Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fighting Terrorism Takes Unity, not Dividedness!


By Thang D. Nguyen

JAKARTA—It is ridiculous to see the dividedness between the Indonesian and Australian governments on how to deal with the terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) at a time when unity is needed most.

Just days before the third commemoration of the Bali bombing of 2002, which killed 202 people, mostly Australians, terrorists attacked Bali again with three bombings on 1 October, killing 23 people, mostly Indonesians, and injuring more than 130.

While no individual or group has claimed responsibility for the second Bali attack, intelligence authorities and analysts believe that it had all the hallmarks of JI. Linked to the al Qaida, JI is responsible for the first bombing of Bali in 2002 and those of the JW Marriott Jakarta Hotel in 2003 and the Australian Embassy in Jakarta last year.

The issue between Canberra and Jakarta, however, is not whether JI carried out these attacks. But, rather, it is what to do with the group and its leadership, namely the currently jailed cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir.

Prime Minister John Howard and his government recently requested the Indonesian government to ban JI and not to further reduce Ba'asyir’s jail term.

Mr. Howard also sent his foreign minister, Mr. Alexander Downer, to Bali for the third commemoration of the first Bali bombing, during which he is expected to push Jakarta to ban JI.

It was wise and appropriate of Mr. Howard, however, to stress that “we are having a debate, a discussion, about the laws of another country." In other words, banning JI or not is a matter of Indonesia’s sovereignty.

Despite how terrorist attacks in Indonesia—besides the Asian tsunami—have brought the two neighboring countries closer than ever before, certain anti-Australia attitudes still remain among many ordinary Indonesians.

Likewise, certain xenophobic and racist attitudes towards Indonesia still remain among many ordinary Australians, as their reactions to the 20-year drug-smuggling charge given to Ms. Schapelle Corby by the Bali High Court back in July clearly showed.

Because of this difficult nature of Indonesian-Australian relations, it can only be hoped that, while in Indonesia, Mr. Downer has done his job with respect for Indonesia’s sovereignty, a soft approach and diplomacy—lots of it.

Understandably, too hard a hard push from Canberra on the banning of JI can only backfire, fueling further anti-Australia sentiment among the Indonesians and, thereby, making the long and complex relations between the two countries more difficult than they already are.

Meanwhile, in Jakarta, the Indonesian government appeared to dismiss the existence of JI as an organization and opposes the request from Canberra to ban it.

"For us, the existence of that organization (JI) is not organized, so how can we disband it," Vice President Kalla said. "If we have not recognized [sic] it and do not know its members, how can we ban it," he added.

While no one expects the vice president to be an expert on terrorist groups, it is ungrounded—if not absurd—to deny JI’s existence as an internationally linked and well-organized network of radical Islamic terrorists.

For one thing, the most determining factor of terrorist groups and their attacks is—you guessed it—organization.

Just because JI has recruited members who are willing, able, and ready to die for jihad (or holy war), it is not enough an element to make it a dangerous group and its attacks deadly.

Like the al Qaida, JI has many masterminds with impeccable organizational skills to train new recruits, plan attacks well in advance, and execute them with clockwork precision. In other words, the JI would have been unable to carry out its attacks in Indonesia thus far, had it not been a well-organized organization.

Furthermore, JI’s appearance as a loose, faceless or invisible group, in fact, makes it less noticeable and, therefore, more dangerous.

Put differently, publicity is counterproductive for JI and its works; deception is its modus operandi. Thus, to dismiss it as a terrorist network is to help it.

Unfortunately, after all the attacks that JI has done, many Indonesians are still in denial of its existence as a group that destroys its economy, kills its own sons and daughters, and worst of all, darkens the name of Islam.

Enough blood has been shed and much has been lost; Indonesia doesn’t need more bombing attacks to realize that it has been living with a homegrown enemy.

Like an alcoholic trying to quit drinking, the first step for Indonesia, as a nation, to deal with JI is to admit that it does exist.

Only then will ordinary Indonesians start to feel its presence; only then can they be helpful in the hunt of its leaders and members; and only then will Indonesian Muslim leaders condemn JI harder and teach their followers that Islam is not about killing.

But most importantly, only when the Indonesia fully recognizes the threats from JI and acknowledge its existence will it consider Australia’s request to have the network banned.
The British poet John Donne wrote: “No man island, entire of itself…and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." Likewise, JI is as much as, if not more, an enemy to Indonesia as it is to Australia; in fact, most of the victims in the Bali and other bombings were Indonesians.

Therefore, Jakarta should not see Canberra’s request that JI be banned as an intrusion into its domestic affairs or a threat to its sovereignty. Rather, it is a well-meant intention to fight their mutual enemy.

The only way to win against JI it is for Indonesia and Australia to fight it together with unity, not dividedness, nor xenophobia.

Mr. Thang D. Nguyen is a Jakarta-based columnist, whose writing can be read at http://thecolumnist.blogspot.com.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Lost in Ignorance

The pleasure was all mine. The Chronicle will benefit its readers by publishing my letter in which they can see your flawed argument--that which you called a "stimulating debate".

For clarification, when I mentioned that many Americans don't speak a foreign language, I referred to the Anglo-saxon majority of the American population. Of course, immigrants coming to the US from other countries (such as myself) speak their (foreign) languages. (Thanks for pointing out the obvious, Dr. Pells!)

You made an Orwellian point that Muslims, Christians, and Zionists are all terrorists, but the Muslims are worse than the others. That, in and of itself, does not make the Christians and Zionists terrorism-free, does it?

And if I may, Prof. Pells, you have nerve to put Baghdad in the same category with NYC, London, Bali, and Madrid. Who started all the violence (or terrorism) in Iraq but your Christian fanatic president George W. Bush, his father, and their neo-cons? The retaliatory violence that the Iraqies have been showing in Baghdad is nothing but an act of self-defense against the American invasion of their country on the pretext that Sadam Hussein had weapons of mass destructions (WMDs).

In case you have not realized, there were no WMDs in Iraq, and the presentation that former Secretary of State Colin Powell made about Iraqi nukes before the UN right before the US invasion was based on false information from British intelligence authorities. As a matter of fact, the British government acknowledged that the report it gave to Mr. Powell came from an American academic, Mr. Ibrahim al-Marashi, a research associate at the Center for Non-proliferation Studies in Monterey, California. If this is not plagiarism, what is, Dr. Pells?

Finally, does it matter how the term "halfbright" has been coined? What matters is that it is so true of some Fulbright fellows, or Albright, who give ill advice to the White House, Foggy Bottom (nickname for the State Department), and the Pentagon on foreign affairs. I can only hope that you are not one of these "experts"!?

With regards, I remain,

Thang D. Nguyen

Thank you for your message. I hope the Chronicle does publish your letter, since the purpose of articles like mine is to stimulate debate, not to have everyone nodding in agreement.

But just for the record, I am aware that most Americans know little about the rest of the world. Indeed, I have written extensively about American provincialism in books and articles (including several in past issues of the Chronicle). But the present article is not about that. It is about the current failures of and opportunities for America's cultural relationships with other countries (and not just Muslim ones).

The article was also about the ignorance, or at least the simplistic stereotypes, that many people abroad have about the U.S. Unfortunately, your message reflects and repeats some of those stereotypes. For example, when you imply that few Americans can speak a foreign language, that is precisely the sort of cliche that people spout when they either don't know or aren't thinking about the contemporary nature of American society. For the past 40 years, there have been waves of immigrants coming to America. As a result there are millions of American who know Spanish (either because, as Americans, they have come from Cuba, Mexico, or Central America, or because non-native-Spanish speakers have undertaken to learn Spanish in order to deal with and understand the huge number of Hispanics in the U.S.). Moreover, there are (for the same reasons of immigration) large numbers of Americans who speak an Asian language—Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese. Would that other countries, both in Europe and in Asia, were as open to newcomers in their midst.

As to Muslim terrorism, there is no doubt that others have engaged in terrorist acts over the years and centuries. But more recently, neither Christians nor the Northern Irish nor what you call "Zionists" have come anywhere near matching the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians all over the world committed by Muslim religious fanatics (imbued with the sort of totalitarian sensibilities that would have made Hitler or Stalin proud). If you don't believe that, ask the people in Bali, Baghdad, Istanbul, Madrid, London, New York, and Washington.

As to American foreign policy, sometimes it has been a force for good (as in the case of postwar Germany & Japan), sometimes it has been for bad, and sometimes it's just been plain incompetent. So what else is new? American foreign policy has been, on balance, no better or worse than the foreign policies of most other countries in the world.

Finally, regarding your snide reference to "Halfbright," you should be aware that this phrase is itself a cliche—originally coined by right-wingers in the U.S. in the late 40s who were opposed to the Fulbright Program (and who didn't have one-tenth the intelligence or global understanding that Sen. Fulbright himself had). Surely you wouldn't want to put yourself in their company.

Best Regards,

Richard Pells

Dear Professor Pells,

Greetings from the Big Durian!

