington having first to lift any sanction imposed on one of ASEAN’s member state.

This proposed trade pact should be a welcome relief for ASEAN as an organization. The pact should allow the opening up of new opportunities in business and economic engagement between the two sides as well as an opening tactic to engage Myanmar actively. It is an open secret that the main reason for the EU or the US reluctance to engage ASEAN actively is Myanmar’s human right record and its lack of democracy. At the same time, the stubbornness of the military junta in Myanmar to improve the local situation added the situation from bad to worse.

The recent meeting of ASEAN ministers in Bali, Indonesia, to discuss about Myanmar’s problem failed to yield into any meaningful results. Pressures to Yangon by prominent members of ASEAN like Indonesia and Malaysia to show concrete steps towards democracy seem to have entered deaf ears in which Yangon only gave empty promises and no realistic steps have been taken so far. It even extended the house arrest term of Myanmar’s democratic leader, Aung San Su Kyi that should have been released this year.

This situation is definitely frustrating for other ASEAN member states. ASEAN as an organization wants to move forward but one of its members is stubborn enough not to be a part of the democratic setup in which a new ASEAN is based upon. If the situation continues, it will only add to more struggles and difficulties for ASEAN to strengthen its economic prowess and counter the increasing competition from the rising giants China and India.

How to clear, or at least reduce, this hurdle? Should ASEAN isolate Myanmar? Or should ASEAN engage Myanmar more actively to create a genuine impression about ASEAN’s intention to build a better situation in the region?

It is a tricky situation as long as democracy and human right are concern. Stubbornness shown by Myanmar’s military ruler to show concrete steps towards democracy is understandable. Relinquishing status quo is just like giving up our own lives. No body wants to do that, nor Yangon wants to relinquish its strict control over Myanmar people. At the same time Yangon seems to also see in some members of ASEAN the lack of democratic practice but no body seems to bother about it or tend to be apologetic about it. Look at Singapore or Malaysia for example.

Pressurizing Myanmar to show concrete steps towards democracy and to improve its human right records is like pressurizing Singapore or Malaysia to abandon its strict control over people’s basic rights and transform itself wholeheartedly towards liberal democracy in which people are free to practice their basic rights such as freedom of speech and expression. The recent effort by Malaysian government to control the free flow of blog, or citizen media, is a clear example of state’s effort to restrict its citizens’ right of freedom of speech and expression.

In my opinion, the most realistic way to clear, or at least reduce the Myanmar problem in ASEAN is by engaging it more actively and show more genuine efforts towards working together to improve democratic practice in Myanmar and in all other ASEAN member countries. It is not only Myanmar that needs to practice democracy but all members of ASEAN should be a part of a real democracy in which people are free to exercise their basic rights. Isolating Myanmar should be avoided at all cost. Because an isolation approach will only result in the opposite: Myanmar will fall into the hands of those countries that oppose the concept of democracy and respect of human rights.

Thus the decision by ASEAN and the US to sign a trade pact “arrangement” so as to allow all members of ASEAN to be a part of it is surely a positive “tactical move to expedite the process” towards democracy and improving human right record in Myanmar. It will be an important step towards establishing greater understanding among ASEAN member states, and the US in this case, towards engaging Myanmar more actively. If India, the world largest democracy, is willing to engage Myanmar actively as an effort to introduce democracy there, why ASEAN can’t do the same? Politics of isolation is doomed to fail but politics of engagement will flourish into a better future.

Monday, July 31, 2006

From Qana to a Sustainable Peace in the Mideast

The continuous Israeli military offensive in southern Lebanon provoked by Hezbollah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers has not stopped even though many countries in both Arab and non-Arab world have condemned the actions. This IDF military operation to “root out Hezbollah from Lebanon” has killed more than 500 civilians in Lebanon, injuring and displacing thousands others from the comfort of their homes. The latest and bloodiest attack occurred last Sunday when Israeli bombs reduced the buildings that housed refugees from other villages and cities in the village of Qana in southern Lebanon into ruble. Fifty-four civilians were reportedly killed, 37 of them children.

