Friday, January 27, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, January 26, 2006


Alpha Amirrachman,

The recent research conducted by the International Center for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP), the Indonesian Islamic Boarding School Association (BKSPPI) and AusAID, in which I was involved, shows that many pesantren (Islamic boarding schools), both traditional (salaf) and modern, in West Java reject pluralism as they perceive this as an acceptance of the relativity of religion -- or rejecting the notion that Islam is the absolute truth.

For the folks at the boarding schools, pluralism is ideologically unacceptable, and they wholly support the controversial fatwa issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) which bans secularism, pluralism and liberalism.

According to Diana L. Eck (2001) in her influential book A new religious America: How a 'Christian country' has become the world's most religiously diverse nation, "Pluralism is not an ideology, not a leftist scheme, and not a free-form relativism. Rather, pluralism is the dynamic process which we engage with one another in and through our very deepest differences." She also explains how Islam is growing rapidly and freely in the United States, side by side with Judaism and Christianity.

It follows that pluralism does not mean an abandonment of principles; we merely accept others' differences. Is that not beautiful? But why do the pesantren communities reject pluralism? Why has the spirit of intolerance strengthened among them? We could not really find a complete answer during the research.

A noted Indonesianist, Prof. M.C. Ricklefs of the National University of Singapore recently held the Indonesians in attendance, during a seminar to discuss the ICIP research finding, spellbound, not only because of his deep knowledge of the history of pesantren in Indonesia back to the 1800s, but also because of his eloquent Bahasa Indonesia. However, I could not help but notice that some of the Indonesian faces in the audience began to show anxiety when Prof. Ricklefs proposed that all education here become fully secular.

He argued that multiculturalism had been a success in Australia because many religious schools in the country, including the Protestant schools where he sent his children, adopted a policy of 90 percent secular education and only 10 percent religious education (he later admitted that the percentage is actually speculative as he did not do research on it).

Some of those in the audience politely rejected his proposal, and also refused his notion of liberalism as they misunderstood it as an "uncontrolled freedom". Even though Prof. Ricklefs stated during his presentation that liberalism means giving freedom "as much as possible" to people to develop their potential with appreciation of the rights of others.

Clearly there was problem of understanding terminology -- something that is fittingly addressed by Prof. Machasin of Islamic State University Sunan Kalijaga of Yogyakarta who reawakened us as to why many Muslims rejected the ideas of pluralism, liberalism and secularism.

He argued that there is a strong tradition in Islam of always referring to the texts, rather than to concepts first. He shared his experience during the congress of Nahdlatul Ulama when he proposed that the study of hermeneutics should be include in the recommendation. But others rejected this, arguing that such a term comes from "the West" and it was used by the West to deconstruct their Bible. He lamented the fact that if he had used the word tafsir , which translates as hermeneutics, he would have had not problems convincing the audience.

Islam, actually has a rich history of pluralism as it spans a long period of time and an abundance of diverse thoughts, and many of them were sometimes at odds with each other. Therefore, trying to find a reference of something that seems to be new is actually not a difficult endeavor.

While the development of the many pesantren in Java was shaped by local culture, it was also molded by values and tradition that were rigorously and consistently nurtured by pesantren leaders, meaning that every pesantren has its own uniqueness, again showing pluralism among pesantren. However, due to the great influence these schools usually have toward their surrounding communities, this contains positive and negative sides. It is positive if the pesantren can provide an alternative education that is beneficial for the surrounding community such as life skills in addition to religious studies. But it is negative if the pesantren decided to reject new ideas that are actually beneficial not only for the students but also for the surrounding community. So, it is imperative to have wisdom by conducting due diligence before persuading pesantren to accept and digest new ideas.

But how is respecting differences specifically addressed in Islam?

We can therefore infer that pluralism, as a mode to perceive plurality and to voluntarily accept differences is something that is inherently entrenched in Islam. The Koran clearly states that the noblest attitude in addressing differences is to "strive as in a race in all virtues" -- constructive competition to do good deeds, and that final truth belongs only to God.

Prof. Ricklefs could only grin at me on the sidelines of the seminar, "If only the Liberal Islamic Network changed its name into Arabic...", a reference to the Indonesian group that has come under fire recently by local fundamentalists after it too was singled out in the MUI fatwa.

The writer is a research fellow at the International Center for Islam and Pluralism and a lecturer at Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University.

Friday, January 06, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, January 7, 2006


Alpha Amirrachman,

Reflection in this context refers to a thought, idea or opinion formed as the result of deep contemplation on an action or value that has been put into practice.

John Dewey (1859-1952), one of America's most influential philosophers, said the "union of observation and memory" was at the heart of a reflection.

Can our nation be reflective? Is our society adequately reflective amid today's rapid global changes?

When we contemplate the history of this nation -- particularly from the independence struggle and the proclamation of independence in 1945 up to now -- it is evident that at certain junctures the spirit to improve the quality of this nation was overwhelming.

The student movement, at any given time, such as the fall of Soeharto and Sukarno, has always been remarkable in introducing a new paradigm while overthrowing the oppressive rulers.

The people vowed thereafter the practices of the old regime would never be repeated and they would stick to the universal values of democracy and human rights.

But was this the result of true reflection or just a reaction to prolonged societal dissatisfaction? It was probably a combination of the two, but given the chaotic circumstances following the fall of Soeharto in 1998, would appear to have been more reactionary than the result of reflection.

Moreover, these vigorous efforts were somewhat wasted through our failure to stick to our new commitment and the fact that we became trapped again by the promises of the new government.

Through a historical lens, we can see how terrible practices such as authoritarianism always prevailed after the much-welcomed new era. It is disturbing to realize that we often did not need to wait for long to see and become victims of the practices that had previously been carried out under the old regime.

For example, still fresh in our minds is that our civil servants were forced to become members of the ruling party, Golkar, in the Soeharto era.

Recently, however, Vice President Jusuf Kalla voiced the need to return the "political rights" of civil servants.

Another example is that the press was subject to tight controls during the Soeharto era, yet the government recently issued a regulation on the control of broadcasters, soon to be followed by more restrictions on print media.

Why is it always like this? Apparently, our capacity for true reflection is always undermined by our greed and shortsightedness. In spite of the blood and tears shed to achieve this freedom -- which has blessed us with ample opportunities -- we cannot be satisfied in our triumph and fail to make good on our commitments.

Notably, a reflection that is guided by morality, integrity, and commitment, not a mere reaction driven by impulses and desires, is what this nation crucially needs.

However, given the fact that there has not been even a loud and unremitting voice in rejecting the recent setbacks, let alone measured collective efforts, one has enough reason to be skeptical of this ailing and self-ignoring nation's capacity to learn from its past experiences.

The writer is a lecturer at the Faculty of Education, Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University in Banten. He is also a research fellow at ICIP (International Center for Islam and Pluralism) can be visited at

Thursday, January 05, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, December 18, 2005


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor/Jakarta

The first time when the team from Al-Azhar Community Development in Aceh (ACDA) surveyed the catastrophe in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, the members were deeply disturbed by the palpable feeling of disorientation emanating from many of the survivors.

However, they were further surprised with the fact that many children there were still able to demonstrate enthusiasm and spirit, particularly when they came together in a group and played.

As reconstruction progresses, many who lost their children and families are now looking determinedly to the future, with some experts predicting a baby-boom in the region.

This spirit is indeed an invaluable capital for them to rebuild their life and bury their wounds.

It is because of this that ACDA—a volunteer based organization founded by alumni of Al-Azhar Mosque’s youth organization in Jakarta—has followed an approach of transformational relations, which is designed to restore and nurture intrinsic capacity of the community to identify their own problems, to manage their resources and to communicate solutions that would enable them to comprehend their present and future lives realistically.

The ACDA program places the civil capacity-building efforts ahead of infrastructure establishment in disrupted areas by adopting a transformation process called Community Driven Development (CDD). Accordingly, the expected goal is for the affected community to develop the confidence and ability necessary to recognize problems, suggest solutions and plan their own future, along with any physical deployment, such as social and economical infrastructure proposed by working institutions in their surroundings.

A cultural approach has also been adopted, and under this approach, the ACDA uses mosques as its base, considering that the staunchly Islamic province employs a certain degree of shari’a in its law.

Mosques are used not only as a center of worship, but also a center of cultural, social and economic development.

The ACDA accompanies and assists the community in responding to government policy in rebuilding their devastated province. The main tools used in this are focus group discussions and participatory methodology, which motivates women and men from all strata of life to raise development issues and evaluate the impact on them, generate information based on their own personal experiences and broach issues of concern that demand collective efforts both through education and advocacy.

For the first year-program, from July 2005 to June 2006, the ACDA is focusing on community service and community relations, which is to be followed by long term community empowerment program. The organization is focusing initially on Nagan Raya district to develop model of participatory development.

