There's plenty to think about in Jeffrey Goldberg's wide-ranging article on the Obama Doctrine in the latest issue of The Atlantic. Sam Roggeveen has already given his take on Goldberg's interpretation of President Obama's comments about China. For those with an interest in Indonesia, there are several further points worth taking a closer look at.
The first mention of Indonesia in the article comes in the context of Obama's emphasis on multilateralism to avoid repeating what he sees as America's history of failed unilateral interventions overseas: 'We have history,' [Obama] said.
We have history in Iran, we have history in Indonesia and Central America. So we have to be mindful of our history when we start talking about intervening, and understand the source of other people’s suspicions.
The president's passing mention of Indonesia has not escaped the attention of human rights advocates concerned with uncovering the suspected role of US intelligence agencies in the anti-communist killings of the 1960s. Obama arrived in Indonesia as a child in 1967, just after the worst of the mass killings that began in 1965. In his memoir Dreams from My Father, he recalls the rumours circulating at the time among US State Department workers in Jakarta of CIA involvement.
Just last week, Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) sent a letter to Obama formally requesting the declassification of files related to the possible involvement of the CIA and other US government agencies in the mass killings. Joshua Oppenheimer, director of 'The Act of Killing' and 'The Look of Silence' and a member of the movement pushing for declassification, tweeted that Obama's comment in The Atlantic could constitute tacit acknowledgement of US intervention in Indonesia.
The next substantial mention of Indonesia in Goldberg's article involves our own prime minister:
In a meeting during APEC with Malcolm Turnbull, the new prime minister of Australia, Obama described how he has watched Indonesia gradually move from a relaxed, syncretistic Islam to a more fundamentalist, unforgiving interpretation; large numbers of Indonesian women, he observed, have now adopted the hijab, the Muslim head covering.
Why, Turnbull asked, was this happening?
Because, Obama answered, the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs have funneled money, and large numbers of imams and teachers, into the country. In the 1990s, the Saudis heavily funded Wahhabist madrassas, seminaries that teach the fundamentalist version of Islam favored by the Saudi ruling family, Obama told Turnbull. Today, Islam in Indonesia is much more Arab in orientation than it was when he lived there, he said.
'Aren’t the Saudis your friends?,'Turnbull asked.
Obama smiled. 'It’s complicated,' he said.
This exchange is presented by Goldberg as an example of Obama's frustration with Middle Eastern 'tribalism' diverting attention from his project of a US foreign policy 'pivot' to Asia.
Indonesia, a place of childhood memories and an otherwise exciting part of a region 'yearning for self-improvement, modernity, education, and material wealth', is described here by Obama as being held back in some areas by a Saudi-influenced interpretation of Islam that has yet to reconcile itself with modernity.
This is entering tricky territory when it comes to understanding Islam in contemporary Indonesia.
As I've written before for The Interpreter, observers in Indonesia emphasise a distinction between expressions of Islam in pop culture, and growing Islamic conservatism. An Indonesian woman donning Arab Muslim fashion can be as much a statement of individuality, modernity and global awareness as an expression of conservative religious values. By using the hijab as a measure of fundamentalism, Obama — or perhaps Goldberg in the retelling — fails to make this distinction.
Goldberg's piece also repeatedly calls for a kind of reformation for Islam to adapt to democracy. In Indonesia, Muslim students played a strong role in the country's democratisation. The resulting freedom to express religious beliefs and aspirations led to both the development of political Islam, as well as a strong intellectual tradition of liberal Islam.
At the same time, a current of conservatism has emerged with dangerous consequences. President Jokowi has recognised the problem of rising religious intolerance, which in recent years has resulted in violence. Individual rights and freedoms are threatened by the introduction of sharia-inspired bylaws in certain provinces. Some Indonesian citizens are known to have travelled to the Middle East to join ISIS. And the most recent incident of Islamist terrorism occurred just two months ago in downtown Jakarta. These developments are cause for concern, but they still only represent a minority of Indonesian Muslims.
Indonesia is a Muslim-majority state, but not an Islamic state. It's not entirely secular, but is a leader of democratisation in the Asia-Pacific region. It's got all the things that Obama likes about Asia — like 'striving, ambitious, energetic people' building businesses and infrastructure — but is also somehow entangled in the terrorism agenda that he laments is delaying the pivot to Asia.
So where does Indonesia fit in the global schema of the Obama Doctrine? I suppose the answer might be that it's complicated.
3) Contras releases archive website on past rights abuses
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Headlines | Mon, March 21 2016, 6:50 AM -
The launch of masihingat.kontras.org was part of Kontras’ 18th anniversary commemoration held in Menteng, Central Jakarta.
Kontras coordinator Haris Azhar said that the website would show that a myriad of human rights abuse cases had taken place in the country, dating back to 1965.
“After conducting in-depth research for three months, we found that more than one human rights abuse case occurred every day in Indonesia,” Haris said on the sidelines of the celebration.
There were lists of more than 5,000 cases that happened from 2011 right up to the launch date, Haris continued.
“We have collected data about cases occurring in this country from 1965 to 2011. However, it takes time to input all of them into the website,” he said.
In the website, the public can access a list of past human rights abuse cases by entering the date of specific cases in the Kalender HAM (human rights calendar) directory.
The data compiled by Kontras are the result of a string of field investigations and news items on human rights abuse cases.
The commission hoped that the public would share their information pertaining to human rights cases in the past, Haris said.
“Everyone can contribute to the compilation by informing us via various media platforms, ranging from email, Twitter and Facebook, to SMS,” he explained.
Haris said he hoped that the website would serve as open data documentation, so that the public “can learn and share information”, rather than functioning as the government’s basis for resolving past human rights cases.
Haris was referring to the government’s pledge last week to resolve and find a solution to decades-old human rights abuse cases.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said that the government would settle six past human right cases by May 2.
The six cases are the purge of communists following the Sept. 30, 1965 killing of six Army generals, the Talangsari, Trisakti, Semanggi I and II shootings and the disappearance of pro-democracy activists.
Meanwhile, the new website received a positive welcome from several figures, ranging from scholars to family members of victims of past human rights abuse cases.
Franz Magnis-Suseno, senior lecturer of the Driyarkara Institute of Philosophy hailed the website as “a primary source for killings, kidnappings and persecution cases that took place in the past”.
“If the public are not informed about violent events in the past, they will let those kinds of cases happen in the future,” the German-born priest and human rights champion said.
“The general public, not only activists and victims’ families, can learn a lot about our history, especially about human rights abuse cases, from the website,” Asih Widodo, father of Sigit Prasetyo, a victim of the 1998 Semanggi shooting, told The Jakarta Post. (dos) -