Following is my letter to the Chronicle in response to your recent article reflecting your experience as a Fulbright fellow in Indonesia.

I hope you will take my letter from a constructive view and that the Chronicle will publish it.


Thang D. Nguyen

P.S. Do you think, Prof. Pells, that after having sent such qualified fellows as yourself to the world, the Fulbright program should, perhaps, be called Halfbright instead?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Lost in Arrogance

Dear editor,

I refer to the article entitled "Lost in Translation" by Professor Richard Pells (http://www.chronicle.com/, Volume 52, Issue 8, Page B6). (See following article.)

While the author is right about being "lost in translation" because of the language (communication) barrier between Indonesians and himself while he was visiting Indonesia as a Fulbright fellow, he completely fails to mention--or perhaps, he conveniently forgot to--how little Americans themselves know about Indonesia, and other countries, for that matter.

Furthermore, the author stressed that the understanding of America is most needed in the Muslim world. In doing so, he implied that terrorist attacks are the works of Muslims. In case Professor Pells does not know, one of the world's major terrorist networks is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Hindu-majority nation. In fact, it is incorrect to say that violence as a manifestation of religious fundamentalism only exists among Muslims because it does among Christians and Zionists, too. On that note, I highly recommend, in case Professor Pells has not read it, that he read a book called The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong.

What is more, as learned a person as Dr. Pells is, he falls into the condescending idea that American culture must be learned and spread out throughout the world when many Americans themselves are completely ignorant of the rest of the world.

Seriously, besides the intelligensia and other Americans who have lived, studied, or been born abroad, how many Americans speak a foreign language? (In fact, most of them have a hard time speaking or writing English themselves.) By contrast, the number of Indonesians, and other peoples around the world, who speak English is higher.

Besides economic benefits, the US has tried so hard to globalize America and its values, namely the idea of democracy, by invading or waging wars with other nations just to fail in the end. Have we not seen enough blood and damage of this failing, hegemonic foreign policy? Have they cost enough American tax dollars? And what have come out of these wars? If we look at the places where the US has tried to democratize or change their regimes, most of them--like Haiti, the Philippines, and so forth--have been and still are messes.

In other words, the US has always backed the wrong horses. Lest we forget, about 10 years ago, Osama bin Ladin was an American hero, taking lots of money from the CIA to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, and what has become of him, or what has he done for America in return?

It is time for the US to show a little more respect to other peoples and their cultures. As a matter of fact, it is time for the US to stop invading other countries in the name of democracy altogether. Although America's wars abroad benefit corporate America, particularly the defense, energy, and construction industries, they cost a lot of American lives, taxpayers' dollars, and worst of all, they make people in the invaded countries hate America more.


Thang D. Nguyen

About the author of this letter: Mr. Thang D. Nguyen is a Jakarta-based columnist, whose writing can be read at http://thangthecolumnist.blogspot.com/. He has published two books on Indonesia, including Indonesia Matters: Diversity, Unity, and Stability in Fragile Times ('Times Editions, 2002).

The Chronicle of Higher Education
Volume 52, Issue 8, Page B6

America: Lost in Translation


How successful has the United States been in making its policies and values better understood among Muslims in the Middle East and Southeast Asia? Based on my experience last summer as a Fulbright senior specialist in Indonesia, the answer is: hardly at all. During May and June, I spent three weeks giving a series of lectures on American history and the global impact of American culture to students and faculty members at several universities in central Java. I was based in Yogyakarta, which the guidebooks describe as the "intellectual" capital of Indonesia. Leaving aside the characteristic hyperbole of guidebooks, I anticipated that I would meet a number of people who had some familiarity with the United States. Moreover, since Indonesia is a country with the largest and (along with Turkey) the most moderate Muslim population on the planet, I assumed that it would be a focal point for the Bush administration's efforts to win "hearts and minds" in the Islamic world.

The disparity between my expectations and my experiences could not have been greater. Since 1978 I have been a visiting professor abroad on many occasions — not just in relatively tranquil places like Western Europe, Scandinavia, or Australia, but also in Eastern Europe during the Communist era, Turkey, Thailand, Malaysia, and Brazil. But never have I had as difficult a time communicating with audiences, or deciphering what they were saying to me, as I did in Indonesia. Ironically, the original intent of the Fulbright program, when it was launched in 1946, was to promote "mutual understanding" between Americans and other people around the world. What I encountered in Indonesia was mutual incomprehension.

Indeed, I often felt like the Bill Murray character in Lost in Translation: jet-lagged, surrounded by people eager to please, bemused by my inability to fathom their version of English, trying to remember to nod and smile even when I was clueless about what was going on around me. As my frustration and sense of isolation grew, I recalled the advertising slogan in the movie: "For relaxing times, make it Suntory time." In my case, it was Smirnoff time — I sometimes suspected that the only personal relationship I established in Indonesia was with a liquor salesman who kept saying to me as I left his emporium: "I see you again, Mister." More seriously, Lost in Translation is one of the most discerning films ever made about culture shock. And that, in fact, was what I felt in Indonesia almost every day.

The breakdown in communication, however, did not result simply from the struggle many Asians have in pronouncing certain English words. In the "discussions" that followed my lectures (which frequently took the form of someone delivering a 10-minute speech before arriving at a question), and in the conversations I had with individual students and faculty members, I found myself repeatedly saying, "I don't understand what you mean." That was true even when their comments or queries were translated into recognizable English. The problem was not one of language, but of context. What I didn't grasp, at least not for a while, were the political and cultural assumptions behind the questions Indonesians were posing.

My dialogue with Indonesians often became surreal. "Is there grass in Texas?" I was regularly asked of my home state. Obviously Indonesians — having seen far too many old Westerns — supposed that Texas, with some of the most heavily populated urban areas in America, was a veritable wasteland of sagebrush and dust. Indonesians also seemed obsessed with the prevalence of what they called "free sex" in America. Someone finally explained to me that they meant the tendency of Americans to engage in sex before marriage or after divorce — whereas in Indonesia such activity is forbidden, in theory if not in practice. And since many Indonesians in my audiences had seen Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, they were convinced that students in American high schools were heavily armed, just waiting for the opportunity to open fire.

But it was their questions about Moore himself that left me truly befuddled. I was asked continually if the Bush administration had subsidized Moore's movies, including Fahrenheit 9/11. Eventually I realized that such a question revealed an entirely different set of ideas about the relationship between government and culture. Since Indonesians believed that movies, plays, and novels could scarcely exist without the political and financial support of the state, it was hard for them to imagine the existence of a "private" sector in the arts, or the absence of an American ministry of culture.

Indonesians are by no means the only people, in Asia or elsewhere, who cherish their stereotypes about America. One can find similar misconceptions all over the world, notably among Europeans currently hostile to American foreign policy as well as to what they regard as America's economic and religious "values."

Yet in Indonesia I did not confront the usual anti-Americanism. Nor did I come across students, even at privately financed Muslim universities, whose knowledge consisted exclusively of what they'd memorized from the Koran. Although I was certainly asked whether the Bush administration was genuinely committed to the promotion of democracy in the Middle East, or only to fulfilling America's imperial ambitions, no one shrieked at me about the war in Iraq or Washington's support for Israel.On the contrary, there is — at the moment — a great deal of affection for the United States. That fondness is the result, in part, of America's financial and military assistance to Indonesia after the tsunami devastated most of Aceh Province in Sumatra. The favorable attitude was reinforced by the highly visible presence of American journalists covering the tsunami's wreckage, and by the well-publicized trips of the former presidents Bush and Clinton to devastated areas.

Moreover Indonesians are as sensitive as Americans to the menace of terrorism. In 2002 two nightclubs in Bali were bombed, killing 202 people, including 88 Australian tourists. In 2003 the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta was severely damaged. Soon after I landed in Indonesia, the U.S. Embassy and its consulates closed down for several days because of a terrorist threat. Meanwhile the English-language Jakarta Post persistently warned Western tourists to beware of congregating at shopping malls. Those threats and warnings have turned out to be all too realistic in view of the most recent suicide bombings on Bali that killed 22 people and wounded more than 90.

Perhaps as a result of both their gratitude toward and shared vulnerability with Americans, many Indonesian students told me after my lectures that they were eager to learn more about American culture, and that they wanted to find out how to obtain grants to study in the United States. They also pointed out to me that I was the first visiting professor from America they had ever encountered who had talked to them — however impenetrably — about the history of America's politics and its culture.

The trouble, therefore, is not so much with the clichés that Indonesians have in their minds about America, just as it is not with our mutual failure to comprehend one another's language. The central problem is that Indonesians know almost nothing about the United States, beyond what they've seen in Hollywood's blockbuster movies. What they really need is some in-depth instruction about the complexities of American life — about America's history, its political system, its economic and social structures, its foreign policy, and its cultural institutions.