This short term program is being pursued through reconstructing and activating local social and cultural infrastructure, such as physical restoration of meunasa—small mosques—mosques, and schools and libraries for children and students; facilitating kindergarten and primary school education through assistance in formal and informal education for children in cooperation with local governments, non-government organizations (NGOs) and awarding educational scholarships; donating emergency aids; and organizing small groups of local people to guarantee the sustainability of the programs.

Long term programs focus on community empowering, which is aimed at nurturing societies that are well organized and possess the capacity to systematically solve their problems. Activities towards this end include conducting social and economic studies that can be used to help refugees in entering reconstruction phase of Aceh as is outlined in the National Development Planning Board’s blueprint; providing technical assistance to local residents to run small-and-medium scale businesses, such as in drawing up proposals, business planning and business organization; and in facilitating aid distribution offered by other NGOs or individuals that particularly target economic and educational rehabilitation.

In appreciation from the locals for this long-term project, the ACDA has been granted a two-hectare plot of land, which will be followed soon by another plot six hectares for the purpose of building schools.

Many challenges still remain, with survivors bearing the psychological scars of the devastating disaster, as ACDA program director Chaidir Amin said: “We often find that the children sob at night, surely remembering of how their beloved parents were tragically swept away by the tsunami. And some of the adults still find it hard to forget the cheerful faces of their dead children. To tackle this problem, our volunteers try to build deeper personal relationships with those affected individuals, by becoming their close companions and persuading them to busy themselves with positive activities.”

Another pressing challenge is, he said, “how to convince the Acehnese that, although they have been victimized by Jakarta for too long, we non-Acehnese do embrace our brothers and sister in Aceh with sincere heart.”

The contributor is a lecturer at the Faculty of Education, Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University, and volunteers as an educational consultant for the ACDA.


First published in The Jakarta Post, December 21, 2005


Alpha Amirrachman, Jakarta

Is democratic character shaped by training? Many would answer "yes", including Victoria Camps in her essay Education for Democracy. She wrote, "If democratic behavior means the acquisition of certain habits, certain civic virtues, these can only be inculcated through education." Therefore, according to this argument, no one is born a democrat. America, for example, underwent hundreds of years before the country came of age and reached democratic "maturity", yet its leading politicians claim that democracy is still not the best system, merely a bit better than any other system of government.

Democracy is more process-oriented rather than output-oriented. It is, thus, an exhausting effort, yet considered fairer as all possibilities are diligently debated and all interest groups are consulted. The output might not be perfect, but should be acceptable to all, thus reducing potential conflicts among the "political animals". This, according to Victoria Camps, highlights the vital role of education in shaping the minds and deeds of people to acquire certain democratic values.

From this perceptive, Indonesia can be considered both fortunate and unfortunate. It is fortunate because it has now finally become a democracy. It is, however, at the same time unfortunate, because the development of democracy has been moving at a snails pace despite all the potential it has with the diversity of its people. Take a look at India, a nation that gained its independence at almost the same time as Indonesia. India has consistently trained itself as a democratic state and continuously upheld academic freedom and enhanced its academic standing while the latter has plunged into authoritarianism with rigid indoctrination and text-based learning in classrooms.

While many praised Indonesia for its swift move to democracy, it has nevertheless been marred by incidents which do not reflect democratic values. The euphoria saw tragic incidents in a form of sectarian and religious conflicts such as in Poso and Ambon, along with secessionist struggles in Aceh and West Papua and bombings by militant fundamentalists. Worse still, Indonesia's democracy has practically been abused by the feeling of superiority of the majority over the minority.

Indeed, it is a utopian ideal that education can bring about such a swift change in attitude within societies. But efforts have been made, including the overhaul of civic education, although the vibrant teaching material would not be of any use if teachers generally still lack competence and their welfare is neglected.

But has the attitude of teachers been influenced by this new atmosphere? Do the recent cases -- such as the increasingly critical voice of many teacher organizations -- show the shift in this attitude, from merely passing on knowledge to being open-minded and critical educators? It is hard to answer, but democracy is also training by doing.

And no matter shallow and superficial it would seem, teachers' increasingly critical awareness of the life of this nation should be judged in an appropriate manner. Why? Because this is a sign that we are on the right track toward the molding of the democratic character of our students.

But have teachers received the appreciation that they deserve? I don't think so. Democratic character should include sincerity in looking at ourselves critically and -- if necessary -- boldly but honestly stripping away our own weaknesses. This is what was vividly displayed by teachers during the national commemoration of Teacher's Day which was attended by Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

Prof. Winarno Surakhmad, a senior and noted educationist, read out a poem during which he had to pause several times due to the raucous applause of thousands of teachers, "When will our school buildings improve their grade from just a chicken coop? Here is buried the remains of a teacher, who died of starvation after living on a salary that runs out after only one day." But to the surprise of many teachers and guests, the red-faced Vice President scolded them in a high-handed tone: "Teachers (should) form the nation's soul and character. If you mock the nation, who will respect it?" (The Jakarta Post, Nov. 28, 2005).

Kalla is undoubtedly correct that teachers are burdened with the responsibility of helping shape the nation's soul and character, but what he failed to realize is that such a noble duty would not be able to succeed without the ability to take a critical look at ourselves. What Professor Winarno did was to merely reflect on the saddening reality of education in this country.

This incident shows how the authoritarian attitude is still subconsciously embedded in the minds and deeds of our leaders, besides sadly demonstrating that the perception that teachers are mere conduits of knowledge -- not innovative agents of social change -- and that their job is only to teach, not educate, is still also deeply rooted in the mind-set of our leaders.

Some would say Kalla was just expressing his opinion honestly, but his reaction sends a clear but threatening message that a critical and reflective attitude should be not be part of a teacher's character. While the incident will not halt the march of this nation toward democracy, it shows how some elements of our society are still trapped in a state of denial toward our own shortcomings, an attitude that would instead weaken teachers' spirit and slow the recovery of this sick nation.


First published in The Jakarta Post, November 18, 2005


Alpha Amirrachman, Jakarta

Nov. 25 will be a moment of truth for the education sector in Indonesia. It is the day the government and the House of Representatives (DPR) have agreed to officially endorse the teachers and lecturers bill and to recognize "Teachers and Lecturers NationalDay" after a six year-delay.

The bill itself, however, remains controversial.

The largest bone of contention with educationalists surrounds the welfare of teachers and lecturers. Article 13 states that teachers and lecturers are entitled to "decent" salaries and conditions. It is hoped that their salaries would be adjusted to at least three times higher than non-teacher civil servants in the same classification (golongan) who are already entitled to other professional incentives.

It remains to be seen whether the government will be able to meet the requirements in the new bill. The suspicion that the bill is merely a ploy to divert public attention away from the fuel price hikes could turn out to be justifiable.

The bill also mainly addresses teachers and lecturers who work for state institutions, not private ones. Many educationalists argue that the bill is therefore discriminatory, as most education in this country is run by the private sector. However, the government is unlikely to be able to provide incentives for the private sector due to financial constraints.

It is also not realistic to expect the government to set explicit rules regarding private teacher salaries as each private institution has different standards and financial capacities. On the issue of legal protection for private teachers and lecturers, the new law on foundations (yayasan) is considered adequately progressive by most observers; the problem, as in most cases in our country, lies in it iimplementation.

The bill should instead create a competitive atmosphere between private and government institutions in education quality and teacher welfare.

In this era of decentralization, it would be moving against the clock if every segment of society remains dependent on the central government. Decentralization should give private educational institutions the authority to run their own affairs, particularly for community-based education.

As importantly, the bill rules that any teacher association should conform to existing regulations, meaning it should be in the form of a legal entity with the usual administrative requirements, such as a minimum number of members and representatives in selected cities throughout the country.

Although it is understandable that one teacher association may not always be a true representative of teachers, this seems to be a restriction in disguise, stopping teachers from freely articulating their political aspirations.

During my research fieldwork, no matter "chaotic" the political atmosphere was due to the burgeoning of teacher associations, a genuine teacher association would always survive and a bogus one,which was riddled with short-term political interests and often needlessly disturbed the running of the local government, would die due to the lack of support.

Teacher education is also being poorly addressed. While the minimum academic qualifications of undergraduate and diploma four (D-4)might be acceptable, a minimum number of 36 credits to achieve "competence" is grossly inadequate. This is partly because of the conversion of Teaching Training Institutions (IKIP) into universities. The change is based on wrong-headed perceptions -- or perhaps even a sense of inferiority; that IKIP graduates are somehow less qualified than university graduates.

Let's hope the bill is not merely an attempt to whitewash over people's fears about education in this increasingly difficult time.Despite its flaws, there is still a hope the bill is a step forward, if not a major leap.



