Thursday, January 11, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, January 9, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman
, Contributor, Depok, West Java

One might never have imagined that one of the most critical and anti-New Order academic and social activists, George Junus Aditjondro, met with president Soeharto at the invitation of the latter at a solemn ceremony at Merdeka Palace in 1987.

"I was presented with the Kalpataru award for my efforts to encourage various environmental organizations to become an environmental watchdog," recalled George.

"At the time the tactical alliance between the government and non-governmental organizations, which were mostly environmentally oriented, was solid. This is because then state minister of the environment Emil Salim felt the need to strengthen the role of his ministry, and therefore it needed `legs' in society."

"So, we needed each other. We needed recognition so that we had room to move freely, and the minister needed us to expand its influence throughout the country."

However, the alliance began to crack when the three serious environmental cases of Kedungombo dam in Central Java, Indo Rayon (North Sumatra) and Scott Paper (Papua) appeared to have gone beyond certain limits, and George was increasingly sidelined as his criticism of the cases did not make everyone happy.

George was born on May 27, 1946, in Pekalongan to a Javanese father and Dutch mother. His father was educated in Holland for nine years and was also a student activist of the Indonesian Association (PI) as a secretary to Mohammad Hatta, the latter subsequently becoming the first vice president of Indonesia.

He said his father married a Dutch woman before coming home to Pekalongan to establish a law firm. But he didn't stay long as a lawyer and decided to work as a head of state court.

George said that at the time it was the peak of the fighting between the colonial Dutch and Indonesia, and their home was a place for secret meetings of independence fighters like Hoegeng and Ali Moertopo.

"My father was a head of state court and his wife was Dutch, so the Dutch never suspected our activities," recalled George. "Simultaneously, my mother also engaged in counterespionage to benefit the independence struggle."

Living in Holland when he was very young, George went to elementary school in three cities, Banyuwangi, Pontianak and Makassar, as he followed his father's tours of court duty. In Makassar his father was promoted to become a member of high state court and participated in the opening of the law and social sciences school at Hasanuddin University.

"Although I am biologically Javanese, I am culturally more eastern than western Indonesian because, during my formative years as a young man, I lived in Makasar from junior high until 1964 when I started college at the Hasanuddin engineering school."

"I experienced the tense situation when a war between DI/TII (Darul Islam/Islamic Indonesian Army) and the Indonesian Military took place until the rebel leader, Kahar Muzakar, was assassinated," he said.

George added that the situation was relatively normal until the alleged coup in 1965 by the communists, which forced his family to move back to Semarang. So he went to the state technical academy in the city and also studied electronic engineering at Satya Wacana Christian University in Salatiga. He never finished either.

"An IQ test later revealed that I'm more a socially oriented than a mathematical person; my sense of social justice was very much inherited from my father," George told The Jakarta Post during the launching of an edited book titled Revitalisasi Kearifan Lokal: Studi Resolusi Konflik di Kalimantan Barat, Maluku dan Poso (Revitalization of Local Wisdoms: Conflict Resolution Studies in West Kalimantan, Maluku and Poso) at Bumi Wiyata Hotel, Depok, West Java.

George, who contributes a chapter on the Poso conflict in the book, looked fresh and fit during an interview conducted early in the morning. He added his commitment to stand by the marginalized was bolstered by his father's principle that, despite his aristocratic blood, his father was very much against feudalism. His appreciation of culture was inherited from his mother.

George was fully active as a student journalist at Kami daily and at influential Indonesian Student Journalist Association (IPMI). He later became a journalist at Tempo news magazine from 1971 to 1979. He helped journalist Fikri Jufri at the business desk before becoming an editor for technology and the environment. Being a journalist, he was acquainted with many environmental and agricultural activists.

After 10 years at Tempo, George decided to dedicate himself to the empowerment of agricultural communities, so he helped establish the Rural Guidance Secretariat with Bambang Ismawan, Prof. Sayogo and Abdullah Sarwani. He also helped set up environmental watchdog WALHI and worked for the Societal Development Foundation of Irian Jaya (YPMD-Irja) from 1981 to 1989.

Because his father's specialization was in agricultural law, as an activist George benefited a lot from many of his father's books. His role in nurturing environmental awareness was considered so significant that then president Soeharto presented to him the Kalpataru environmental award in 1987.

George further won a scholarship to study for a Master of Science degree at Cornell University in the U.S. with a thesis on the educational process of the societal development in YPMD-Irja, which he completed in 1991. He later continued with research for a PhD and completed it in 1993 from the same university with a thesis on public education on the impact of the development of Kedungombo dam, Central Java.

Nonetheless, George's unremitting criticism of injustice in East Timor, his stand against the Army's dual function and the business interests of the Soeharto family were more than enough to cause severe deterioration of his relations with the New Order regime.

