Tuesday, October 15, 2002

RALPHPETERSWATCH: Ralph seems to be blogland's favorite Indonesia pundit, and he might be the whole Inner Nut's favorite Indonesia pundit--not that there's a lot of competition in that area. But having him around after the Bali attack is pretty great, and Junius scoped out some new Peters, and I'll throw up some meaty quotes. First he gives us answers to the "Why Bali?" question:

Bali is traditionally and overwhelmingly Hindu, an odd-island-out among Indonesia's territories, and the terrorists' ultimate vision is even more hostile toward Hindus than toward Christians. The extremists want a purely Muslim empire in the region. And Bali's success at attracting tourist dollars, although crippled after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has been the envy of less-affluent, Muslim portions of the country.

Next in importance, Kuta is an Australian holiday outpost. These attacks not only struck Indonesia's Hindu center of gravity, but simultaneously butchered Aussie vacationers, in delayed retaliation for Canberra's role in stopping the killings in East Timor and supporting that state's independence--thereby separating East Timor from the great Muslim state-to-be. Had these attacks been directed specifically at Americans, they would have happened in Jakarta, or on the exclusive compounds that cater to the affluent in Bali. These were, in part, revenge attacks, aimed directly at young Australians. Other Western victims were simply bonuses.

Yet another advantage of these targets, from the Islamic extremist's perspective, was their social nature: "Lascivious" dance bars, where men and women mingle, mate and consume alcohol are a fundamentalist Muslim's cherished symbol of the decadence resulting from Western influences.

With a few devastating blasts, the terrorists managed to strike against Western "corruption," against the West in general, against Australians specifically, and against those annoyingly hardworking, hospitable and successful Hindus who threaten the terrorists' vision of a pure, Islamic state.

But there's a bright side:

The good news is that the terrorists have bitten the hand that tolerated them, even if it didn't quite feed them. Insecure and wary, President Megawati Sukarnoputri has been timid in facing up to Indonesia's terrorist problem, and many Indonesians have been in denial. There has been no end of halfhearted claims that there was no real threat from Islamic extremists in Indonesia, that al Qaeda had no presence, and that Jakarta could mind its own affairs, thank you.

The paradox is that Indonesia really has not had--and still does not have--a major terrorist problem on the scale of many other Muslim countries. The Bali bombings were acts of frustration and desperation, not of strength. This largest of Muslim nations has a population overwhelmingly at peace with its various laissez-faire versions of Islam. A relatively small percentage of Indonesians support Islamic extremism even passively, a situation chronically disheartening to the fanatics.

His big point is Madam Megawati no longer has reason to overlook the terrorists within her borders, and will strike back at them. He ends with:

This is a moment of truth for Indonesia, but its ultimate result is going to be the further destruction of terrorist networks and their active exclusion from one more significant country. For the human devils who planned the slaughter and placed the explosives, these truly were suicide attacks.

Anyway, I read some the stuff linked in the Don Arthur Ralph maxi-post and one thing you have to say about him is he is a big-picture sort of guy, like in this piece where he writes off the entire Middle East:

Our efforts in the Islamic world have been largely wasted, when not counterproductive. We have spent half a century backing the wrong players. Oil smeared our vision and we concentrated on the self-destructive Arab states and oil-rich Iran, where our policy amounted to a sort of strategic Enron, built upon hollow assets and self-delusion. After Israel, listless Egypt remains the leading recipient of our aid dollars, while we have enmeshed ourselves in Middle Eastern confrontations we do not understand and cannot solve--but which excite venomous hatreds toward us as a reward for our efforts. We insist that Saudi Arabia, a police state that funds Islamic extremism around the world, is our friend. Our president plays host to its de facto king at his ranch. And we are pledged to protect those bazaars of terror, the Gulf states, with our blood.

But the Arab world, rich and poor, is nearly hopeless. With a few, strategically unimportant exceptions, it has given itself over to the narcotic effects of hatred and blame. Arab civilization cannot compete on a single productive front in the 21st century. And there is nothing we can do about it. If the Arab world will not repair itself, no amount of indulgence will make a difference. We have wasted decades on governments and populations who need us as an enemy to justify their profound failures.