In short, Indonesians — and people in other Muslim countries — could benefit enormously, as would Americans, from the sorts of overseas cultural activities to which the United States committed itself during the cold war. From the late 1940s through the end of the 1980s, the American government — along with the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations — sponsored lectures and conferences abroad on American history and literature; art exhibitions featuring America's Abstract Expressionists and postmodern painters and sculptors; international tours of jazz musicians, symphony orchestras, and ballet companies, as well as of Broadway musicals and dramas; visiting professorships where American academics taught in foreign universities; fellowships for foreign graduate students to study in the United States; and cultural centers like the America Houses in West Germany and Austria that showed American movies, displayed works of American photographers, and offered symposia on American social and cultural life.

In addition the State Department, the U.S. Information Agency, and the foundations helped build up library collections of American materials — especially books, magazines, and newspapers — in foreign universities. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies at the Free University of Berlin, the Ford Foundation helped subsidize the creation of what became the largest research library for American topics on the European continent.

Even the Congress for Cultural Freedom, though secretly bankrolled by the CIA, was instrumental during the 1950s in publishing magazines and holding symposia that provided outlets for debates between American and foreign intellectuals. More important, the congress arranged for manuscripts written by Eastern European dissidents to be published in the West.

After the end of the cold war, many of those global cultural efforts and institutions either were eliminated or suffered dramatic cutbacks in financing. The stipends for Fulbright lectureships, including the better-endowed Fulbright Chairs in Europe, failed to keep pace with rising faculty salaries, making it tougher for the program to persuade American professors to teach abroad. The Clinton administration, presuming that the United States no longer had to contend with an external enemy like the Soviet Union, reduced the financing of American-studies conferences and lecture tours abroad, discontinued the practice of underwriting concerts and art exhibits, closed all the America Houses and other cultural centers overseas, and shut down the American libraries housed in U.S. embassies.

Furthermore the infrastructure that supported America's public and cultural diplomacy was severely weakened. The U.S. Information Agency, which had supervised most of our international cultural and educational programs since 1953, was absorbed by the State Department in 1999, thereby losing its independence and becoming more subservient to the department's political and foreign-policy priorities. Meanwhile, according to statistics from the Defense Science Board and the Government Accountability Office, the staff and funds for public diplomacy (i.e., cultural programming and public relations) have been eroded by more than 25 percent, adjusted for inflation, since 1989. That means that there are fewer U.S. consulates overseas that organize conferences and fewer cultural-affairs officers in American embassies. Those officers who remain are stretched too thin, having to serve too many masters, and they are increasingly aware that the road to promotion and influence in the Foreign Service lies not through culture but through press and public relations.

It was only after the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon in 2001 that many outside observers (among them, journalists and academics) and some government officials recognized that the United States needed once again to communicate, culturally, with the rest of the world, particularly in the Middle East and South Asia. Nevertheless, that communication has been awkward at best, much of it marred by an emphasis on advertising techniques and an excessive reliance on the Internet rather than on direct, face-to-face interactions between Americans and foreigners. Nor have the ventures been inspired by the long-range vision that characterized America's cultural efforts during the cold war.

There are, of course, many differences between the cold war and the war on terrorism. The cold war was primarily a contest between two nation-states, the United States and the Soviet Union, both with a lot to lose in the case of a possible nuclear conflagration. Consequently each country understood that there were limits beyond which neither could go, particularly when it came to threatening the spheres of influence or national-security interests of its adversary. Terrorists, on the other hand, are stateless and fanatical, with nothing to lose and no conception of what is and is not permissible.

Still, America's cultural activities during the cold war were not designed to convert Communists, nor today can such programs expect to persuade terrorists to alter their tactics of intimidation and mass murder. Instead, the libraries, symposia, magazines, and concerts were aimed during the cold war at people in Western Europe, Latin America, and Asia who were agnostic about the virtues of American culture or reluctant to choose sides between the United States and the Soviet Union. Similarly a resurrection of America's cultural diplomacy in the 21st century has to focus on those in the Islamic world who remain ambivalent about the United States and what it stands for — and who are uncertain about how America's policies and values will affect their own cultures, social institutions, and religious beliefs.

The best way to begin is by launching a sustained effort to make America more intelligible to Muslims. Indonesia could be an ideal test case for how effectively the United States can inform people in other countries (and diminish their stereotypes) about life in America.

And the place to start is with libraries. Indonesia, like many countries around the world, desperately needs books about the United States, subscriptions to American newspapers and periodicals (both mass-circulation magazines and professional journals), and DVD's of classic American films. But such collections should be located within Indonesian universities rather than at separate cultural centers, as in the past, since Asian versions of Europe's America Houses could be tempting targets for terrorist bombings.

After the demise in the 1990s of American libraries overseas, the Bush administration placed its faith in what were called "American Corners" — mini-libraries that, at least in Indonesia, contain a few out-of-date magazines and books about American history. But American Corners are pathetic simulations of authentic libraries like the kind that exist at the JFK Institute or in British universities. So if Americans truly care what the Muslim world thinks, then university collections of American materials must be substantially enlarged and improved.

Second, the State Department should consider financing semester-long visiting professorships to Indonesia, and perhaps elsewhere in the region, instead of relying on the small and underfinanced Fulbright program or on ad hoc faculty exchanges between American and foreign universities. Those professorships ought to match the salaries of American academics, to be more financially appealing than the paltry stipends for Fulbright grants. Such a program would also require that the State Department actively identify and recruit scholars in American history, literature, sociology, economics, political science, and law, rather than depending on whoever happens to apply for the positions.

The purpose of the visiting professorships, however, would not be simply to send American academics to Indonesia or to other Muslim countries to teach courses and advise local faculty members on curricula. Instead, just as the American government after World War II dispatched scholars to Europe to help establish university departments and institutes of American studies, so the State Department should define the role of the new professorships as training one or two generations of Indonesian and other Muslim Americanists, who could then transmit what they know about the United States to their own students.

That training should not be devoted merely to developing a cadre of indigenous academic specialists in American subjects. As in the case of postwar Europe, the ultimate objective would be to provide students who will some day enter business, law, politics, or the media with a greater knowledge of and sophistication about America's political and economic system and its cultural traditions.

Third, the State Department and the Fulbright Program, along with private foundations, could increase the number of fellowships for Indonesian and other foreign graduate students to study American history, literature, law, or politics in the United States — not just for a year or two, but with a view toward earning a Ph.D. and returning to teach their fields to their own undergraduates. Again, fellowships like those were indispensable during the cold war in helping to produce several generations of Americanists in Europe, Latin America, and Japan.

Finally, the Foreign Service itself could require more people who are interested in American culture and willing to devote their careers to making our culture more comprehensible to foreign audiences. If a broader set of cultural initiatives is to materialize, U.S. embassies abroad, not only in Indonesia, urgently need more personnel and more support from Washington.

All these efforts will cost a great deal more money than the Bush administration has allocated for public diplomacy. But, despite their intermittent disdain for the use of "soft power," important members of the administration are aware of how precarious America's image is in Muslim countries, if not also among America's wary allies in Europe. Condoleezza Rice, after all, was in her earlier life an expert on American-Soviet relations, and she knows how crucial culture was as a component of the cold war. Karen P. Hughes, the new under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, is a confidante of President Bush and may be able to encourage the administration to pay more attention and devote more resources to the role of American culture overseas.

Yet no matter what happens during the next three years, the significance of and opportunities for cultural diplomacy extend well beyond the life span of the Bush administration. Right now Indonesia could be a place for pilot programs that, if successful, might eventually be expanded to Malaysia and (if circumstances permit) Jordan and Egypt. But such programs require imagination, energy, adequate funds, and above all time to work.

Thus, unless people in the State Department begin to think of the distant future, rather than of immediate propaganda payoffs, America will never duplicate the cultural accomplishments that characterized the cold-war years. Instead, we will continue to find our views and our values distrusted, misinterpreted, and lost in translation.

Richard Pells is a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. His books include Not Like Us: How Europeans Have Loved, Hated, and Transformed American Culture Since World War II (Basic Books, 1997).

http://chronicle.comSection: The Chronicle ReviewVolume 52, Issue 8, Page B6

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Bookmark: At home with Indonesia

The Jakarta Post
Sunday, 9 October 2005

Title: Made in Indonesia
Author: Warwick Purser
Publisher: Equinox Publishing
Date: September, 2005

By Thang D. Nguyen
Contributor, Jakarta

Judged by its cover, size, and shape, Made in Indonesia looks just like any other coffee-table book on Indonesia -- one with lots of pictures of Balinese resorts, beautiful Javanese houses, or rice fields, and a short introduction, if any. But it's not!

While Made in Indonesia has many great pictures, they are not the key feature of the book. Rather, they accompany and help the author explain and illustrate in his own words how Indonesians make world-class handcrafted products, using natural and recycled waste materials and, of course, their hands.

Simply put, it is nothing less than amazing to see in this book how bamboo, palm trees, seashells, recycled newspapers and steel are turned into elegant, stylish and classy handbags, shoes, picture frames, dining ware, furniture and a variety of interior accessories in the hands of Indonesian craftspeople.