To protest what he considered intolerable injustice perpetrated by the state, he returned the Kalpataru award to the government.

After being interrogated by the authorities several times, George had a chance to escape the country in 1995 and taught at Murdoch University and the University of Newcastle in Australia and became a self-exiled person in the neighboring country.

He returned to Indonesia after the collapse of the New Order and now works as a research consultant at Yayasan Tanah Merdeka in Palu, Central Sulawesi, where he feels more at home, despite his Javanese origin.

Asked about the role of local wisdoms in mitigating conflict in Indonesia, particularly in Poso, he said that the way the government utilized traditional instruments could backfire if they were not conducted properly. He cited an example of the motambu tana tradition in Poso where the involved parties are required to eat the meat of a sacrificed buffalo, preceding the peace agreement.

"But President Abdurrahman Wahid missed that important element of the tradition as he, instead, left the ceremony without eating the meat," said George, who also teaches Marxism at Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta.

His Poso-born wife is currently studying for a doctorate in the city.

George warned that traditional instruments might likewise instead develop into authoritarian tools when local leaders are lured to manipulate them to impose their will on society, and to segregate societies by declaring that people who are not from their group are outsiders.

"So the best thing to deal with communal conflicts is to have a synthesis between traditional and contemporary approaches," George argued. He added that local wisdoms are further challenged by linguistic and religious transformation of society, and that identifying the most responsible culprits for the continuation and escalation of conflicts was something that should not be forgotten.

Therefore, exposing alliances between politically connected corporations and some elements of the military, which he said has marginalized and victimized local people in conflict areas, was also vital.


First published in The Jakarta Post, January 6, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman, Jakarta

Education Minister Bambang Sudibyo has announced the government's intention to buy the copyrights of school textbooks so they can be downloaded through the Internet free of charge.

The plan is not without reason.

First, there is a severely unequal access to textbooks in many parts of the country due to ineffective distribution. Worse still, the number of available books is not enough to ensure that every student gets a book.

Second, vested and conflicting interests among education stakeholders such as publishers, schools, the bureaucracy, teachers, principals and parents have impeded improvement of education quality.

For example, one study reveals that only 50 percent of textbooks being used in schools meet the required standards. This means inappropriate textbooks are still being marketed by the publishers.

Also, although illegal, many schools still sell textbooks directly to students. A government regulation says textbooks should be used for five years, yet in practice parents have to change the books almost every year. This is not to mention the soaring price of textbooks.

The Internet plan may help resolve textbook problems, as it would bring dynamism to our national book system. But some points need to be considered.

First, the proposed policy should not disturb the existing system that involves writers, publishers and distributors. Second, it may only sound "beautiful as a discourse, but be difficult during the implementation". Third, while the textbooks should be downloaded free of charge and fast, how many of us are computer and Internet literate? Fourth, the kinds of books to be downloaded need to be carefully decided on as this involves various stakeholders.

No wonder the Indonesian Publishers Association (IKAPI) has warned of a school textbook monopoly that might again be held by the government.

Indeed, while the government's intention to widen access to textbooks for students should be warmly welcomed, many technical, legal and pedagogical aspects need to be carefully weighed.

There have been efforts to widen Internet access throughout the country. For example, the Internet Goes to School program launched by state telecommunications company Telkom in 1999 has reached 70,000 schools, or about 30 percent of a total of 219,500 schools and Islamic boarding schools across Indonesia by providing them with relevant training.

Likewise, in order to accelerate Internet penetration, Telkom and state postal company PT Pos Indonesia have agreed to develop community access points, which will be equipped with Internet access, e-business, valued added service and a call center. These services will be installed in 500 post offices in all provinces throughout Indonesia, before being installed in other post offices at the district level.

Furthermore, Telkom, the Education Ministry, Religious Affairs Ministry and Communications and Information Ministry have signed a memorandum of understanding on e-learning programs to provide network infrastructure to high schools throughout Indonesia.

Nevertheless, it remains unclear how the programs have really progressed, with most of them still at the initial stage. One source says that 25 percent (about 14,000) of all high schools have Internet access, but that means there are still 75 percent which are not yet connected. This does not include junior high and elementary schools.

Information technology expert Roy Suryo said during a seminar that only 14.5 million people (6.6 percent of the total population) in the country had access (not necessarily subscribers) to the Internet.

The World Summit on the Information Society set a 2010 deadline for all senior and junior high schools and 2015 for all elementary schools to be equipped with Internet access. If no efforts are planned and carried out, we will all surely be left behind by the international community.

