Sunday, December 23, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, December 24, 2007


Mitra Netra Foundation director Bambang Basuki demonstrated the computer skills of his visually impaired colleagues at an event at the Presidential Palace on Dec. 6, marking the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. The foundation is an NGO that aims to provide services to people with visual impairment through educational programs. It also is a resource center for regular schools with inclusive education. Bambang, who is also visually impaired, met with The Jakarta Post contributor Alpha Amirrachman to talk about the current state's policies for people with disabilities, and inclusive education which he said could enable them to enjoy equal participation in society.

Question: How would you describe the present government's handling of people with disabilities?

Answer: In the past I faced difficulties when I applied for work as a teacher, due to explicit discriminatory regulations that stipulated that teachers must not have disabilities.

In the education sector students with disabilities have been segregated into exclusive schools, which were only available in selected locations, but I think the situation has been gradually improving.

This can be seen, for example, in the 1997 law for people with disabilities and the 2003 national education law.

The regulation for disabled people stipulates that every companies' workforce must comprise at least 1 percent persons with disabilities.

The education law states that people with mental and physical disabilities are entitled to special education, but "special education" can still be interpreted as a segregated education (only for students with disabilities), which effectively separates them from the rest of society.

Under the 2005 regulation on national education standards, however, the government stated the need for specialized teachers in inclusive education, to further integrate disabled persons into the education system. It states that every school with an inclusive education program should have specialized teachers with required competence to handle students with disabilities.

Also the decree made by the director general of elementary and secondary education at the National Education Ministry urged schools to provide inclusive education programs where disabled students require them.

How is all this translated into practice?

The 1 percent quota of staff dedicated for people with disabilities has yet to be completely put into practice.

There are also inadequate resources for schools to effectively adopt the inclusive education policies. Schools still think it would burden them to provide special facilities for students with disabilities.

I believe local administrations should allocate a special budget for schools with an inclusive education policy.

When I was invited to give advice on the formulation of Jakarta's gubernatorial regulation on inclusive education, I managed to insert a clause that schools with inclusive education programs should receive "guidance" from local authorities -- this should also be interpreted as financial assistance, and I hope that all local administrations throughout the country would follow suit.

But there have also been positive signs, with the Education Ministry now providing a grant to the Mitra Netra Foundation, which has provides resources for people with disabilities.

Regular schools can ask for the provision of special teachers and learning resources from us, or from special schools for students with disabilities.

Why do you think inclusive education is better for people with disabilities? Don't these people need special and different treatment?

I'm not saying special schools are unnecessary. Segregated education is still important for certain people who require special treatment, but many students with disabilities are also capable and can learn alongside students at conventional schools and should be socializing with other members of society.

Students can learn to interact with each other and respect their differences from an early age.

I think this could be a key to make our society adopt a more democratic outlook. It is unfortunate that there are still those who believe people with disabilities cannot be productive, which is basically discrimination -- This is a serious threat to inclusive education.

Because of this, we need clear, consistent policies and regulations.

What needs to be improved in inclusive education is: to increase the number and equal distribution of quality resource centers across the country; the provision of a clear status for special education teachers and their chosen career path; designing an effective evaluation system; the provision of an operational budget for resource centers and campaigns; and dissemination of information on policies for regular schools in remote areas, with involvement from local authorities which can accomodate the specific needs of each region.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in dealing with the issue?

I think the biggest challenge is to shift the paradigm within our society that discriminates against people with disabilities, seeing them only as a burden.

We also need to change our perception such that people like us aren't just seen as persons who need special treatment and charity, but as people who can contribute to the betterment of society.

In the past, because of discrimination and prejudice we were never asked to get involved in policy making.

Since this paradigm is difficult to dislodge, we are often forced to make compromises. We have struggled to influence policy makers but what we may perceive as ideal is often hard for others to accept, for a number of reasons, including that we are a poor country and there are many other areas which need immediate attention.

The government has definitely started to include us in its policies, and have increasingly shown to understand that we know exactly what we need.

The recent visit made by Bank Indonesia personnel to Mitra Netra for advice on the production of bills especially designed for people with visual impairment is a good example. Although its results were not entirely satisfactory, because we were not consulted from the outset, it is still an indication of a positive change.

How do you think information and communications technology (ICT) can help to empower people with disabilities?

The development of ICT has been amazing and has enabled people, particularly those with disabilities, to learn new skills.

ICT has proven to be a very useful tool to enhance skills and knowledge, but we need to catch up with developments in this field, otherwise we will be left behind.

Mitra Netra Foundation has produced special software called the Mitra Netra Braille Converter (MBC), the Mitra Netra Electronic Dictionary (MELDICT) and Tactile Graphic Software.

We also produce digital talking books which are cheap and efficient -- users can easily navigate to pages or chapters.

Each year we publish 125 different Braille-based titles and the same number of digital talking books.

Managed by the Indonesian E-Braille Community (KEBI), the database can also be accessed online by the blind, who use special screen reader software.

The screen readers and Braille display software must be imported and are therefore expensive. As yet we have been unable to produce an Indonesian version ... so we would like to see experts help us invent them.

There are also other obstacles; the high cost of Internet connections, the lack of Internet access in many schools and limited supporting government regulations.


First published in The Jakarta Post, December 23, 2007


The National Education Ministry's ICT Center of Education (Pustekkom) conducted the 6th International Symposium on Open, Distance and E-Learning (ISODEL 2007) from Nov. 13-15 in Kuta, Bali. The Jakarta Post's contributing writer Alpha Amirrachman spoke with the director of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Open Learning Center (SEAMOLEC) and Indonesia Open University professor, Paulina Pannen, about how information and communication technology (ICT) has increasingly become a facilitator for open and distance learning.

Question: What is the difference between open and distance learning and conventional learning?

Answer: Both have the same principles. The difference is that the educational process in open and distance learning is mediated...

However, one has to ensure that the students really learn what is provided in the module or website... One needs to be careful also not to create students' dependency on the tutors so as not to lose the essence of open and distance learning. We also need to be consistent in quality control.

How is open and distance learning developing in Southeast Asia and Indonesia?

The development of open and distance learning both regionally and nationally has progressed significantly. However, what is definite is the increased role of ICT, which has become an inevitable "enabler" and accelerator of open and distance learning.

How is the cooperation between SEAMOLEC and open universities in Southeast Asian countries?

It has increased tremendously, not only with open universities but now also with the education ministries of respective countries. Governments have started to realize that open and distance learning could contribute to resolving some problems in their education system, such as by widening access to education for everyone...

Why is SEAMOLEC headquartered in Jakarta?

Because it was originally initiated in 1997 by then Indonesian education minister Wardiman Djojonegoro. Wardiman said that the Indonesia Open University was already classified as a "mega university" (over 100,000 students). At that time, the number of students enrolled at the Indonesia Open University had reached 400,000.

Vast, archipelagic Indonesia also has a very unique geographical condition, which should invite specific studies into a variety of models of open and distance learning. For example, Java is the most populated island with ample resources but with a flat surface, while the Riau islands consist of small, separate islands. Nusa Tenggara and the Maluku islands also have distinct characteristics.

