Indonesia’s Season of Terror

This is a piece that I am working on about the terrorism that has been occuring in Indonesia over the past couple of years. the more I learn, the more i realize how crucial this country of Indonesia really is. It’s an amazing society that is changing so fast in its fledgeling democracy, there are these incredibly important issues that have to be solved, and it’s happening through that democracy, with incredibly passionate and intelligent people. Of course, there are those that want the change to come about in less ideal ways, as well… I truly believe Indonesia has to be successful.

Here’s a good supplement article from today’s IHT:

Indonesia’s president calls on Muslims to be peaceful: reports

The Associated Press

Published: October 9, 2006

-ted

Violence and terror erupted in October, 2002, on the idealistic and peaceful island of Bali in equatorial South East Asia. Kuta beach was struck by car bombs that killed many tourists as well as local Indonesians. Since then, there have been annual terrorist bombings in Indonesia, and suicide bombers struck Bali once again in October 2004, killing 15 Indonesians and 5 foreigners.

Watching on my TV in the cool autumn of 2002 in Minnesota, it was impossible for me to conceive of the causes, let alone the meaning and implications, of what was taking place. Placing it within the context of the WTC attacks of 9-11 seemed to make the events more understandable in the popular media. While the trend is in part related to a global movement, it is also very local to Indonesia. I never guessed that I would find myself, four years later, in the same country that was briefly highlighted by the media as a hotspot in a growing network of global terrorism.

Now, at the anniversary of that first bombing and the bombings that have followed almost annually here, the “war against terror” continues, and Indonesia once again flashes across the televisions of America. What is really happening in this massive country, with its hundreds of languages, thousands of Islands, and millions and millions of citizens? Indonesia is, in fact, the world’s fourth largest population with about 222 million people, 88% of which make up the single largest Islamic population. Its Islam is unique to that of others in the world; immediately associating it with that of the Middle East is a fallacy. There is, however, a fundamentalist and even radical movement within South East Asia’s Islam. What is happening here in Indonesia is important and has implications for the United States and the rest of the world.

Traditionally, the Islam of Indonesia is moderate, similar to its peaceful neighbor Malaysia. Both countries practice a form of democracy, and both have pluralistic societies. Indonesia, unlike Malaysia, is not an Islamic state; while God is recognized in the state’s philosophy, Islamic law is not a part of the country’s laws.

A military coup took over the young democracy in the 1960’s, ousting the first president Sukarno and replacing him with an authoritarian oligarchy led by president Suharto. This, the New Order regime, lasted until 1998, when the economic crisis and a rising social movement brought about the fall of Suharto and the “Reformasi” period.

While “Reformasi” brought a truer democracy, there are obvious benefits to the kind of authoritarian regime that was in power prior to 1998. In terms of the rise of radical groups, the most obvious is that the government does not exercise the same violent suppression that it used against many groups, including such radical groups, for many years.

Malaysia, in contrast, also has a pluralistic population with a Muslim majority. It exercises a much more controlled form of political democracy; while people can join political parties based on religion, they are tightly controlled, and the same structure has maintained power since Malaysia’s independence. Political organizations that challenge this status-quo are suppressed, though perhaps not violently.

With the fall of Indonesia’s New Order in 1998, the government lost much of its ability to control the political organization of its population. The scene went from a few, watered down parties to a cascade of political parties from the entire spectrum. Fundamentalists were not able to manifest themselves politically prior to ’98, as in Malaysia and Singapore today, whereas now they can.

While there has been a huge increase in the number of Islamic organizations in the country, this should be seen in the context of the fact that there was zero tolerance prior to 1998. NU, Nahdatul Ulama, a moderate and progressive Islamic organization, is still the largest organization in the country by far. Muhammadiyah is another of the largest organizations, and is described as prescribing to Reformist Islam.

However, the ironic fact remains that increased democratic rights in Indonesia has left open a space for a fundamentalist minority to organize. It is not politically feasible for the government to simply ban certain Islamic groups based on fundamentalist teachings, but the government has also been criticized as not exercising the political will to clamp down on those groups that have obviously gone too far.

One group, FPI or the Islamic Defenders Front, functions as a private army. Although considered little more than thugs by the majority of Indonesians, are no longer off-handedly suppressed as a threat to the existing power structure. Until they break the law, and are actually caught, and the judicial bureaucracy actually functions properly, they and their agenda of violence in the name of religion can operate out in the open.