While there are many books about Indonesia -- ranging from history, politics, puppetry (wayang kulit), coffee and clove cigarettes (kretek), to the nightlife in Jakarta and "crazy" foreigners (bule gila, or bugil) living in the country -- there has not been one that is devoted entirely to Indonesian craftsmanship. Thus, the timing of Made in Indonesia makes it a significant publication.

What is more significant about this book, though, is the story of its author, Warwick Purser, and how he has come to build "Out of Asia", an exporting business of handicrafts made in Indonesia to markets worldwide.

About 10 years ago, Mr. Purser -- a lanky Aussie who describes himself as an Indonesianized bule -- came to Tembi, a village area on the outskirts of Yogyakarta, central Java, where he saw an opportunity to build an enterprise that would be profitable and benefit the local community at the same time.

"When I first moved to Tembi, the streets were unpaved. Many of the houses [there] were sadly in need of repair. Many families could not afford to buy day-to-day basics ... or provide education. It would seem that there were very few assets that could ensure any degree of continuous and sustainable living," he writes.

There was, however, one asset: "the ability Indonesians have to create almost anything and everything with their hands. Tembi was no exception. However, while the skills were there, they were not being properly utilized. My challenge was to revitalize this talent in an effort to improve their standard of living."

Today, Out of Asia produces handcrafted accessories for some of the finest shops in the world and employs thousands of Indonesians. So, in doing well as a business, Out of Asia does good for the community -- that which we call corporate social responsibility or socially responsible investment.

But what is most significant about Made in Indonesia is that it helps bring Indonesia to the world in a positive way and thereby contributes to a better, more informed understanding of Indonesia as a nation of great diversity, whether it be natural resources, cultures or otherwise.
Despite its geography, diversity and greatness, Indonesia is probably the least known or understood -- if not the most misunderstood -- nation in the world.

For many people in other parts of the world, Indonesia is part of Bali, if they know where the latter is. How many people know that Indonesia is the world's fourth-most populous country, the largest archipelago, the largest Muslim-majority nation and, more importantly, the third-largest democracy?

For one thing, the poor understanding of Indonesia in the world is because of the lack of a largely overdue public relations campaign that promotes (or sells) Indonesia abroad to tourists, investors, and people who, otherwise, could be interested in visiting, doing business, or living in Indonesia. Seriously, how can Malaysia be more "truly Asia" than Indonesia, given the latter's wealth of natural resources and diversity?

What's more, people in many parts of the world, especially Australia and the West, tend to have a negative image of Indonesia. For them, the name Indonesia is a synonym for terrorism, corruption, or radical Muslims, among other things.

While Indonesia does face these immense challenges, there are success stories about it that the world often doesn't hear; positive qualities about it that the world often doesn't see; and nice Indonesians that the world often doesn't meet.

For the most part, this is because what is shown of Indonesia in the international media is usually bad news, which, of course, sells better than good news.

And because of this so-called CNN effect, people will remember and associate Indonesia with such terrorist attacks as the bombings of Bali, both in 2002 and last week, of the JW Marriot Jakarta Hotel in 2003, and of the Australian Embassy last year.

But how many people have seen on TV or read in the news about the successful transformation of the world's largest Muslim-majority nation in the past seven years from 32 years of dictatorship into the world's third largest democracy?

And, for that matter, a few years from now, how many people will remember the Asian tsunami that devastated Indonesia, among other countries, last December?

This is why Made in Indonesia is a timely, relevant, and therefore, meaningful book. Not only does it celebrate Indonesian craftsmanship and introduce it to people all over the world, it also shows positive aspects of Indonesia that they don't know or haven't seen.

Mark Twain once quipped: "Wagner's music is better than it sounds." The same is true with Indonesia: The world just has to listen more attentively!

Mr. Thang D. Nguyen is the Program Director at the Jakarta-based United in Diversity Forum (www.unitedindiversity.org). He is also an op-ed columnist, whose writing can be read at http://thangthecolumnist.blogspot.com.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Neighbors - Indonesia and Australia

By Jenny Brockie

SBS TV - Dateline From Metro TV in Jakarta - Indonesia
Jakarta, October 04, 2005 (Transcript)

This forum was held at the studios of Metro TV in Jakarta. Indonesian community leaders, politicians, diplomats and journalists, many of whom have visited Australia discuss Australian perceptions of muslim Indonesia . A poll has shown nearly a third of Australians view Indonesia as a threat, a country where 90% of the population is Muslim. Tragically, another massacre in Bali has occurred. This program was recorded before these events but what is discussed is still highly relevant. The guests included Yenny Wahid, the daughter of the former Indonesian president - who has worked as a journalist for the 'Sydney Morning Herald' - Desi Anwar, the senior newsreader for Metro TV where we recorded our program, Wimar Witoelar, a former presidential advisor and a well-known commentator, Angelina Sondakh, a former Miss Indonesia and a Member of Parliament.

JENNY BROCKIE: I'd like to welcome all for joining us. And I'd like to start with you, Alpha Amirrachman. You've just come back to Indonesia, I think, after studying at the University of Sydney. What do you think Australians don't understand about Indonesia?

ALPHA AMIRRACHMAN, JOURNALIST: Thank you, Jenny. But I don't want to get trapped in stereotyping, OK? But I was in Sydney when the Bali blast occurred. It was so tragic. Many Australians were killed. And people at the university were very diplomatic. They didn't want to show their anger to me, their cynicism. But, outside of the universities, I met one woman who was unable to hide her anger and she told me, "Bali should not belong to Indonesia." I said, "Why?" "Because Bali is so different from the rest of Indonesia." "What do you mean by 'the rest of Indonesia'?" "The rest of Indonesia means Muslim majority." So I don't want to get trapped in stereotyping, but I have strong -

JENNY BROCKIE: But do you think that stereotyping exists in Australia?

ALPHA AMIRRACHMAN: Yeah, yeah, I think so. But I had a strong impression that, that woman doesn't really understand the diversity of Indonesia, doesn't really understand the complexity of Indonesian society. That's my impression.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you - I know you also wrote about another incident in a bar, when you were in a bar in Sydney. Can you tell us that story?

ALPHA AMIRRACHMAN: Yeah, but I was with my Australian friends and some of my international friends verbally attacked me, they said, "Your country is so dangerous because most of them are Muslims." And I was so angry. And my Australian friend calmed me down and then he drove me home. But I didn't get drunk. I was drinking orange juice at the time. Those people were drinking beer and they were angry with me.

JENNY BROCKIE: But how did you feel, though, when you received that sort of message in Australia? How did you feel at that time? You were angry, yeah?

ALPHA AMIRRACHMAN: I was so angry and I said, "You know, a small fight in Indonesia could result in headless body on the streets." I was so angry, I expressed myself like that. And my Australian friend calmed me down and, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Desi, what do you think? You're a news anchor here at Metro TV where we're recording this program. Do you think Australians understand Indonesia?

DESI ANWAR, TV PRESENTER: Well, I wouldn't want to presume what Australians think of Indonesia. I mean, the - the one thing that we do get is through the media coverage of what - Australian media cover, what Australians think about Indonesia. And I don't know how true that is, whether it actually reflects the sentiment of Australians in general.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what do you think of that media coverage, though, when you see it? What sort of things are you talking about?

DESI ANWAR: Well, for example, the reaction to the Schapelle Corby case, for example, and of course the trial of Abu Bakar Bashir and that kind of emotions that we get to read on Australian media. And again, being in the media, I don't know how -

JENNY BROCKIE: Representative it is.

DESI ANWAR: How true, how representative that is. I mean, my personal experience with Australians, I mean, they're wonderful people. I know a lot of people in Australia and I know a lot of Australians in Indonesia.

JENNY BROCKIE: But what it is about that kind of coverage that worries you?

DESI ANWAR: Well, I think it doesn't worry me as much as - for example, it shows in a way that there is this gap of understanding about Indonesia but what actually worries me most is that the emotional reaction that that kind of - you know - generates a kind of ill feeling, which I think is unnecessary. Because, I mean, emotional responses I can perfectly understand because, you know, with emotional reactions, you can motivate people to do, sort of, good things, you know? It makes people generous for example. It makes people - it puts people together. But, in terms of emotional responses that create, for example, negative impact, I don't think it's very good -

JENNY BROCKIE: You mentioned a gap in understanding. Where's the gap?

DESI ANWAR: Well, I think basically - I mean, I wrote an article about the reaction to the Schapelle Corby case. One thing that I think Indonesians cannot understand is why was there such an emotional response from the Australians because, when Indonesian media, for example, covers issues about Australia, for example, the Bali bombing, we actually covered the - more of the victims, you know, the Australian victims of the bombings more than the Indonesians who actually died. So to get that kind of response is -

JENNY BROCKIE: So you think it's skewed the wrong way in a sense? It's sort of tipped the wrong way?

DESI ANWAR: Yeah, and I think it's, you know, I think that kind of reporting, I mean, if the media wants to focus on that kind of reporting, they're not actually doing themselves a service by focusing on the emotional side of the reactions.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yes, Wimar, yes.

