Sunday, February 8, 2009

Islam in Modern Indonesia

Islam in Modern Indonesia

February 7, 2002
Washington DC


Five Indonesians, four Americans and one Australian convened on February 7, 2002 to examine the history, the international connections and the politics of Islam in Indonesia. There was a remarkable consensus among the speakers on the key conclusions, with several of the following points being made by more than one person:

• The increase in Islamic radicalism is due basically to the “abrupt decline of central government authority together with the demoralization of the police.” There is no conspiracy at the center directing radical groups but rather a breakdown in governance at the center and an inability or unwillingness to prevent the excesses of individual players.

• The vast majority of Indonesian Muslims remain tolerant and inclusive, as they have been traditionally described, and voted for secular political parties in the last elections in June 1999. Although Islamic piety has increased in recent years there has been no increase in the number of radical Muslims.

• There has always been tension between the majority view and small groups that have pushed for more orthodox, conservative, literal interpretations of Islam. These more conservative groups have been mostly indigenous although there have always been ties between Indonesian Muslims and Muslims elsewhere. These groups have had varying agendas and varying degrees of activism. International connections are not necessarily terrorist connections.

• The presence of al Qaeda in Indonesia has not been proven. However intelligence reports about the activities of individuals in various Southeast Asia countries are credible and should be investigated cooperatively among those countries.

• The Laskar Jihad is the most flamboyant and militant of the Islamic organizations. There is ample reason to presume it receives its funding from internal sources, including individuals from the former elite of the New Order who have vast sums of money at their disposal.

• The Islamic-oriented political parties are in disarray and are ineffective. There is no likelihood that any legislation would succeed in requiring Muslims to observe Islamic (Sharia) Law. There is no likelihood of Indonesia becoming an Islamic State. Islamic politics is less about doctrine than about power struggles of individuals and groups seeking to maintain their positions.

• Democratization will not proceed in Indonesia until it is actively supported by the Islamic community and until the values of democracy are explicitly articulated as compatible with Islamic doctrine.

• Civil society, however important, will not create a democracy unless it is linked to state institutions and reinforced by actions of the government.

• Despite its relatively small size, Islamic radicalism in Indonesia poses a danger because it may co-opt the moderate majority in the absence of effective counter measures.

• The United States should not over emphasize the threat of radical groups in Indonesia because it will give them the publicity they seek, enable them to play the “nationalist” card, provoke a negative reaction among moderates and increase bilateral tension.

• The best way for the United States to counter radicalism will be to continue assistance to democracy-building institutions and continue support for economic recovery.

• The United States should help the police in training to maintain law and order, and should look toward increased military to military relations within the bounds of current U.S. law.

Azyumardi Azra, rector of the State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN), said it is “simplistic” to think of Indonesian Islam as the same as Islam in the Middle East. Because of its slow, peaceful penetration over centuries, accommodating to and integrating with local beliefs and customs, and because of the less rigid structure of Indonesian traditional society (including the active role of women in public life), the conventional wisdom of Indonesian Islam as tolerant, inclusive and inherently compatible with democracy is valid.

The head of Indonesia’s most venerable state institution to promote liberal Islamic studies and to integrate religious and secular education in the country, Professor Azra associated the most democratizing Muslim countries, as listed by Freedom House in New York, as being the “least Arabicized.” (Freedom House listed Indonesia along with Bangladesh, Nigeria and Iran.)

Nevertheless, Indonesia has experienced indigenous radical groups since independence that wanted to establish an Islamic state, the most famous being the Darul Islam which operated from the mid 1950s until 1962. Professor Azra said that some other groups, which operated during the Soeharto period “were believed to have been engineered by certain army generals in order to discredit Islam.” These radical groups failed because they were crushed by the army and also because they “failed to gain support from mainstream Muslims.”