This is an insult to Islam, according to the majority of the Indonesians that I have talked to. This includes those at the Center for Moderate Muslim (www.cmm.or.id), a research center founded by former Religion Minister Tarmizi to promote a progressive and peaceful Islam in Indonesia and Internationally.

From my experience, this reflects the general sentiment among Indonesia’s Muslims. Lia, a political science student at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, was struck with sadness as well as anger when she first learned of the first bombings in Bali. She also felt shock and even fear upon seeing the deaths of the people in her country. She is proud to be an Indonesian, as well as a Muslim, and is angered by the way that both her country and religion are portrayed to the world because of the acts of these “criminals.” She says that those people have been brainwashed into believing that they are fighting for their religion, when in fact she believes it is a twisted version of the faith that is serving the political interest of a few.

Speaking with other Indonesians about their view of the terrorism that has erupted in their country, I was struck by the similarity of my experience back in the United States following the WTC attacks of September 11, 2001. Sari, a Catholic from the island of Sumatra, remembers how she, her family and co-workers congregated around their television sets waiting for news updates for several days.

The events contributed to a sense of national solidarity, but it also added to the very real fear of national disintegration. This fear is especially acute for the minority populations in Indonesia, which there are many. The country is no stranger to ethnic or religious violence, and they are very aware of their country’s challenge to deal with this pluralism in a democratic system. They all feared the possibility of further attacks, and she remembers the police and security forces that appeared all over the capital city of Jakarta in high profile areas. In many cases, these armed officers have become permanent, and people and cars are now searched before entering many buildings, malls or offices.

Indonesia today is a rapidly changing society and an incredibly important country in the world. Very religious while at the same time very dedicated to progress and building its place within the modern world, it represents a pivoting point in a possible ideological confrontation with global scope and implications.

The Year of Study Abroad

I’ll bet you didn’t know that 2006 is the official “year of study abroad,” as declared by the congress of the United States of America. well, it’s true! this is a commentary that I was asked to write by the University of Minnesota.

In 2005, the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution declaring 2006 the Year of Study Abroad. The resolution’s realization that “broader global awareness among America’s future leaders will… lead to more effective U.S. foreign policy, greater security from terrorism and economic resilience in the increasingly competitive world of trade” is undeniably a step in the right direction; I fear, however, that it has come too late.

A study abroad participant and advocate myself, I wanted to write a happy, feel good article about how studying abroad is a fantastic, self-actualizing experience; it is. I thought I could relate how it challenges the spirit, the taste buds, and one’s tolerance of the uncomfortable and the unknown; it does. However, from this sweaty, smoky internet café in Jakarta, Indonesia – even as the lilting Adzan from the mosque, the call to prayer, rings out telling Muslims to break their fast during this holy month of Ramadan – my thoughts and words are indeed more urgent.

In the context of our globalizing reality, understanding and experiencing the complex web that ties together all cultures and countries is not a luxury, but a necessity. Studying abroad is no longer simply a chance to see famous monuments and taste new food; in reality, globalization has already made those things familiar. Studying abroad must now be seen as society’s responsibility to prepare everyone to be successful and ethical in our complex and expansive world. It also gives quality to those international interactions that are already taking place. While “global awareness… will lead” to a more successful future, my experiences every day tell me that global awareness is needed right now. I am currently studying in Indonesia, with the fourth largest population and the single largest Islamic population in the world. Although this may be considered a developing country, I am convinced that what is happening here has immense implications for the US and the rest of the world. America’s failure to recognize this frightens me and needs to be addressed now with policies and relationships that can only come from person to person contact.

This kind of recognition is exactly what our policymakers mean when they talk about better “foreign policy, greater security from terrorism, and economic resilience.”

My generation has witnessed events that are challenging our traditional concepts of citizenship, religion, and education. The world is changing; we cannot ignore it, and must change along with it. If we do not learn about our global community, we are in danger of waking up to find that we no longer understand our place within it. My generation now has the burden of coming to grips with a post-9/11 world, with an exponentially growing China, with a globally integrated environment and economy, and the threat of clashing religions.

My message is one of hope, however, not fear. For each danger that my generation faces there is opportunity. Curriculum must change along with reality, and the reality is that my generation is a “global” generation. We must recognize our roles as global citizens. Studying in another country, a student influences their foreign environment even as it changes them. Through this dialogue, we have the power to construct a world of peace and prosperity.

