Sunday, February 19, 2006

Conflicting Democracies

There is a concept in political science that a democracy will never be at war against other democracy. Any conflict that arises between them is to be solved through dialog and mutual understanding. However, the recent confronting reaction by Israel and the West, especially the US, to the democratically elected Hamas government in Palestine has posed some doubt to this concept.

At the same time, contrary to the reactionary response by the Israeli and the US government of cutting the foreign fund to the Palestinian Authority, the less democratically elected governments in the Arab world have decided to support the Palestinian case by finding ways to provide the necessary funds needed to run the new democratically elected Palestinian government.

Israel and the US have been known for long as the champions of democracy. The governments in these countries as well as the practice of governance there have been done in accordance with the principles of democracy. However, their responses to the result of a democratic process in Palestine have given some doubts to their practice of democracy.

Immediately after the announcement of the winner of the January 25 Palestinian Elections where Hamas, a militant Islamic group that long has been branded as a terrorist group by the West and Israel, has won a landslide victory in the elections, the Israeli government rejected to accept the result and decided to sever relations with the Palestinian Authority and ruled out any negotiation with future Palestinian Authority. At the same time, the US has forced Hamas leaderships to renounce violence and threatened them with severe consequences if they fail to oblige.

These threats have been materialized this week when the Israeli Cabinet under the leadership of acting PM Ehud Olmert decided to halt the payment of customs duties it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, worth around $50 million a month as well as prevent residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip from crossing into Israel for work.

At this point of time, the US Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleeza Rice, is starting her Asian tour with the aim of building an opinion among the countries in Asia, especially in the Middle East, against the newly elected Hamas government in Palestine as well as against Iran. She will try to gather supports from the region to alienate and isolate these governments from the international communities. Iran’s defiance to call off its nuclear program has been the source of this call.

The US, Israel, Iran as well as the Palestinian Authority are all practicing democratic principles. The governments in these countries are elected through democratic processes and received the rightful mandate from the people. So, in line with the concept above, these countries are in no position to be against each other. The democratic principles adhered to by these countries should become a bonding principles for them to work together for the benefits of humanity instead of fighting against each other.

Reasons to Consider

There are three important reasons to be considered as to why these democracies are not eager to work together as a powerful entity for the improvement of the whole humanity.

The first and foremost reason of contradiction between these democracies is the constituents of the governments elected in these countries. Second is the desperate ambition by the West, especially the US, to assert its domination in this uni-polar world. The third reason is the absence of any secular, credible and egalitarian alternative for the people to turn to.

The neo-conservative dominated US government under President Bush is determined to push its agenda of world domination at any cost. In Israel, even though the current government is under the leadership of the ailing PM Ariel Sharon who has lately repositioned himself as a broad, peace minded leader, but the fact that he came and grew from a hard line party, the Likud Party, cannot erase the real face of General Ariel Sharon.

In Iran, in the failure of a moderate Islamic government of Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose to the podium of power as an Islamic hardliner. Similarly, Hamas is a militant Islamic movement that does not recognize the existence of Israel and is determined to the destruction of the Jewish state.

The differences in the compositions of the constituents of these democracies have led into a conflicting stance among them.

The fact that the US is desperate to assert its domination in the more and more uni-polar world further supports the growing conflict between these democracies. This is the second reason why these democracies are at a fix against each other. In the pretext of saving humanity from terrorist threats, the US government under President George W. Bush is desperate to control the international politics. The defiance shown by Iran is only a natural reaction from an oppressed community.

Coming to the third reason, in the absence of any secular, credible and egalitarian alternative in the society, people turned its choice to the available options. In the US, it is the neo-conservatism. In Israel, the Jewish hardliners got the biggest boost while in Iran and in Palestine Islamic virtues have been chosen as the most available alternative to cure the ailing society.

With the propaganda of the “Clash of Civilizations” continues to dominate the foreign policy of the global powers, retaliatory actions are the only natural things to be expected from the oppressed groups.