SBS Insight 05 October 2005

The following is a transcript of an episode of Insight titled "Neighbours", recorded in Jakarta and broadcast October 4,2005 on SBS TV Australia. Taken from Insight Transcripts:

For some time Insight has been planning to produce a special edition of Insight from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. We've had plenty to say about Indonesia but we wanted to know what Indonesians think about us. Insight planned to talk about Australia's foreign policies, Muslim extremism and the trials of young Australians on drug charges in Bali. A poll had shown nearly a third of Australians view Indonesia as a threat, a country where 90% of the population is Muslim. Insight planned the program to coincide with next week's anniversary of the terrorist attack in Bali in October 2002. Tragically, another massacre in Bali has now occurred. Insight recorded this program before the events of the weekend but what our guests have to say is still entirely relevant. Our forum was held at the studios of Metro TV in Jakarta. Insight invited community leaders, politicians, diplomats and journalists, many of whom have visited Australia. Our guests included Yenny Wahid, the daughter of the former Indonesian president - she once worked as a journalist for the 'Sydney Morning Herald' - also Desi Anwar, the senior newsreader for Metro TV where we recorded our program, Wimar Witoelar, a former presidential advisor and a well-known commentator and Angelina Sondakh, a former Miss Indonesia and a Member of Parliament.

JENNY BROCKIE: I'd like to welcome all of you to Insight tonight.Thank you very much for joining us. And I'd like to start with you, Alpha Amirrachman. You've just come back to Indonesia, I think,after studying at the University of Sydney. What do you think Australians don't understand about Indonesia?

ALPHA AMIRRACHMAN, JOURNALIST: Thank you, Jenny. But I don't want to get trapped in stereotyping, OK? But I was in Sydney when the Bali blast occurred. It was so tragic. Many Australians were killed. And people at the university were very diplomatic. They didn't want to show their anger to me, their cynicism. But, outside of the universities, I met one woman who was unable to hide her anger and she told me, "Bali should not belong to Indonesia." I said, "Why?" "Because Bali is so different from the rest of Indonesia." "What do you mean by 'the rest of Indonesia'?" "The rest of Indonesia means Muslim majority." So I don't want to get trapped in stereotyping, but I have strong -

JENNY BROCKIE: But do you think that stereotyping exists in Australia?

ALPHA AMIRRACHMAN: Yeah, yeah, I think so. But I had a strong impression that, that woman doesn't really understand the diversity of Indonesia, doesn't really understand the complexity of Indonesian society. That's my impression.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you - I know you also wrote about another incident in a bar, when you were in a bar in Sydney. Can you tell us that story?

ALPHA AMIRRACHMAN: Yeah, but I was with my Australian friends and some of my international friends verbally attacked me, they said, "Your country is so dangerous because most of them are Muslims." And I was so angry. And my Australian friend calmed me down and then he drove me home. But I didn't get drunk. I was drinking orange juice at the time. Those people were drinking beer and they were angry with me.

JENNY BROCKIE: But how did you feel, though, when you received that sort of message in Australia? How did you feel at that time? You were angry, yeah?

ALPHA AMIRRACHMAN: I was so angry and I said, "You know, a small fight in Indonesia could result in headless body on the streets." I was so angry, I expressed myself like that. And my Australian friend calmed me down and, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Desi, what do you think? You're a news anchor here at Metro TV where we're recording this program. Do you think Australians understand Indonesia?

DESI ANWAR, TV PRESENTER: Well, I wouldn't want to presume what Australians think of Indonesia. I mean, the - the one thing that we do get is through the media coverage of what - Australian media cover, what Australians think about Indonesia. And I don't know how true that is, whether it actually reflects the sentiment of Australians in general.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what do you think of that media coverage, though,when you see it? What sort of things are you talking about?

DESI ANWAR: Well, for example, the reaction to the Schapelle Corby case, for example, and of course the trial of Abu Bakar Bashir and that kind of emotions that we get to read on Australian media. And again, being in the media, I don't know how -

JENNY BROCKIE: Representative it is.

DESI ANWAR: How true, how representative that is. I mean, my personal experience with Australians, I mean, they're wonderful people. I know a lot of people in Australia and I know a lot of Australians in Indonesia.

JENNY BROCKIE: But what it is about that kind of coverage that worries you?

DESI ANWAR: Well, I think it doesn't worry me as much as - for example, it shows in a way that there is this gap of understanding about Indonesia but what actually worries me most is that the emotional reaction that that kind of - you know - generates a kind of ill feeling, which I think is unnecessary. Because, I mean, emotional responses I can perfectly understand because, you know, with emotional reactions, you can motivate people to do, sort of, good things, you know? It makes people generous for example. It makes people - it puts people together. But, in terms of emotional responses that create, for example, negative impact, I don't think it's very good -

JENNY BROCKIE: You mentioned a gap in understanding. Where's the gap?

DESI ANWAR: Well, I think basically - I mean, I wrote an article about the reaction to the Schapelle Corby case. One thing that I think Indonesians cannot understand is why was there such an emotional response from the Australians because, when Indonesian media, for example, covers issues about Australia, for example, the Bali bombing, we actually covered the - more of the victims, you know, the Australian victims of the bombings more than the Indonesians who actually died. So to get that kind of response is -

JENNY BROCKIE: So you think it's skewed the wrong way in a sense?It's sort of tipped the wrong way?

DESI ANWAR: Yeah, and I think it's, you know, I think that kind of reporting, I mean, if the media wants to focus on that kind of reporting, they're not actually doing themselves a service by focusing on the emotional side of the reactions.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yes, Wimar, yes.

PROFESSOR WIMAR WITOELAR,JOURNALIST: I don't think we can single outthe Australian media as such but the media of any developed country which has an organised press backed by big business. I'm a Professor of Journalism at Deakin University and I've seen how people are channeled into the world of PR, world of journalism, and I know the individuals well, I know very many Australians. All of them are unbiased. All of them are enlightened. All of them are educated.But, when they band together, they have a posse mentality that says, "Lynch the image of the Indonesians." So I think it's a frenzy among the media, which is not specifically Australian.

JENNY BROCKIE: But I'm interested about the point you're making about when people get together they're - you said bossy?

WIMAR WITOELAR: Posse. American, P-O-S-S-E. You know, "Get the culprit, round up the citizens, get the black guy, the Chinese guy,the brown guy."



JENNY BROCKIE: You think the Australian media is racist?

WIMAR WITOELAR: No, they're not racist, but the Australian media appeals to some part of Australia which somehow, you know, gets their feelings incited over that. But you don't see that when theyare individuals.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yenny. Yes. Do you agree with that? I mean, you've worked as a journalist on the 'Sydney Morning Herald' and you've lived in Australia.

YENNY WAHID, DIRECTOR, WAHID INSTITUTE: To a certain degree, there is a stereotyping that journalists do to make the stories simple for the readers. And I think Indonesia is such a complex and diverse culture that, without the simplification and stereotyping, it would be very difficult for the, you know, the readers or for the - What do you call it? For TV. For the viewers, the audiences to understand what's really going on. So it's almost -

ANGELINA SONDAKH, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: I just want to jump in. You know, the perception, you know, because when I was meeting with the Member of the Parliament from Australia and some of the young members of the Parliament and they say, "Angelina, are you Indonesian?" and it's like, "Yes. Why?" "You don't look like Indonesian." I mean, that's one perception. But I'm purelyIndonesian. My mum is Mindanaoese and my father is Indonesian. Thisis how the Australians see Indonesia and the Indonesian people. I mean, besides that, you know, people from Aceh, Minadano, Jakarta are different.

JENNY BROCKIE: So do you feel Indonesia gets simplified as a nation?Lots of nodding here.

YENNY WAHID: Any news in the world about other countries always gets simplified. It's just the nature of the media, in my opinion. And also, in my - I think that most people are very provincial, be it Indonesians, Australians, Americans, you know, any countries. I mean, they tend to look at things from their own perspective. So the media, in a way, has to follow that dictate, you know, otherwise,people won't really understand the story. So, in that process, the nuances get lost.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what are the nuances? Tell me about the nuances of Indonesia.

YENNY WAHID: Well, you know, the fact that -

MAN: Tell her about the Muslims being seen as troublemakers.

YENNY WAHID: Yes, the Muslim issue, you know, is very, is very simple case. I mean, Muslim in the world, not only Indonesia, is no ta homogeneous entity. We have a spectrum, you know, a difference, of a brand of Islamism that people believe in. There are the so-called moderates, there are the people that believe that violence is theo nly means to channel their views and all sorts of things but not all Muslims are similar. And this gets lost of course in the translation or whatever, in the reporting.

JENNY BROCKIE: Chusnul, what do you think about that? Did you agree with that?

CHUSNUL MAR'IYAH, UNIVERSITY LECTURER: Well, I'm not expert on the media but I think my understanding about Australia and Indonesia relations is, you know, Australian society is also divided between the Canberra policies and the Jakarta policies and also between the people.