...The treatment should be different, as there should not be a one-size-fits-all model for these areas.

How many models has SEAMOLEC developed so far?

We now have three models of open and distance learning. The first is radio-based education, which has been developed by Pustekkom. The second is print-based learning material for open junior high schools and universities. The third is multimedia-based (website, video conferencing, audio-visual and print) that has been used for elementary school teacher training programs (PGSD) by the Directorate General of Higher Education.

Since there is still low Internet penetration, will only people in urban areas benefit from ICT-based education?

I don't think so, because I believe electronic gadgets are becoming less and less expensive. For example, mobile phones are now very cheap that you can get one only for Rp 200,000; 3G is still expensive, but I think the price will go down soon. Also Internet access via PDAs is still a luxury, but I believe it is going to be affordable, too.

...Even people at the top of a mountain now have mobile phones, which was unthinkable in the past. ICT cannot be regarded only as a set of computers, but communication technology that can be used to enable the learning process.

But isn't Internet connection still very expensive in Indonesia, higher than any other country?

...I do hope that there will be change. It needs tremendous commitment from the highest level if you really want e-learning to proceed. However, (commitment) is needed not only from the government, but also from the private sector. For example, CSR in every company can be very advantageous for the development of ICT-based education, particularly in (providing) Internet connection.

Education has expenses, but the users don't necessarily need to be burdened with them; other parties can help.

How can we encourage companies to support ICT-based education through their CSR?

We have actually started cooperating with the CSR of some companies. For example, we have forged cooperation with Deutsche Bank; we have started to cover Aceh by providing teachers there with training on interactive teaching. All of these are then uploaded in the website database. Teachers have access to this resource material, which has also attracted other people in Southeast Asia to take advantage of this.

We have also started cooperation with the Sampoerna Foundation in the form of ICT-based teacher support services in remote areas. We hope other companies will follow suit.

How does SEAMOLEC provide service to regional countries when it has no branches there?

We have no branches in other countries but we have connections and cooperation... All education ministers in Southeast Asia are members of SEAMOLEC.

Of course, there are still problems. For example, we have not been able to seal cooperation with Myanmar because of the political situation there. ...Also with Timor Leste, we have a good contact with its education minister, but we are still unable to initiate any program.

However, this year the Asia-Pacific Center of Education for International Understanding (APCEIU) is collaborating with SEAMOLEC on situation analysis for e-learning system for multicultural education in ASEAN, which is part of a three-year project supported by the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development of the Republic of Korea. The situation analysis will be used as the basis for developing multimedia and/or ICT-based education materials for teachers and schoolchildren in 2008.

Does SEAMOLEC also urge companies in those countries to optimize their CSR in supporting ICT-based open and distance learning?

Yes. For example, in Vietnam we persuaded Microsoft to contribute to the development of e-learning in the country. The cooperation has been running for three years; also with Intel in Cambodia.

What is the biggest challenge in running open and distance learning?

The biggest challenge is building people's confidence. Some still express doubt that open and distance learning is a form of education. We have to explain to the people that there is no difference in terms of quality between open and distance learning and conventional learning.

Nevertheless, thanks to ICT -- it is like a new dress -- people have started to again pay attention to open and distance learning.

For more information on SEAMOLEC, visit

Saturday, December 15, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, December 15, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Jakarta

"Discrimination is cruel," recalled Mitra Netra Foundation chairman Bambang Basuki.

Bambang experienced a gradual decline in his vision from his last year of senior high school onward due to glaucoma and the degeneration of the cataract.

He said society treated blind people very differently. He went from being viewed as a promising student to a burden on society.

Bambang had been very good at science and art. He wanted to be an architect.

But his gradual, hurtful blindness appeared to have crushed his hope. He underwent eight operations on his eyes until the nightmare became a reality: complete blindness.

"After completing high school, I confined myself to my house for five years, nervously preparing myself for the worst," Bambang said during a recent interview at his home.

He later met with a blind teacher of special education who had gone through SPG (teacher education high school). Bambang went to see the principal of SPG, hoping to follow the same path.

"But the principal told me that, on the advice of the school's teachers, they were not taking any more blind students. I was shocked," said Bambang, who was born in Medan on April 20, 1950.

Bambang later applied to go to IKIP Jakarta (Jakarta's Teacher College) but was again rejected because he was blind.

It was the prominent educationalist Arief Rachman who stepped in on Bambang's behalf, persuading the IKIP rector to accept him as a student.

Bambang graduated from the IKIP with a high distinction in 1980.

He later wanted to be an English teacher at a state-sanctioned special education school, but was unsure whether he would be allowed to take the selection test for civil servants.

Receiving no response from the selection committee, Bambang finally took the case to a high-ranking official at the Education Ministry, who happily arranged for him to take the test on the very last day.

Bambang, who is now an English teacher at a special school in Cilandak, has since been fighting to advance the rights of the disabled. He became the secretary-general of the Indonesian Association for the Blind (Pertuni).

However, he was not comfortable with the fact that people with disabilities were excluded from policy-making.

"We were treated as people who needed assistance, not as people who could make contributions to society," he said.

So he and his associates established the Mitra Netra Foundation in 1991, which aims to assist the blind through education programs.

The foundation has been producing audio books for the blind since 1992. With the assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), it distributes 100 cassettes per month to 15 special schools. And almost every year, the visually impaired individuals who visit the center listen to nearly 12,000 audio cassettes.

"But now we also produce digital talking books, which are cheap and efficient as users can navigate into sub-chapters and pages at ease," said Bambang, who is married to Husna and has three children.

The foundation offers a range of services, from orientation and mobility training for the blind to counseling. It also provides visually impaired students with companions to help with writing assignments and test taking.

Students are offered after-school tutoring and computer classes where they learn basic skills like typing. Every year the foundation trains approximately 60 people in computer skills.

Bambang said he had tried to increase society's awareness through regular campaigns in the form of special programs, exhibitions and seminars.

Last year, for example, 100 of 300 visually impaired individuals demonstrated their computer skills including the sophisticated operation of Microsoft Word and Excel for typing and accounting purposes. Bambang said the foundation had launched a program called Thousands of Books for the Blind.

The program brings together 300 volunteers to retype the books to convert them into digital Braille using another foundation's product called the Mitra Netra Braille Converter (MBC). And as many as 13 publishers have agreed to give the foundation the electronic version of the books they conventionally print and sell in the market.

"Each year, we produce 125 titles of Braille-based books and the same number for digital talking books," Bambang said.

Organized by the E-Braille Indonesian Community (KEBI), the data base can also be accessed on line by the blind, who must use special screen reader software called JAWS (Job Access with Speech).

"Unfortunately we are still unable to produce our own screen reader software," Bambang said, adding that he would invite ICT experts and donors to help develop the Indonesian version of screen reader software.

"Alternatively, we should buy the JAWS, which is expensive -- Rp 12 million per package, to be installed in any internet caf‚ with a blind population," said Bambang, who has presented papers here and abroad on issues related to people with disabilities.

He said disabled people could only realize their full potential if they lived in an inclusive, barrier-free society.