Which makes him think American policy should engage Islam at its frontiers, in India, Iran, and Indonesia:

With the exception of Iran, which is struggling to become a progressive, rule-of-law democracy, Indonesia is the least understood Muslim state. While its population of over 200 million is almost 90% Islamic on paper, less than 20% would qualify as good Muslims by Saudi standards. No other country offers so wide a variety of Islamic practices as does Indonesia, where Hinduism and Buddhism prevailed far longer than Islam has yet done. Folk beliefs still haunt the mosques and Muslim schools, and "pure" Muslims struggle, with only marginal success, to persuade the others that the local, Sufi-influenced forms of Islam are all wrong. Jakarta, not Jeddah, is where the future of Islam will be decided. And we are not even seriously engaged, although our extremist enemies have been pouring in money and peddling hatred for decades.

The Islamic world is rich in possibilities and remarkably various. By betting on the Arab states, we have been letting our best prospects slip away--abandoning global Islam to the apostles of terror. In military terms, we have "left the battlefield to our enemies." If we really believe that Islam is a great world religion, we need to treat it as such and engage it where it is still developing--on its vibrant frontiers, not in its arthritic Arab homelands.

It sounds kind of like Ralph is coming around from his "Indonesia is the ultimate illogical state"/we should be figuring out how to break up Indonesia in the most peaceful way possible opinions of a year ago to seeing potential in Indonesia--of course, thinking Indonesia is an illogical state and thinking there's untapped potential there are not one-or-the-other propositions. So he's developing his opinion, I guess. I think he visited there in between one PARAMETERS article and another, and his opinions have expanded. He says, "Of all the many countries I have visited, none has been so grossly misrepresented in the media." That PARAMETERS piece above is really great, but for present purposes I'll just blog up the Indonesia-relevant parts:

The truth is that Indonesian Islam poses no danger whatsoever to the United States or to its citizens—or to anyone else, except Muslim extremists. The radical fundamentalists and sponsors of terror in Indonesia are a small fraction of believers. The danger—real, if slight—comes not from the syncretic, humane, tolerant, homegrown forms of Islam. The danger comes from models of Islam exported from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, and insinuated into Indonesia through infusions of cash, missionaries, and hateful propaganda, by the building of mosques and madrassas where secular schools and clinics are badly needed, and through bribes—bribery seeming to be Indonesia’s national sport. Yet, as one friend put it, the unhappiest investors in the world are not those Americans whose fortunes burst with the dot.com bubble, but the Saudis who spent millions upon millions to bring extreme fundamentalism to Indonesia. As they do with everyone else, in matters of business or of belief, the Indonesians took the money, then did whatever they wanted to do. In a phrase well-known to regional hands and frustrated businessmen alike, “The Indonesians just won’t stay bought.”

His personal experience:

Yet, except for Aceh, where a long-term separatist struggle continues, the root causes of most of the interfaith violence in Indonesia have been struggles over the control of territory, local power, and economic benefits, all triggered by government-sponsored internal migration from overpopulated, Muslim Java to less-developed islands where Islam was either a new or a minority faith. Extremists, both Muslim and Christian, have used these struggles to their own ends. But in Jogjakarta, the old cultural capital of Muslim Java, the elite and the middle class send their children to Christian-run schools for a better education, they use Christian-sponsored hospitals because of the higher-quality care, and they have far more interest in Britney Spears than in Osama bin Laden.

This is not a metaphorical statement—while I was recently in Indonesia, Miss Spears got far more air-time than Osama did, which made me wonder whether Mr. bin Laden doesn’t have a point concerning the cultural brutality of the West. Now, hard-headed politicos may dismiss the Cult of Britney (and of bare-midriff blondes in general, for whom one cannot help feeling a certain admiration), but a society in which the girls and women have been watching Christina Aguilera’s displays of life-affirming exuberance on video is unlikely ever to sign up for the whole fundamentalist package. Indeed, when confronted with the word “fundamentalist,” the young women of Indonesia tend to concentrate on the first three letters.


Technically speaking, Indonesia may contain almost 200 million Muslims, but less than 20 percent of them—and that is a generous estimate—would begin to pass muster with the strict mullahs of the Middle East. Even Muslims who describe themselves as devout include a range of superstitions and religious borrowings in their practices, from a belief in saints and shrines (anathema to strict Sunni Islam) to the conviction in rural parts of Sulawesi that transvestites have an inside track with Allah. And then there is the Indonesian fondness for an occasional beer. One woman showing me about described her female employer (none of this sounds terribly Middle Eastern, does it?) as a “most devoted Muslim, very strict,” then added approvingly, “she doesn’t pray during the day or wear religious clothing, and she likes to drink a little bit, but she is really a very good Muslim.”

Ralph Peters: bringing the goods on Indonesia.

For non-Peters stuff, there's this BBC interactive map of Indonesia's trouble spots.

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