DITA SARI, TRADE UNION LEADER: Yeah, I think we have to be quite clear in this case because we have to make sure that there is a differentiation between the Government of Australia and the people of Australia. We cannot just mix it up. Most of the time, I think the policy of the Government of Australia, the Howard Government right now, can shape the attitude and consciousness of the majority of the people of Australia. For instance, like the participation of the Howard Government in the war in Iraq, the Australians also accepting troops to Iraq, it helps creating the understanding and consciousness among the Australians that because this war is against terrorism and it - most of the time, it's portrayed as the war against the Muslims' community - so the sentiment, anti-Muslim sentiment, then raised in Australia but I think it's not originally owned by the Australians but I think it mostly caused by the policy of the Government.

JENNY BROCKIE: And Indonesians feel that? You feel that, that anti-Muslim sentiment? Is that something you feel coming from Australia?

WIMAR WITOELAR: Well, even in your opening you said that Australians thinking that Indonesia 90% Muslim means they are trouble. So it goes, you know, even without thinking that the stereotypes - I know,that if you think hard, you know - I mean, these are not terrorists you have here and we are probably 90% Muslim - but somehow again,when you get on to that podium, into that thing called the media,you tend to generalise, maybe because it's harder to differentiate.

JENNY BROCKIE: But that is a fact too. I mean, that's just a fact.

WIMAR WITOELAR: That 90% are terrorists?

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah, yeah - no. That's not what I said. That's not what I said!

WIMAR WITOELAR: What is a fact?

JENNY BROCKIE: That 90% are Muslim.

WIMAR WITOELAR: Sure. But that has no linearity with trouble making. I mean, in New Orleans, there was a lot of looting, they're not Muslims. Bush dropped a lot of bombs in Iraq, Afghanistan and he's not Muslim. So a lot of non-Muslims cause trouble - Northern Ireland, everywhere.

JENNY BROCKIE: I guess it's interesting because, when I think about the reason that we said that, one of the reasons we said that was because of the fear. It feeds on itself, doesn't it, in a sense?

WIMAR WITOELAR: Well, fear, of course, is psychological. It's your problem. I mean, Australians ask me, "Is it safe in Indonesia?" I don't know. It's not safe anywhere. It's not safe at my dentist,right? I mean, you can get AIDS or something. So it's very psychological.

JENNY BROCKIE: It's a good point. It's a very good point. Yes.

THANG NGUYEN, JOURNALIST: I'd like to go back to what Wimar and Yenny and other media leaders here have said so far about the gap between the understanding of Indonesia in Australia and vice versa.It's not just how the media portrays Indonesia in Australia and the rest of the world - what they portray, what they choose to show of Indonesia really matters. You sit in Canberra or Washington DC and you turn on your camera - your TV, I'm sorry - all you see is coverage of terrorist bombings. You don't see much of diverse Indonesia. You don't see coverage of the third largest democracy in the largest Muslim world on TV.

JENNY BROCKIE: But that's the nature of news, isn't it? Isn't news about problems?

THANG NGUYEN: Bad news sells. Bad news sells. Intelligent people will think for themselves, they will not rely on the TV to tell them what to think but unfortunately how many Australians or Americans for that matter... ..have that capacity to distinguish what is bad news from good news.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yes. Mr Sadjanan, yes, you. Former ambassador to Australia. What do you have to say about this?

SADJANAN PARNOHADININGRAT, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO AUSTRALIA: Well,being somebody who really has to gather all the opinion and try to articulate these opinions into strengthening relations between countries - that is my profession - I think when people oversimplify, simplify overly a certain issue, and react on this very simple mind of opinion, of reason, then that creates problems to people like us. Say, for instance, at the time when you remember probably in 2001 when hundreds of illegal migrants, they was transported by Indonesian ship. The reaction that is being made by the Australian Government at the time was that the Indonesian Government have to be held responsible for this. And then this, I think it is oversimplification of a response by somebody at the very high level of government official. I think this kind of attitude in many cases creates difficulty for people like us.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you feel that's patronising sometimes?

SADJANAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Oh, well, unfortunately that's the fact.So saying that the Indonesian Government have to be held responsible for this case - I think this for the ordinary people in Indonesia is kind of accusations, baseless accusations. Because those people are not even Indonesian nationals and we do not know where they come from but why should we be held accountable for this while the fact is that those people are trying to get into Australia and we are the victim of the situations. Being the victim at the time when we feel we are the victim and at the time we are feeling as the victim, we are accused as being irresponsible and then it's hard for people like us to, you know, to redress the situations.

JENNY BROCKIE: Mmm. Hermawan, you wanted to say something. Now,you're a marketing consultant here. I'm interested from a marketing point of view what you think about all of this.

HERMAWAN KARTAJAYA, MARKETING CONSULTANT: Yeah, OK, in marketing, we believe that it is very often that perception is much more important than reality. But, you know, it is not fair actually. Sorry -Australia with 16 million to 20 million population, they are called continent and Indonesia with 220 million population, we are archipelago with 17,000 islands in the low tide and maybe 15,000islands in the high tide, but we are called only country. So there is a simplification about us, right? So maybe Australians, they have the perception that Indonesia is very simple because we are called 'country' so everywhere is the same, that's why they simplify the thing.

JENNY BROCKIE: Endi, you wanted to say something. Editor of the 'Jakarta Post'. What do you think?

ENDI BAYUNI, EDITOR, JAKARTA POST: I feel this is turning into bashing the Australian media or it sounds like it. But I think that Hermawan was right that perception is formed by the media and in that way I think the media is responsible for forming public opinions. You know, trying to play the devil's advocate, I think thereverse is also true - that Indonesian media is not helping to, is not giving a true picture of Australia nowadays. Australia is now a very multiethnic society but yet I think in the public's perception,Australia is still very much white man's country, you know, European traditions, values and prejudices and this is the way in which we see - I'm not talking about us here because we know better - but the public in general, they see Australia -

JENNY BROCKIE: You're saying it cuts both ways.

ENDI BAYUNI: Especially in the wake of 9/11, the Bali bombing, the war on terrorism, and Indonesians see Australia as, you know, very much a white man's nation with all its, you know, so-called hidden agenda.

DESI ANWAR: Sorry, Jenny, if I can go back to the poll that you mentioned and if this poll is pretty accurate and if most Australians think that Indonesia is full of extremist terrorists about to blow up Australians and that, you know, Bali should be part of Australia and not part of Indonesia, then I think it's really sadin a way because, I mean, if the polling is accurate -

JENNY BROCKIE: It's a small poll. It's a small poll.

DESI ANWAR: If that is true, then I think Australians are missing out on, you know - just Indonesia is so much bigger than Bali, it's so much more. There's so many things that they can actually - you know, if they like surfing, it's not just in Bali, you can go to Nias, you can go to Mentawai and you can go to Banda. And so, in away, I think it's the Australian media, you know, they are - I want to go back to the media. The media is actually doing the Australians a disservice because focusing on or basically pandering to sort of emotional outbursts, for example, or just focusing on the hopefully the vocal minorities that are sort of out to bash Indonesia is actually not doing Australians themselves any good because they are projecting themselves in a negative way, not just to Indonesia, but to the rest of the world. And I think it's a pity.

JENNY BROCKIE: Well, for many Australians, one of the strongest images to come out of your country recently was of Schapelle Corby,that Schapelle Corby drug trial, the woman who was convicted on drug charges and there've also been others since, other Australians, the Bali Nine, now facing possible death sentences, and Australian model Michelle Leslie, who is now also facing drug charges. Alpha, what do you think of the way Australia has reacted to those drug cases?


JENNY BROCKIE: All of them, but Corby in particular, because it was the strongest.

ALPHA AMIRRACHMAN: Yeah, I think it's - I could say excessive. I think, um, it was overreaction and it was also, again, situated by the media. And in Corby's case, you know, it was so excessive. It was focusing only on that and then emphasising the difference between Abu Bakar Bashir's treatment and Corby's treatment. That is legal matters, legal matters.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you think that was OK? I mean, Australians did think that was an extraordinary difference between the sentence that Abu Bakar Bashir got and that Schapelle Corby got. You did not think that was unusual?

WIMAR WITOELAR: They're apples and oranges. You cannot compare them.First of all, as a parent, I would be greatly distressed if my daughter, if I had a daughter, be in a spot like that and it's a personal tragedy. You should not link that, I think, to a case of bilateral relations or a judgment of the Indonesian judicial system but, if you do so, you should compare the Corby case to other people involved in drugs.

SADJANAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Can I pick up your point? I tend to see that this is a matter of law enforcement that is being judged by emotions, a matter of implementations of law that is being judged by the perceptions of somebody who is young and innocent and things and that this influenced the articulations of the very strong judgment into our judicial system as if we did not do anything good in terms of implementing our own law. This is, I think, once again,oversimplification of things, of matters. That placing an issue of law enforcement in the context of defending somebody who is young,innocent, pretty and things like that and then is being cooked up by the media and this is gone wrong. Once again, this is a matter of implementations of law enforcement.

JENNY BROCKIE: There was some extreme reaction in Australia to the Schapelle Corby case in particular and especially on talkback radio in Australia. I'd like to play you something that was broadcast on a popular Sydney radio station in May this year about that case.

