Writing the World: Suharto, Democracy – Security and Freedom

The paramount struggle within our modern democratic society is the constantly shifting balance between freedom and security. Demonstrated time and time again, and posited by political scientists and practitioners alike, security is a prerequisite for a healthy civil society and for the realization of social justice. However, it is often the case that freedoms are undermined in order to establish security. 

The recent passing of once president of Indonesia Suharto is a striking case. The Indonesia of today is the most vibrant democracy of South East Asia, many say the only true democracy in the region. It’s easier to understand the passion within which Indonesians engage in political discourse when you consider that, hardly ten years ago, the authoritarian regime suppressed political opposition to the point of killing thousands. The demonstrations and reforms, known as Reformasi, that brought down the dictator was like the uncorking of a pressurized bottle – from under those decades of rule by an iron fist burst forth the vibrant, if occasionally not entire flawless, democracy in which the country now governs itself, as well as a diverse and free press. 

While Suharto’s regime was no doubt responsible for human rights abuses and a calculated oppression of civil society, crimes for which Suharto was never held responsible, the era of authoritarianism did leave a legacy of stability, economic growth, and above all, security. Here enters the fine balance between security and freedom however; security is required for a healthy civil society, but social justice and a thriving civil society are also needed to sustain security and economic prosperity. Despite its successes, it was the very unwillingness to give Indonesia’s civil society a space within which to participate in the country’s politics that let to its collapse.

Today, however, democracy in Indonesia is challenged once again. While democratic rights and freedoms are well established, there is a large population that is now experiencing insecurity. The economic hardship of a huge number of Indonesians is unsustainable, and there are many regions that lack basic infrastructure. With the rise of insecurity, people are more likely to turn toward anything to fill the security vacuum. As has already been witnessed in such situations in Indonesians as well as in the Middle East, this can prove to be fertile ground for institutions such as fundamental religious groups. Indonesia, of course, is home to the largest Islamic population in the world, and this should be of special interest to the United States.

Indonesia is, indeed, the keystone to the global Islamic movement with which the United States is now struggling to define its relationship. While there is no automatic correlation between Islam and terrorism, the occurrence of insecurity in Indonesia provides an opening for those organizations that do promote terrorism, and this is where action must be taken.

The death of Suharto should be a sign of hope, that the legacy of the dictator can be not the oppression of civil society and human rights, but a stability and security in which social justice and inclusiveness can continue to be strived for.

To Be Continued

W(R)i(gh)ting the World – USA and Indonesia

Anxiety about a constantly shifting political scene and a dreadfully pessimistic economy is hardly limited to Americans. This much was obvious to me, after a flurry of emails from friends in Indonesia, Malaysia, and even China.

In the past week, I have received emails first expressing deep interest in the American Presidential race, and later expressing deep anxiety about the state of the American economy. These are, in fact, very closely linked and indicate how closely linked we, as Americans, are to the rest of the world – this is something we too often forget.

Indonesians in particular have become increasingly interested in the upcoming elections in the United States. The autobiography of Barack Obama was recently translated to the Indonesian language, and the book has become a best seller. In Indonesia,  America’s image has been badly damaged over the past decade, and the US is too often seen as betraying its own ideals of inclusiveness and democracy that endeared it to Indonesians so much in the first place. Indonesians see the candidacy of Obama and Clinton as a return to the kind of politics that have enhanced faith in the democratic process in Indonesia, one of inclusiveness and human rights – Indonesia is perhaps the only true democracy in South East Asia. Both of these candidates are seen as not fitting neatly into status quo power groups in America, and people see them as having a real chance of reversing “the US’s Double Standard Foreign Policies” that have bred such discontent in Indonesia. A year ago, when Imam Cahyono and I reported from Jakarta on George W. Bush’s meeting with Indonesian President Yudyohono, the animosity towards the American presidency and the policies it represented permeated the air. A year later, however, the American presidential race seems to have captured the Indonesian imagination, however. Indonesians are paying attention to American politics with a sense of optimism, and that matters.

Another round of emails arrived from Jakarta, different people expressing the same concern: “I am worried with US recession today.” “Do you know why the crisis about market index in US has had a lot of impact on the Asian Market, Australian, Europe? what is the crisis about?”

More than anything, the interest in Indonesia about US affairs shows us how much what happens in America matters to the rest of the world. We also need to know that what happens in the rest of the world profoundly affects the United States – this is becoming more and more the case, as this unipolar moment inevitably passes and the US is more and more on equal footing with other countries – and transnational entities – in the global world.

G.W. Bush Visits Indonesia, A Not-so-warm Welcome, November 2006

All photos by Ted Meinhover. See the slideshow.

Bush’s arrival in Indonesia in November 2006, to pay a visit to Indonesian president SBY,  was an all too real manifestation of the discontent that has been growing and the negative image that many in the world have come to associate with the United States over the past decade.

We arrive today, however, at perhaps the most important juncture in at least a generation. Indeed, a new generation is taking the reigns, one that suffers from a massive anxiety complex about the sudden instability of the world they thought they knew so well. The unipolar moment is passing, and America’s relationship with other countries and peoples is in need of reform. Now, unlike ever before, this new generation has the opportunity to do that, and to do it well.

Saya Sudah Kembali!!

I would like to formally appologize to the surely legions of loyal fans of www.tedmeinhover.com for the chaos that undoubtably enveloped the world over the past few days as the website has been down for updates. You may all come out of the basement and take the duct tape off the windows now.

Unhappy Winter Primates

A lonely, yet ever-vigilent, gorilla in the snow, left to guard the back yard of a local household.

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Perhaps how we all occasionally feel during the long, cold Minnesota winter. Curse of us warm-blooded mammals.

Thought of the Day: Changing Global Power

In this month’s Foreign Affairs, an article by G. John Ikenberry, on “the rise of china and the future of the west.”

He says, “US dominance will eventually end. U.S. grand strategy, accordingly, should be driven by one key question: What kind of international order would the United States like to see in place when it is less powerful?” “The United States’ global position may be weakening, but the international system the United States leads can remain the dominant order of the twenty-first century.”

The author makes the argument that the United States must change its current foreign policies in order to strengthen international organizations, instead of pursuing bi-lateral or “mini-lateral” agreements that cater more to our specific interests. If everyone benefits by working within the international system that it supports, then China, as it becomes more powerful, will have more incentive to work within that system than to try and overthrow it. This is a much better scenario, he says, in terms of peace and economic prosperity.

Interesting.

Writing the World: Why Indonesia’s View of the American Presidency is Important

A year ago, when Imam Cahyono and I reported from Jakarta on George W. Bush’s meeting with Indonesian President Yudyohono, the animosity towards the American presidency and the policies it represented permeated the air. A year later, however, the American presidential race seems to have captured the Indonesian imagination, however. Indonesians are paying attention to American politics with a sense of optimism, and that matters.

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Continue reading “Writing the World: Why Indonesia’s View of the American Presidency is Important”