Furthermore, the importance of studying abroad is as local as it is global. The skills and new perspectives gained across the world are “imported,” as such, back to the home towns of Vergas, MN and Des Moines, IA. Study abroad students have negotiated peace between countries, but they have also come home to start successful businesses, run for the school boar, and lead their country. They become the people who can identify a problem, see what must be done, and take the initiative to do something about it. According to a University of Minnesota survey, international corporations identify the most important skills as skills that are attained through studying abroad.

Studying abroad, you also learn that we are all connected; what we do in America affects people on the other side of the world, and vise-versa. Accepting the implied responsibility, you realize that improving the world for one is improving the world for all – promoting education in your home town, for example, is just as vital as reconstructing the homes of earthquake victims in central Java.

The world of my generation is unavoidably pluralistic; we can accept and learn about the diversity we are immersed in, or we can ignore and hide from it. In one case, we take the first step towards finding solutions that will benefit all, and in the other case we unwittingly breed global terrorism, world wide environmental degradation, and border-crossing epidemics.

The time is indeed ripe for the Year of Study Abroad. Each individual that sees another place, meets another people, learns another language and tastes a different food is another person that can come home with a passion to improve the world and make the most of what it has to offer. I hope that you will support study abroad as an essential part of education.

Daily Dose

Time for a daily dose of Indonesia! Pondering what it all means and how it fits into the exciting, complex and terrifying global world, I spend another day in Jabotek, learning new words and breathing bad air.

A local company recently pubilshed a bi-lingual newsletter, the Jakarta Security Assessment. They do research and write about possible security risks to different sectors of Indonesia, specifically Jakarta. Not surprisingly, the newsletter was focused on terrorism. I found it extremely… interesting… that one of the qualifications that they use to identify a possible terrorist target is “a place that has relations with the United States or gives space to American interests.”

14 Catholics were arrested today on the island of Sulawesi, where they are accused of bludgeoning two Muslim men to death two weeks ago, after an argument broke out following the execution of the Catholics that had been sentenced to death in the killings there in 2000. The Golden Rule.

Indonesia’s government has condemned North Korea over its report of nuclear tests.

In some cases, flights are being cancelled in Indonesia because the haze is getting so bad.  Forest fires, not to mention the constant trash burning everywhere, is a major problem in Indonesia. It’s one of the things that can make life less pleasant here.

Terror Anniversary

The anniversaries of the bombings in the popular Indonesian tourist destination of Bali were recently noted in Indonesia, Australia, and around the world. There is no obvious answer as to the root causes of the movement that seems to be at the root of these phenomenons, although the situation has become very simplified in the minds of many. Indonesians practice an Islam unique to that of any other place, a practice that is incredibly diverse within itself as well. It is important to understand the implications of radical Islam in Indonesia, with the largest Islamic population in the world, and the implications it has for countries around the globe.

Violence and terror erupted on the other side of the world for the first time in October, 2002, on that idealistic island in equatorial South East Asia. Watching on my TV in the cool autumn of Minnesota, it was impossible for me to conceive of the causes, let alone the meaning and implications, of what had taken place. Placing it within the context of the WTC attacks of 9-11 seemed to make the events more understandable in the popular media. I never guessed that I would find myself, four years later, in the same country that was briefly highlighted by the media as a hotspot in a growing network of global terrorism.

Now, at the anniversary of that first bombing and the bombings that have followed almost annually here, the “war against terror” continues, and Indonesia once again flashes across the televisions of America. What is really happening in this massive country, with its hundreds of languages, thousands of Islands, and millions and millions of citizens? Indonesia is, in fact, the world’s fourth largest population with about 222 million people, 88% of which make up the single largest Islamic population.

Traditionally, the Islam of Indonesia has been viewed as a moderate one, similar to its peaceful neighbor Malaysia. Both countries practice a form of democracy, and both have pluralistic societies. Indonesia, unlike Malaysia, is not an Islamic state; while God is recognized in the state’s philosophy, Islamic law is not a part of the country’s laws. Not right now, anyway.

A military coup took over the young democracy in the 1960’s, ousting the first president Sukarno and replacing him with an authoritarian oligarchy led by president Suharto. This, the New Order regime, lasted until 1998, when the economic crisis and a rising social movement brought about the fall of Suharto and the “Reformasi” period.