"But society will never be inclusive of disabled people if they are not accepted at regular schools," said Bambang, who arranged a demonstration of the computer skills of some of his colleagues during the celebration of the International Day for People with Disabilities at the Presidential Palace on Dec. 6.

He said he was appreciative of the fact the Education Ministry had made it mandatory for schools to accept children with disabilities. However, he said many regular schools lacked the resources to hire special education teachers.

He said the Cilandak public school for students with disabilities and his foundation, as a resource center, were ready to help regular schools through the provision of special education teachers and learning materials.

Bambang is glad attitudes toward people with disabilities have become more accepting, however he feels the word "disabled" is used as a label or a stereotype.

"I prefer to call people like us 'people with special challenges'," he said.

For more information about the Mitra Netra Foundation go to

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, December 6, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Jakarta

Former religious affairs minister and Islamic scholar Muhammad Quraish Shihab's decision to repeat a year of high school proved to be a defining moment in his life.

Quraish graduated from Tsanawiyah senior high school in Cairo without the necessary grades to get into the School of Ushuluddin (Religious Principles) at Al-Azhar University. But, after days and nights of soul-searching, he decided to return and improve his score. Eventually he was accepted by the prestigious university.

The soft-spoken Quraish earned his bachelor degree, majoring in tafsir (religious interpretation) and hadith (sayings or traditions of the Prophet Muhammad), in 1967.

He took his master's degree at the same university, writing his thesis on Al-I'jaz Al-Tasyri'i li Al-Qur'an Al-Karim (the Distinctiveness of the Koran's Regulations) and graduating in 1969.

After serving as deputy rector at the Islamic State Academy (IAIN) Alaudin, South Sulawesi, Quraish undertook doctorate level Koranic studies at the same university in Cairo, graduating summa cum laude in 1982.

"If someone asks me what I would do if I had the chance to roll back time, I would not change a thing," he said during an interview at his home. "I have no regrets."

However, when asked about the tensions between religious minority groups such as Ahmadiyah, al-Qiyadah and Lia Eden, and mainstream Muslims, he bemoaned the fact that people were impelled to take the law into their own hands.

"Any violent action is regrettable and cannot be tolerated," he said when presented with the facts that some Ahmadiyah and al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah followers were attacked and some of their houses were burned down or ransacked.

Recently an angry mob rummaged through the building where self-proclaimed prophet Ahmad Moshaddeq, leader of the al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah group -- who are considered apostates by purist Muslims -- baptized his followers in Bogor, West Java.

Some of the people in the mob were wearing white haj caps, attire linked with piety.

Lia Aminuddin was likewise harassed for preaching revelations which she said were delivered to her by the angel Gabriel.

Quraish said anybody who committed violence should be brought to justice.

He stressed it was vital to carefully study emerging religious groups before passing judgment, adding that even fatwa from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) could not be considered legally binding.

Quraish was formerly the head of the MUI.

He recommended Pakem, a regency-level religious freedom watchdog, be empowered. Pakem consists of representatives from the Religious Affairs Ministry, police and intelligence agencies, as well as academics and community and religious figures.

After a thorough study, Pakem would determine the most appropriate path to be pursued. And if a legal path were to be chosen, the court would have the final say, Quraish said.

"Because hastily criminalizing these groups won't always solve the problem," he said, citing the case of Lia, the leader of the Lia Eden group, who was recently released from prison after serving 16 months of her 24-month sentence, but stubbornly vowed to continue preaching.

"We have to be careful because there is always an element of truth within the teachings of such groups," said Quraish who was religious affairs minister in Soeharto's Development Cabinet VII (1998).

He said that even Ahamdiyah was divided into two groups. One recognized Muhammad as the last prophet, the other, Gulam Ahmad.

"And there is always a background and context, most probably the leaders of such groups are sick," he said, citing Ahmad Moshaddeq, the leader of the al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah sect, who finally confessed he had falsely proclaimed himself to be the next prophet after Muhammad.

Asked if al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah should declare itself a new religion aside from Islam and drop its Islamic identity, he said that might be a wise idea.

Quraish said the public generally had a very limited understanding of religion. "This is because the flow of (unchecked) information penetrates into houses through technology," said Quraish, who is married to Fatmawati and has five children.

"It is important for religious leaders and scholars to keep spreading their knowledge of religion to people.

"This includes spreading the word that congratulating Christians on Christmas is acceptable in Islam as long as it does not disturb Muslims' aqidah," he said, adding that Muslims were even allowed to perform their own prayers in church.

Quraish also holds moderate ideas on how Muslim women should dress.

His daughter, TV presenter Najwa Shihab, who is the wife of Hukumonline founder Ibrahim Assegaf, does not wear a headscarf.

"There is an ongoing debate about whether it is compulsory for a woman to cover her body. I am of the opinion that is good for a woman to cover her head, but those women who choose not to wear the headscarf have not violated anything," he said.

He also believes tensions in conflict-torn areas like Poso and Maluku have now seceded, "thanks to the government's Malino peace agreement."

"But I disagree with you, it is not really religious tension because economic, social and political factors have also played a very significant part in fueling the tension," Quraish said.

Friday, November 30, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, November 30, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Jakarta

Liberal Egyptian Koranic scholar Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd had no idea his presence here in Indonesia for a seminar would offend hard-line Muslim groups.

Under pressure from the groups, a high-ranking official at the Religious Affairs Ministry sent a text message to the committee that read: "... We suggest Abu Zayd cancel his trip ... in spite of last minute advice, this reminder is crucial and final. We are not responsible for his attendance..."

Zayd then canceled his appearance at the meeting. Hence, one should not underestimate the antidemocratic elements spreading throughout Indonesia, which seem ready to kill its newly found freedoms.

Born in Qufaha near Tanta, Egypt on July 10, 1943, Zayd earned his bachelor degree in Arabic studies from Cairo University in 1972, and later his master's (1977) and doctorate (1981) in Islamic Studies from the same university. His dissertation is on the interpretation of the Koran.

In 1982, he joined the faculty of the Department of Arabic Language and Literature at Cairo University as an assistant professor. He became an associate professor in 1987.

Nevertheless, Zayd suffered persecution for his view of the Koran as a religious, mythical, literary work. After his promotion to the rank of full professor in 1995 and a hisbah (Committee for Virtue and the Propagation of Islam) trial against him by a fundamentalist Islamic scholar, Zayd was declared a murtad (apostate) by an Egyptian court.

He was consequently declared divorced from his wife, Cairo University French Literature professor Ibthal Younis.

"The verdict is there but the Egyptian government never implemented the verdict against me," Zayd said during a recent interview, just a few hours before he left the country.

He added that he and his wife had challenged the verdict before deciding to leave the country and live in the Netherlands.

He currently holds the Ibn Rushd Chair of Humanism and Islam at the University for Humanistics, Utrecht, the Netherlands.

"I have never been expelled by the Egyptian government," he said, adding that he freely visits his country since he still holds Egyptian citizenship and carries his country's passport.

"And my wife returned several times to Egypt for the supervision of master's and PhD students at the French department of the Cairo University."

Zayd was dismayed and confounded by the unprecedented treatment he endured here.