PROFESSOR WIMAR WITOELAR,JOURNALIST: I don't think we can single out the Australian media as such but the media of any developed country which has an organised press backed by big business. I'm a Professor of Journalism at Deakin University and I've seen how people are channelled into the world of PR, world of journalism, and I know the individuals well, I know very many Australians. All of them are unbiased. All of them are enlightened. All of them are educated. But, when they band together, they have a bossy mentality that says, "Lynch the image of the Indonesians." So I think it's a frenzy among the media, which is not specifically Australian.

JENNY BROCKIE: But I'm interested about the point you're making about when people get together they're - you said bossy?

WIMAR WITOELAR: Bossy. American, B-O-S-S-E. You know, "Get the culprit, round up the citizens, get the black guy, the Chinese guy, the brown guy."



JENNY BROCKIE: You think the Australian media is racist?

WIMAR WITOELAR: No, they're not racist, but the Australian media appeals to some part of Australia which somehow, you know, gets their feelings incited over that. But you don't see that when they are individuals.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yenny. Yes. Do you agree with that? I mean, you've worked as a journalist on the 'Sydney Morning Herald' and you've lived in Australia.

YENNY WAHID, DIRECTOR, WAHID INSTITUTE: To a certain degree, there is a stereotyping that journalists do to make the stories simple for the readers. And I think Indonesia is such a complex and diverse culture that, without the simplification and stereotyping, it would be very difficult for the, you know, the readers or for the - What do you call it? For TV. For the viewers, the audiences to understand what's really going on. So it's almost -

ANGELINA SONDAKH, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: I just want to jump in. You know, the perception, you know, because when I was meeting with the Member of the Parliament from Australia and some of the young members of the Parliament and they say, "Angelina, are you Indonesian?" and it's like, "Yes. Why?" "You don't look like Indonesian." I mean, that's one perception. But I'm purely Indonesian. My mum is Mindanaoese and my father is Indonesian. This is how the Australians see Indonesia and the Indonesian people. I mean, besides that, you know, people from Aceh, Minadano, Jakarta are different.

JENNY BROCKIE: So do you feel Indonesia gets simplified as a nation? Lots of nodding here.

YENNY WAHID: Any news in the world about other countries always gets simplified. It's just the nature of the media, in my opinion. And also, in my - I think that most people are very provincial, be it Indonesians, Australians, Americans, you know, any countries. I mean, they tend to look at things from their own perspective. So the media, in a way, has to follow that dictate, you know, otherwise, people won't really understand the story. So, in that process, the nuances get lost.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what are the nuances? Tell me about the nuances of Indonesia.

YENNY WAHID: Well, you know, the fact that -

MAN: Tell her about the Muslims being seen as troublemakers.

YENNY WAHID: Yes, the Muslim issue, you know, is very, is very simple case. I mean, Muslim in the world, not only Indonesia, is not a homogeneous entity. We have a spectrum, you know, a difference, of a brand of Islamism that people believe in. There are the so-called moderates, there are the people that believe that violence is the only means to channel their views and all sorts of things but not all Muslims are similar. And this gets lost of course in the translation or whatever, in the reporting.

JENNY BROCKIE: Chusnul, what do you think about that? Did you agree with that?

CHUSNUL MAR'IYAH, UNIVERSITY LECTURER: Well, I'm not expert on the media but I think my understanding about Australia and Indonesia relations is, you know, Australian society is also divided between the Canberra policies and the Jakarta policies and also between the people.


DITA SARI, TRADE UNION LEADER: Yeah, I think we have to be quite clear in this case because we have to make sure that there is a differentiation between the Government of Australia and the people of Australia. We cannot just mix it up. Most of the time, I think the policy of the Government of Australia, the Howard Government right now, can shape the attitude and consciousness of the majority of the people of Australia. For instance, like the participation of the Howard Government in the war in Iraq, the Australians also accepting troops to Iraq, it helps creating the understanding and consciousness among the Australians that because this war is against terrorism and it - most of the time, it's portrayed as the war against the Muslims' community - so the sentiment, anti-Muslim sentiment, then raised in Australia but I think it's not originally owned by the Australians but I think it mostly caused by the policy of the Government.

JENNY BROCKIE: And Indonesians feel that? You feel that, that anti-Muslim sentiment? Is that something you feel coming from Australia?

WIMAR WITOELAR: Well, even in your opening you said that Australians thinking that Indonesia 90% Muslim means they are trouble. So it goes, you know, even without thinking that the stereotypes - I know, that if you think hard, you know - I mean, these are not terrorists you have here and we are probably 90% Muslim - but somehow again, when you get on to that podium, into that thing called the media, you tend to generalise, maybe because it's harder to differentiate.

JENNY BROCKIE: But that is a fact too. I mean, that's just a fact.

WIMAR WITOELAR: That 90% are terrorists?

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah, yeah - no. That's not what I said. That's not what I said!

WIMAR WITOELAR: What is a fact?

JENNY BROCKIE: That 90% are Muslim.

WIMAR WITOELAR: Sure. But that has no linearity with troublemaking. I mean, in New Orleans, there was a lot of looting, they're not Muslims. Bush dropped a lot of bombs in Iraq, Afghanistan and he's not Muslim. So a lot of non-Muslims cause trouble - Northern Ireland, everywhere.

JENNY BROCKIE: I guess it's interesting because, when I think about the reason that we said that, one of the reasons we said that was because of the fear. It feeds on itself, doesn't it, in a sense?

WIMAR WITOELAR: Well, fear, of course, is psychological. It's your problem. I mean, Australians ask me, "Is it safe in Indonesia?" I don't know. It's not safe anywhere. It's not safe at my dentist, right? I mean, you can get AIDS or something. So it's very psychological.

JENNY BROCKIE: It's a good point. It's a very good point. Yes.

THANG NGUYEN, JOURNALIST: I'd like to go back to what Wimar and Yenny and other media leaders here have said so far about the gap between the understanding of Indonesia in Australia and vice versa. It's not just how the media portrays Indonesia in Australia and the rest of the world - what they portray, what they choose to show of Indonesia really matters. You sit in Canberra or Washington DC and you turn on your camera - your TV, I'm sorry - all you see is coverage of terrorist bombings. You don't see much of diverse Indonesia. You don't see coverage of the third largest democracy in the largest Muslim world on TV.

JENNY BROCKIE: But that's the nature of news, isn't it? Isn't news about problems?

THANG NGUYEN: Bad news sells. Bad news sells. Intelligent people will think for themselves, they will not rely on the TV to tell them what to think but unfortunately how many Australians or Americans for that matter... ..have that capacity to distinguish what is bad news from good news.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yes. Mr Sadjanan, yes, you. Former ambassador to Australia. What do you have to say about this?

SADJANAN PARNOHADININGRAT, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO AUSTRALIA: Well, being somebody who really has to gather all the opinion and try to articulate these opinions into strengthening relations between countries - that is my profession - I think when people oversimplify, simplify overly a certain issue, and react on this very simple mind of opinion, of reason, then that creates problems to people like us. Say, for instance, at the time when you remember probably in 2001 when hundreds of illegal migrants, they was transported by Indonesian ship. The reaction that is being made by the Australian Government at the time was that the Indonesian Government have to be held responsible for this. And then this, I think it is oversimplification of a response by somebody at the very high level of government official. I think this kind of attitude in many cases creates difficulty for people like us.. Visit the related web page

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you feel that's patronising sometimes?

SADJANAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Oh, well, unfortunately that's the fact. So saying that the Indonesian Government have to be held responsible for this case - I think this for the ordinary people in Indonesia is kind of accusations, baseless accusations. Because those people are not even Indonesian nationals and we do not know where they come from but why should we be held accountable for this while the fact is that those people are trying to get into Australia and we are the victim of the situations. Being the victim at the time when we feel we are the victim and at the time we are feeling as the victim, we are accused as being irresponsible and then it's hard for people like us to, you know, to redress the situations.

JENNY BROCKIE: Mmm. Hermawan, you wanted to say something. Now, you're a marketing consultant here. I'm interested from a marketing point of view what you think about all of this.

HERMAWAN KARTAJAYA, MARKETING CONSULTANT: Yeah, OK, in marketing, we believe that it is very often that perception is much more important than reality. But, you know, it is not fair actually. Sorry - Australia with 16 million to 20 million population, they are called continent and Indonesia with 220 million population, we are archipelago with 17,000 islands in the low tide and maybe 15,000 islands in the high tide, but we are called only country. So there is a simplification about us, right? So maybe Australians, they have the perception that Indonesia is very simple because we are called 'country' so everywhere is the same, that's why they simplify the thing.

JENNY BROCKIE: Endi, you wanted to say something. Editor of the 'Jakarta Post'. What do you think?