While “Reformasi” brought a truer democracy, there are obvious benefits to the kind of authoritarian regime that was in power prior to 1998. In terms of the rise of radical groups, the most obvious is that the government does not exercise the same violent suppression that it used against many groups, including such radical groups, for many years.

Malaysia, in contrast, also has a pluralistic population with a Muslim majority. It exercises a much more controlled form of political democracy; while people can join political parties based on religion, they are tightly controlled, and the same structure has maintained power since Malaysia’s independence. Political organizations that challenge this status quo, are suppressed, though perhaps not violently.

With the fall of Indonesia’s New Order in 1998, the government lost much of its ability to control the political organization of its population. The scene went from a few, watered down parties to a cascade of political parties from the entire spectrum. Fundamentalists were not able to manifest themselves politically prior to ’98, as in Malaysia and Singapore today, whereas now they can.

While there has been a huge increase in the number of Islamic organizations in the country, this should be seen in the context of the fact that there was zero tolerance prior to 1998. NU, Nahdatul Ulama, a moderate and progressive Islamic organization, is still the largest organization in the country by far. Muhammadiyah is another of the largest organizations, and is described as prescribing to Reformist Islam.

However, the ironic fact remains that increased democratic rights in Indonesia has left open a space for a fundamentalist minority to organize. It is not politically feasible for the government to simply ban certain Islamic groups based on fundamentalist teachings, but the government has also been criticized as not exercising the political will to clamp down on those groups that have obviously gone too far.

And Everything Was Not Alright

ya, it’s a good friday here in indonesia. such an exciting couple days for me. awesome experience yesterday, imam has turned into an amazing friend. him slowly revealing his broad network of researchers, gov’t officials, activists, islamic leaders, journalists and businessmen, a network built over his years of activism and journalism. we are also discovering together, with some awesome help from people back at the university, some possibilities that could bring him to minnesota to study more. he and his family have no extra resources, for sure, but they’re certainly smart enough and motivated enough. I had a great time with my friend yesterday, as he brought me round the city of Jakarta to various slums and fancy malls, and into the offices of the important people that have become a part of his network over his years of activism and journalism. Breaking the fast with him, watching the amazing and almost spontaneous swell of people as they flood into every pubic space, around 6pm, to eat and drink and smoke; just sitting and talking as this huge bulge of people fades away into groups of people just being friends, enjoying their friendships that have been strengthened through the solidarity of the day’s shared physical and spiritual struggle, whether they won or lost that struggle.

urban indonesia

The haze is worsening by the day. Oil companies are being sold overseas. Cellular phone sales continue to skyrocket. The recently published list of Indonesia’s richest businessmen exemplifies how 95% of this country’s wealth is centered in a tiny geographical area, with a tiny number of people, while the worsening state of so many is contributing to social instability. There is a rally today on campus in support of the Palestinian cause, one of the groups attending waving a banner that says “Dunia Damai Tampa Israel,” a Beautiful World Without Israel. The number of bird flu casualties continues to rise, now in possible clusters. My Catholic friend from Sumatra is afraid that the country is being overrun by gangs of radical and violent Muslims that want nothing but to hancur, destroy her and her kind.

And yet as much fun as it would be to indulge in a fear inducing pessimism, to recognize nothing but an unstoppable trend that will result, probably sooner than later, in the destruction of all that is good and beautiful, I find that this does little to accomplish anything.  While my Catholic friend may have a defensive point of view, I think it is fair to draw a parrellel with the mentality of minority groups in the US or other countries.

Yesterday I also visited the office of the Center of Moderate Islam, a think tank in Jakarta founded my the former Minister of Religion of Indonesia. Unceasingly interesting, as with all of my amazing encounters this week. I asked them about the cliche and more than a little biased topic of the “radicalization” of Islam in Indonesia. They cited groups like FPI, which has sometimes been called an independent military as well as a group of thugs. These Islamic scholars referred to groups such as this that commit violence in the name of religion as “criminals,” saying that, in a country that was 90% Muslim, there was very little support for such elements.

While they did not necessarily agree with the foreign policy of the United States at the moment, they went out of their way make clear their understanding that an administration does not necessarily represent every citizen of a country, an experience that they definitely share as Indonesians.