"As many as 10 of my books have been translated into Bahasa Indonesia and I supervised many Indonesian students who were sent by the Religious Affairs Ministry and some have become professors."

He said the motives of the Muslim fundamentalists who had moved against him in Egypt had been mixed.

"I was highly critical toward the development of the so-called Islamic investment system at that time," he recalled.

Zayd said many ulema have become "religious advisors" in a system where a "highly suspicious" 25 percent interest rate was floated.

"I uncovered the lies and tricks ... they stole a huge amount of money from people who have never received anything, even until now," he said, "so they moved against me by hook or by crook and by making a lot of noise about my academic works."

He argued that the science of interpretation was deeply rooted in Islamic tradition and was not something utterly borrowed from the West.

"Shall we wait for God to interpret the Koran for us?" said Zayd, who received the Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought in Berlin in 2005.

"Humans can interpret the Koran only with their human capacity, which can be empowered by knowledge. If we are ignorant God will be very angry ..."

Despite the accusation he is a "Westernized" theologist, Zayd can be very critical of the West.

He said the war against terror and the subsequent expressions, such as "our values" and "our culture", entailed the notion that others were "uncivilized".

"And I don't believe the U.S. is working to spread its democratic values because interests dictate its policy," he said of what he dubs the "new empire project of the U.S."

He cited the example of how the U.S. had supported Pakistan's Musharraf who had illegally annulled the constitution and arrested activists, while at the same time slapping a total economic embargo on military-ruled Myanmar.

He said that before the failure of the U.S. in Iraq, the U.S. had tried to "democratize" the dictatorial regimes in the region, but now the U.S. was forced to cooperate with the "moderates" in the region.

"No nation can install democracy without the working of internal power, like here in Indonesia with its student movement," Zayd pointed out.

"Besides, democracy can result in a new government that the U.S. might not like," said Zayd, who supervised master's and PhD students at the University of Leiden as well.

"But when speak about the culture of the West; we speak about ideas and philosophies ... about possible shared values ... about a free market of an exchange of ideas.

"Here the distinction between the East and West is sometimes ideologically emphasized," he said.

"Hence, the differentiation of the different aspects of the West is important, we don't need to take the West as it is and reject the West as it is. Besides there is no single 'West', when the European Union sides with dictators, for example, I would be against it at this specific point, because I am with freedom and justice."

"So I have to be critically engaged with every culture, even with my own culture," he said.

Zayd believes no culture will contradict the values of human justice, political and religious freedoms. He says the denunciation of these values in any cultural context is an instrument of protecting particular political powers in order for certain groups to maintain privileges at the political cost of others.

He said universal values, which are often regarded as purely Western, are in fact part of the human struggle for peace and justice.

And he holds the view that a humanistic interpretation of the Koran can account for social change within Muslim societies, whose development has been stalled by the dogmatic interpretation of certain ulema "who want to keep their power as the only authority of Islamic knowledge by manipulating both the people and the political regime."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, November 28, 2007


Renowned Indian scientist and engineer Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, who was also the 11th president of India (2002-2007), was recently in Indonesia to deliver a speech at Indonesia's National Science Congress (KIPNAS) in Jakarta. Kalam, who is described as the "father of the Indian missile", sat down with The Jakarta Post's Alpha Amirrachman to discuss how science can contribute to the development of society. The following are excerpts of the interview:

Question: You have been described as the "father of the Indian missile" program. Do you think India's nuclear program serves as a symbol of India's advancement in science?

Answer: Well, in India we have bio-technology, agricultural science, space science and nuclear science. And putting them up together we can be said to be a nation developing science and technology.

You believe in science for Indian national development and that science development is ideologically free. How do you think science and technology could help bring about world peace and security?

We have six billion people on our planet, but only two billion people who have drinking water. We have a huge problem here of four billion people who desperately need help. Their standard of living should increase, and for that science and technology is a non-linear tool. If you use technology it will grow like that and very fast. I have emphasized the cultivation of scientific temper and entrepreneurial drive. That's why I am saying that science and technology can bring development to us. And science is borderless, any nation can work together.

What is your most significant achievement in your career as a scientist?

When an orthopedic surgeon came for a visit to my laboratory and found that the material we were producing was so light. He asked me to visit the hospital where I saw children dragging their feet around with heavy metallic calipers which weighed three kilograms each. In only three weeks we managed to produce calipers which weighed only 300 grams. No more dragging around a load of three kilograms, the children can now move and play around more freely.

So the light material you produced (for missile) is also used for producing walking equipment for children with disabilities. Is your country earnestly producing this new kind of orthosis?

Yes, indeed, a number of our industries have started producing the equipment because the material is not only very light but also very cheap.

You have mentioned that Indonesia can benefit from its 13,000 islands for its development? What is your specific idea on that?

Each island can become an economic center. Urban facilities should be provided in rural areas. You are here in Jakarta, but if you go 30 kilometers you would probably find rural areas or villages. You should give psychical and electronic connectivity to them. Build a core competence enhancement for the people, then the economy would come (in the form of) employment, etc. This is what I have suggested in my country that we build around 7,000 PURA (urban facilities in rural areas) clusters. The integrated actions are education that leads to entrepreneurship and employment opportunities, healthcare for all, population growth rates to be within a small band and first-rate infrastructure facilities.

How can regionally-based development help reduce disparities among states in India? How do you think this can be adapted in Indonesia?

In India, for example, the whole southern states now are having the rainy season, while the northern states have winter. In southern states they have unique materials available; we can process the materials and make a product, so southern states can become agricultural centers. And the regionally based management would bring the core competence together and as a result prosperity would come very fast.

For example, a number of states now have hydropower where we can connect all power generators and have a common grid and send it to the whole country.

Therefore, regionally based development can help develop the nation faster. I believe the physical, electronic and knowledge connectivities of 7,000 PURA clusters will bring about development for the region as a whole. In Indonesia, of course, this would depend on the political (will), the parliament here would need to see if this can be done.

What do you think our nation should do to encourage youth to become passionate about science?

This should be discussed in your parliament too because it is a political decision where you put priority and the availability of the money. In my country, by funding technology we can grow faster, like in agriculture we supported agricultural science. And today we have communications satellites because we gave priority to the space program.

Similarly in information and communication technology, people are coming in a big way. Education institutions have been reinforced. This all gives feedback to science. What is important is that the youth should dream and dream, transform their dreams into thoughts and transform their thoughts into action. And the youth should develop righteousness in their heart, which in my experience, can be built by three people: father, mother and primary school teacher.

You have been campaigning for the use of open-source software; how is it progressing in India?

Many of us are using open-source software in our industry and many applications are also used in the academic world.

Since you are a Muslim scientist who grew up in a middle-class family and have excelled in majority Hindu India, do you think other members of minority groups also have the same opportunities to develop themselves and to contribute to the development of the nation, and that their rights are fully protected?

In our constitution we have fundamental rights of equality and freedom. No discrimination for all Indian people and opportunities are wide open. For example, in India Muslims constitute 15 percent (of the population), Christians 3 to 4 percent of the whole population, and others.

We are a nation of multi-cultures, religions (multireligious) and languages. Very similar to your country which is also multi-cultural and has multi languages, and with a large number of people and so many islands you actually have more challenges.

