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

Friday, June 16, 2006

Tracking the Nuclear Logic

The debates on Iranian nuclear issue have been heating up in the past few months. There have pros and cons on this contentious issue of basic right of any sovereign nation to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. The US and its European allies have been pressurizing the international community to disallow Iran to pursue and develop its own peaceful nuclear technology. Assuming that Iran would divert the technology for developing nuclear warfare at any stage in the future, they have been lobbying member countries in the IAEA to issue an ultimatum to Iran to halt its Uranium enrichment programs or face international sanctions.

On the other hand, while it continuously opposes Iran’s right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes as an alternative source for its future energy needs, the US has openly signed a nuclear deal with India last March. The US even develops new nuclear bombs to improve its so-called “strategic deterrent.” These decisions, many critics believe, could trigger a new arms race with Russia and China and at the same time could undermine arguments that countries such as Iran or North Korea must stop their nuclear programs.

Being a signatory of the NPT, Iran was categorically denied the right to develop a nuclear technology within the agreed guidelines and under the inspection of the IAEA while India, a non-signatory of the NPT, was warmly welcomed into the nuclear circle.

In support of this Indo-US nuclear deal, the IAEA chief, El-Baradei, recently said in an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post that it will be illogical to deny civil nuclear technology to India – a country that has “not violated any legal commitment and never encouraged nuclear weapons proliferation”. He further said that the deal is “a creative break with the past” with several potential spin-offs. Because, he concluded, while India will get the requisite technology to meet its whopping energy demand, the country will be a part of the international effort to combat nuclear terrorism and rid the world of nuclear weapons.

It is true that India has never violated any legal commitment regarding nuclear technology since it is a non-signatory to the NPT. But putting India as a country that never encouraged nuclear weapons proliferation is, in my opinion, a cover up to the double standard being practiced by the US and its allies on nuclear issue. Remember Pokhran I in 1974 and Pokhran II in 1998? And what about the reaction from its neighbor, Pakistan? If India is said to be a country that never encouraged nuclear weapons proliferation how would we put all those “incidents” to be relevant in this context?

As a signatory to the NPT, Iran has so far shown good behavior in relation with nuclear technology development. It has been following the guidelines and instructions from the IAEA. It, in any case, has not violated any legal commitment it made with the nuclear body. Iran pursues its nuclear technology openly and in accordance with the guidelines given by the IAEA. Iranian government has repeatedly said that the nuclear technology it tries to develop is meant only for peaceful purposes and Iran has no intention to divert its nuclear technology into nuclear weapon. This statement has been issued over and again by the Iranian government in which countries like Indonesia and NAM members supported Iran’s effort and the right of any sovereign state to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

In conclusions, to say that it is illogical to deny India a right to develop nuclear technology is the same as illogically denying Iran, or any other country, to develop the technology for peaceful purposes. As a country with one-sixth of the world’s population, India should have this access to meet its enormous energy demand under what is the fastest-growing civilian nuclear program in the world. At the same time, Iran, the world fourth largest oil exporter with enormous natural gas reserve, also deserves the same treatment and respect. Fossil based energy cannot last forever and a new, cheap alternative source of energy should be invented and developed. Nuclear technology is one of the alternatives currently available to replace long-term dependency to fossil based energy.

If a sovereign country like Iran, a signatory to the NPT, is denied its legal right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes under the guidelines of the IAEA while at the same time granting India, a non-signatory to the NPT, a wide access to the technology and turning blind eyes to Pakistan’s efforts to develop its nuclear technology, what would be the future fate of a country like Indonesia that has planned to develop its own nuclear technology to meet its increasing energy needs?

Developing nuclear technology is, in my opinion, the right of any sovereign country. There should not be any denial to access this technology but necessary steps and proper guidelines should be strictly followed so as to create bigger responsibility towards the importance of keeping the technology only for peaceful purposes. Any deviation from this purpose should be discouraged with extreme sanctions. Through this step, there would be some logic in encouraging or denying any country the right to develop nuclear technology.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Abu Bakar Ba’asyir and the Threat of Terrorism in Indonesia

On 14 June 2006, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, a 67-year old Muslim cleric from Solo, Central Java was released from Cipinang jail Jakarta after completing his 30 months jail term for criminal conspiracy. His supporters welcomed the release of Ba’asyir with enthusiasm and jubilation. The name has long been linked with the shadowy terror network Jemaah Islamiyah, an Al-Qaeda-supported terrorist group in Southeast Asia. Most of the leaders of this group have either been arrested or killed by the Indonesia authority in the drives to eradicate terror threats in the past few years. The most recent success was the ambush to Azhari’s hideout in East Java that led to his killing.