If the initial military offensive by Israel received mild and reluctant condemnation from the international community, this brutal killing of innocent civilians, mostly children who were asleep when the bombs landed, has received unequivocal condemnation and calls for immediate ceasefire from all corners of the globe but the USA. President Bush, speaking in Florida on Monday, said Israel had the right to defend itself and called on Iran and Syria to stop aiding Hezbollah. He further elaborated that there could be no cease-fire until Hezbollah was reined in and international borders respected, reiterating the U.S. stance on the conflict.

Israel, while regretting the loss of civilian lives, maintained that the Hezbollah fighters have used Qana to launch rocket attacks on northern Israel and that enough warning had been given to innocent civilians by way of air-dropped pamphlets. Thus they pleaded innocent and justified the attacks on Qana and blamed Hezbollah for this “accident”. Furthermore, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel would not agree to an immediate cease-fire and planned to expand military operations in Lebanon.

Reacting to this tragedy, Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora issued a statement describing the event as an “Israeli massacre”. He went even further by denying US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who was scheduled to arrive in Beirut on Sunday, from visiting Lebanon until the announcement of an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

India, a country known to be having close relation with the region but which has so far been reluctant to strongly condemn the Israeli military operation in southern Lebanon because Tel Aviv claimed they were acting against sponsors of terrorism, issued its strongest statement of condemnation on the Qana tragedy. New Delhi slammed Israel’s Sunday massacre in Qana and termed it as “continued irresponsible and indiscriminate bombing of Lebanon by the Israeli military, ignoring calls for restraint”. If in its earlier statement India said to have only regretted Israel’s “disproportionate” reaction to Hezbollah’s attacks, it now called for “an immediate and unconditional ceasefire”.

In Indonesia, the government strongly condemned the Israeli airstrike on Qana in southern Lebanon. It further said that the tragedy has strengthened the urgent need for an immediate cease-fire in the region and the best way to stop this from happening again is for Israel to end its military operations.

Post Qana massacre, Israel announced a 48 hours halt to its aerial strike on Lebanon in order to conduct a probe on Sunday’s Qana tragedy and provide safe passage to stranded Lebanese in southern Lebanon to leave for safer place. The UNSC immediately held a meeting to discuss the possibility of setting up a new peacekeeping force in the region. But, less than 24 hours after the Qana bombing, Israel has resumed its military operation in southern Lebanon thus dimming the hope of any early solution to the crisis.

The quick turns of events in this Israel – Hezbollah conflict has definitely affected the possibility of creating a “sustainable” ceasefire in the region. The assurance by Ms. Rice that a resolution to the conflict could be reached by this week becomes meaningless when her boss in Washington and the Israeli government have insisted on reining in on Hezbollah first before any ceasefire could be called. At the same time, Hezbollah and its supporters would never let this scenario to happen and they will fight till the end.

This gloomy scenario is really disturbing. If the crisis continues many more civilians will be killed and peace in the region would become elusive. If only a “new Middle East” scripted by the US could be achieved, it would be very gloomy and bloody. Terrorism would escalate even further and civilians would suffer the most and become the victims in the conflicts. The current events in Iraq mirror the possible future in the region.

To avoid this worse case scenario, the international community must immediately work together through international organization like the UN to give a unified voice of concern and pressure to the US and Israel to end the crisis. The US can make or break any collaborative efforts to solve the crisis. The failure of Rome meeting last week was an example of US importance in this matter. At the same time, exclusion of Hezbollah in the meeting was a mistake.

Thus, to reach any meaningful result there should be some serious diplomatic engagement to all parties involve in the conflict. Once a common ground has been achieved, restraint and ceasefire that would lead to a long lasting, or sustainable peaceful agreement, could as well be achieved. Qana tragedy should become a grim reminder that a continuing crisis in the region will only kill more innocent civilians and instability.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Moral Responsibility and Tsunami

On Monday, 17 July 2006, tsunami struck the southern coastal lines of Java Island. After a 7.7 magnitude earthquake that centered in the seabed of the Indian Ocean rocked the capital city of Jakarta, a small but devastating tsunami struck the southern coastal lines of Java, killing more than 500 people and injuring many others as well as devastating the livelihood and properties of the people living in the areas.

Immediately after learning about this natural disaster from various media, I wrote in my weblog that "... the authority immediately issued a tsunami warning to the people in the coastal areas, asking them to leave their homes for higher ground for any eventual tsunami."