MALCOLM T ELLIOTT, 2GB: The judges don't even speak English, mate,they're straight out of the trees if you excuse my expression.

CALLER: Don't you think that disrespects the whole of our neighbouring nation?

MALCOLM: I have total disrespect for our neighbouring nation my friend. Total disrespect. And then we get this joke of a trial, and it's nothing more than a joke. An absolute joke the way they sit there. And they do look like the three wise monkeys, I'll say it.They don't speak English, they read books, they don't listen to her.They show us absolutely no respect those judges.

JENNY BROCKIE: Angelina, you wanted to say something.

ANGELINA SONDAKH: Yes. This is actually what we have talked about in the young leaders' discussion - you know, me and Nursanita - about how the media comparing our judges to the monkey and that it comes to our sensitivities. I mean, I believe that it's not the majority of the people in Australia think or voice but, in a matter of this case, I think media plays an important role in making the relationship to the betterment, not to damage the relationship to more worse.

JENNY BROCKIE: I should point out a lot of Australians were very offended by that as well when it was broadcast. Thang, you described in an online column, I think, about this case, you described the Australian reaction as being 'xenophobic'.

THANG NGUYEN: Yeah, right. And it reflects a certain attitude of racism which still remains in Australian society today. I think it's one thing to portray - for the media to pick on this image of a true-blue, beautiful woman to gain the sympathy from the Australian public, that's one thing. But I think it's beyond that, it's beyond the media playing that beautiful-woman-true-blue card. What I looked at in that article was why is it that there are 54 Australian criminals who face drug charges, including death penalty - death,not 20 years - why don't they get the same - why didn't they get the same attention from the public as well as the Australian Government that Corby did? For your information, she wrote a letter to Prime Minister Howard, who responded that, "Rest assured that I will take a personal interest in your case." Right?

JENNY BROCKIE: So why aren't the others getting attention? Why don'tyou think the others are getting any attention?

THANG NGUYEN: Because, guess what? Their last names are like mine -N-G-U-Y-E-N-, T-R-A-N, L-E-E, not Schapelle, not Corby.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do other people agree with what Thang is saying?

WIMAR WITOELAR: Well, the burden is on disproving his impression because it's a fact that so many dozens of Australians are facing death penalty and severe penalties in other South-East Asian cities and they are not of European origin so there has to be, you know, something disproved.

JENNY BROCKIE: So do you think Australia is racist?

DESI ANWAR: Jenny, if we read the articles in the newspapers, if we watch the programs or if we listen to that kind of radio broadcast,of course then we will think that Australians don't like us, they're racist and basically, you know, they don't like to be neighbours with us. But how true is that in real life? I mean, because we mustn't fall into that trap of stereotyping like all Australians are like that. Like you said, a lot of Australians were offended by statements that came out of that interview. So, I mean, let's be areful here -

JENNY BROCKIE: Not to generalise too much.

DESI ANWAR: Not to generalise or throwing petrol into the fire.

THANG NGUYEN: Don't get me wrong. I did not say in the article that the whole Australian society is racist. I'm saying through the reaction from the Australian public and the support from the Government, there is a reflection of certain racist attitudes that still maintain or remain in the society. I'm not saying the rest of Australia is racist, alright?

DESI ANWAR: No, but that kind of news coverage, or that kind of attitude will portray Australia as racist.

THANG NGUYEN: Excuse me. Have you heard of a former minister by thename Arthur Calwell? And you know what he said? "Two Wongs don'tmake a white." Here is a minister who said that.

DESI ANWAR: Well, I think that's more of a reflection on theminister.

THANG NGUYEN: Have you heard of a magazine called the 'Bulletin' in Australia? Only a few dozen years ago, the masthead of it still said "Australia for the white man". Now, if that is not racism, thentell me what it is.

JENNY BROCKIE: So that still bites for people in Indonesia?

DITA SARI: The policy, the immigrant policy of the Australian Government. I went to Australia in the year of 2002 and we had a picket line in front of the Villawood Detention Centre. It's animmigrant detention centre. And we saw that they were being treatedvery badly, children and mothers and old people. They're coming fromVietnam, they're coming from Bangladesh. They are poor people.They're not white. They're brown, they're yellow, but they're notwhite. And I saw how many of the Aborigines, for instance, in Australia are also very poor and how the policy of the Government treating them. I think this kind of public policy made by theGovernment affects the people, affects how the people look at the non-white Australians or the non-white people who live in Australia.So I don't say that Australians are racist, but the policy -

THANG NGUYEN: Sure, that's the reason why they see Corby as an innocent victim and they don't see other Australian citizens of Asian or Latin American descent as innocent. Maybe, maybe. We don't know, alright? They are saying the Indonesian judges are not being fair, the legal system here sucks. Now, let me tell you, the Indonesian judges gave Corby a very fair go. First, there was not enough witnesses. The High Court of Bali then decided to give her a second chance to bring witnesses to Bali to testify in her defence.Guess who showed up? One Indonesian law professor who defended her.Where were the Australian witnesses? If that's not fair, what is? You tell me that the first trial was unfair. I give you another one. Prove it.



CHUSNUL MAR'IYAH: I think we have to go back again. There are some differences between the people-to-people relations because I know there's still a lot of Australians that have, like, empathy to Indonesia, they love Indonesia, they teach Indonesian language there. So going back again to item of racism, I don't want Indonesia also to become racist to Australia but again we don't know much alsoabout the Australian society. You know, we don't have lot of, like, Indonesian people who study in Australia, they don't study Australian, they study Indonesian, something like that. But inAustralia we have so many Indonesianists there that learn aboutIndonesia. But at the same time I think we have to portray the wholeof the issue on the table and we have to discuss. For example, the policy of the Government in Canberra. They have good intention tohelp eastern Indonesia for the development. They give lot of aidsthere. But if there is no communication between Canberra and Jakarta, what happens? The good intention of Australia, we don't receive as good intention. This is the idea - that Australia wouldlike to disintegrate Indonesia. So there is a lot of thing from the policy point of view coming from Jakarta, Canberra and also the people to people. And I think also because I'm teaching Australian in the University of Indonesia, I feel so sad when Australian Government close their library in Jakarta, in Indonesian Embassy.You want Indonesia to understand about Australia but there is no access to information about Australia in Jakarta. So it's the whole lot of things that we have to learn each other.

JENNY BROCKIE: And I know we have a lot of students here in your yellow uniforms from the University of Indonesia and you all study Australia, don't you? You all study Australian politics, yeah? Whatare you learning about our country?

STUDENT: Desert. Large continent. Empty. 19 million people living there.

STUDENT 2: About the kind of state, about the political system in Australia, about the habits of Australians and a lot of more we study about Australia. But we have no access to know Australia morebecause the reason that the library in the embassy is closed since the Bali bombing.

STUDENT 3: The first impression I get from Australia is Australia isan arrogant country. Why? Because they try to bully Asia Pacificregion.

JENNY BROCKIE: They try to bully Asian Pacific nations?

STUDENT 3: They claim themself as a representative of a Western country in the Asia Pacific. So there is two policies of Howard I think is so arrogant. The first - he claims himself as the deputy sheriff of United States in 1999 and, in 2002, he...he made a policy about the pre-emptive strike as a legal right to self-defence.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD, "SUNDAY" 2002: I mean, it stands toreason that if you believed that somebody was going to launch anattack against your country - either of the conventional kind or ofthe terrorist kind - and you had the capacity to stop it, and therewas no alternative other than to use that capacity, then of course you would have to use it.

JENNY BROCKIE: So that had a big impact on you? That comment about apre-emptive strike had a big impact on you? And others here? Yes?

WIMAR WITOELAR: Yeah, of course. We were scared stiff, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: You are scared stiff?

WIMAR WITOELAR: Yeah. Because we could get struck any moment just because somebody is suspicious. It's just like the guy on the Londonsubway who got shot because he was carrying a rucksack.

JENNY BROCKIE: Well, those -

MAN: The Australian support of the Iraq war also counts as adefining -

JENNY BROCKIE: Well, let's get on to that. We'll get on to that in aminute. Because the pre-emptive strike issue is an interesting oneand this issue of extremism comes up again and again. And the other very strong images, I think, that have had a big effect on Australians in recent times have been of the Bali bombings where 88 Australians lost their lives three years ago as well as obviouslyvery many Indonesians and the Australian Embassy bombing here inJakarta just a year ago. Do you understand Australia's fears ofextremism? Can you understand that fear?

WIMAR WITOELAR: We are just as afraid of those extremists asAustralians are. I wrote an article. I said, "When your dog hasfleas, don't think that the dog is enjoying those fleas." Don'tthink we like having terrorists. We are scared stiff. We've had todeal with them since I was 10 years old, which means 50 years agofor your information. We've always been bothered by terrorism and we can not get rid of them. So we know what terror is, we know what fearis and we hate them, we despise them. The Muslim majority is againstterrorism. And to be thought of that we are comfortable with theselies, these fleas, these terrorists - I feel sympathy for theAustralian people because they are good people, they're kind people,educated, but how come some of them are just so simplistic?

