From Wed Nov 5 19:45:11 2003
To: “indonesian-studies” <>
From: “John MacDougall” <>
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Date: Wed, 5 Nov 2003 17:02:52 -0500
Subject: [indonesian-studies] Juwono Sudarsono

The west and Islam in Indonesia

Opinion by Juwono Sudarsono, Indonesian Ambassador to UK, Jakarta Post, 4–5 November 2003

The most frequently asked question after Sept. 11, 2001 was: What were the reasons for so much hatred against the West among al-Qaeda and its followers? The answers have varied, depending on one's educational background, social standing and cultural perspective of responders across the Muslim world.

As an Indonesian Muslim academic turned temporary diplomat my tentative answer would be: Sept. 11, 2001 was in a sense an inevitable consequence of the combination of America's pervasively dominant role as the world's “24/7” superpower in all of its dimensions—political, economic, military, scientific, cultural—and the unique combustible atmosphere of modern Middle East political economy. American preponderance begets defiance most tellingly in many Middle east societies whose governments often fail to address much needed comprehensive political and economic reforms. Anti-Westernism in the Middle East are linked to the anger and desperation of the Muslim poor against established oil-rich governments, perceived to be rampantly corrupt.

Fortuitous circumstances created the Osama bin Laden phenomenon whose virulently anti-American ideology were based on his personal marginalization and ostracism by the Saudi royal family and his particular view of Middle East regional and domestic politics since the early 1990s. Bin Laden's personal psychological scars defined his main goal which was to fuel acerbic hatred against selected Arab governments—especially in Saudi Arabia and in Egypt—whom he saw as corrupt and immoral clients of United States economic imperialism and purveyors of Western moral decadence.

The perpetrators of the hijacking of the fatal planes in New York and Washington were middle-class Saudi and Egyptian nationals who saw their governments as being hand-in-glove partners of the American “infidels” since 1981, made worse by supporting Israel politically, militarily and economically. Bin Laden and his followers' main objective was to polarize the Islamic world of the ummat, instigate the cause of an Islamic revolution in those Arab states allied to Western interests and regain the moral high ground for what he believed was the interest of Islam's true believers across the world.

In fact, the United States was not the prime target of bin Laden's real objective; it merely represented the modern Hubal, symbol of contemporary idolatry and of that most ubiquitously powerful “Christian” nation supporting what he deemed as corrupt Arab governments who exploited and usurped power from the Muslim ummat in their respective countries.

It is this defining intra-Muslim and intra-Arab ideological struggle which explains more cogently the 9/11 phenomenon and which to my mind explains more cogently than analyses centering on the notion of “challenge and response” of Arnold Toynbee, the patronizing theme of “Islam on the defensive” of Bernard Lewis or the popular but misplaced “clash of civilizations” of Samuel Huntington. Understanding the ideological struggle within political Islam in the Middle East, in Africa and in East Asia , sheds more light on 11 September than rehashing variations on the theme of permanent discord between Islam and the West.

In the contemporary world of the Middle East, leaders of Arab governments that for reasons of economic and military strategy are perceived as clients of the fulcrum of global idolatry are despised by bin Laden and his followers as hypocrites, munafiqun. These leaders are also invariably demonized as those who formally believe in Islam but reject its precepts after being poisoned by the greed and predatory disposition of Western interests in the oilfields of the Middle East.

Worse, they were branded as mere apostates, since they were depicted as never having embraced “true” Islam in the first place. Al-Qaeda ideology derives much of its precepts from the more extremist interpretation of the Salafis, who believed in the imperative of the return to the pure teachings of the Prophet. In the view of the Salafis, all states with Muslims majorities must apply the sharia’ exclusively. Failure to adopt it constituted idolatry.

The extremist versions of Islam further maintain that it is the duty of the purist to go on the path of jihad against those governments that do not adopt the sharia as state identity and that these despicable regimes should therefore be overthrown by violent means. In the Declaration of War against the Americans in 1996, Osama bin Laden saw himself as having common cause with members of the Islamic Jihad in Egypt whose members had been involved in the assassination of president Anwar Sadat in October 1981. Both groups viewed members of the Egyptian government and the Saudi royal family as having renounced Islam both by refusing to apply al-Qaeda's view of the sharia as the basis for political life and because of their dependence on American economic patronage and military protection.