What is it that you think you haven't achieved in your career?

Billions of people should smile a long way, and I still have to work on that.

Monday, November 26, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, November 26, 2007


Alfred C. Stepan, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration and Religion (CDTR) at Columbia University in New York, was recently in Indonesia to address a discussion on "The World's Religious System and Democracy: Crafting the `Twin Tolerations'", organized by the Center for Dialogues and Cooperation among Civilizations (CDCC) and the Paramadina University. The Jakarta Post's contributor Alpha Amirrachman participated in the discussion.

Question: What is your position on the relation between state and religion?

Answer: We have to start with empirical analysis. Let's say that everyone here wants to have something we call democracy and at the same time also wants to have a very active religious life. And if there is secularism, it is often regarded as a prerequisite to building democracy. However, I should say that this (secularism) is most profoundly misconceptionalized, even among Western intellectuals.

Secularism is not only inaccurately conceived as a prediction of where a society will go, it is also a prescription that you have to be secular to become a democrat. Nevertheless, most democracies are not anti-religion.

I should stress that they don't ally themselves with religion, but give some support to religion. The simplistic version of modernization theory implies that there are at least four reinforcing dichotomies: traditional versus modern societies, high religious practicing societies versus low religious practicing societies, little separation of church and state versus strict separation of church and state, and non-democratic regimes versus democratic.

However, three of the most famous political scientists, Robert Dahl, Arend Lijphart and Juan L. Linz, never included any discussion of secularism in their definitions of modern democracies. None of them did.

So how would you redefine the concept of secularism?

I prefer to use the idea of "multiple secularisms" to get around some of the difficulties of the term. This would help me analyze the great variations in religion-state relations that exist in modern democracies.

In French, the essence of revolution was a hostile position with one major religion. This is regarded as the essence of modern secularism, making the state free from religion where all Catholic-oriented universities had been forced to close.

Where is Turkey? Turkey adopts the most extreme version of French secularism; they looked at what happened and wanted to have nationalism and regarded religious people as challengers to nationalism. And I don't think anybody here (in Indonesia) who wants to have an active religious life is attracted to this idea.

In the U.S., secularism is also a separation between church and religion. So everyone could construct religious freedom in their own state. And when they came together and started to think about the constitution, all they could come up is a compromise that the state should not make general law about religion.

In general, I find it more useful when discussing democracy and the world's religions to speak of what I have called the "twin tolerations", which are the minimum degree of toleration democracy needs from religion and the minimum degree of toleration that religion needs from the state for the polity to be democratic.

What is the minimum degree of toleration?

Religious institutions should not have constitutionally privileged prerogatives which allow them authoritatively to mandate public policy to democratically elected officials. The minimum degree of toleration religion needs from democracy is not only the complete right to worship, but the freedom of religious individuals and groups to publicly advance their values in civil society, and to sponsor organizations and movements in political society, as long as their public advancement of these beliefs does not impinge negatively on the liberties of other citizens, or violate democracy and the law, by violence or other means.

The financial support to religions on the part of the state in Senegal, India and Indonesia certainly violate French or U.S. ideas of a strict separation of religion and state, but does not violate citizens' human rights, or violate the necessary sphere of autonomy that I have identified as the "twin tolerations" that modern democracies need.

Certainly, the strong majority of religious leaders and followers alike in India and Senegal, and to a lesser extent Indonesia, have arrived at a mutual accommodation with, and even support of, a democratic polity and their own version of a "secular state".

Democracy is often regarded to be rooted in Judeo-Christian tradition, which can be a problem in the Muslim world. Is it true that if we want to build democracy we have to adopt a liberal democracy?

We have to talk about utilization and invention. People can have desire to create something ... when they want to adapt and revise something. Like in Japan, they have Japanese capitalism which is very Japanese. In India, they have a very totally Indian version of democracy. Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid (of Nahdlatul Ulama) says that this country needs democracy, (but) he does not say (you need) Western style democracy. He said that you have many religions and you need to live peacefully.

Hence, I believe that every single religion has something that is useful for and compatible with democratic values.

What do you think of Indonesia as a new democracy but with a Muslim-majority population?

I think Indonesia has invented a system of relations between state and religion where a Religious Ministry here gives support to all religions, such as in their schooling or when their mosques or churches get burned down. So, we can live in a variety of ways. And you have Pancasila, despite its flaws, such as ambivalence about using state force to protect against Islamist violations of human rights in some parts of Indonesia, and the fact that for most of the Soeharto period, the military defined and orchestrated Pancasila, it still has some political virtues for a society such as Indonesia's.

Pancasila persistently helped defend against demands for an Islamic state religion that would have exacerbated inter-religious relations in its highly diverse and pluralistic society. Pancasila officially recognizes, and gives some support, to five religions in addition to Islam; Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and with the advent of democracy, Confucianism. In the "twin tolerations", I argued that all religions are "multi-vocal". What this means for Islam is that officially implemented systems of sharia would necessarily have a strong element of "state sharia" because one side of the multi-vocality would be state privilege and have the coercive powers of the state behind it.

What is the prospect of Indonesia becoming an Islamic state?

Due to the differences between "traditionalist" Muslims in NU, and "modernist" Muslims in Muhammadiyah -- and their political and cultural sensitivity to the existence and rights of Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and non-practicing Muslims -- leaders of both these massive organizations are opposed to an Islamic state, which they know would lead to the non-consensual imposition of any single group's vision of "state sharia". Muhammadiyah's Amien Rais, for example, says that the Koran does not say anything about the formation of an Islamic state, or about Muslims' obligation to create an Islamic state, and that the Koran is not a book of law but a source of law. NU's Gus Dur is a regular participant in public arguments making the case why Indonesia, given its great social and religious diversity, which he sees as an empirical fact, should make the normative political choice for a pluralist polity.

Perhaps, like in Turkey or Pakistan, obstacles to democracy are not really posed by Islam but by military and intelligence organizations unaccountable to democratic authority.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, November 24, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Jakarta

"Please wait, you are next, right? You are good people!" eminent scientist and former Indian president Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam reminds reporters, while giving the thumbs-up sign.

Kalam was in Jakarta last week at the invitation of the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) to speak at its national congress.

Evidently he had overcome any residual jetlag from his long flight from India. During the two hours of interviews, his mood remained jovial.

"India is a free and democratic country, so we always deal with the media," he said.

Known as a visionary leader for India, Kalam introduced three great visions for his country: freedom, development and standing up to the rest of the world.

"If we are not free, no one will respect us," he once said.

Kalam, who was widely referred to as the "People's President" in India, said that after 50 years of being a developing nation, "it is time to see ourselves as a developed nation. We are among the top five nations of the world in terms of GDP. We have a 10 percent growth rate in most areas. Our poverty levels are falling; our achievements are being globally recognized today."

Kalam said of his third vision: "I believe that unless India stands up to the rest of the world, no one will respect us. Only strength respects strength. We must be strong not only as a military power but also as an economic power. Both must go hand-in-hand."

He is confident of India becoming a knowledge superpower and a developed nation by 2020, as set out in his book India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium.