JENNY BROCKIE: Yenny, you were nodding your head then.

YENNY WAHID: Yeah. Like Wimar just said - Wimar put it succinctly -but we are as fearful of the threat of terrorism here in our own backyards as any other countries, I guess. And the fact that, like Dita said, us being a victim but also seen as being the aggressor really puts us off, you know? You know, instead of giving us anyhelp in dealing with terrorism, we're getting all this flak abouthaving them here. I mean, we don't choose to have these people here.They're just, they're here.

JENNY BROCKIE: Nursanita, is it a legitimate fear to have, do you think?

NURSANITA NASUTION, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: Yes, you are afraid aboutthe terrorism and I think that all the people in the world areagainst that. But I am very sad if terrorism is tied to the Muslims.You know, this is not true because, you know, in Indonesia, weare...most of us are Muslims but we are moderates. But I think thatIslam is not the same is terrorism. If there is terrorism, I think that's because they act as the result of the international policy -maybe international policy to the Muslims so they don't like that sothey act like that. But my party, the Prosperity and Justice Party,sometimes we act and make demonstrations and demonstration I thinkis part of the democracy. So I think that - I heard that this evening that the Prime Minister of the Australia said he wants revisions about the regulation of terrorism. I hope that Australianot be panic and change the regulations and don't obey about the human rights and also the democracy.

WIMAR WITOELAR: Sorry, sorry, my son asked me specifically to saythis to the forum. Yesterday we went to this book store, a great big book store, I won't say the name. Now, it's almost fasting time so there's a big section of Muslim books. About 50% to 60% of theMuslim books all had a theme of how to fight terror, how to curtailterror, we are against terror. So the Muslim community is fighting very hard against terrorism. Yenny's institute, the Wahid Institute, also is doing that. So we are doing our best but it's an uphillbattle. It's no help if we are accused of helping the terrorists.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah and it's interesting too because I mean Islamicextremists may be a minority but when they speak out they certainlyhave a big impact. And I'd like you to have a look at this reportfrom SBS in Australia recently which includes an interview with oneof the men who was convicted of the Australian Embassy bombing inJakarta. Have a look at this.

SBS NEWSREEL: Amidst the gangsters, corruptors and drug dealers, the terrorismtrials attract very little interest. Iwan Darmawan, alias Rois, issaid to be the one who selected the suicide bomber for the embassyattack.

REPORTER, (Translation): I read that you said that you regret therewere no Australian victims.

ROIS, (Translation): That's not what I regret, I regret that thevictims were Muslim and Indonesian. That's what I regret.

REPORTER, (Translation): But as I asked, do you hate Australians?

ROIS, (Translation): I don't hate Australians. I hate people any where who oppress Islamic people. I don't hate Australians, but anyone who oppresses Muslims.

JENNY BROCKIE: Ahmad Syafi'i Ma'arif, what do you think of thoseviews when you see those views?

AHMAD SYAFI'I MA'ARIF, MUSLIM LEADER: I think if we talk about terrorisms, we have to make a clear distinction. There are at least three types of terrorism - individual, groups and state-structured terrorism. I think what Mr Bush and also Israel have made is some kind of state terrorism. Therefore -

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you understand those views? I mean, do you support those views?

AHMAD SYAFI'I MA'ARIF: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I think, if youtalk about terror, we are on the same boat - we have to hunt the terrorists, all kind of terrorism, to the end of the journey. So I have made a very strong statement about this many times - terrorism is the real enemy of humanity.

DESI ANWAR: Jenny, the man behind the bars is not representative of Muslims. He is a criminal. That's why he's behind bars. For the rest of us, when the Bali bombing happened, when the Australian Embassy bombing happened, when 9/11 happened, we were devastated, we were very, very - I mean, the whole thing was very, very tragic and we were extremely sorry and more so because of it happening to our guests, you know, these are the guests of Indonesia. And if it happens, say for example - we've seen so many tragedies in Indonesia, so many conflicts, so many bombings that they hardly make headlines any more but when it happened to the Australians in Baliand also the attempt at the Embassy, we in the media made it very sure that we showed our sympathy and we were extremely sorry. And that's all in sincerity because we are as disgusted, you know, when we see violence, when we see murders, when we see senseless killings. I mean, we are just as terrified of terrorism as anybody else.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think Muslim leaders in Indonesia have been strong enough in their condemnation of those acts of violence? Syafi'i, yes.

AHMAD SYAFI'I MA'ARIF: This is the problem. OK, we have made very strong statement many times to condemn strongly all kinds of terrorism.

JENNY BROCKIE: You don't hear a lot of that in Australia.

CHUSNUL MAR'IYAH: Because the media is never interested in the moderate people. They just like to have the radical, very few unspoken. That's the problem, the problem I think is why.

DITA SARI: Why the perception is built that way? Why the opinion is built that way by the media and also by the authority? I think because the foreign policy, the Australian foreign policy needs somegood ground...

JENNY BROCKIE: Just let her finish.

DITA SARI: ..needs some strong justification so that the kind offoreign policy that is chosen by Howard, by the authority of theAustralians, is justified by the people. So they -

JENNY BROCKIE: Are you talking about Iraq and Afghanistan? What areyou talking about?

DITA SARI: Foreign policy. And also local policy. So this kind ofperception is built so the Australian people can be convinced thatwe need less immigrants, we need more troops sending to Iraq, weneed more military budget so that more troops will be sending toIraq.

JENNY BROCKIE: Very quickly. We are going to have to wrap up.

DR HARIMAN SIREGAR, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR: You Australian gotused to Suharto. When Suharto here, Australian is very polite to Indonesia because Suharto is strong. And you need people like thatin Indonesia now. It's impossible.

JENNY BROCKIE: Ah. You need Suharto now?

DR HARIMAN SIREGAR: No, no, no. What you expect - like what you said.

JENNY BROCKIE: We need Suharto?

DR HARIMAN SIREGAR: You expect condemnation, strong condemnation. You need Suharto. We haven't got Suharto anymore.

JENNY BROCKIE: A diplomat here. Yes, A diplomat's voice.

SADJANAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Let's pick up a few points being made by my colleague, Dita. I think she pointed out very rightly in sayingthat the foreign policy that is being made by the AustralianGovernment should be formulated in such a way that it's alsosensitive to its neighbours, like us, like Indonesia, for instance. It's not only for the purpose of satisfying their constituents, that government like Prime Minister Howard that have to say something -

JENNY BROCKIE: And you don't think it is? You don't think thatpolicy is formulated that way?

SADJANAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Well, rather than considering therelations between the two countries, I think they consider givingmore emphasis on how to satisfy their constituents and -

JENNY BROCKIE: Harry, you have to stop. You have to stop! Just let him finish.

SADJANAN PARNOHADININGRAT: But I have seen so far, within this last few years, I thought there had been an improvement in the relations between the two countries, at least in the government-to-governmentlevel. And where in almost every issues that cropped up in thecontext of relations between the countries being communicated behindthe bar, behind the scene, rather than being said, as we qualify it,as megaphone diplomacy.

DR HARIMAN SIREGAR: I remember in Suharto times - Let me speak. The intelligence of Australia always coming down with our boat. There is our fishermen always come to Australia but they never take action.They just put some intelligence there, they take a note. But now,they just burn our boats!

JENNY BROCKIE: Woah! Woah! Woah!

SADJANAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Something about future relations between us and them.

JENNY BROCKIE: I'd like to wrap up on that note. Reni, you teach Australian politics and I'm interested in knowing what you think could be done to improve the situation.

RENI SUWARSO, UNIVERSITY LECTURER: Yeah, good question. First, Iwant to give a comment. I want to be more fair, you know. I agree with all the previous speakers about terrorism. Islam against terrorism, yes. But we should fair to express that all religionsright now tend to be more militant - it is also for Islam and alsoother religions. It is the first point. And the second point is Iwant to raise issue, the basic issue whether - we are talking aboutstereotyping, about Australian perceive Indonesia, and how aboutIndonesia perceive Australia? How many people in Indonesia realisethat we have neighbour, Australia is our neighbour. We didn't talkabout the extremists, no, no. We just realise whether - do werealise that Australia is our neighbour? How many people? Is it upto 50% of the Indonesian people? I don't think so.

JENNY BROCKIE: OK, so there's not an awareness of that. How can weimprove the understanding between the two countries?

WIMAR WITOELAR: More people-to-people contact. When you have people-to-people contact, it's all right. I lived in Geelong for three months, never an unfriendly face. I travel in Melbourne, friendly.Never. I get my nasty moments on radio talkback shows and I get myuncomfortable moments in shows like this but, if you have people-to-people contact, everything's peachy. Australians are great.

JENNY BROCKIE: Final comment, yes.