This persistent but minor thread in Indonesia’s Muslim community has emerged again because of the power vacuum after the fall of Soeharto, and more recently the ouster of President Wahid (Gus Dur). Many are new groups that were unknown before, and no exact account exists, but “there are reports…their leadership have been close to certain army generals [and] some observers assert that they have been sponsored, or at least helped, by certain circles of the Indonesian military.” He said it is “conspicuously clear” that these groups are led by people of Arab, particularly Yemeni, origin. He gave as examples Habib Rizq Shihab, leader of the FPI (Islamic Defense Group), Jafar Umar Thalib, leader of the Laskar Jihad, Abu Bakar Baasyir of the MMI (Indonesian Council of Jihad Fighters) and Habib Husen al-Habsyi, leader of the JAMI (Jamaah al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin Indonesia).

These groups share a literal interpretation of Islam and claim that Muslims should practice only “pure” Islam as practiced by the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, or Salaf. They can thus be included among Salafi activist movements that attack discotheques and other “places of violence.” They also take a militant view of jihad as “holy war” against perceived enemies of Islam rather than the mainstream view of jihad as meaning “exerting oneself to the utmost” in Muslim activities, with war as a last resort.

Professor Azra listed other groups as well, in existence since the Soeharto period, that were less radical. Of these the most important is the Hizb al-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) established in Lebanon and first introduced in Indonesia in 1972. Its objective is to re-establish the Caliphate, a universal Islamic political entity, as the most effective way to achieve Muslim unity. This group has been active in mass demonstrations against the U.S. after the start of its military operations in Afghanistan. Despite increased visibility Professor Azra quoted its leader as saying the membership has not increased.

All radical groups have some connections with theological or organizational groups elsewhere, including the Middle East, but it is difficult to establish a connection with al Qaeda, according to Professor Azra, and the leaders of the FPI, Laskar Jihad and JAMI have criticized Osama bin Laden.

However, the MMI, led by Abu Bakar Baasyir is known to have close links with the KMMM, Malaysian Military Muslim Group. Baasyir fled to Malaysia to escape Soeharto repression and returned after the fall of Soeharto. He is associated with the Jamaah Islamiyyah which has alleged links to al Qaeda. Professor Azra acknowledged a much deeper investigation into these links, involving all of the ASEAN governments, is needed.

The increase in radicalism of these groups is basically the outcome of the “government failure to enforce the law and solve…social ills such as ethno-religious conflicts, increased crime, rampant corruption, widespread drug abuse and the like,” and the “abrupt decline of central government authority together with the demoralization of the police.”

Meanwhile, he said, the largest mainstream Muslim organizations, the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah, have been overshadowed by media attention to radical groups. Since November, however, they have become more assertive, and have recently agreed to carry out joint activities to combat extremism. Both leaders, Hasyim Muzadi of NU and Ahmad Syafii Maarif of Muhammadiyah, appealed to the government to take harsh measures against lawbreakers.

President Megawati, after a slow response to Muslim hardliners, is beginning to take a firmer policy.

The United States should not overemphasize the threat of radical groups, thereby giving them the publicity they seek and alienating mainstream Muslims. This excessive attention could provoke a reaction, bringing moderates closer to radicals and creating a momentum to challenge Megawati’s presidency, thus adding to Indonesian political instability.

Mark Woodward, a professor of religious studies at Arizona State University and an authority on modern religion and ethnicity in Indonesia, focused his remarks on the international nature of Islam and the moderate as well as radical ties among Muslims, and the great variety of cultures within Islam.

He pointed out that although Islam originated in Arabia it is not synonymous with Arabian culture, and he quoted Gus Dur as having said “The Saudis don’t understand the difference between Islam and their own culture.”

Until the rise of the conservative Wahabi movement in the 18th century, Mecca was the center of a lively international congregation of scholars, including some from what is now Indonesia. He noted that the connections between the Middle East and Southeast Asia especially included Yemen, and he pointed out that not all Yemenis were necessarily radical, citing the family of Ali Alatas, former Indonesian foreign minister, as originally from Yemen.

He further noted that the well-established international connections of Indonesian Muslims include but are not limited to Saudi Arabia. Those students in various universities in Saudi Arabia lean toward the strict, literal tradition of Wahabi Islam.