Many consider Kalam's work on India's nuclear weapons program as a way of asserting India's place as a would-be superpower. As former head of the giant Defense Research & Development Organization (DRDO), Kalam played a key role in the nuclear tests at Pokharan in the Rajasthan desert on May 11 and 13, 1998. Born on Oct. 15, 1931, in Dhanushkodi in Rameswaram district, Tamil Nadu, Kalam grew up on the island of Rameshwaram in south India, where his father had to rent his boats to pay his school fees.

Kalam said an elementary school teacher's drawing of a flock of seagulls had sparked his obsession with flight, which eventually led to his involvement in the development of India's guided missiles.

After graduating in science from St. Joseph's College in Tiruchi, Kalam enrolled in aeronautical engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology in 1954. He joined the DRDO, where he led a small team developing a prototype hovercraft, which never took off.

Kalam joined the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in 1962, and between 1963 and 1982 participated in the satellite launch vehicle team at Thumba next to Trivandram.

He later became project director for SLV-3, where he supervised the launch of the Rohini satellite into orbit in July 1980.

Returning to the DRDO as its chief executive the following year, he was responsible for India's integrated guided missile development program, which envisaged the launch of five major missiles.

Kalam later became scientific advisor to the defence minister and secretary of the Department of Defense Research & Development from 1992 to 1999, and was honored with the Bahart Ratna, India's highest civilian award, in 1997.

He became India's 11th president from 2002 to 2007. Kalam, who is a bachelor, vegetarian and teetotaler, is said to always have given full acknowledgment for India's success to his colleagues.

Also during his presidency he invented a development system called Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas (PURA), which involves creating a well-balanced habitat that displays great bio-diversity and greenery.

"Indonesia may have to design and develop more coastal and plain terrain PURA," said Kalam, who has received honorary degrees from as many as 30 universities.

When asked about one of his milestones, he cited his experience in the DRDO, when the very light material he and his team had produced was also utilized to make calipers, which weighed only 300 grams and were used for helping children with disabilities.

Kalam is a source of inspiration for many Indian youngsters, saying they are "the most powerful resource on the earth, under the earth and above the earth".

He said he was eager to share his experiences with Indonesia's best scientists because of the similarity between the countries in terms of diversity and plurality of ethnicity, religion, culture and language.

Kalam who recites passages from both the Koran and the Bhagvad Gita daily, once won a poll conducted by news channel CNN-IBN for India's best president.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, November 15, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman and Irawaty Wardany, The Jakarta Post, Kuta/Jakarta

is striving to maintain its commitment to information and communication technology (ICT) for the education system, a top government official said.

"Seventy percent of our vocational high schools, 30 percent of senior high schools and 20 percent of junior high schools are equipped with computer laboratories," Education Minister Bambang Sudibyo announced at the opening of the sixth International Symposium on Open, Distance and E-Learning in Kuta, Bali, on Wednesday.

The government has also distributed television-based Televisi Edukasi equipment to some 35,198 junior high schools, and has developed thousands of programs comprising on and offline learning activities, TV broadcast materials and audio programs throughout Indonesia.

"Globalization has pushed the development and utilization of information and communication technology in the education sector," Bambang said.

He said experts campaigned for the use of the latest ICT needed to improve equality, quality and management of education, in a vast and archipelagic country like Indonesia.

"Currently, the ICT-based National Education Network has connected 1,104 spots in provinces and districts throughout Indonesia," said Lilik Gani, director of the ICT Center for Education (Pustekkom) at the Education Ministry.

He said the government had allocated Rp 500 billion (US$54.2 million) for ICT development in high schools and junior high schools in 2008.

Despite efforts to improve ICT in the education system, Indonesia still faces problems of low awareness and low Internet penetration due to minimal supporting infrastructure.

The cost of Internet access is higher in Indonesia than in other countries. Research conducted by LIRNEasia in 2006 revealed annual Internet connection costs in Indonesia were up to 48 times higher than in India.

An Indonesian communication provider can charge $108,000 for an international connection, while in Denmark they charge $37,000 and India $30,000.

In Jakarta, deputy chairman of the executive team of the Indonesian National ICT Council, Kemal A. Stamboel, said the government had promised electronic learning would spearhead the education system in the future.

"So the government is working to close the national education gap any way it can, including speeding up the development of the national fiber-optic network," Kemal announced in a seminar on transforming education in Indonesia.

The national fiber-optic network, known as the Palapa Ring project, aims to provide integrated telecommunication infrastructure throughout the country.

Around 35,280 kilometers of undersea cables and 21,807 kilometers of land cables will be installed so the network can reach all 33 provinces, 440 regencies and cities.

Asked whether Indonesia's workforce is ready to utilize the technologies, Kemal said the latest technology available made it easier for people to work. "Besides, people's ability to adapt to new technology is improving."

"If infrastructure is provided and can be utilized comfortably, I believe it will evolve on its own," he said.

Friday, November 02, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, October 31, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Jakarta

In a country where people are grappling to live up to democratic values, standing firmly with a controversial principle can have dire consequences.

M. Syafi'i Anwar, for example, was branded a "CIA agent" and "Western puppet" by Islamic radicals here when he publicly denounced the fatwa of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), which deemed pluralism as "religiously unlawful" and driving the nation toward disintegration.

He received angry responses and threats via email, SMS and over the telephone. One big mosque in Jakarta even forbade him from giving speeches and sermons there, despite the fact Syafi'i is a renowned Muslim intellectual and activist whose contributions to the development of the mosque's youth movement have been well noted.

Nevertheless, Syafi'i believes Indonesia, as a newly democratic country, is still on the right track.

"I believe our government is committed to upholding religious tolerance. The problem is not really with the government but with certain Muslim communities who push their agendas through the use of threats and violence," said Syafi'i, referring to cases of attacks against religious minorities in the country.

"Law enforcers might be ambivalent in tackling this problem, but as long people are still free to express their opinions I am optimistic we are heading toward a genuine democracy where the rights of minorities will eventually be protected.

"We are still at the learning stage," he added.

Born on Sept. 27, 1953, in Kudus, East Java, Syafi'i received a law degree from the University of Indonesia in 1984, a Masters in political science from the same university in 1994 and a PhD in history and political sociology from the University of Melbourne, Australia, in 2005.

His doctoral dissertation was titled The State and Political Islam in Indonesia: A Study of State Politics and Modernist Muslim Leaders.

The former journalist and editor of Ummat and Panji Masyarakat magazines, whose hardworking style is still vividly recalled by his former colleagues, recently helped prepare, strengthen and update international standards against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other related intolerance.

After promotion by the Indonesian Permanent Mission to the UN led by Dr. Makarim Wibisono, Syafi'i was appointed by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour as the representative for a group of Asian states in Geneva.

Other experts included Dimitrina Petrova of Bulgaria for the eastern European states, Tiyanjana Maluwa of Malawi for the African states, Jenny Goldschmidt of the Netherlands for Western Europe and other states and Luis Waldo Villapando of Argentina for Latin American and Caribbean regions.

Their task was to follow up the Durban Declaration and Program of Action adopted by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2001, as requested by the intergovernmental working group, Human Rights Council (HRC), in its resolution adopted on June 30, 2006.