ALPHA AMIRRACHMAN: We should have more opportunity. This is to showhow we Indonesians do not really understand Australians. We might ask like, "Are you Westerner from the east or easterner from the West?" That expresses that we actually don't really know Australiansand we need as Wimar said, people-to-people contact.

DESI ANWAR: Sorry, Jenny, to answer your question, maybe you should have more Australian journalists here in Indonesia. I mean, the fact that Australia is so close, you have so few journalists and mostlyif they come here it's because of a particular trial. You know,Indonesia is so huge. There's so many stories to cover and I think Australians, the Australian public is missing out on a lot of great stories. And, trust me, Bali is not the only place for Australians to go on holiday to. You know? So I think it is important for moreinformed programs about Indonesia. Likewise, I mean, we should havemore kind of exchanges, people-to-people. But definitely, I think the media does play a huge role and if the Australian media is only interested in focusing on sensationalist stories and in generating audience or readers' response by printing out emotional and sensationalism story, I think, you know, it's doing a great disservice to the Australian public that is now portrayed as, Iwouldn't say arrogant, but simply sort of, in a way,well... ..unsophisticated, I'm sorry to say, with all the kind of,you know, emotional outbursts we're seeing. It's, you know, quite embarrassing.

JENNY BROCKIE: It's a very interesting note to end on. We do have to end, I'm sorry. We are going to have to finish because we are out oftime. I would like to thank you all very much for joining me tonight. It's been really interesting to hear your views here inJakarta. Thank you very, very much for being here. And that is Insight for this special edition from Jakarta.

Taken from Insight Transcripts


First published in The Jakarta Post, November 4, 2005


Ahmad Fuad Fanani and Alpha Amirrachman, Jakarta

This current era of consumerism has appallingly become our lifestyle, and it is obvious that human beings are increasingly dependent upon ever-developing technology. Consciously or not, our lives now greatly depend on the commercials that splash out at us in different media, virtually every minute.

The existence of human beings as a "sacred" creature being blessed with an ability to think and create has been steadily "taken over" by technology, which has always come in a new form with a new menu offered.

This circumstance is now underpinned by a global system, which grants a wider sphere to the growth of capitalism and global corporations. Consequently, human beings are competing more passionately to search for both individual satisfaction and material gain. It often happens with less concern towards other segments of society, who are not fortunate enough to be able to join the "competition". It also pushes us all toward the destruction of social and environmental health.

Capitalistic international institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and WTO have become the "Unholy Trinity" whose advice has always become a "mantra" for the majority of world citizens.

Admittedly or not, under these circumstances, our religiosity has been under great influence due to the sociological fact that religiosity has always been intimately connected with the prevailing social and economic norms of the day. In the past, religion was referred to as a guiding torch to lead people to reach serenity and to cleanse them of sins.

For the underprivileged, religion can ease their tough lives. For others who suffer from "ivory tower syndrome", religion might be seen as knowledge of philosophy to be intellectually discussed, instead of putting it into socially beneficial practice. All of these forms of religiosity, in essence, are manifestations of the religion of modern human beings.

There are at least six models of religiosity in this era of consumerism.

First, there is a traditional model that defends "old" conventions in dealing with the socially pervasive problems. For example, in dealing with accusations that one particular religion is a trigger of terrorism; but those who follow this model would blame this on their own fellow followers. They simultaneously and paradoxically adopt and practice religious teachings and foreign values without filtering them.

Second, there is a fundamental model that tends to blame others without a willingness to conduct internal criticism or evaluation of one's own group. As the followers declare that their religion is the only righteous interpretation and manifestation of the divine, others that are not part of their faction would be regarded as wrong, and therefore heretical.

These kinds of people are often trapped in the thinking of conspiracy theories and tend to try to answer today's problems with answers used in past times, meaning that they merely believe completely -- without earnestly paying attention to context -- that the past glory can serve as a final answer to today's moral destruction, political failures and social bankruptcy.

Third, there is a virtuous model, like the one Indonesian scholar Moeslim Abdrurrahman (2004) identifies. This model has little enthusiasm about giving enough space to thinking or contemplating. The followers tend to regard the prevailing problems as things that need to be dealt with using concrete social actions. Thinking and contemplating have been considered alienating activities, and the major agenda of religiosity is to help each other. They consider the most religious person is one who is mostly committed to social work such, as generously assisting the underprivileged.

Fourth, there is a "packaging" model, which offers an instant "parcel" of religion. The people that embrace this tend to think that they become religious once they are able to fulfill all their "formal" religious duties, such as performing a pilgrimage to Mecca. They usually decorate their cars and houses with religious symbols and simply think that they can be religious in a clean and fragrant room. They likewise tend to help the underprivileged, but mostly on a superficial and symbolic level.
Fifth, there is the sufistic model, which mostly concentrates on nurturing sincere hearts and purifying personalities, widely known in Indonesia as manajemen qolbu. They tend to guard themselves against moral destruction that may result from their perceived socially degraded surroundings. They are fond of asking people to routinely gather and pray together; mostly because, according to this model, social destruction is the foreseeable result of collective misdeeds of society. They are also fond of asking fellow group members to cry together to ask for forgiveness from God.

The aforementioned models are actually a kind of contest to win God's patronage, and they emerge as a reaction to prevalent consumerism. These phenomena have surfaced also to a degree because religiosity consists of deeply personal experiences, which collectively form a diverse segment of society.

Indeed, one group might be idealistic, others might be pragmatic. However, one does not need to feel doubt about earnestly practicing what is believed because religiosity is the protected right of human beings. While each group might claim to the be the only righteous one, this contest is actually constructive when each group can truthfully appreciate the existence of others.

On the other hand, religious tension and violence can inevitably erupt when the spirit of dialog and tolerance is not well cherished. It is, therefore, vital to note that one group must not see itself as superior to others. Wallahu a'lam bisshawab.


First published in The Jakarta Post, August 28, 2005


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Jakarta

During his short-lived career as an intellectual, Soe Hok Gie (1942-1969) meticulously recorded the dramatic transition of this nation from Sukarno's regime to Soeharto's New Order.

Born the son of writer Soe Lie Piet, or Salam Sutrawan, Gie, both as a student activist and history lecturer at the Faculty of Letters, the University of Indonesia, wrote prolifically and published numerous critical articles in national newspapers, mostly on political and nation-building issues.

Zaman Peralihan (The transitional era) is a compilation of 41 articles written by Gie between 1967 and 1969, edited by Stanley and Aris Santoso and with a preface from prominent historian Dr. Kuntowijoyo.

Recently, the biopic Gie, directed by Riri Riza and produced by Mira Lesmana, was released. This movie, while it helps us in envisaging his modest and heartrending short life, it is still inadequate in doing him justice without reading his real work.

What is most striking, perhaps, is his unmatched spirit of nationalism, his blunt rebellion against injustice and corruption -- which alone was enough to earn him enemies -- and although he was an Indonesian of Chinese descent, he refused to change his Chinese name into an Indonesian one. His brother Soe Hok Djien changed his to Arief Budiman.

From the outset, it is obvious that Soe struggled to position himself beyond all ideologies, an untainted intellectual who would "bark" at anybody he considered either politically or morally corrupt, or both.

He read numerous books, including those by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels; nevertheless, he was against the way the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) allegedly exploited the poor for political gains that would benefit the party's elite.

During the volatile period when Sukarno campaigned rigorously to impose Nasakom -- a "forced" marriage among nationalism, religion and communism-the sentiment between the army and communists was ever more fractious. Disgusted with Sukarno's increasingly erratic style of ruling the country, Gie, along with many other students, became involved in demonstrations to demand a change in regime.

But this marked the beginning of the long-term bloody honeymoon between members of the University of Indonesia and the military. This shows how shrewd Soeharto was in taming the most strategic section of society: the intellectuals.

In this, Gie became deeply disillusioned with many of his friends who had been so easily lured by the new establishment. Gie decided instead to become a university lecturer and to continue to reflect upon his encounters with the bitter political reality through his writing.

In "Di Sekitar Pembunuhan Besar-besaran di Pulau Bali" (About the large-scale massacre on Bali Island), he was the first to blow the whistle on the massacre, which claimed around 80,000 lives on the paradise isle. He said that the mass killing was not purely communist cleansing, as it was also a case of "saving ourselves first", as those who had been staunchly pro-Nasakom -- or nationalism, religion and communism -- were now those who were campaigning to kill the "communists".

Gie could not hide his shock realizing the atrocious brutality which followed the purge of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). In "Surat Bebas PKI" (A letter certifying non-association with the PKI), he deplored the excessive policy of the New Order regime that created an undue PKI-phobia, as even young children needed to have an official letter proving they were "free of communist elements".

He also began to feel uncomfortable, as he had been part of the moral force that had pushed for the birth of the New Order.

Indeed, as Dr. Kuntowijoyo writes in the preface, while Gie might have died too young for history to judge his enduring idealism thoroughly (his accidental death was caused by inhaling poisonous gas during a climb on Mt. Mahameru), compared with his peers, Gie was indisputably one who adhered strictly to his principles.