A large number of Indonesian students are studying Islam in Cairo, at al Azhar University. These students are mostly associated with the Nahdlatul Ulama and are associated in dialogue with leading liberal intellectuals in the Middle East.

A third group studies in the United States and other Western institutions such as McGill, Australian National University and others. He noted that Indonesia’s leading moderate Islamic scholar, Nurcholish Madjid, has a PhD from the University of Chicago, as well as the conservative Muslim politician Amien Rais, chairman of the Peoples’ Consultative Assembly.

Robert Hefner, a leading scholar on Indonesian Islam, has most recently conducted research on radical groups including the Laskar Jihad.

He presented a very somber view of the state of liberal Islam in Indonesia, all the more somber because he viewed Indonesia during the last years of the Soeharto New Order as one of the “most vibrant centers for new Muslim political thinking the modern world has seen.” This was not just intellectuals, but a “lively coalition” linking leaders and mass-based institutions. He credited these efforts with assembling the ingredients essential to creating a lasting Muslim democracy: thoughtful articulation of policy that is justified under religious doctrine, and a link between respected intellectuals and mass-based organizations.

This promise was betrayed by events after the fall of Soeharto, he said. He cited the failure of governance as the primary cause for the rise of radical groups, and said this failure was primarily due to the lasting influence of the cronies of the old regime, who have vast sums of money at their disposal.

The coalition that brought about Soeharto’s resignation quickly fell apart after his departure into diverse alliances of Islamist and secular nationalist groupings. Moreover, most of the old elite remained in positions of power. Rather than simply uniting to oppose reform, however, political elites reached out, at national and local levels, to various groupings to create expedient alliances to remain in power. In a vacuum of central power these rivalries flourished, resulting in ethnoreligious tensions and clashes. In some areas, such as Yogyakarta and East Kalimantan, these rivalries were kept within civil bounds by local governments; but in Maluku, Central Kalimantan, Poso (Central Sulawesi) and a few other regions the conflicts got out of hand.

Moreover, the rival elites brought into play “another category of social actor” known since colonial times but which became more prominent at the end of the Soeharto era: the “organized political-cum-criminal syndicates known as preman.” These gangster groups usually adopted the ideology of their patrons to assume an air of public service, and by the end of the New Order the popular ideology was Islam. This set the stage for gang warfare between Islamist, Christian and nationalist groups.

It is important in evaluating events in Indonesia since September 11 not to exaggerate the strength of radical Islamism and overlook the role of “simple patronage and extralegal competition,” he said.

The elections of June 1999 showed that most voters favored secular or moderate Islamist political parties, in fact by a larger majority than in the only other free and open general elections, held in 1955. “Only about 16 percent of the vote went to parties advocating (conservative Islamic) programs…as opposed to more than 40 percent in 1955.”

At the same time, he said, most social indicators show that the populace is becoming more observant of Islamic customs. This increased piety has not resulted in more conservative voting. It is not Islam that is destabilizing Indonesia, he said, but “a breakdown of governance exacerbated by elite factionalism and the willingness of …elites to take advantage of ethnoreligious tensions for their own purposes.”

There is no conspiracy at the center to control these radical groups, he said, but rather a collapse at the center and an inability or unwillingness to prevent the excesses of individual players.

In this context, Professor Hefner discussed two organizations, MMI (Indonesian Mujahidin Council) and Laskar Jihad, as “heirs to a tradition of radical politics and religion that...has always operated on the fringe of Indonesian society.”

MMI was founded in August 2000 and its spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, served prison time in the late 1970s for his opposition to Soeharto. He remained a strong critic of Soeharto and also of the army. Ba’asyir is accused by Malaysian and Philippine intelligence sources as leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, which these sources say has ties to al Qaeda. He is unlikely to have any support from the Indonesian armed forces, according to Professor Hefner.