Under the declaration, groups that require special protection include religious groups, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, migrant workers, internally displaced persons, ethnic-based communities, indigenous peoples, minorities and people under foreign occupation.

Syafi'i was specifically tasked with preparing complementary international standards in regard to religious groups and the manifestation of religious intolerance, the defamation of religious symbols, incitement to racial hatred and dissemination of hate speech and xenophobic sentiment.

"There are still certain implementation and substantive gaps with the international instrument on these issues," said Syafi'i, adding this has affected several countries' efforts in living up to democratic principles.

He cited religious and ethnic tensions, such as in Thailand, India and Indonesia.

"A comprehensive international instrument could help strengthen the commitment of member countries," he said, hoping after further debate the results would be raised to the level of a binding resolution.

Experts have recommended that a convention on human rights education be adopted to define the positive obligation of States in regard to the incorporation of human rights education in their educational systems, including in private, religious, and military schools.

"I believe education would have a long-lasting impact on peoples' perceptions and attitudes," Syafi'i said.

This is understandable given Syafi'i's current position as the executive director of the Jakarta-based International Center for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP), whose current project "Distance Learning for Islamic Transformation through Pesantren" (Islamic boarding schools), with the support of the Ford Foundation (2007-2010), involves human rights education.

Experts have also recommended that "the treaty bodies consider adopting comments which would clarify the positive obligations of State parties regarding the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and provide relevant guidance for States".

Experts are of the opinion "there is an increase in religious intolerance and incitement to religious hatred. Equally well founded is the observation that religious intolerance and violation of the rights to freedom of religion have increased substantially in the aftermath of September 11, 2001".

"We highlighted that multicultural education could be strategically advantageous in combating religious intolerance," said Syafi'i, who also teaches interdisciplinary Islamic studies in the post-graduate department of the State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta.

Syafi'i was a Ford Foundation visiting scholar at the U.S. leading think tank, Brookings Institution, in Washington DC, from July to September 2007, an opportunity he used to express his criticism toward U.S. foreign policy.

Syafi'i said he could not agree more with Newsweek editor Farid Zakaria, that the U.S. "is seen as too arrogant, uncaring, and insensitive ... obsessed with its own notions of terrorism and has stopped listening to the rest of the world."

However, he said the U.S. policy to embrace moderate Muslims supported progressive liberal Islam, which is appropriate and needs to be continued in the future.

"I suggest the U.S. employ a smarter strategy to increase Indonesia's understanding of the U.S., with particular focus on the success stories of Muslims living in the U.S.," said Syafi'i, whose monograph The Interplay between U.S. Foreign Policy and Political Islam in Indonesia will soon be published by Brookings Institution.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, September 19, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Jakarta

In 2004, Anton (an alias) was diagnosed with herniated nucleus pulposus (HNP), a condition in which a disk is slipped along the spinal cord. The condition happens when all or part of the soft midpoint of a spinal disk is forced through a diluted part of the disk.

He said he could not walk, adding that the incident might have occurred while he was bungee jumping.

So he underwent surgery. But after four to six months his health deteriorated. Giving him only painkillers, the doctor advised he again undergo surgery, which scared him and his wife.

A friend suggested he undergo chiropractic treatment instead.

"At first I didn't believe it. But I have made a lot of progress," Anton said at the Chiropractic di Indonesia clinic in the Jakarta Stock Exchange building.

The objective of the chiropractic profession is to detect and treat the mechanical disarray of the spine and musculoskeletal system. This is intended to enhance the nervous system, which could result in improved health.

The misalignment of the spine, which affects nerve flow, is called subluxation. This is when one or more of the vertebrae slip out of position and generate pressure on, or exasperate the spinal nerves. Spinal nerves are the nerves that come out from between each of the bones in the spine. The pressure on the nerves then results in nerve malfunction and obstructs the flow of the signals that run through the nerves.

If there is an obstruction of the signals running through the nerves, parts of the body will not get the proper messages and will operate improperly. This can adversely affect the function of various parts of the body and eventually the health.

A chiropractor diagnoses and fixes spinal subluxation. The correction is done through a procedure called an adjustment, which is a specific movement with direct careful pressure. The pressure allows the vertebrae to return to a more normal position and movement, thus smoothing the flow of nerve signals.

"We optimize the patient's health potential," said chiropractor Anthony K. Dawson from Chiropractic di Indonesia clinic.

"We believe that a body is a healing entity that has a self-regulatory system," said chiropractor Michael Cornish who works at the same clinic.

"That is the philosophy of the chiropractic profession."

Cornish, whose 80-year-old mother still plays tennis every week thanks to chiropractic care, explained the four phases of the degeneration of the spine.

Phase one is general misalignment. Phase two is when the disk starts to narrow as it is not being stimulated. Phase three is when the disk starts thinning and there is calcification in the joint spaces. And phase four is when the joint space is made up of cartilage that has completely fussed.

The disk is the cartilage material located between the vertebrae, one of the small bones that forms the spine.

Stresses and strains and knocks and bumps sometimes result in such an imbalance. Thus, simple matters can cause subluxation, "such as the wrong sleeping, sitting or standing positions," said Tinah Tan of Citylife Chiropractic Care.

She said chiropractic care may assist in the management of a wide variety of health problems. However, people see chiropractic care as being for the following conditions: back pain, stiffness and pain in the neck, pain between the shoulder blades, tension headaches, migraines, disk problems, arm and leg pain, knee problems, sciatica, infant colic, other joint injures and numbness or pins and needles in the hands and feet.

Sciatica is sometimes harsh pain resulting from general compression and/or irritation of one of the five nerve roots that are branches of the sciatic nerve. The pain can be felt in the lower back, buttocks, and/or various parts of the leg and foot. Infant colic is a situation in which a baby cries or screams recurrently and for extended periods, without any perceptible explanation.

"Chiropractic care is very safe, even very gentle for children," added Cornish.

Normal childhood activities such as falls from a bike, sledding or playing ball can also result in subluxation in children's spines.

Tinah cited an example of a 6-year-old girl who was accidentally pushed hard by her friend from the back, causing severe subluxation. She has been undergoing chiropractic care and has progressed a lot.

Chiropractic, which is completely drug-free, can also help cure people with scoliosis.

Cornish cited the example of a 20-year-old woman with 34 degree curvature. The curvature was corrected to 17 degrees in less than a year after undergoing chiropractic care.

He also said pregnant women could benefit from chiropractic care. A number of studies have shown that pregnant women who have regular chiropractic care have shorter and less painful labors with fewer complications.

Unfortunately, despite an abundance of scientific research and positive patients' testimonials of chiropractic care, there is still a "jealousy gap" between ordinary medical treatment and chiropractic care, said Sukarto, the chairman of the Indonesian Chiropractic Association (Perchirindo), who studied chiropractic techniques in the U.S. in 1972.

He explained that even in the U.S. -- the country where chiropractic was founded by Daniel David Palmer -- it was not fully acknowledged for 100 years.

Palmer made a man who was nearly totally deaf hear again after fixing the man's bone back into place.