Credit should go to editors Stanley and Aris Santoso, whose efforts makes it possible for us to reflect that if Gie were still alive today, he would have -- for the second time -- seen a student movement become gravely fragmented and many, though not all, once prominent student activists trade in their precious idealism for short-term cooperative positions.

Equally important, Zaman Peralihan also celebrates a recognition that a spirit of nationalism can burn so brightly in the mind and deeds of a young Chinese-Indonesian, a member of an ethnic minority group that often suffered from discriminatory treatment under the New Order.


First published in The Jakarta Post, September 5, 2005


Alpha Amirrachman, Jakarta

During the three-decade war between the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), burning down schools in conflict areas was a common occurrence, with the two sides generally blaming each other for the vandalism.

This of course was before the Dec. 26 tsunami destroyed hundreds more schools in the province last year.

Thankfully, the disaster struck at the consciences of the conflicting parties. The peace deal signed recently in Helsinki wrought many important concessions from both sides and has given many the hope the Acehnese can begin living lives free from conflict. More importantly, a prolonged peace would allow new generations of Acehnese access to a better, more enlightening form of education.

The peace has seen hundreds of GAM fighters coming down from the hills and reuniting with their villages and families, with some even having coffee with their old foes in the TNI. But this peace has presented a new challenge: How will this emotionally and politically divided society successfully reintegrate?

This is certainly a question too complex to answer in this article, but it should be noted that the memorandum of understanding underlines that the Indonesian government should aid the reintegration of former GAM fighters into society. This reintegration is not just supposed to involve former GAM fighters but also their family members, including their school-aged children -- the future generation who will navigate the fate of the province.

This means that education -- as an agent of social change -- will play a vital role in the reintegration. Conducted under a brutal military rule, peace-building education programs were often virtually meaningless as they encountered pedagogical difficulties in exemplifying how beautiful living in peace is. With the military offensive gone, it should be easier for such programs to equate theory with practice.

In essence, education for peace has several characteristics:

First, this learning experience tends to encourage global perspectives rather than narrowly chauvinistic or ethnocentric ones.

Second, this learning experience is concerned with respecting others' rights and the attainment of human dignity.

Third, it is open-minded and participatory rather than closed-minded, authoritarian, dogmatic and domineering.

Fourth, it promotes social literacy skills in non-violent resolution of conflicts.

Fifth, it puts a high importance on caring, compassionate and humane ethical standards rather than an uncritical endorsement of physical violence and war, alienation and structural violence.

Therefore, taking Aceh's contextual reality into account, there are some points worth considering.

Much has to be done to enhance the understanding among students that their peers from "enemy" families are still their Acehnese brothers and sisters who were also victims of prolonged injustice. Many former GAM fighters and their families are still frightened that revenge on them may still take place -- but in other forms.

Indeed, Islamic and traditional Acehnese values could encourage a sense of brotherhood and unity in the province but these values should be managed carefully, especially regarding the issue of Acehnese and non-Acehnese. Meaningful dialog about different sides' feelings should be pursued in a cautious, respectful but also candid manner to ensure that all members of society regardless of their ethnicity and religion can voluntarily live in harmony.

Dialog could be encouraged by having students visit families of other ethnicities and participate in class discussions about how peace was attained in other volatile parts of the world -- part of a participatory civic education subject.

The experiences of many conflict areas around the world also show that teacher neutrality is crucial in education for peace. As members of the war-torn Acehnese society, teachers are also likely to have been emotionally disturbed by the conflict as many of their colleagues will have been kidnapped or killed and many of their schools burned down. Despite this, it is vital teachers remain uncompromisingly neutral in front of their students.

Regarding the TNI, as long as they remain in the province, a feeling of being betrayed by the peace accord could easily affect non-Acehnese soldiers, many of whom have been demoralized since the fall of Soeharto.

If these soldiers were encouraged to go to schools, meet with students and tell their stories about their families, many of whom have also suffered in this conflict, this might steadily help erase the brutal image of the TNI in the eyes of many students and encourage the soldiers to act more humanely in future.

Nevertheless, all this will be a superficial solution if the hearts and minds of the Acehnese are still shrouded in doubt and fear. Therefore, Jakarta and GAM are left with no option but to sincerely implement the peace accord.

The conflicting parties might have dropped some of their weapons but will they really be willing to provide future generations with books and pens? Or will they just evolve into more power-hungry administrations that neglect education and are happy to keep the Acehnese in a state of backwardness? Time will tell.


First published in The Jakarta Post, August 15, 2005


Alpha Amirrachman, Jakarta

The threat by former Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung to sue teacher and school textbook author Retno Listyarti is quite alarming for the teaching profession, the members of which have suffered for decades from low salaries and poor social status in society.

In our country, teachers are regarded as being members of a profession that has high moral integrity, so "high" that money or any kind of material reward is often considered too "low" to be presented to teachers in appreciation for their earnest efforts to mold the character of this nation. That's why they are labeled, almost officially, as "heroes with no reward", which -- due to their lowly social conditions -- looks more like humiliation than appreciation.

During the independence movement, parallel with our physical struggle to liberate this nation from colonialism, an education movement was also significant in liberating this nation from backwardness. Riding his bicycle, a teacher would be warmly welcomed and be assisted by his students to park his bike at the school. In circumstances where the desire for independence was high, the teacher would enthusiastically impart his zeal for independence to his pupils, who would attentively listen to him. Teachers were not only members of a noble profession, but also a liberating force.

Time has changed, values have evolved. During the developmentalism era of the New Order, teachers still had their political role, but they were used more as "state agents" to indoctrinate their pupils with the New Order's authoritarian ideology. At a time when teachers and students needed to develop creative thinking, the old paradigms of the colonial era were preserved for the sake for preserving the New Order regime's thirst for power. Development thrived, but not intellectuality in the true sense of the term, and the welfare of teachers remained rock bottom.

During the reform era, teachers' welfare has remained near the bottom. Nevertheless, a new idealism on the part of teachers to reorientate their roles in society has emerged. The movement, unfortunately, appears to be highly fragmented and some brave teachers have already fallen victim. Nurlaila, for example, was fired from her position of a teacher in a state-ran junior high school (SMP) in Jakarta when she blew the whistle on alleged corruption in a land-swap deal involving her school and the local government.

Just recently, a senior high school civics teacher, Retno Listyarti, came under intense political pressure after Akbar Tandjung, a powerful Golkar Party politician, threatened to sue her over a textbook she wrote that highlighted his high profile graft case (in which, incidentally, he was acquitted by the Supreme Court).

What can we infer from such cases? They show a new pattern of relations between teachers and society. Under the New Order, teachers were detached from society and were often accused of presenting something remote from students.

Now, however, with the new spirit of openness, the teacher's role is something that has evolved and is tailored differently -- inevitably different as each teacher may have a different interpretation of his role. Conceptually, a teacher's role sparks a sense of universality, something that all teachers need to adhere to, but realistically the "self" of teachers cannot be ignored.

As one expert argues, "The teacher brings into the classroom his views of his job, his prejudices, his personal fears and inadequacies, his ambitions, his humanity and affection." Despite drawbacks and difficulties, the recently introduced competency-based curriculum should be able to convert the "anxiety" of teachers into something pedagogically beneficial for the development of pupils.

This is the area where teachers can strike a balance, meaning that if given enough room to creatively maneuver, teachers can maximize their potential to meet societal demands and concurrently "realize" their ideal perception of society in the classroom. Thus, it could help narrow the gap between the school and outside world.

While the issue of teachers' welfare can be advanced as something that retards teacher creativity, as one writer argued in this paper a while ago, one school might be materially poor, but spiritually rich. This analogy can also be applied to individual teachers. He might be materially poor, but resourcefully rich, such as is the case with Retno Lisyarti, who ingeniously turned a critical thinking lesson into something more contextual by relating it to the factual case of a public figure, Akbar Tandjung.

What is most important now -- since the state is nearly bankrupt when it comes to providing decent teacher training -- is to at least provide teachers with a supportive atmosphere so that they can professionally develop themselves without fear of being constrained.

Issuing an ambiguous press statement merely stating that the case is the publisher's responsibility and teachers have the right to choose factual cases as discourse topics is hideously insufficient; the Ministry of National Education should provide concrete legal assistance to Retno. Although the teaching profession bill has not been passed into law, the case will reveal to what extent the state is genuinely concerned with the protection of teachers' academic freedom.

Suing a high school teacher like Retno for Rp 10 billion does not only humiliate her, but also all teachers, who still are forced to live in unacceptable conditions. This also constitutes blatant intimidation, which might kill off teacher creativity and academic freedom.

It would be more gracious for Akbar Tandjung to concentrate on doing good deeds that benefit the people so that he can be more favorably portrayed in the next edition of Retno's civics textbook.

Above all, preparing students to be critical of their own society is crucial to helping this nation escape from its entrenched problems. So, let the teachers once again be a liberating force!