Even though he was cleared by the Indonesian court from all terror related charges in 2003 and 2005, but his radical Islamic views has worried many quarters in the society. His radical stance also landed him into the position of being accused as the spiritual leader of JI who claimed the responsibility of several deadly bombings in Indonesia: Bali 2002, JW Marriot 2003 in Jakarta. Moreover, his vow to continue the fight for the implementation of an Islamic Sharia in Indonesia upon his release from jail would likely to influence the dormant terror attacks in Indonesia by radical Muslim groups.

The US and Australia have expressed their concern over Ba’asyir’s release from jail. Both countries were disappointed with the fact that Ba’asyir has only served a short period of jail term for his alleged ‘sinister conspiracy’ in connection with terror activities in Indonesia. They believe that his radical views on Islam might have encouraged the perpetrators of terrorism in Indonesia.

How far would the release of Ba’asyir influence the terror activities in Indonesia? Should his release be a cause of worry for the Indonesian authority of possible new waves of terror attacks? How should the Indonesian authority react to these possibilities?

To answer all those questions, we should start with the assumption that Ba’asyir is just a clergyman who has a strong view on Islam and how Islam should be implemented in Indonesia. He was put in jail not because of his proven involvement with the terror activities of the so-called JI in Indonesia. The judges found that Ba’asyir “knew the perpetrators,” and that his words “might have encouraged” them to conduct the barbaric activities of killing the innocents through suicide bombings.

From these two statements, we could see the doubt in the minds of the judges about any direct involvement of Ba’asyir with the terror activities of the JI. In my opinion, knowing a person/persons who commit crime does not necessarily imply that we are a part of any crime committed by him/her. Our views/words on certain matter that might influence the minds of the perpetrators to do a crime should not make us a party of the crime either. Unless there is any proven direct link between the two parties, we cannot be held responsible to the crime done by the criminals. The perpetrators conduct their crime based on their own understanding and capability of conducting such action.

Ba’asyir’s ruling on his alleged involvement in JI terror network, in my opinion, was the result of the continuing pressures from the US and Australia to the Indonesian authority to find perfect scapegoat for the mastermind of the terror attacks in Indonesia. It is just like accusing Saddam Hussein as the mastermind behind the terror attacks by the Al-Qaeda terror group in the US. Ba’asyir’s radical view on Islam is the perfect excuse for accusing him to be involved with the terror attacks in Indonesia.

Coming back to the question of any possible renewal of terror attacks in Indonesia after Ba’asyir’s release, I think it is an exaggeration. With or without Ba’asyir’s presence any terror groups could possibly conduct any terror attack in Indonesia. But Ba’asyir is a figure that needs to be watched closely. His radical view on Islam and his vow to fight for the implementation of an Islamic Sharia in Indonesia can be interpreted as a possible danger to the unity of a plural Indonesia. However, there should not be any exaggeration in taking care of his presence. His radical Islamic view is not solely his privilege but is shared by many different radical Muslim groups in Indonesia. He is just a variant and a part of a bigger group of radical minority in the Muslim community in Indonesia.

It is the homework for the Indonesian authority to contain any possible terror attacks in Indonesia. The current anti-terror department created in the hierarchy of Indonesian authority has so far done quite successful job to contain terror threats. The arrests of the perpetrators of terrorism like Amrozi, the killing of Azhari and the nearly successful effort in capturing Noordin Top recently have proven the seriousness of the Indonesian authority to fight terrorism and to ensure the safety and security of the Indonesian populace.

Terrorism does not know any religion. With or without a Ba’asyir terror threat is very much presence in any society. Only a vigilant authority with a cooperative society could defeat the threat of terrorism.

At the same time, moderation of view on certain subject, for example on Islam, should be of better benefits to ensure the unity and pluralism in a democratic and plural society like Indonesia. Finally, even though in a globalized world in which everything is interconnected, but Indonesia as a sovereign nation should not budge to the pressures and demands from foreign powers. Indonesia has a life and a system of its own and must trust its capability to ensure the functioning of rule of law to keep the law and order situation always in check.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A Derailed Democracy?

