Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Should we protest the visit of Israeli MPs to Indonesia?

After the fall of Thaksin’s government by a bloodless military coup in September last year, Indonesia must now bear the consequences. Thailand was scheduled to host this year’s Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) meeting. But in the absence of a democratically elected parliament in Thailand, Indonesia has been honored to host this meeting which will be held in Bali from 29 April – 3 May 2007.

Established in 1889, IPU has now more than 140 members and Indonesia is also a member of this Union. The appointment of Indonesia as a host for this year’s meeting should be welcomed with open arms and should be seen as a show of recognition from the international world that Indonesia is a working democracy. On the contrary, protests and objections have been raised by various Muslim organizations towards the government. Israel is the main point of argument in these protests.

As a member of IPU, Israel will participate and send its MPs as a delegate in this meeting. But as the scheduled meeting is getting nearer, protests and objections have been raised even louder over the proposed visit by Israeli MPs to Indonesia to attend the meeting.

The President of Nahdlatul Ulama (the biggest Muslim organization in Indonesia) KH Hasyim Muzadi said in Jakarta on Monday (23/4) that Indonesia would bear a heavy psycho-political and security burden if the government allows Israeli MPs to attend the meeting. Politically speaking, the arrival of these MPs in the meeting is the sole responsibility of the IPU, but Indonesian government is fully responsible for their safety and security during their stay in Indonesia.

According to Muzadi, imminent dangers from various elements in the Indonesian society towards the visiting Israeli MPs in Indonesia should become an important consideration for Indonesian government before granting them visa to attend the meeting in Bali. Security and safety is the core issue in this matter.

Furthermore, he predicted that considering the possible reaction from Indonesians, the Israeli Parliament would abandon the plan to attend the meeting in Bali. But on the contrary, he doubted the firmness of Indonesian government to reject any visa application from Israeli MPs regardless of any availability of pressures towards the government.

At the same time, rejections also come from the President of Muhammadiyah (the second biggest Muslim organization in Indonesia), Din Syamsuddin. He said that Israel has been illegally occupying Palestine, it is practicing colonization. In the opening of Indonesian Constitution 1945, it is clearly stated that Indonesia rejects colonization in any forms. Thus it is normal for Indonesians to reject the proposed visit by the Israeli MPs to Indonesia.

Furthermore, according to Syamsuddin, as a sovereign nation, Indonesia possesses tradition as well as rules and regulations that must be observed. It cannot easily bow to foreign pressures. Protests should be continued if the government is still stubborn and allows Israeli MPs to visit Indonesia. These protests should be used as pressures to the Indonesian government to consistency follow its own principles, he argued.

Other Muslim organization like the Forum for Muslim Community (FUI) also rejects the proposed visit. Rejecting the claim by Indonesian Foreign Minister that Indonesia is bound by international convention thus must accept the proposed visit by Israeli MPs to Indonesia, the written statement of FUI says that Indonesian government does not have any diplomatic relation with Israel thus it must reject the plan.

Considering the reasons described above, it would be unwise for the Indonesian government to allow the delegate of Israeli MPs to visit Indonesia. Besides security as the main reason, allowing Israeli MPs to visit Indonesia would mean the recognition of Israel as an independent state. Indonesia has never recognized Israel since it is practicing colonization. Furthermore, the Indonesian Constitution is clearly against colonization thus allowing Israeli MPs to visit Indonesia means perpetuation of colonization.

However, it should be noted here that Indonesian government has not been so consistent in its policy towards Israel. Even though it forbade Indonesian Fed Cup Team to play a mandatory tie with the Israeli team in Tel Aviv, Israel, last year citing the absence of any diplomatic tie with Israel, the Indonesian government allowed the members of Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (KADIN) to visit Israel last June 2006 to conclude a deal with the Manufacturers Associations of Israel (MAI).

Both have no political implication on Indonesia, purely sport and business, but yet received different treatments.

Thus, if the Indonesian government could allow President George W. Bush to visit Indonesia, the US has been illegally occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, why it cannot allow the Israeli MPs to visit Indonesia?

In my opinion, regardless of what the Israeli government has done towards the Palestinians, but their arrival in Indonesia is the responsibility of the IPU in which Indonesia is also a member. As a responsible host, Indonesian government should allow the delegate from Israel to attend the meeting. I think it is time for Indonesia to re-design its policy towards Israel. If India, a 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?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dialog as a bridge between Islam and the West

Earlier this month, members of European and Asian parliaments under the banner of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) met Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia’s former President, at his party’s office in Jakarta. Led by ALDE’s chief, Graham Watson, they had a discussion on the need to build a bridge between Islam and the West.

According to Wahid, currently, there is a global tendency to institutionalize Islam instead of adopting Islam as a culture. This situation has made Islam in a collision course with the West. They both claim to be the savior of humanity thus putting them in an enmity.
Globalization has partly contributed to this situation. The fact that in globalized world, the world has become “flat”, to use the term coined by Thomas L. Friedman, and a small village has been created in which each and every member of the communities that live in the village bumps into and interacts with each other. Globalization has obliterated any distance that ever exists.