The Laskar Jihad, on the other hand, is “long thought to enjoy the patronage of a small but significant faction of the armed forces.” It grew out of a conservative religious movement founded in the early 1990s by Jafar Umar Thalib. It is distinguished from other conservative movements in the “firm belief that the United States and Israel are leading a world-wide conspiracy to destroy Islam.” Jafar’s fiery sermons stress the need for jihad to cleanse society of un-Islamic influences. Importantly also, his concepts include the stipulation that unbelievers in Indonesia must accept the role of protected minorities and not be allowed to exercise authority over Muslims. Jafar has made clear that “he believes that the equal citizenship sanctioned by the Indonesian constitution is utterly antithetical to Islam.”

The possible connections between the Laskar Jihad and al Qaeda are not clear. Laskar Jihad has strongly denied receiving any funds from Osama bin Laden. However, Indonesian intelligence chief General Hendropriyono confirmed reports of al Qaeda training camps in Indonesia to assist Laskar Jihad fighters in Maluku and Central Sulawesi. Hendropriyono was strongly criticized by other conservative Muslims, for presumably looking for an excuse for action against radical Islamic groups. He subsequently backed away from his assertion. This did not illustrate the truth of the matter but instead the conflicting views among the security and political elite.

In any case there is ample evidence that Laskar Jihad enjoys considerable domestic financial support, according to Hefner. He quotes a former field commander of Laskar Jihad who told him that in January 2000 Jafar “was approached” by military retirees with the message that they approved of his plans to escalate the armed campaign against Christians in Maluku. The purpose was explicitly stated: “to undermine the reform government of Abdurrahman Wahid.” In fact, the Laskar Jihad was subsequently able to arm and transport its fighters from Java to Maluku without any challenge, despite the fact that President Wahid and other government leaders appealed to security officials to stop the militia from traveling.

Hefner stated that these radical groups, although operating with the collusion of certain officials, still do not represent the views of the majority, who are uneasy with violence and yearn for politics that are moderate and inclusive. However, the outcome will depend on how effective will be the efforts of President Megawati, the mainstream Muslim leadership and moderate elements in the armed forces. They must forge a working consensus between civil society and the government to combat extremist and divisive elements.

Ulil Abshar Abdalla is executive director of the Indonesia Conference on Religion and Peace, an organization associated with the Nahdlatul Ulama, one of the two largest Muslim organizations in Indonesia. He is cheerfully optimistic about the prospects of incorporating democratic and modernist notions, such as openness, pluralism, gender equality and the like, into the theological framework of Islam. He reiterated the point made by speakers in the first session that this explicit ideological support is necessary and that democracy will not really take root in Indonesia without the strong support of the Islamic society. Thus active efforts toward democratization are required from the moderate Muslim community.

Mr. Ulil described discussion circles, a radio talk show, a weekly newspaper column and a journal, all designed to promote dialogue among liberal (a term he acknowledges as “controversial”), moderate and radical elements of the Muslim community.

He said that radicals such as Jafar Umar Thalib and Habib Rizq are not as radical as people think, and that they seem to be amenable to these conciliation efforts. He said the Laskar Jihad was “responding” to the attack on Muslims in Maluku, and that this group as well as the Islamic Defense Group (FPI) share the notion of a nation state of Indonesia and are not pressing for an Islamic state. They believe, however, that Muslims were treated unfairly under Soeharto and want to be treated as the majority that they represent in the population.

While they wish to have sharia (Islamic) law implemented for Muslims, Ulil said there is no clear consensus and therefore “room for dialogue” on what Sharia law implies.

Lies Marcoes Natsir, a researcher with the Association for the Development of Pesantren and Society (P3M), described the work of her organization to promote the rights of women in an Islamic society, a goal that is relevant because Islam prescribes relationships between men and women. She said the Western notion of Islam being repressive toward women because of such injunctions as requiring women to “wear the veil” and restricting their public role seems “peculiar to us” because the repression of women is not limited to Islam. She said it has less to do with theology than simple “male political tactics.” As an example she discussed the development of ideas in Indonesia regarding the acceptability of a woman as a political leader. A decree issued by the Nahdlatul Ulama in 1997 stating that there was no prohibition for a woman to be head of state was later retracted, she said, because the original decree was linked to the promotion of Soeharto’s daughter Tutut as a potential political candidate. After Tutut’s prospects dissolved with the resignation of her father and before Megawati became vice president, most Islamic organizations again rejected the idea of a woman as head of state. However, after the disillusionment with Gus Dur this opposition to Megawati declined somewhat and in August 2001 the Muhammadiyah organization decreed that there was no obstacle to a woman as head of state. At a recent Muhammadiyah Congress in Bali it was agreed that a woman may be elected as leader of that organization.