However, I made a mistake when I wrote about this government's immediate response about any eventual tsunami that might strike the coastal areas after the earthquake that reached as far as the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. The fact is that it was the Indonesian Transport Minister, Hatta Rajasa, who issued an instruction to the people in the coastal areas already being hit by the tsunami to retreat to higher ground for their safety.

Neither he nor the Indonesian government issued this instruction before the tsunami occurred. Instead, his instruction came when a tsunami has already hit the southern coastal areas of Java and has taken the lives and properties of the people there.

Two days later, it was reported in various media that the warning about any possible tsunami issued by the Japanese Meteorological Department and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii soon after the 7.7 magnitude quake had actually come to be known by the Minister of Research and Technology, Kusmayanto Kadiman, through an SMS 20 minutes well before the actual tsunami occurred. However, upon receiving this message chose to remain silent and played down the threat. He only publicly revealed about the SMS and the warning he received well after the tragedy had struck.

The government knew about the danger but chose to remain silent. No official warning issued to the public. The officials said that they were too busy monitoring the aftershocks of this 7.7 magnitude quake.

For the record, no tsunami warning system has been set up for the southern coast of Java. An Indonesian warning system was supposed to be up and running by now after the 2004 tsunami, the worst on record, but it has stalled. No clear reason given by the government.

Had there been a tsunami warning system running in the areas hit by the quake, and had the Indonesian Minister who knew about the danger of tsunami informed the public and asked them to immediately leave for higher ground for their safety, the huge human and material loss due to this natural disaster could have been avoided.

Similarly, upon answering reporters' questions as to why no warning was issued on Monday, Vice President Jusuf Kalla claimed there was no need to issue such warning because most people had fled inland after the earthquake, fearing a tsunami. On the contrary, the strong quake felt in Jakarta was relatively negligible in these regions. Reports in various media say that only several persons in the coastal areas felt a slight tremor.

Furthermore, no one in the southern coastal region said that there was a mass movement of people to higher ground before the tsunami. Only some residents and tourists in the area recognized the signs of tsunami when the sea level receded suddenly and the wall of water approaching. They immediately fled to higher ground for safety. It was a purely natural instinct of saving oneself from danger and not from any tsunami warning issued by the government that minimized the number of the victims. But yet this natural signs and human instinct failed to save many others.

This government’s inaction and reluctance to inform the public about the imminent danger of tsunami, in my opinion, makes the government highly and morally responsible for this natural disaster. Aceh’s tsunami should have become the best teacher and experience to avoid similar catastrophe in the archipelago. But it seemed that the government is very slow to react. They played down the warning of an imminent danger of tsunami by “being busy monitoring the aftershocks” and claiming that “there was no need to inform the public believing that most people had fled inland after the earthquake, fearing a tsunami”.

Thus, in my opinion, the Research and Technology Minister, or even the Vice President Kalla, should willingly resign on moral ground. He failed to do his job and the public had to pay for it with their lives and the loss of properties. Had the government acted immediately and responsibly, the huge loss of human lives and properties caused by the tsunami could have been minimized. The government as a whole has to be held morally responsible for this tsunami disaster.

This post was published with some cuts and editings in The Jakarta Post on Saturday, 22 July 2006. The title of the published form was "Govt at Fault in Tsunami".

Friday, July 07, 2006

Sport, Business and Israel

The unjustified ‘collective punishment’ by Israel to the Palestinian people seems to have evoked contradicting responses in Indonesia. Being a staunch supporter of Palestinian cause and statehood, Indonesian leaders think that Indonesia needs to show her sympathy and solidarity to the Palestinian people. But sport and business in Indonesia seem to have different take on this Israel – Palestine political conflict. Let’s take a closer look to the latest incidents related to this ongoing conflict.

First is the decision by the Indonesian government not to send the Indonesian Fed Cup team scheduled to play a playoff tie with the Israeli team for the World Group II in Tel Aviv later this month. Having worked so hard to reach the world group, this decision is a big blow to the Indonesian Fed Cup team: demotion from the World Group, inability to qualify for the World Group II next year and will face a host of penalties from the ITF.

Besides a possible fine of US$50,000 from the ITF and reimbursement of the Israeli association's expenses for hosting the tie for defaulting the tie, the players could also face suspension from international tournaments. And should the suspension last two years, it means Indonesia will miss the chance to play in the 2008 Olympic Game in Beijing. This is a very huge loss to the Indonesian tennis development.