In Indonesia, it was only in 2003 that chiropractic was acknowledged by the Health Ministry as a "traditional treatment".

"We are now pushing to make chiropractic a complementary treatment," Sukarto said at his clinic.

Even in Indonesia in recent years there has been a rising demand for chiropractic care.

Sukarto initiated the establishment of Perchirindo after a serious incident in which a quack chiropractor committed malpractice before fleeing the country, giving a bad name to genuine and registered chiropractors with good records.

In 2006, the Health Ministry declared Perchirindo the official chiropractic association, giving it some important tasks: outlining guidelines for foreign chiropractors who are employed as consultants by local clinics, verifying the documents submitted by a clinic that intends to employ foreign chiropractors to ensure knowledge and skills transfer and coordinating with provincial/municipal health offices for evaluation and reporting to the Health Ministry.

Today, Perchirindo has two Indonesian chiropractors as members and twelve foreign chiropractors as associate members, meaning they are legally acknowledged by the Health Ministry.

"We are also planning to establish the first chiropractic school in Indonesia," said Sukarto, adding that the two-year-course would only accept local students who already held a bachelor of medicine.

"We will invite foreign academics and highly trained chiropractors to teach at our school," he added. To become a chiropractor in the U.S. or Australia one has to undergo five or six years of tertiary education. Many have become reliable partners of both general practitioners and specialists. Sukarto said it was imperative that an increased awareness of the benefits of chiropractic care was accompanied by a well designated education program and professionalism.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, August 13, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman
, Contributor, Jakarta

Ali "Alex" Alatas' tenure as Indonesian Foreign Minister may have ended in 1999 after the country's brutal exit from East Timor -- an event that deeply saddened him -- but this does not mean that he has retired entirely from diplomatic activities.

Through the transitional governments that led the country from authoritarianism to democracy, Alex, who graduated in 1956 from the Faculty of Law at the University of Indonesia, continued to play important roles in helping manage diplomatic affairs.

When Alwi Shihab was appointed Foreign Minister during Abdurrahman Wahid's presidency (1999-2001), Alex was assigned as special advisor to the minister. After the collapse of Wahid's government due to his erratic style, Alex was appointed foreign affairs advisor to President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

It was during Megawati's presidency (2001-2004) that Alex was sent to Sweden to discuss with that government the activities of the now defunct Free Aceh Movement (GAM), the leaders of which resided in that country.

Since May 2001, Alex has also been a member of the Experts and Eminent Persons Group of the ASEAN Regional Forum, which has recently succeeded in inserting a human rights clause in the would-be ASEAN charter, despite opposition from Myanmar.

In 2003, Indonesia dispatched Alex to the pariah state, which has been a source of ASEAN's embarrassment, to negotiate the release of Myanmarese pro-democracy leader and Noble Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Though the obstinate junta politely refused the release of the "iron lady", they painfully assured Alex of the safety and health of this brave woman, who has galvanized democracy movements around the world.

From 2005 to 2006, Alex was a member of the UN High Level Group of the Alliance of Civilization, and was a special advisor to the UN Secretary-General in 2006.

And since March 2007, he has been chairman of the Advisory Council to the President of the Republic of Indonesia.

Born on Nov. 4, 1932, in Jakarta, Alex initially aspired to become a lawyer, but he was destined to be a diplomat. Journalism once thrilled this veteran diplomat too -- he was a journalist for the Niewsgierf daily (1952) and editor for the Aneta News Portal (1953-54).

Immediately following marriage, Alex was assigned as Secretary II in Bangkok (1956-1960), after which he held the post of Information and Cultural Relations Director at the Foreign Ministry (1965-66), then as Counselor of the Indonesian Embassy in Washington D.C. (1966-70).

Upon his return to Indonesia, he was again appointed Information and Cultural Relations Director, a post he held from 1970-72. His diplomatic star continued to rise as he was appointed Secretary of the Foreign Ministry Directorate General (1972-75), then Special Staff and Head of the Private Secretary to the Foreign Minister (1975-76).

Alex became the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Indonesia to the UN in Geneva from 1976-78, and on his return, was Secretary to the Vice President for four years. He was reassigned as Indonesia Permanent Representative from 1983-87, this time in New York.

He was finally appointed Foreign Minister for four administrative terms spanning 1987-99, under presidents Soeharto and Habibie.

His impressive career in diplomatic posts saw a string of critical events in Indonesia's road toward respectable statehood.

As the country's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, he had to tackle unrelenting international criticism regarding Indonesia's invasion of East Timor and the subsequent allegations of human rights abuses, an issue he once dubbed as a "pebble in our shoes".

Without his diplomatic skills, Indonesia's reputation might have sunk even lower, particularly following the Santa Cruz incident of Nov. 12, 1991, during which many Timorese were killed. The image of Indonesian soldiers gunning down peaceful protesters was beamed around the world, and Alex was forced to calm the fuming international community.

"Diplomacy is like playing cards. Don't show them all, but drop them one by one," he once said.

He was thus bewildered when then president Habibie, apparently without first consulting him properly, announced that Indonesia would immediately grant East Timor a referendum.

While Alex was trying hard to leave behind the "diplomatic incident" of the loss of East Timor and the ensuing calamity, he was offered the aforementioned appointments that again demanded his diplomatic expertise and skills.

And Alex has no lack in words when commenting on pressing, contemporary international issues.

"Religion has been exploited in many of the world's conflicts," he told a group of journalists on the sidelines of a public lecture held last Wednesday in Jakarta, by the Center for Dialog and Cooperation among Civilizations (CDCC).

"There have been tensions and conflicts between the faithful of three monotheistic religions -- Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Nevertheless, the root of the problem is not religion or culture, but political and economic grievances," he said.

"We live in an increasingly complex and volatile world. Our societies are still afflicted by ethnic and religious strife, by intolerance and prejudice, by misunderstanding and miscommunication and by intra-state and interstate violence," he continued.

"Polarized perceptions, fueled by injustice and inequality, have often led to conflict, threatening international peace and stability. Events of recent years have exacerbated mutual suspicion and contention, especially between Muslim and Western societies. This environment has been exploited by extremists throughout the world. There can be no doubt that this has become one of the defining issues of our times."

There should not only be persistent dialog, he stressed, but also tangible collaboration between different civilizations, such as in the area of economy.

A number of recommendations of the UN High Level Group of the Alliance of Civilization -- of which Alex is a former member -- illustrate such an approach: the development of an objective and rational white paper on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; the reinvigoration of the stalled peace process; renewed commitment to multilateralism; consistent respect for international law; avoidance of double standards; combating poverty and economic inequalities through effective and concerted measures within the framework of the Millennium Development Goals.

"Unfortunately, the recent UN Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) has not moved swiftly enough to heed the Alliance's recommendations," he lamented, and stressed that persistent publication of the recommendations needed to be pursued.

Alex might not be Foreign Minister any longer -- and old age is inevitably snapping at his heels -- but his highly active mind is still filled with clear ideas on how to help resolve conflicts and mitigate tensions in world politics.

His high-profile performance and established stature as a senior diplomat is a model for aspiring young diplomats who are eager to push the world's third-largest democracy in playing a more strategic role at both regional and international levels.