Buka Puasa

The signs of Ramadan are all around. Buying soap at the grocery store just now, I noticed how the most wretched of Dandut music, a sort of traditional pop music, was omnipresent – which raises the question of just which kind of Dandut music is the most wretched, which is far more philosophical than I care to get tonight.

I took an afternoon nap today, after a day of class, lunch with new friends, and conversations. Some were fun conversations, some enlightening, some were frightening conversations. A day of encounters and experiences can uncover another layer, another nuance that lies below the surface, obvious once it is known, once you lose another little piece of the innocence that makes the world so much easier to live in.

I rode my bike home, to my “rumah kos,” my room in the building of student housing. I was motivated by the new perspectives and understandings. Ideas bounced around in my brain, connecting, breaking apart. By the time I parked the bike, however, the bouncing brainwaves had become boiling neurons, and were threatening to bead on my forehead and drip off the end of my nose (the length of which was the teacher’s favorite example today as we learned how to construct a comparative sentence: “hidung Ted paling mancung,” “Ted’s nose is the biggest!”).

The only logical and practical course of action on this steaming equatorial afternoon was, obviously, to take a nap.

fasting the eyes The act of fasting is interpreted many ways, both in terms of eating food and also in thoughts and behavior. “Awas Pornografi,” watch out for porn, it corrupts the fasting heart.

I got back on my bike around 5:30, to enter the masses once again. Like I have said, religion shapes the very pace of every day here. It’s incredible how quiet, sepi, it is during the day. A majority of people have been up since 3 in the morning for Sahur, a meal before the prayer that begins another day of fasting. It’s hot, and they have not had any water for hours. Then, around 4:30, it is as if you can hear the storm approaching. A roar of motor bikes begins to rise from the distance, and suddenly the entire world is moving relentlessly. Buka puasa, the breaking of the fast, is a special time in the day, and everyone wants to be wherever they’re going so that they can make the most of that first drink, bite, or smoke.

A tin can riding the crest of an ocean wave was I as my little used bicycle joined the masses of motorbikes on the road. I like to be in public for buka puasa, in a restaurant, with people. It’s a chance for me to watch people when they are too engrossed in what they are doing to pay special attention to the strange foreigner, a luxury I don’t often have.

It’s amazing the feeling that I get from those people, as they break their fast, who have fasted successfully. They are eating and drinking for the first time that day, but it is not in a hurried or frenzied way. Fasting is not simply a physical act, but an act of the spirit and the heart, I am told by friends. Perhaps the temptation is to be famished, to indulge in piles of food. The patient, small spoons of rice by people I see, calm expressions on their faces, gives an aura of immense calm.

Then, of course, there are those that appear to be reluctantly fulfilling some sort of social duty in the act of fasting, who are relieved to be able to pile all sorts of sweets on their plate, to begin a night long indulgence that will be interrupted by the next morning’s Sahur…

Captain’s Log, Stardate Sunday Night WIB

That’s Waktu Indonesia Barat. That’s Western Jakarta Time. Can you believe the entire archipeligo of Indonesia only has three time zones? People in Aceh start the day way later than people in Surabaya…

A lovely weekend here, all in all. Tomorrow morning class once again, I believe I have a test. Today I mounted the might kereta api, the train, once again, North to the central train stration Gambir, in the heart of downtown Jakarta. The plan was to buy tickets for Suroto and myself, back to his home of Purwokerto. The end of the Islamic fasting month, Ramadan, is fast approaching (though Ramadan has just begun…), and the tradition for the massive Lebaran festival is to pulang kampung, to return to your home town and celebrate with your family.

Imagine Xmas dinner, except it lasts for three or four days straight. Food Food Food, the omnipresent sweet tea, the omnipresent little cousins running around and nosy grandmas asking questions. Javanese hospitality reaches a glorious house, and you are not allowed to enter a new place without getting fed and meeting everyone there.

My plans this afternoon were thwarted however; we may have to find other means of transport to the East. Asking for my tickets at the counter, I was reminded that there were a hundred million people that all wanted to move, all in the same two days. Simply, every ticket was sold out, every seat full for the end of October. I am told that Jakarta, the fourth largest metropolitan region in the world, becomes a virtual ghost town during Lebaran.

I suppose if all else fails, I can help Suroto end his month of fasting, with the city all to ourselves!