Ms. Lies described the activities of her NGO in the advocacy for women’s rights within Islam, specifically in the 10,000 pesantren or Islamic boarding schools spread across Java and Madura, where more than 70 percent of the entire Indonesian Muslim population lives. Most of the pesantren are affiliated with the Nahdlatul Ulama, one of the two biggest Muslim organizations, located mostly in rural areas and the one considered the more traditional though tolerant. Her organization focuses especially on reproductive and political (both domestic and public) rights.

The second largest Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah, also has a women’s affiliate that has established a network of vocational education centers and programs for women in development especially in the fields of education, health and small-scale finance.

Asked whether Western pressure for human rights is helpful to organizations such as hers, Ms. Lies answered that it is “somehow bad” because it causes confrontation between Islam and the West and, she implied, complicates their efforts.

Greg Fealy is a lecturer in Southeast Asian politics and history at Australian National University and a student of political parties in Indonesia. He sees today’s parties as much degraded from parties that were prominent during the parliamentary democracy period of the 1950s. Taking a closer look at the leading five Islamic political parties, he finds them sorely lacking in the qualities that make an effective organization. “Islamic parties are more divided now than at any time in history since 1945,” he said.

Politics of the 1950s have been “dismissed,” he said, but he sees important insights in comparing political parties of that period with today:

• Individuals are more powerful now. There is something almost “cultic, iconic” about present day party leaders, who have little connection with their organizations.

• The demise of ideology. Parties in the 1950s had conferences and heated debates on particular issues. There are few party platforms today.

• Physical intimidation. No party in the 1950s had a paramilitary wing. Now every party has an auxiliary organization, from well-trained cadres to ordinary hooligans.

• Money politics. Outright buying of public or party position is much more common today.

He examined the five leading Islamic political parties according to their share of the vote in the 1999 elections. They are the PKB (Gus Dur’s party), with 12.6 percent of the vote, the United Development Party (PPP, the party of the vice president Hamzah Haz), 11.7 percent; the National Mandate Party (PAN, the party of Amien Rais), at 7.4 percent, Crescent Star (Bulan Bintang, the party of Yusril Mahendra), at 1.9 percent, and the Justice Party (Partai Keadilaan) at 1.7 percent.

He chose four indicators of future effectiveness and looked at the above parties in this light. They are branch activities, leaders arising from the cadres, internal communication between the elites and the grass roots localities, and coherent party platforms.

Most Islamic parties are doing poorly, according to his conclusions:

• Most are “election only” parties and are moribund at the branch level. There are a very small number of elites.

• Party cadres are not emerging. In most cases money will buy a party post, except for the Partai Keadilaan which has rigorous rules and leaders who are not wealthy.

• Communication is poor within organizations and little value is given to grassroots opinion.

• Few parties had a platform in 1999 and little work has been done since on issues.

Fragmentation is a serious issue. There have been serious splits in four of the five parties, with the exception of Partai Keadilaan. Leadership has been keenly disappointing, illustrated by the disastrous performance of Gus Dur and the contradictions of Amien Rais. Ideology is “hollow.” The two most doctrinaire parties, PPP and Bulan Bintang, focus on the Jakarta Charter, a proposition that was defeated in the 1945 Constitution that held that Muslims must follow Sharia Law. However, no attempt has been made to define Sharia Law. This basic issue has not been worked out.