ENDI BAYUNI, EDITOR, JAKARTA POST: I feel this is turning into bashing the Australian media or it sounds like it. But I think that Hermawan was right that perception is formed by the media and in that way I think the media is responsible for forming public opinions. You know, trying to play the devil's advocate, I think the reverse is also true - that Indonesian media is not helping to, is not giving a true picture of Australia nowadays. Australia is now a very multiethnic society but yet I think in the public's perception, Australia is still very much white man's country, you know, European traditions, values and prejudices and this is the way in which we see - I'm not talking about us here because we know better - but the public in general, they see Australia -

JENNY BROCKIE: You're saying it cuts both ways.

ENDI BAYUNI: Especially in the wake of 9/11, the Bali bombing, the war on terrorism, and Indonesians see Australia as, you know, very much a white man's nation with all its, you know, so-called hidden agenda.

DESI ANWAR: Sorry, Jenny, if I can go back to the poll that you mentioned and if this poll is pretty accurate and if most Australians think that Indonesia is full of extremist terrorists about to blow up Australians and that, you know, Bali should be part of Australia and not part of Indonesia, then I think it's really sad in a way because, I mean, if the polling is accurate –

JENNY BROCKIE: It's a small poll. It's a small poll.

DESI ANWAR: If that is true, then I think Australians are missing out on, you know - just Indonesia is so much bigger than Bali, it's so much more. There's so many things that they can actually - you know, if they like surfing, it's not just in Bali, you can go to Nias, you can go to Mentawai and you can go to Banda. And so, in a way, I think it's the Australian media, you know, they are - I want to go back to the media. The media is actually doing the Australians a disservice because focusing on or basically pandering to sort of emotional outbursts, for example, or just focusing on the hopefully the vocal minorities that are sort of out to bash Indonesia is actually not doing Australians themselves any good because they are projecting themselves in a negative way, not just to Indonesia, but to the rest of the world. And I think it's a pity.

JENNY BROCKIE: Well, for many Australians, one of the strongest images to come out of your country recently was of Schapelle Corby, that Schapelle Corby drug trial, the woman who was convicted on drug charges and there've also been others since, other Australians, the Bali Nine, now facing possible death sentences, and Australian model Michelle Leslie, who is now also facing drug charges. Alpha, what do you think of the way Australia has reacted to those drug cases?


JENNY BROCKIE: All of them, but Corby in particular, because it was the strongest.

ALPHA AMIRRACHMAN: Yeah, I think it's - I could say excessive. I think, um, it was overreaction and it was also, again, situated by the media. And in Corby's case, you know, it was so excessive. It was focusing only on that and then emphasising the difference between Abu Bakar Bashir's treatment and Corby's treatment. That is legal matters, legal matters.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you think that was OK? I mean, Australians did think that was an extraordinary difference between the sentence that Abu Bakar Bashir got and that Schapelle Corby got. You did not think that was unusual?

WIMAR WITOELAR: They're apples and oranges. You cannot compare them. First of all, as a parent, I would be greatly distressed if my daughter, if I had a daughter, be in a spot like that and it's a personal tragedy. You should not link that, I think, to a case of bilateral relations or a judgment of the Indonesian judicial system but, if you do so, you should compare the Corby case to other people involved in drugs.

SADJANAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Can I pick up your point? I tend to see that this is a matter of law enforcement that is being judged by emotions, a matter of implementations of law that is being judged by the perceptions of somebody who is young and innocent and things and that this influenced the articulations of the very strong judgment into our judicial system as if we did not do anything good in terms of implementing our own law. This is, I think, once again, oversimplification of things, of matters. That placing an issue of law enforcement in the context of defending somebody who is young, innocent, pretty and things like that and then is being cooked up by the media and this is gone wrong. Once again, this is a matter of implementations of law enforcement.

JENNY BROCKIE: There was some extreme reaction in Australia to the Schapelle Corby case in particular and especially on talkback radio in Australia. I'd like to play you something that was broadcast on a popular Sydney radio station in May this year about that case.

MALCOLM T ELLIOTT, 2GB: The judges don't even speak English, mate, they're straight out of the trees if you excuse my expression.

CALLER: Don't you think that disrespects the whole of our neighbouring nation?

MALCOLM: I have total disrespect for our neighbouring nation my friend. Total disrespect. And then we get this joke of a trial, and it's nothing more than a joke. An absolute joke the way they sit there. And they do look like the three wise monkeys, I'll say it. They don't speak English, they read books, they don't listen to her. They show us absolutely no respect those judges.

JENNY BROCKIE: Angelina, you wanted to say something.

ANGELINA SONDAKH: Yes. This is actually what we have talked about in the young leaders' discussion - you know, me and Nursanita - about how the media comparing our judges to the monkey and that it comes to our sensitivities. I mean, I believe that it's not the majority of the people in Australia think or voice but, in a matter of this case, I think media plays an important role in making the relationship to the betterment, not to damage the relationship to more worse.

JENNY BROCKIE: I should point out a lot of Australians were very offended by that as well when it was broadcast. Thang, you described in an online column, I think, about this case, you described the Australian reaction as being 'xenophobic'.

THANG NGUYEN: Yeah, right. And it reflects a certain attitude of racism which still remains in Australian society today. I think it's one thing to portray - for the media to pick on this image of a true-blue, beautiful woman to gain the sympathy from the Australian public, that's one thing. But I think it's beyond that, it's beyond the media playing that beautiful-woman-true-blue card. What I looked at in that article was why is it that there are 54 Australian criminals who face drug charges, including death penalty - death, not 20 years - why don't they get the same - why didn't they get the same attention from the public as well as the Australian Government that Corby did? For your information, she wrote a letter to Prime Minister Howard, who responded that, "Rest assured that I will take a personal interest in your case." Right?

JENNY BROCKIE: So why aren't the others getting attention? Why don't you think the others are getting any attention?

THANG NGUYEN: Because, guess what? Their last names are like mine - N-G-U-Y-E-N-, T-R-A-N, L-E-E, not Schapelle, not Corby.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do other people agree with what Thang is saying?

WIMAR WITOELAR: Well, the burden is on disproving his impression because it's a fact that so many dozens of Australians are facing death penalty and severe penalties in other South-East Asian cities and they are not of European origin so there has to be, you know, something disproved -

JENNY BROCKIE: So do you think Australia is racist?

DESI ANWAR: Jenny, if we read the articles in the newspapers, if we watch the programs or if we listen to that kind of radio broadcast, of course then we will think that Australians don't like us, they're racist and basically, you know, they don't like to be neighbours with us. But how true is that in real life? I mean, because we mustn't fall into that trap of stereotyping like all Australians are like that. Like you said, a lot of Australians were offended by statements that came out of that interview. So, I mean, let's be careful here -

JENNY BROCKIE: Not to generalise too much.

DESI ANWAR: Not to generalise or throwing petrol into the fire.

THANG NGUYEN: Don't get me wrong. I did not say in the article that the whole Australian society is racist. I'm saying through the reaction from the Australian public and the support from the Government, there is a reflection of certain racist attitudes that still maintain or remain in the society. I'm not saying the rest of Australia is racist, alright?

DESI ANWAR: No, but that kind of news coverage, or that kind of attitude will portray Australia as racist.

THANG NGUYEN: Excuse me. Have you heard of a former minister by the name Arthur Calwell? And you know what he said? "Two Wongs don't make a white." Here is a minister who said that.

DESI ANWAR: Well, I think that's more of a reflection on the minister.

THANG NGUYEN: Have you heard of a magazine called the 'Bulletin' in Australia? Only a few dozen years ago, the masthead of it still said "Australia for the white man". Now, if that is not racism, then tell me what it is.

JENNY BROCKIE: So that still bites for people in Indonesia?

DITA SARI: The policy, the immigrant policy of the Australian Government. I went to Australia in the year of 2002 and we had a picket line in front of the Villawood Detention Centre. It's an immigrant detention centre. And we saw that they were being treated very badly, children and mothers and old people. They're coming from Vietnam, they're coming from Bangladesh. They are poor people. They're not white. They're brown, they're yellow, but they're not white. And I saw how many of the Aborigines, for instance, in Australia are also very poor and how the policy of the Government treating them. I think this kind of public policy made by the Government affects the people, affects how the people look at the non-white Australians or the non-white people who live in Australia. So I don't say that Australians are racist, but the policy -

THANG NGUYEN: Sure, that's the reason why they see Corby as an innocent victim and they don't see other Australian citizens of Asian or Latin American descent as innocent. Maybe, maybe. We don't know, alright? They are saying the Indonesian judges are not being fair, the legal system here sucks. Now, let me tell you, the Indonesian judges gave Corby a very fair go. First, there was not enough witnesses. The High Court of Bali then decided to give her a second chance to bring witnesses to Bali to testify in her defence. Guess who showed up? One Indonesian law professor who defended her. Where were the Australian witnesses? If that's not fair, what is? You tell me that the first trial was unfair. I give you another one. Prove it.