For us in Indonesia, events in the Middle East often resonate quickly into our domestic situation. What happens in the Middle East may affect our future, politically, economically, even strategically. But the vast majority of Indonesian Muslims also believe that Indonesia can provide an alternative to political desperation in the Middle East. Our tradition of enriched discourse and constructive dialogue about the need for all members of the Islamic ummat throughout the world to come to terms with contemporary Western dominated globalization has been scrutinized by many scholars of Islam. The true jihad is to improve oneself and our Muslim communities. Western dominance can be overcome by using our brains, skills and knowledge to gain leverage and restructure the world's political and economic system into a more equitable international order.

Indonesia has had its share of Islamic extremist movements in the 1950s and early 1960s who demanded immediate application of the sharia in our constitution. More recently, several Indonesian Muslims were implicated in act of violence and terror in Southeast Asia, some of whom have been linked ideologically to al-Qaeda through the Jamaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian grouping which envisages a region-based caliphate encompassing Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.

The Indonesian authorities have brought many of them to justice largely through our own legal processes, however slow and flawed some of them may have been . I believe that it is best that the Indonesian authorities quietly initiate and effectively deal with the terrorists on our own terms rather than blaring through the media the arrests of suspected leaders of these terrorist groups at the insistence of Western governments.

On the constitutional front, the three Islamic parties which presented claims for the application of sharia were defeated in the proceedings in the annual sessions of our Assembly . Only 15 percent of our parties in parliament advocated adoption of the sharia. Despite the bombings in Bali in October last year and the Marriott hotel in Jakarta last August, radical Islamist are actually losing ground in the battle for the hearts and minds of most Muslims in Indonesia.

We have always believed strongly in the notion that Islam in Indonesia and Indonesian Muslims can be enriched by our encounter with globalization and through the embrace of a more liberal, tolerant and inclusive interpretation of the Book.

Indonesian Islam remains proud and confident of its syncretic blend with national and local traditions as well as healthy eclecticism with the liberating values of foreign influences, including fast-paced financial and technological globalization. There will be the occasional crashing of gears in our social system as people move up or down the volatility scale. But equally important are the growing number of young Muslim cultural brokers who act as circuit breakers so that the social fabric is energized and not pulverized.

For most Muslims in Indonesia, blaming Jewish bankers, Chinese cronies, moronic financiers in New York or gnomes in Zurich for Indonesia's political and economic crises can only discredit the true nature of jihad: Improve the standing of the ummat through hard work and benefit from the dynamism and liberating creativity of robust inter-action with the West. Often the only way to overturn entrenched norms and structures that suffocate creative impulses is through the release of the elixir of freedom and innovation. Only then can we create a more just and prosperous society.

We distinctly do not share the view of some Muslim leaders in Indonesia as well as abroad who claim that all Islam and Muslims all over the world are deliberately being humiliated by the West, that Jews rule the world by proxy or that Western corporations are steered by a cabal of Zionist financiers. We see no need to grandstand to the nationalist or ethnic gallery in order hide our own internal failings: Rampant corruption, shameful injustice and ostentatious living.

The vast majority of the Islamic community of Indonesia remain convinced that robust and self-confident dialogs with the economies and cultures of the West as well as of the great traditions of China, Japan and India enriches Indonesian Islam in coming to terms with globalization. Exchange visits of Indonesian Muslim leaders to Europe and North America enhances the scope of understanding and commitment to mutual respect and appreciation. Changing the curricula of madrasahs and pesantrens can help plant seeds of tolerance and inclusiveness.

But Muslims in Indonesia realize that much more has to be done on the ground and in the grassroots to achieve meaningful economic and political reforms in our cities, towns and villages across Indonesia. We are determined to undertake stronger efforts to provide sustenance to the vast majority of our poor by delivering basic human needs: Food, health-care, education and employment.

Only if we consistently deliver and reinforce social justice can our Indonesian Islamic scholars, academics, ulemas and members of our civic societies ensure that post-Sept. 11, 2001, mainstream Islam in Indonesia will never be hijacked nor tempted by a perverted ideology that refuses to come to terms with the need to reshape and rebuild a world vastly different from the time of Islam's birth centuries ago.