Second, on June 25-29 a delegation from the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) was in Israel and concluded an economic agreement with the Manufacturers Associations of Israel (MAI) in an effort to seek closer business relations and assistance for Indonesia's economy. Under the deal, the two groups will work to exchange business information, forming joint business projects, and assist Indonesian and Israel businesspeople in their activities in the two countries.

Kadin Chairman Mohammad Hidayat said that the Kadin’s delegation visit to Israel and the subsequent agreement signed between Kadin and MAI was conducted in the capacity of Kadin as an independent business association and purely for business purposes. He reiterated that there is no diplomatic or political issues involved in it and the challenges now are to realize the cooperation for Indonesia’s benefit without resulting in any political implications.

According to Kadin, two-way trade between Indonesia and Israel was valued at around US$160 million last year, up from $120 million in 2004. Indonesia mostly imported chemicals and electronic components valued at some $14 million from Israel last year, and predominantly exported electronic products, plastics and rubber. The new agreement would permit the exploration of more business opportunities from Israel in the fields of agriculture, horticulture, information technology and advance technology equipment. A pilot project in agriculture and horticulture is soon to be launched in Indonesia and more Israeli investment will be available soon in Indonesia.

In the first incident, the Indonesian government insisted that the Indonesian Tennis Association (Pelti) not to send the Fed Cup team to Israel as a show of solidarity and sympathy to the Palestinian people. Even though the invitation to play in Tel Avis was extended by the Israeli Tennis Association, an independent tennis body, and not by the invitation of the Israeli government, the current event in Palestine seems to have forced the Indonesian government to reconsider its previous stance to give the team a green light to go to Israel. The reason: the Indonesian government can no longer tolerate what Israel has done to Palestine.

On the contrary, Kadin insisted that its engagement with MAI is solely for business purposes and not related to any political or diplomatic cooperation. For the sake of business investment and economic development in Indonesia, Kadin insisted on giving the green light to the implementation of the recently signed agreement. Kadin had never officially informed the government about the visit nor sought any permission for it. The Israeli Embassy in Singapore was involved in arranging the trip while several Indonesian government officials knew about it beforehand. Until now, Indonesia and Israel do not have any bilateral diplomatic ties.

Politically speaking, the Indonesian tennis team should have gone ahead with the schedule and go to Tel Aviv to play against the Israeli team there. The team is invited by an independent organization, the Israeli Tennis Association, to play there and not by the Israeli government. If Kadin could visit Tel Aviv and go ahead with its plan of more intense bilateral relation between Indonesia and Israel in business and investment without prior blessing of the government, why can’t Pelti take similar, independent stand in this matter? Tennis is a sport, politics is wholly different matter. The two should be separated as far as possible. Let the players play the game of tennis, and the politicians play the game of politics.

Witnessing the heroic struggle of the Indonesian Fed Cup team to qualify into the World Group two years ago in New Delhi was a delight and a historic personal experience. Knowing that the team I have supported wholeheartedly to be demoted to a lesser degree due to political pressure is disheartening.

Showing sympathy and solidarity to the Palestinian people does not mean that we have to sacrifice our national interests. Kadin has given this example. Being able to play more active role in international forums to pressurize Israel to solve the conflict in the region peacefully is more important for Indonesia than boycotting a tennis tournament.

If India, another staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, can work hand in hand and even opened up a diplomatic tie with the Jewish state without lessening its support to Palestine and the Palestinian people, why Indonesia can’t do the same? Kadin’s decision to go ahead with its business cooperation with MAI is, in my opinion, a big step forward to improve the economic condition and investment opportunities in Indonesia. Let’s play the game of tennis.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Dragging Israel to ICJ?

In late January 2006, Hamas won a landslide victory in democratically administered elections in Palestine. As a hard line Islamic group, Hamas took over the baton of leadership in Palestine from the Fatah faction and its victory has evoked mixed responses from different quarters. In Muslim world and young democracy like Indonesia in which the majority of its population is Muslim, the victory means that Islam does not contradict with democracy and instead it is a sign of an advance towards a democratic setup in Muslim world.