CHUSNUL MAR'IYAH: I think we have to go back again. There are some differences between the people-to-people relations because I know there's still a lot of Australians that have, like, empathy to Indonesia, they love Indonesia, they teach Indonesian language there. So going back again to item of racism, I don't want Indonesia also to become racist to Australia but again we don't know much also about the Australian society. You know, we don't have lot of, like, Indonesian people who study in Australia, they don't study Australian, they study Indonesian, something like that. But in Australia we have so many Indonesianists there that learn about Indonesia. But at the same time I think we have to portray the whole of the issue on the table and we have to discuss. For example, the policy of the Government in Canberra. They have good intention to help eastern Indonesia for the development. They give lot of aids there. But if there is no communication between Canberra and Jakarta, what happens? The good intention of Australia, we don't receive as good intention. This is the idea - that Australia would like to disintegrate Indonesia. So there is a lot of thing from the policy point of view coming from Jakarta, Canberra and also the people to people. And I think also because I'm teaching Australian in the University of Indonesia, I feel so sad when Australian Government close their library in Jakarta, in Indonesian Embassy. You want Indonesia to understand about Australia but there is no access to information about Australia in Jakarta. So it's the whole lot of things that we have to learn each other.

JENNY BROCKIE: And I know we have a lot of students here in your yellow uniforms from the University of Indonesia and you all study Australia, don't you? You all study Australian politics, yeah? What are you learning about our country?

STUDENT: Desert. Large continent. Empty. 19 million people living there.

STUDENT 2: About the kind of state, about the political system in Australia, about the habits of Australians and a lot of more we study about Australia. But we have no access to know Australia more because the reason that the library in the embassy is closed since the Bali bombing.

STUDENT 3: The first impression I get from Australia is Australia is an arrogant country. Why? Because they try to bully Asia Pacific region.

JENNY BROCKIE: They try to bully Asian Pacific nations?

STUDENT 3: They claim themself as a representative of a Western country in the Asia Pacific. So there is two policies of Howard I think is so arrogant. The first - he claims himself as the deputy sheriff of United States in 1999 and, in 2002, he...he made a policy about the pre-emptive strike as a legal right to self-defence. PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD, "SUNDAY" 2002: I mean, it stands to reason that if you believed that somebody was going to launch an attack against your country - either of the conventional kind or of the terrorist kind - and you had the capacity to stop it, and there was no alternative other than to use that capacity, then of course you would have to use it.

JENNY BROCKIE: So that had a big impact on you? That comment about a pre-emptive strike had a big impact on you? And others here? Yes?

WIMAR WITOELAR: Yeah, of course. We were scared stiff, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: You are scared stiff?

WIMAR WITOELAR: Yeah. Because we could get struck any moment just because somebody is suspicious. It's just like the guy on the London subway who got shot because he was carrying a rucksack.

JENNY BROCKIE: Well, those -

MAN: The Australian support of the Iraq war also counts as a defining -

JENNY BROCKIE: Well, let's get on to that. We'll get on to that in a minute. Because the pre-emptive strike issue is an interesting one and this issue of extremism comes up again and again. And the other very strong images, I think, that have had a big effect on Australians in recent times have been of the Bali bombingsWHERE 88 Australians lost their lives three years ago as well as obviously very many Indonesians and the Australian Embassy bombing here in Jakarta just a year ago. Do you understand Australia's fears of extremism? Can you understand that fear?

WIMAR WITOELAR: We are just as afraid of those extremists as Australians are. I wrote an article. I said, "When your dog has fleas, don't think that the dog is enjoying those fleas." Don't think we like having terrorists. We are scared stiff. We've had to deal with them since I was 10 years old, which means 50 years ago for your information. We've always been bothered by terrorism and we cannot get rid of them. So we know what terror is, we know what fear is and we hate them, we despise them. The Muslim majority is against terrorism. And to be thought of that we are comfortable with these lies, these fleas, these terrorists - I feel sympathy for the Australian people because they are good people, they're kind people, educated, but how come some of them are just so simplistic?

JENNY BROCKIE: Yenny, you were nodding your head then.

YENNY WAHID: Yeah. Like Wimar just said - Wimar put it succinctly - but we are as fearful of the threat of terrorism here in our own backyards as any other countries, I guess. And the fact that, like Dita said, us being a victim but also seen as being the aggressor really puts us off, you know? You know, instead of giving us any help in dealing with terrorism, we're getting all this flak about having them here. I mean, we don't choose to have these people here. They're just, they're here.

JENNY BROCKIE: Nursanita, is it a legitimate fear to have, do you think?

NURSANITA NASUTION, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: Yes, you are afraid about the terrorism and I think that all the people in the world are against that. But I am very sad if terrorism is tied to the Muslims. You know, this is not true because, you know, in Indonesia, we are...most of us are Muslims but we are moderates. But I think that Islam is not the same is terrorism. If there is terrorism, I think that's because they act as the result of the international policy - maybe international policy to the Muslims so they don't like that so they act like that. But my party, the Prosperity and Justice Party, sometimes we act and make demonstrations and demonstration I think is part of the democracy. So I think that - I heard that this evening that the Prime Minister of the Australia said he wants revisions about the regulation of terrorism. I hope that Australia not be panic and change the regulations and don't obey about the human rights and also the democracy.

WIMAR WITOELAR: Sorry, sorry, my son asked me specifically to say this to the forum. Yesterday we went to this book store, a great big bookstore, I won't say the name. Now, it's almost fasting time so there's a big section of Muslim books. About 50% to 60% of the Muslim books all had a theme of how to fight terror, how to curtail terror, we are against terror. So the Muslim community is fighting very hard against terrorism. Yenny's institute, the Wahid Institute, also is doing that. So we are doing our best but it's an uphill battle. It's no help if we are accused of helping the terrorists.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah and it's interesting too because I mean Islamic extremists may be a minority but when they speak out they certainly have a big impact. And I'd like you to have a look at this report from SBS in Australia recently which includes an interview with one of the men who was convicted of the Australian Embassy bombing in Jakarta. Have a look at this.

SBS NEWSREEL: Amidst the gangsters, corruptors and drug dealers, the terrorism trials attract very little interest. Iwan Darmawan, alias Rois, is said to be the one who selected the suicide bomber for the embassy attack.

REPORTER, (Translation): I read that you said that you regret there were no Australian victims.

ROIS, (Translation): That's not what I regret, I regret that the victims were Muslim and Indonesian. That's what I regret.

REPORTER, (Translation): But as I asked, do you hate Australians?

ROIS, (Translation): I don't hate Australians. I hate people anywhere who oppress Islamic people. I don't hate Australians, but anyone who oppresses Muslims.

JENNY BROCKIE: Ahmad Syafi'i Ma'arif, what do you think of those views when you see those views?

AHMAD SYAFI'I MA'ARIF, MUSLIM LEADER: I think if we talk about terrorisms, we have to make a clear distinction. There are at least three types of terrorism - individual, groups and state-structured terrorism. I think what Mr Bush and also Israel have made is some kind of state terrorism. Therefore -

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you understand those views? I mean, do you support those views?

AHMAD SYAFI'I MA'ARIF: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I think, if you talk about terror, we are on the same boat - we have to hunt the terrorists, all kind of terrorism, to the end of the journey. So I have made a very strong statement about this many times - terrorism is the real enemy of humanity.

DESI ANWAR: Jenny, the man behind the bars is not representative of Muslims. He is a criminal. That's why he's behind bars. For the rest of us, when the Bali bombing happened, when the Australian Embassy bombing happened, when 9/11 happened, we were devastated, we were very, very - I mean, the whole thing was very, very tragic and we were extremely sorry and more so because of it happening to our guests, you know, these are the guests of Indonesia. And if it happens, say for example - we've seen so many tragedies in Indonesia, so many conflicts, so many bombings that they hardly make headlines any more but when it happened to the Australians in Bali and also the attempt at the Embassy, we in the media made it very sure that we showed our sympathy and we were extremely sorry. And that's all in sincerity because we are as disgusted, you know, when we see violence, when we see murders, when we see senseless killings. I mean, we are just as terrified of terrorism as anybody else.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think Muslim leaders in Indonesia have been strong enough in their condemnation of those acts of violence? Syafi'i, yes.

AHMAD SYAFI'I MA'ARIF: This is the problem. OK, we have made very strong statement many times to condemn strongly all kinds of terrorism.

JENNY BROCKIE: You don't hear a lot of that in Australia.

CHUSNUL MAR'IYAH: Because the media is never interested in the moderate people. They just like to have the radical, very few unspoken. That's the problem, the problem I think is why.
DITA SARI: Why the perception is built that way? Why the opinion is built that way by the media and also by the authority? I think because the foreign policy, the Australian foreign policy needs some good ground...

JENNY BROCKIE: Just let her finish.

DITA SARI: ..needs some strong justification so that the kind of foreign policy that is chosen by Howard, by the authority of the Australians, is justified by the people. So they -

JENNY BROCKIE: Are you talking about Iraq and Afghanistan? What are you talking about?

DITA SARI: Foreign policy. And also local policy. So this kind of perception is built so the Australian people can be convinced that we need less immigrants, we need more troops sending to Iraq, we need more military budget so that more troops will be sending to Iraq.