Concluding this article, the question as to why these democracies are in conflict is answered through the explanations given in the three important reasons mentioned above. The conflicting interests and the basis on which these democracies have been built are the keys as to why there is conflict among them. The absence of deep understanding on the importance of putting people’s interest above everything else and the absence of any secular, credible and egalitarian alternative in the offer, have also resulted in a conflict even between democracies. This conflicting situation becomes a proof that even the concept of social science is relative.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Need for Consistency

The elaboration given by MJ Akbar in his opinion published by The Jakarta Post on 16 February 2006 (The Answer is Mahatma Gandhi) was illuminating. It gave some profound ideas on how the tolerant behavior has been an inseparable part of the Indian society.

In his book, The Argumentative Indian, Nobel Prize holder Prof. Amartya Sen also gave a very good insight on the nature of the Indian society. Way back during the reign of Ashoka or Akbar, tolerance has been respected and practiced with some wonderful zeal.

Back to the opinion by MJ Akbar, I felt rather perplexed when after some reasonable and convincing explanation on the necessity to boycott Danish goods as a retribution for the irresponsible behavior of its press over the publication of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) caricatures, he came to a statement, to quote:

“It is not too difficult to live without Danish cheese, or even Bang and Olufsen. One would, in fact, like to extend the logic. If you have to buy a European product, buy British. That would be a nice way of saying thank you.”

From his statement, it seemed that he was somewhat lost or diluted by the current sensibility shown by the British press for not being tempted to publish the same caricature as its Continental counterparts did.

In his best-seller book, Shadows of Sword, MJ Akbar has described the atrocities of the British government, the Blair’s government, in Iraq. Now he has suggested us to buy British products as a nice way of saying thank you.

Isn’t there any ambiguity in his statement? If he decided to suggest the boycott of Danish goods, why then at the same time he suggested us to buy British product?

In my view, the guilt of the Blair’s government for its support on Iraq invasion in 2003 led by the US is of the same amount of the indecision by the Danish Prime Minister to prevent the cartoon conflict from spreading world wide in the pretext of press freedom.

The British government under Tony Blair is responsible for the crime against humanity in Iraq in the pretext of spreading democracy.

If MJ Akbar has suggested boycotting any Danish product, he should have done the same on British product and not doing the otherwise.

Published in The Jakarta Post on 3 March 2006

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Tolerance in Islam

In reference to a letter from Ahmad Qisa'i (The Jakarta Post, Jan. 26), I would like to state that I see no conflict between my statement and what the Post (Jan. 18) reported. What the Post reported that the pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) are "no hive of tolerance" should be seen within the context of this qualitative research with an in-depth interview involving members of 20 pesantren in West Java.

The context, among other things, is related with tensions amid the global accusation that pesantren are a breeding ground of terrorists, the perceived inequality between non-Muslim and Muslim countries, the perceived double-standards of the West when addressing Muslim issues and the recent edict from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) that prohibits pluralism, secularism and liberalism.

At the same time, I also assert that there is actually a seed of tolerance in Islam that could further be developed. This was clearly stated by Prof. Machasin of Sunan Kalijaga Islamic State University of Yogyakarta during our seminar on Jan. 17-19 that Islam has actually a rich history of pluralism as it spans a long period of time and has an abundance of diverse thoughts, and many of them have sometimes been at odds with each other.

Even during the seminar, while some members of pesantren looked a bit anxious at first, the discussion was productive and at the end some of them were enthusiastic to offer their pesantren as the venue of our next training on multiculturalism.

I therefore agree with Ahmad Qisa'i that it is now homework for Indonesian Muslims to develop this seed of tolerance and enhance the moderate nature of Islam in Indonesia.

Syafi'i Anwar
Executive Director, of ICIP, (International Center for Islam and Pluralism), Jakarta

The Jakarta Post, 3 February 2006