On the contrary, the West, especially the US, Israel, and their allies in Europe, rejected this victory and immediately distanced itself from the possibility of dealing with a Hamas led government in Palestine. They even went further by cutting off all financial aids and banking channels to the Palestinian Authority, an important lifeline for the functioning of any government in Palestine, once Hamas formed a new government. The seemingly pragmatist stance taken lately as well as the unilateral ceasefire by Hamas did not give any effect to their stance. Their reasons: Hamas is a terrorist group who refuses to recognize Israel and does not want to foreswear the use of violence in their struggle to establish an independent Palestine state. The boycott and closure of financial aids and banking channels have crippled the functioning of the new government in Palestine.

At the same time, the change of guard in Israel in late March 2006 from Ariel Sharon to Ehud Olmert seemed to have hardened the decision by the Israeli government to unilaterally define its national border. Having secured majority support in the Knesset, Olmert vowed not to conduct any negotiation with a ‘terror group’ (Hamas). He stubbornly continued Sharon’s effort to unilaterally define Israel’s national border regardless of any objection from the Palestinian Authority.

And when the atmosphere of hostility between Israel and Palestine seemed to start winding down, mostly due to the unilateral decision by Hamas not to conduct any attack to Israel and the changing attitude by its leadership towards Israel in which Hamas leadership seemed to be ready to take a pragmatic stance for the sake of the Palestinian people, Israel triggered a new conflict with Palestine. Not satisfied with its political and economic stranglehold on Palestine, Israel is now trying to grab more territory from the Palestinian Authority. PM Olmert has announced recently in Washington that a Greater Israel will be created by 2010 as a final settlement of the Palestinian issue. The Israeli state plans to annex formally the whole of Jerusalem and significant portions of the West Bank, including those already gobbled up by the ‘apartheid wall’, which Israel is constructing at breakneck speed.

Israel started its grandiose plan with an attack to innocent holiday-makers in Gaza beach, killing 10 innocent Palestinians and injuring many others to instigate a reaction from the Palestinians. It went even further by recently conducting series of air strikes in Gaza in which more innocent civilians have been killed and public infrastructure damaged, besides the illegal arrest of Hamas legislators, in brutal search of Corporal Gilad Shalit that has been held captive by Palestinian militants in Gaza. These attacks surely could precipitate another unavoidable intifada in Palestine and formally ended the ceasefire between Hamas and the Israel state.

Regardless of the status of Hamas in the eyes of Israel and its allies, they are the legitimate elected representatives of the Palestinians to rule the Palestinian Authority. On the contrary, the grandiose plan of PM Olmert to create a Greater Israel and the recent attack by Israeli forces on innocent civilians and public infrastructure in Palestine in which power and water stations and government buildings in the Gaza Strip were destroyed have violated international law. The attack has engendered humanitarian crisis in the region and has sent levels of stress and trauma higher among civilians.

In response to this heinous attack on innocent civilians, the Hamas-led Palestinian authority wants to take a legal route by planning to file a petition against Israel in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at Hague, accusing it of committing “war crimes against Palestinians”. The plan has an echo in Switzerland, a nation usually known for its political neutrality, in which it condemned this ‘collective punishment’ imposed on Palestinians, calling it a breach of the Geneva Conventions.

Palestinian Authority’s Justice Minister Ahmad Al Khalidi said recently that if the court fails to stop Israel’s aggression against the Palestinians, Hamas would have no choice but to use violence in order to protect the Palestinian people. Furthermore, he said that suing Israel in the ICJ is a test for international institutions. If they deny the rights of Palestinians, then the international community has to act responsibly when it comes to blocking the legal channels to the Palestinians, forcing them to use violence to defend themselves.

Surely, if this process goes successfully, it is a test for international institution and international community to react positively and use the common sense and do justice to those people that have been the victims of injustices. Bringing the matter of Israel and Palestine to the ICJ can also be used as a legal, middle way process to settle the conflict in the region once and for all.

If the international community could justify the establishment of Israel state in the bank of River Jordan in the post-Holocaust tragedy in Europe by the Nazi German, they must justify the basic rights of the Palestinians to live a life of dignity and peace in their own homeland. If justice can be done to the people of Palestine, violence and humanitarian crisis in the region could be well avoided. But if the bias and partiality in judgment prevail, the crisis would only plunge even deeper and violence would escalate further. The current Israeli offensives have enough force to trigger a third intifada by the militant groups in Palestine.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Building a Bridge through Europe

On 20-21 June 2006, a second International Conference of Islamic Scholars was held in Jakarta. Representatives from various Muslim countries as well as those of other religious groups were present for the two days conference with the aim of building a better understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims through dialogue so as to eradicate hostilities and discord among them. The conference tried to project a moderate Islam as the legitimate representative of Islam in an effort to reject the increasing radicalism among Muslims throughout the Muslim world.