Thus collisions, frictions and fierce competitions become inevitable. Survival of the fittest becomes the rule that everyone must embrace. And current trend, in which domination of Western civilization upon global village has become apparent, has made other group, in this case Islam, to feel insecure. The recent development of Islam in Indonesia provides example to this phenomenon.

Several Muslim groups in Indonesia advocate an aggressive stance toward the West. They believe that Islam is incompatible with the West and seek to destroy it. Their diminutive number yet aggressive and opposing stance over the “enemy of Islam” have put Indonesian Muslims in a difficult position: to be branded as radicals and fundamentalists.

The feeling of being insecure and threatened has forced people to seek solace and protection from something or someone. When a group feels threatened over a perceived domination by other group, they would dig deep into their own self to seek answers as a rejection of domination. And if Islam, for an example, is threatened by other civilization, by Western civilization for an example, Muslims would dig deep into Islam and come up with ideas and answers to reject that domination. And the efforts to dig deep into one self might give different results which could be contradictory.

The first result is strong rejection and confrontation. By digging deep into Islam, a Muslim might come up with an idea of fundamental Islam that rejects anything that is different. Fundamentalist movements in the name of religion then spruce up to fight the “enemy”. Thus if the domination of the West is perceived as a threat to Islam, it must then be rejected and confronted with all force. Violence and force must be maximally utilized to implement this idea and as a show of force that they exist. Furthermore, these fundamentalists believe that Islam must win over Western civilization with all costs.

The second result brings about the moderate values and principles of Islam and teaches its followers to confront any differences wisely and with an open heart. This has been reflected in what is called moderate Islam. Moderate Muslims put Islam as a way of life that possesses a high degree of tolerance towards other groups or followers of other religions for the sake of creating a harmonious society in the midst of disparities and differences. Moderation is the key and Islam teaches its followers to be moderate. Thus any perceived threats to Islam must be solved wisely through the process of dialogs and discussions to find the middle way and to avoid confrontation and the use of force.

From the illustration above, we find that from one source there are two contradictory results: first, a proposal of fundamentalism and the use of force and violence; and, second, moderation and dialog as tools to solve problems and differences.

So far, the first group, though in minority, has been dominating the limelight with their aggressive actions. They stole the show and successfully painted a bleak picture of Islam: Islam means violence. Meanwhile, the second group, the majority of Muslims, has been in silence and unable to project the moderate values of Islam. They seem to struggle to erase the depiction of Islam as a religion of violence. Thus, it is time to re-define Islam.

Islam rejects violence and the use of force to solve problems. Instead, Islam clearly advocates dialog and discussion to find the middle way. Muslims must understand this principle in order to change the current the situation. Loud rejection of violence and the use of force along with the promotion of dialog and discussion to solve problems by the moderate Muslims will, I believe, erase the depiction of Islam as a religion of violence.

Furthermore, reciprocal action must also be taken to successfully change the situation. Non-Muslims, notably the West, must also help this process. Both sides need to embark upon developing sustainable dialog to understand each other’s culture and civilization. It is only through this process of dialog and willingness to understand each other’s culture and civilization that any clash between the two in this globalized world can be avoided and the notion of fundamentalism and radicalism can be suppressed.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Indonesian political parties fail to produce new leaders

Almost a decade after the momentous moment of reform movement in 1998, Indonesian political parties fail to produce new leaders. Latest survey conducted recently by Indonesian national daily, Kompas, showed that political parties in Indonesia failed to produce future national leaders. The lack of cadre-based political party and the domination of mass-based political parties become an important reason for this failure.

According to the survey, current Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono still leads the pack followed by Megawati Soekarnoputri, Abdurrahman Wahid and Amien Rais. Other names like current Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, Sultan Hamengkubuwono X of Yogyakarta Sultanate and Hidayat Nurwahid are also there but their popularity is still small.

Direct pilkada (local executive elections) held during this period also failed to produce quality leaders. Most of the winners in these elections are non-party personalities who are either gone after their tenures end or convicted in corruption charges. Political pragmatism among political parties for the sake of winning these elections has worsened this situation. The process that was hoped to produce national leaders through local elections has failed. Two years before general elections in 2009 no new, fresh faces that yet to emerge. It is quite unfortunate for political parties in a young democracy like Indonesia to fail in producing quality cadres.

Several reasons have been put forward by politicians and political analysts as to why political parties fail to produce new, quality cadres. They believe that the current political laws that forbid civil servants to join active politics have contributed to the absence of first-class citizens to be involved in active politics. Most of them work as civil servant and mostly teach in government universities, thus making them unable to join active politics without first resigning from their status as civil servants. The uncertainty of their future in politics has held them back from joining active politics.

Besides, the lack of transparency in the internal political process in the political parties has also contributed to this situation. The failure of party elites fail to delegate strategic positions to the right personalities has indirectly forced professionals to avoid active politics. Favoritism and personal connection are the rules of the game. At the same time, rampant practice of money politics, especially in the pilkada, adds to the problem.