In answer to a question Mr. Fealy cautioned whether a reform of the electoral system would produce more coherent political parties and more accountability. He said there are “enormous barriers” to installing a district system that might require four or five years to carry out. He warned that in the end, if not properly implemented, an ineffective system might lead to violence.

As for constitutional reform, he said the core problem of government in Indonesia is not caused by a struggle between a presidential and a parliamentary system, but a lack of leaders’ decisions and implementation. The problem is more cultural than constitutional, he said.



Douglas Ramage, Representative to Indonesia, The Asia Foundation, described the reaction of Indonesians to the September 11 attacks in the United States and the subsequent sequence of events that led to a temporary rise in anti-American sentiment.

The immediate Indonesian reaction was one of sympathy, he said, and was swift and spontaneous. During President Megawati’s visit to the United States shortly after the attacks she expressed this sympathy and support.

However, before long there was speculation in Indonesia on why the attacks occurred, and several expressions that they were the result of a wrong-headed American policy in the Middle East.

The Indonesian media played a role in exacerbating the resulting tensions by publishing unsubstantiated speculation on the reasons for September 11 and vitriolic attacks on the U.S. It was the first evidence of the downside of the Indonesian free press, which is truly unregulated, privately owned, and for profit.

By the end of September the issue had become politicized. “It was the opening salvo of the 2004 election campaign,” according to one Golkar member. President Megawati was shocked by attacks from the right on her Islamic credentials, for expressing support of the United States, and from the left from nationalists who criticized her speech in Houston, Texas inviting American business to come to Indonesia. She was considered a “lackey of the Americans” by both groups. Small radical Islamic groups demonstrated at the U.S. embassy and threatened “sweeps” of American tourists from hotels.

It was a serious matter for her. She leads a weak government and must thread her way between the nationalist left and the Islamic right. She dealt with it by a speech on the eve of a prominent Muslim holiday in which she criticized the spilling of blood to avenge the spilling of blood. Without naming names, she distanced herself from the United States and particularly from the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, which had begun by then.

The domestic reaction to this speech was interesting. The criticism began to subside, perhaps in part due to some publicity about the joy in Afghanistan shown by those liberated from the Taliban.

Eventually public attention returned to normal preoccupations, such as local scandals and it was politics as usual. The government deployed security forces to protect the embassy, and mainstream Muslims, including the head of Muhammadiyah, shocked by the earlier vitriol, began to speak out. Pragmatic nationalism reasserted itself. Megawati has something of a Teflon quality and seems to have emerged unscathed. Most political parties are divided by internal wrangling and are unable to maintain any momentum in attacks against her.

However, the criticisms of the U.S. touched a chord. Indonesian objections to U.S. Mid-East policy is widespread, and now can be freely expressed in the press. There is a genuine rejection of unilateralism. But these feelings are not strong or deep-seated, so the affair did not progress to widespread anti-Americanism.

But why were those who threatened U.S. citizens not punished? Impunity is the most intractable problem in Indonesia. No one is ever punished. It may be latent sympathy with the views articulated by radicals, or fear of further domestic consequences; but one should not underestimate the possibility of simple incompetence and weak government institutions.


Moeslim Abdurrahman, a member of Muhammadiyah’s board of directors, further described the aftermath of September 11 in Indonesia, and gave examples of some of the popular and common anti-American rhetoric that increased during this period.

He reported that in the hudpah (the Friday sermon after prayers in the mosques), audiences were frequently reminded to be more careful of the international conspiracy of the United States and Jews to suppress Muslim countries like Indonesia. According to this view, this conspiracy is actually behind the economic crisis, so [wealthy] Christian missionaries can benefit from poverty and convert Muslims by providing rice. He described other examples of response, some equally ominous and some quite frivolous, such as the selling of Osama bin Laden tee shirts, which, he said, did not mean support for bin Laden but was just a temporary fad. The moderates, who were mostly silent, do not have a culture of speaking out as do the radicals, he said.

This variety of Islamic reaction demonstrates that it is difficult to generalize about Islam in Indonesia. Most people are ill informed and confused about international issues like globalization and U.S. foreign policy and are still figuring out issues like the meaning of gender, democracy etc.