In this conference, leaders of Nadhlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s two largest Muslim organizations, expressed their commitment to campaigning for moderate Islam to counter the emergence of militant groups. They would not seek strict religious formalism in pluralist Indonesia – meaning the upholding of the outward signs and practices of the religion – nor tolerate the use of violence in the name of the religion.

At the same time, the results of a new international survey of more than 14,000 people in 13 nations (in Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Spain, Turkey and the United States) by Pew as a part of Pew's Global Attitude Project for 2006 conducted in April and May this year was released. The survey found out that Westerners and Muslims around the world have radically different views of world events, and each group tends to view the other as violent, intolerant, and lacking respect for women. There is discord between Muslim world and West.

Muslims worldwide, including the large Islamic communities in Britain, France, Germany and Spain, broadly blamed the West, while Westerners tended to blame Muslims. Muslims in the Middle East and Asia depicted Westerners as immoral and selfish, while Westerners saw Muslims as fanatical.

The overall results of this research, according Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, show that “even though relations are not good, there has not been a spike in outright hostility between the two groups over the past year.” While both sides see relations as bad, it is, at least, “not getting worse.”

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. Even though there has been an increase in the Muslim radicalism in Indonesia in recent years, but majority of Muslims there are having moderate view on Islam. The two largest Muslim organizations in Indonesia, the NU and Muhammadiyah, represent this group of moderate Muslims. It would be understandable then that an initiative to build a bridge between the opposing communities comes from moderate Muslim community in Indonesia. However, if we believe the result of Pew’s survey, Europe could be the starting point where a bridge could be built to improve the situation. Why?

There is one interesting thing in this year’s survey in which for the first time Pew interviewed Muslims in Europe as a group. Furthermore, the view from Europe could play a very important role in this process of creating “a bridge” between the widely divergent views of other Europeans and Muslims in Asia and the Middle East. Two reasons support this argument.

First, with support for terrorism declined in some Muslim countries surveyed, dropping dramatically in Jordan, where terrorist bombings killed more than 50 people in Amman in November and two-thirds of the French public expressed positive views of Muslims, and even larger majorities of French Muslims felt favorable to Christians and Jews, Muslims in Europe are less inclined to see a “clash of civilizations” than general publics in Europe and Muslims elsewhere.

Second, European Muslims lined up with European general publics on some issues, indicating that integration might be moving ahead better than recent events would suggest. Even though the survey found that British Muslims were highly critical of Westerners, holding negative views resembling those of Muslims in Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, and Nigeria, who generally saw Westerners as violent and immoral, for example, this view was not shared by Muslims in France, Germany and Spain.

Thus this distinct view of Muslims in Europe could be used as an initial foundation to build a bridge to create better understanding and erase discord between Muslim world and the West. Moderate Indonesian Muslims have the opportunity to lead the way, but European Muslims have already shown the way.

Without undermining the potentials and capabilities of Muslims in Indonesia to play important role in bridging the gap between Muslim world and the West, the European Muslim has the edge. Their first hand experience and contact with the West and an age-old democratic practice in Europe as compared to the peripheral geographic location of Indonesian Muslims with young democracy are more important than rhetoric and numerical strength. Experience is the best teacher.

However, a one-way step will not yield any fruitful result without the collaboration from the opposing side. A reciprocal action from the West is also important to make the process successful. They have to change their views and policies towards Muslim world, especially on Israel – Palestine’s relation and Iraq. A balanced policy on this issue would certainly create a breakthrough and could yield positive result in the future.

For now, it is European Muslims that have the edge to begin the arduous process of building a bridge that would minimize the gap and discord between Muslim world and the West. At the same time, having the number on its side, moderate Indonesian Muslims should no longer wait to also play their own role in this process. Leave the rhetoric now and start the real work. Collective effort is much better than individual effort.

This post was published in the Op-Ed section of an Indonesian national daily, The Jakarta Post on Friday, 30 June 2006.
The published title was Building the Bridge Through Europe