JENNY BROCKIE: Very quickly. We are going to have to wrap up.

DR HARIMAN SIREGAR, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR: You Australian got used to Suharto. When Suharto here, Australian is very polite to Indonesia because Suharto is strong. And you need people like that in Indonesia now. It's impossible.

JENNY BROCKIE: Ah. You need Suharto now?

DR HARIMAN SIREGAR: No, no, no. What you expect - like what you said.

JENNY BROCKIE: We need Suharto?

DR HARIMAN SIREGAR: You expect condemnation, strong condemnation. You need Suharto. We haven't got Suharto anymore.

JENNY BROCKIE: A diplomat here. Yes, A diplomat's voice.

SADJANAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Let's pick up a few points being made by my colleague, Dita. I think she pointed out very rightly in saying that the foreign policy that is being made by the Australian Government should be formulated in such a way that it's also sensitive to its neighbours, like us, like Indonesia, for instance. It's not only for the purpose of satisfying their constituents, that government like Prime Minister Howard that have to say something -

JENNY BROCKIE: And you don't think it is? You don't think that policy is formulated that way?
SADJANAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Well, rather than considering the relations between the two countries, I think they consider giving more emphasis on how to satisfy their constituents and -

JENNY BROCKIE: Harry, you have to stop. You have to stop! Just let him finish.

SADJANAN PARNOHADININGRAT: But I have seen so far, within this last few years, I thought there had been an improvement in the relations between the two countries, at least in the government-to-government level. And where in almost every issues that cropped up in the context of relations between the countries being communicated behind the bar, behind the scene, rather than being said, as we qualify it, as megaphone diplomacy.

DR HARIMAN SIREGAR: I remember in Suharto times - Let me speak. The intelligence of Australia always coming down with our boat. There is our fishermen always come to Australia but they never take action. They just put some intelligence there, they take a note. But now, they just burn our boats!

JENNY BROCKIE: Woah! Woah! Woah!

SADJANAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Something about future relations between us and them.

JENNY BROCKIE: I'd like to wrap up on that note. Reni, you teach Australian politics and I'm interested in knowing what you think could be done to improve the situation.

RENI SUWARSO, UNIVERSITY LECTURER: Yeah, good question. First, I want to give a comment. I want to be more fair, you know. I agree with all the previous speakers about terrorism. Islam against terrorism, yes. But we should fair to express that all religions right now tend to be more militant - it is also for Islam and also other religions. It is the first point. And the second point is I want to raise issue, the basic issue whether - we are talking about stereotyping, about Australian perceive Indonesia, and how about Indonesia perceive Australia? How many people in Indonesia realise that we have neighbour, Australia is our neighbour. We didn't talk about the extremists, no, no. We just realise whether - do we realise that Australia is our neighbour? How many people? Is it up to 50% of the Indonesian people? I don't think so.

JENNY BROCKIE: OK, so there's not an awareness of that. How can we improve the understanding between the two countries?

WIMAR WITOELAR: More people-to-people contact. When you have people-to-people contact, it's all right. I lived in Geelong for three months, never an unfriendly face. I travel in Melbourne, friendly. Never. I get my nasty moments on radio talkback shows and I get my uncomfortable moments in shows like this but, if you have people-to-people contact, everything's peachy. Australians are great.

JENNY BROCKIE: Final comment, yes.

ALPHA AMIRRACHMAN: We should have more opportunity. This is to show how we Indonesians do not really understand Australians. We might ask like, "Are you Westerner from the east or easterner from the West?" That expresses that we actually don't really know Australians and we need as Wimar said, people-to-people contact.

DESI ANWAR: Sorry, Jenny, to answer your question, maybe you should have more Australian journalists here in Indonesia. I mean, the fact that Australia is so close, you have so few journalists and mostly if they come here it's because of a particular trial. You know, Indonesia is so huge. There's so many stories to cover and I think Australians, the Australian public is missing out on a lot of great stories. And, trust me, Bali is not the only place for Australians to go on holiday to. You know? So I think it is important for more informed programs about Indonesia. Likewise, I mean, we should have more kind of exchanges, people-to-people. But definitely, I think the media does play a huge role and if the Australian media is only interested in focusing on sensationalist stories and in generating audience or readers' response by printing out emotional and sensationalism story, I think, you know, it's doing a great disservice to the Australian public that is now portrayed as, I wouldn't say arrogant, but simply sort of, in a way, well... ..unsophisticated, I'm sorry to say, with all the kind of, you know, emotional outbursts we're seeing. It's, you know, quite embarrassing.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Difference between Two Tsunamies


By Thang D. Nguyen

JAKARTA—The word ‘crisis’ in Chinese has two syllables: The first one means danger and the second means opportunity. This is exactly how the Asian tsunami has unfolded in the Indonesian province of Aceh, which was the worst-hit area when this catastrophe happened on Boxing Day last year.

As soon as the news of the Asian tsunami—which wiped out almost everything (except for a few mosques and churches) and killed more than 126,000 Indonesians—broke out, the Indonesian government made its response to the victims and their families a national priority.

Next, the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono government put in place a plan to coordinate the recovery and rebuilding of Aceh, with relief and financial aid from the international community, including the US.

But most importantly, the Indonesian government saw the Asian tsunami as a perfect opportunity to bring peace to Aceh and seized it. After five rounds of talk, on Aug. 15, Jakarta and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) signed a peace agreement in Helsinki.

If implemented successfully, this peace deal could end the three-decade long conflict between the Indonesian military (TNI) and GAM, who had been fighting for full independence from Jakarta.

Roughly two weeks later, half the world away, a different tsunami happened. Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, and its neighboring areas, followed by heavy floods.

So far, Hurricane Katrina has killed about 1,000 Americans, and the final death toll can be up to 10,000. Meanwhile, it has left about 300,000 people homeless.

Unlike the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Administration’s, however, the Bush Administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina has been more than disappointing.

As Katrina floods engulfed New Orleans, thousands of victims, most of whom were poor African Americans, called and waited for help in vain, while many others disappeared or died.

Whereas the Asian tsunami ignited the peace-building process in Aceh and brought the Indonesian people closer together, Hurricane Katrina has widened the gap between black and white Americans.

It is quite understandable that black victims of Hurricane Katrina feel that they have not received the treatment from their government because of their skin color. After all, they paid US tax, and their sons went to war in Iraq.

The US National Guards could have been sent to New Orleans to help victims when Hurricane Katrina happened. But, alas, they too were in Baghdad at that time. To be sure, some did come home, but in body bags!

But, now that the camera has moved on and the water in New Orleans is receding, it remains to be seen if the Bush Administration will give full support, financial and otherwise, to the rebuilding of Katrina-affected areas, as President George W. Bush has pledged.

Meanwhile, one thing is certain: The US does have the resources with which it can rebuild Katrina-affected cities.

Unlike Indonesia—which has been going through some political and economic tough times since the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98, of which it was one of the most prominent victims—the US is still the world’s most powerful economy.

But does the Bush Administration have the commitment and experience that it takes to help victims of Hurricane Katrina and their families rebuild their homes, their cities, and most importantly, their lives?

On this particular note, it is hoped that President Bush, who requested that President Yudhoyono sit next to him at the UN Summit dinner earlier this month, asked for advice on how to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina from his Indonesian counterpart.

To be sure, President Bush could learn a thing or two from President Yudhoyono. Compared with the American president, the Indonesian president had a tougher crisis to deal with when the Asian tsunami hit Indonesia.

For one thing, while President Bush had received warnings about Hurricane Katrina, the Asian tsunami caught President Yudhoyono and his people by surprise. (Ironically, it was an American meteorologist who saw the Asian tsunami coming, but could not send a warning to affected countries in time.)

Furthermore, by the time Hurricane Katrina happened, President Bush was quite experienced in crisis management, having dealt with 9/11, waged war with the al-Qaida in Afghanistan, and invaded Iraq. By contrast, when the Asian tsunami came, President Yudhoyono was only two months in office.

Given his learning curve, however, President Yudhoyono seems to have done a good job in dealing with the Asian tsunami and rebuilding Aceh—thanks to the generosity that the international community has pledged thus far.

To be sure, Indonesia is in no position to teach the US about unity and diversity, given the challenge of maintaining its own national integrity. But the Bush Administration can certainly look at the peace-building process that the Indonesian government has started in Aceh as an example of what it can do now in Hurricane Katrina-affected areas.

It is sad to see through Hurricane Katrina that, until today, the United States of America is still a house divided between black and white. But, at the same time, Hurricane Katrina has also offered President Bush a perfect opportunity to heal America.

Mr. President, don’t waste this opportunity!

Oh, and while you are at it, you might want to sign the Kyoto Protocol on environment protection to help prevent future natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, whose real name are—you guessed it—global warming.

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist, whose writing can be read at http://thangthecolumnist.blogspot.com. He writes frequently, and has published two books, on Indonesia.