But foreign observers should not underestimate the importance of community and the strength of civil organizations in the communitarian religion of Islam. The Muhammadiyah and the Nahdlatul Ulama have thousands of universities, hospitals, and other institutions, all outside the state. This represents a strong civil society, and in cases of local need, e.g. floods, the local communities are more effective than government.

Rizal Sukma, director of studies at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, is a member of Muhammadiyah and comes from Aceh. He described his reactions to September 11, ranging from puzzlement that Indonesians would criticize the victims of the attack in saying it happened “because the Americans were arrogant” and anger when the U.S. responded with the bombing of Afghanistan. He was angry that, while there has been great discussion about “collateral damage” in other conflicts, i.e. the number of Palestinians killed or the number of Afghans killed, there is no interest in the number of Acehnese being killed in the current conflict there.

He said in Indonesia the reaction to September 11 is understood as a test for the Megawati government: would it stand the test of not being co-opted by the United States? This is typical of any post-colonial state, he said.

He added that the objections to the U.S. military campaign also reflect a strain of opinion opposing military force to deal with terrorism, a view that springs from Indonesian experience. (However that view disappeared with the fall of the Taliban, he said.)

He said radical Islam comes from several sources in Indonesia: moral frustration, ideological fear of globalization and Western domination, a desire for a Pax Islamica in Indonesia, simple political opportunism, and economic and social resentments. It is a phenomenon not found outside Java, he said, and is urban-based.

Today’s radicals grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, at the height of Soeharto’s New Order. They are motivated by various factors, he said: the urge to taste power in the vacuum after the Soeharto regime; weak law enforcement by government; and economic hardship. There are now 40 million people unemployed, he noted, and 1.3 million internally displaced people (IDP), refugees from ethnic and religious conflicts.

The failure of military reform plays into this game, he said. The police, now in charge of internal security, claim they cannot enforce law and order because they are constrained by possible human rights violations.

What can the United States do? Rizal recommended that the U.S. should continue to assist economic development and not allow the war on terrorism to derail pro-democracy movements in Aceh, Papua and other places. Better public democracy is also needed: the U.S. is not doing much to explain in Indonesia what is going on in the United States.

Donald Emmerson, senior fellow at Standord University’s Asia/Pacific Research Center, noted some provocative ambiguities and ironies in American policy.

American activism

The upsurge in American patriotism after September 11, and the explicit pride in establishing global democratic projects, are not much different than Islamism in terms of loyal fervor and proselytization.

The notion that people everywhere can achieve self-government under the rule of law might be seen as a “hyper-Wilsonian invitation” to secession.

“Let’s roll!” has been cried too many times; as if all we have to do is act. What is needed is time, for long-term solutions. American impatience will be a problem.


It’s a question whether Indonesia is better off when the U.S. wants something or when there is no immediate national motive. American indifference vs. American obsession presumes an assymetrical relationship between the two countries. Indonesia needs the United States for many things. If the United States needs something from Indonesia, does that suggest Indonesia has some leverage?

Meanwhile, the U.S. “obsession” is not entirely unwarranted. The U.S. vulnerability to terrorists is a real issue. It was recently reported that 16 of 22 identified al Qaeda terrorists are still at large.

Military to military relations provide a good illustration of the ambiguities of the U.S.-Indonesia relationship. Has the Bush Administration requested financial support for the Indonesian military in the draft budget for the Defense Department? If there is global authorization for the U.S. military to offer training against terrorism this can be seen as an end run around the Leahy Amendment [to the Foreign Operations Act that prohibits any aid to Indonesia’s military until they redress past human rights abuses].

However, perhaps not all the outcomes from September 11 are necessarily negative. If the recent meeting in Geneva on Aceh made some progress it may be because the GAM [Acehnese Independence Movement] attended; and its attendance may be because of increased pressure for settlement after September 11. General Zinni [President Bush’s special envoy for Middle East negotiations] was reported to be present at that meeting. []

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