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.