Furthermore, the lack of quality human resource in the political parties becomes a huge stumbling block to the process of expanding and educating party cadres. Thus, this situation has made it difficult for political parties to produce quality local leaders that could be projected as national leaders in the future. In the end, political parties turn to non-party cadres but qualified personalities as their candidates in the elections.

If the transition process to democracy in Indonesia is to be successful, this situation must be put to an end. Some drastic, radical changes must be taken to force political parties to produce quality leaders.

First, current political laws on political party membership must be amended. It should allow those first class citizens who currently live in the ivory towers to join active politics. Political parties must change their mindset and must then open themselves to professionals and first class citizens to be their members and party cadres. Once quality party cadres have been created, local elections can be used as their mini battle ground while national election will be the real target. Pragmatism among political parties must also be discontinued.

Secondly, creation of a law to accommodate the promotion of young leaders at national level must be prepared to guarantee their acceptance in the political circles. This kind of reservation would help young leaders to prepare themselves before receiving leadership baton from their seniors. It could also be used as a means to erase political apathy among young minds.

But before all those suggestions could be put forward, party leaders and party elites must understand and realize that political elitism and political oligarchy in political parties must be put to an end. They must open themselves to the public. Once elitism and political oligarchy in the political parties have diminished new faces and bright minds would easily be absorbed and be a part of the system. First-class citizens would also feel that there is a chance for them to practice their theories in an active politics to answer the expectations and to improve the lives and welfares of common people. In the end, the combination of these steps would help political parties to produce future Indonesian leaders with strong leadership, professionalism, excellent expertise and capability.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Indonesia and Resolution 1747: The Policy of Inconsistency?

Ever since Indonesia decided to vote in support of the UN Security Council Resolution 1747 on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program late last month, the reactions at home have been snowballing. Immediately after the vote, majority of Indonesian MPs decided to use their right to question the government on its foreign policy decision. Demonstrations have been held on the streets to protest the decision.

These protests and demonstrations throughout the country are reflections of solidarity towards Iran. They believe that the decision was a failure by the Indonesian government to protect its national interests and to follow the Indonesia’s principles of free and active foreign policy. Strong pressures from Washington have forced Indonesia to agree with the majority members of the UNSC on the Iranian issue. It was unable to say ‘no’ when it needed to say so.

Indonesian government has failed to play a leading role in this matter. Being the biggest country in the Muslim world and a member of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference), Indonesia should have played a leading role to defend the right of Iran, also a member of the OIC, to pursue its dream to develop nuclear technology. It should have gone further as to persuade Malaysia and Qatar, two other OIC member countries who are also the members of the UNSC, to reject the Resolution.

Thus, according to these protesters, Indonesian government has adopted the policy of inconsistency: it welcomed Iran as a partner in the development of nuclear technology but leaving Iran alone when it needed a friend to defend its right of developing such technology for “peaceful purposes”.

Contrary to these claims, however, the decision by the Indonesian government to support the Resolution must be seen as a diplomatic victory for Indonesia. Those who oppose this decision failed to read what have been written between the lines. If we really read the Resolution 1747 carefully, we will find that the Indonesian government fully supports the right of the Iranians to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes. But at the same time, Indonesia will vehemently oppose any country which develops nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

An important clause proposed by Indonesia that was inserted in the resolution clearly reads “… a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue would contribute to global non-proliferation efforts and to realizing the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery.”

Thus, the concern is not about Iran, Israel, Egypt or any other Middle Eastern countries but the Middle East that must become a nuclear free region. Nuclear weapons such as currently possessed by Israel and other countries in this region should be dismantled.

With this fact in mind, the UN Security Council Resolution 1747 on Iranian nuclear program should, first, be seen as a victory of Indonesian diplomacy. Indonesia succeeded in putting its influence on this important matter. It did not ape Washington and its allies. Indonesia was not under strong pressure from Washington either. On the contrary, it showed the independency of Indonesia, a reflection of Indonesia’s free and active foreign policy.

Secondly, the Indonesian government’s policy on Iranian issue has been consistent. It fully supports the right of Iran to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. It embraces Iran as a potential partner in the development of the technology in Indonesia. But at the same time Indonesia will vehemently oppose any efforts to divert the technology for military purposes. The clause inserted in the Resolution that has been proposed by Indonesia means that the success of resolving the Iranian nuclear issue would trigger a positive wave in creating a nuclear free region in particular and a nuclear free world in general. The decision to support the Resolution was based on the fact that, according to the IAEA, Iran has not been fully cooperative with the IAEA as a necessary measure to ensure that nuclear program developed by Iran is truly for peaceful purposes.

Thus claiming that the Indonesian government has failed the interests of Indonesian people by supporting the Resolution is a misunderstanding. On the contrary, the support given by the Indonesian government to the Resolution showed the maturity and consistency of Indonesian government in pursuing a free and active foreign policy. It also sets a positive signal to the world that Indonesia is now ready to take a leading role as a member of the UNSC.