Eight years have passed and Indonesia is still struggling to find the imagined form of democratic governance. The reform movement emerged in the late 1990s now seems to stumble upon a huge boulder that blocks its forward movement. The multiparty system, direct presidential elections and Constitutional amendments have not yet been able to create the desired dream of a democratic Indonesia. On the contrary, these promising processes of democratization in Indonesia have now seemed to lead into a derailed democracy in Indonesia.

The post-Suharto Indonesia is marked with the opening of political valves that led into an increasing level of political participation. The different political parties with various ideologies emerged as vehicles that would launch any individual into the top executive position in Indonesia. The Constitutional amendments allowed this political process to continue and shape Indonesian democracy. The president-centric constitution was transformed into a more parliamentary-oriented constitution in which the Indonesian parliament is designed to play a more significant role in the process of checks and balances of democratic governance.

The rubber stamp parliament during Suharto period is transformed into a legislative body that checks and balances the power of the executive, the president. With this process, a possibility of authoritarianism from a directly elected executive could be avoided. Early signs of the functioning of this new democratic setup could be found in the case of President Abdurrahman Wahid. His controversial and erratic presidency period in which he issued a decree to dissolve the parliament was rejected and he was ousted by the parliament from his office before the end of his tenure to be replaced by Megawati.

However, this early positive signs of balance between the executive and the legislative in Indonesian polity soon evaporated when direct presidential elections was held for the first time in 2004. With a majority seat in the parliament, the combination of Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party and Kalla’s Golkar Party controls the functioning of the parliament. Many of government’s controversial policies got easy approval from the parliament.Any voice of dissent emerges among the members of parliament opposing the policy would immediately be defeated in the early stage of parliamentary process through voting.

For example, the controversial policy of rice import from Vietnam got an easy approval from the parliament even though certain factions in the parliament opposed this policy. More recently, the decision by the Indonesian government to award an American company, Exxon Mobil, to manage the exploration and production process of Cepu oil field instead of giving the responsibility to the Pertamina, government owned oil company, in which both parties hold equal percentage of shares, has resulted in the protest by the members of the Indonesian parliament.

In both cases, the parliament threatened to use its constitutional right to question the government on the related policy. If this constitutional right is successfully implemented, it could either jeopardize or support the policy. But in both cases, the voices of dissent in the parliament proved to be mere hollow voices, far away from the high expectation from the people. In both cases, the move to question the government was defeated by the majority members in the parliament who, understandably, are the members or the representatives of political parties in the government. The parliament has once again turned into a mere rubber stamp parliament who approves all government policies without even dare to raise any question, leave alone the possibility of objecting it.

The vibrant and promising democratic process in Indonesia seems to have been derailed. The parliament is unable to play the role of checks and balances to the government. The elected people’s representatives who sit in the parliament are now the representatives of political parties who feel more obliged with money and the instructions from the party bosses than from the voice of the people they have claimed to represent. Fear of losing ‘lucrative’ positions and recall from party bosses are bigger than fear of betraying and destroying the trust of the people. The moral responsibility of these people’s representatives are at its lowest thus contribute to the possibility of an authoritarianism.

To avoid the possibility of democratic derailment in Indonesia, there are steps that might be taken for consideration. The multiparty system, direct presidential elections and constitutional amendments adopted by Indonesia should not be abandoned to create democratic governance. They are the perfect steps toward achieving this goal. It is the political parties and political leadership that should realize their moral obligation and responsibility in building democratic governance. Secondly, besides actively educating the people about politics and political process, the paternalistic philosophy long followed by political parties should be abandoned to make the party cadres more responsible to their constituencies.

These two steps, imparting moral responsibility among political parties and political leadership and abandoning paternalistic philosophy by political parties, if taken seriously, can be a stepping stone in avoiding democratic derailment in Indonesia. Besides creating responsible political leadership, it would also allow the checks and balances process to function properly. Strong political leadership and legitimacy by the executive through a direct election process would be balanced by a responsible parliament that is free from the pressure of paternalist political parties. Thus the vibrant Indonesian democracy would not be derailed due to personal ambitions and irresponsible political leadership.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Becoming An Ally or A Friend?

On Tuesday, June 6, 2006, the embattled U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Jakarta en route to a NATO meeting in Brussels. He came with a message from his boss President G.W. Bush that Washington seeks to have a long-term military relationship with Jakarta. He said that the United States is to develop a relationship with the government of Indonesia from a military-to-military standpoint, in a manner that is comfortable to the people of Indonesia and the United States.

Having lifted its military embargo on Indonesia last November, the U.S. proposal of a long-term military cooperation with Indonesia is understandably acceptable for both countries. The proposed military cooperation would cover the areas of military assistance, weapons sales and training that would enable the two countries to work together as partners in military exercises and trainings for military personnel. This cooperation would also allow Indonesia to rebuild its military capability that suffered a major set back due to the imposed embargo by the U.S. in early 1990s. Indonesia’s dependency on American military technology contributed to this setback.

The U.S. proposal can also be seen as an effort by the current administration to expand its international alliance in its effort to fight the terrorism menace and to woe Indonesia to join the alliance. The fact that Indonesia is a country with the biggest number of moderate Muslim population in the world would give special benefits for the U.S. in this front. This view has been stressed again and again by the visiting US administrations to Jakarta as well as in the several meetings between President Bush and President Yudhoyono.

With this offer of military cooperation from the U.S., Indonesia would achieve lots of benefits as well as possible problems in the future. By having a closer military tie with the U.S., Indonesia would be able to rebuild its military and upgrade its defense technology to a level where Indonesia would be capable of using it to control and patrol the vast region the archipelago. Military trainings and assistance from the U.S. would enable the Indonesian military personnel to be more professional and efficient. They would be exposed to advance military technology and strategy to tackle any form of future danger in the archipelago.

However, this imminent benefit to be gained by Indonesia in the face of a close military cooperation with the U.S. is not without any possible long-term problems. One very imminent problem that might come up in the future is a possible repeat of a military setback in the face of any military embargo by the U.S.. The heavily Americanized Indonesian military was crippled to the core once the U.S. government imposed a military embargo in the early 1990s for an alleged human right abuses by the Indonesian military in East Timor.

Secondly, the negative record of the current U.S. administration vis-à-vis the Muslim world could possibly affect the legitimacy of the Indonesian government at home. Even though the majority of Muslims in Indonesia are moderate but many of them feel that the US behavior against the Muslim populace is unacceptable, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. A close alliance between Indonesia and the U.S. would affect the sentiment of the majority population in Indonesia as well as the already dwindling political legitimacy of the current Indonesian government.

To avoid these possible problems, the Indonesian government should realize that a close military cooperation with the U.S. does not mean that Indonesia does not have any other opportunity to build similar cooperation with other military power in the world. At the same time, the proposed military cooperation should look more into the possibility of transfer of military technology from the U.S. to Indonesia and not just a mere transfer of military equipments without knowledge to develop it indigenously.

This process of transfer of knowledge and technology would, in the future, enable Indonesia to build its own capability to manufacture and produce its own indigenous military equipments for security and national purposes. Thus in case there is an imposed military embargo, it would not affect Indonesia’s military capability. This process would also reduce the economic cost of importing all military equipments and spare parts in case there is damage or a need for an upgrade. India is a perfect example for this process. India builds much of its current indigenous military capability and equipment through the process of transfer of military technology from the erstwhile Soviet Union. Any military embargo imposed to India would not affect its military because it has the capability to build it indigenously.

Similarly, in the face of possible erosion of its political legitimacy and arousing the sentiment of the majority population due to Indonesia’s proximity with the U.S., the Indonesian government should be able to project its independency in matters of international policy. The editorial in The Jakarta Post on 7 June 7, 2006 has rightly said that, “At least morally, the U.S. is no longer in a position to preach about how we should conduct our war on terror. We also hope the U.S. administration will consider the sensitivity here when it comes to issues related to Islam, and at least not create new problems for the Yudhoyono administration in eliminating the roots of terrorism.”

In the end, in this globalized world, Indonesia should become a friend of the United States, but not an ally, and gain maximum benefits from this proximity. The Indonesian government should protect and follow its independent foreign policy so as not to fall into the trap of being an ally to the U.S..