This means we need more effective, systematic and concerted efforts, which can be initiated with a comprehensive survey on Internet awareness among school communities, followed by a massive campaign and efforts to install Internet networks in all schools across the country.

The next step concerns legal aspects. The government has proposed to buy the copyrights of textbooks through a licensing mechanism, both from the writers and the publishers. This should ease IKAPI's fear that the government would again retain monopoly on school textbooks.

The government can buy limited copyrights from writers to display the books through the Internet only, while other derivative forms are still held by the writers. This means the writers can still sell the subsidiary rights to the publishers.

If the copyrights belong to the publishers, it would very much depend on what agreement has previously been reached between the publishers and the writers: a license or assignment agreement. The latter indicates selling of all economic rights.

There is an alternative, however, which emerged during a seminar on this issue in Jakarta recently. Writers can divide their copyrights and sell them to both the government and the publishers through a licensing mechanism. The government can only display the books through the Internet and the publishers can only print the books conventionally.

Still, however, the writers can choose the assignment mechanism.

It must be noted that neither mechanism would steal the moral rights of the writers to have their names mentioned.

Certainly, although Indonesia has enacted the 2002 Copyright Law, the Education Ministry still needs to consult the Justice and Human Rights Ministry to prevent possible legal disputes with both the writers and publishers in the future.

Other unresolved problems include how to prevent people from illegally selling the printed materials downloaded from the Internet. It seems it has to be agreed first whether only certain educational institutions can have access to these textbooks, or whether a subscription system needs to be adopted. Also, what types of books will be made into e-books: educational or general books?

The last but perhaps most profound question concerns the pedagogical aspects when learning is delivered through the Internet. Since it may include web-based teaching materials and hypermedia in general, it is obvious that experts in this area need to be involved in designing an effective e-book and e-learning delivery.

This is not a simple matter, but it could revolutionize our way of learning.

The writer is a lecturer at the School of Education at Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University and a consultant to the Book Center at the Education Ministry. He can be reached at


First published in The Jakarta Post, January 4, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Cirebon, West Java

Husein Muhammad might be a rather slim Muslim cleric, but his boldness and burning determination cannot be overlooked and are clearly on display when he talked about the degrading conditions under which many women still live here.

"The country might have been liberated from colonialism, but its women have not been," Husein told The Jakarta Post in Cirebon, West Java.

"Restrictions on women's activities and aspirations occur because of the unbalanced relations between women and men. Men always regard themselves as superior -- stronger than women with regard to dignity, knowledge and physical condition."

He said that this happens not only because of local tradition and culture, but also mistaken and rigid interpretation of religious texts, which reinforced local tradition and culture to subjugate women.

"The essence and spirit of Islam is justice, so interpretation of Islam should always prioritize this, regardless of the time and place we live in," he argued.

"It is because of this that the interpretation of religious texts is always multidimensional. We should regard the Koran as a lantern in our lives, but rigid interpretation casts aside the timeless spirit of humanity that is deeply enshrined within Islam."

Husein, who has been advocating women's rights for almost 13 years, said that the term "gender" is still alien to many clerics. Some even suspect that the movement and campaign to improve women's condition is an attempt to promote Western values that are perceived to have the potential to distort Islamic values.

He said that many clerics are of the opinion that gender differences, as with sexual differences, are unchangeable.

He explained that their opinion is inseparable from how they comprehend the classical texts, hadis (guidance for understanding religious queries) and fiqh (study of laws pertaining to ritual obligations), "yet many hadis that appear to be discrediting women need to be methodologically revisited."

He cited one hadis from HR al-Turmudzi, which he said had the meaning: "I bequeath to you, so that you do good to women, because they often become the targets of abuse among you, although you are obliged to do good to them."

Many verses in the Koran also carry the spirit of humanity and urge equal treatment between humans.

He said that one of the problems in campaigning for gender awareness is the lack of religious knowledge among many women Indonesian activists.

"In the 1980s, those who raised awareness of gender equality usually blamed religion as the cause of oppression of women, thereby squarely laying the blame at the feet of clerics.

"Regrettably, these activists had an inadequate knowledge of Islam, so their movement provoked a negative reaction from many clerics."

Born May 9, 1953, Husein Muhammad spent his youth studying religion deeply at Pesantren Lirboyo Islamic boarding school in Kediri, and finished in 1973. He later continued his studies at Al-Azhar University in Egypt (1983) and the Institute of Koranic Science (PTIQ) in Jakarta (1980).

His scholarly works include Fiqh Perempuan: Syarh Uqud Al-Luzam (Fiqh on women), Islam agama Ramah Perempuan (Islam is a religion that is friendly to women), Spirit Kualitas Kemanusiaan (The spirit of quality for humanity), Dawrah Fiqh on Women, and Fiqh Anti-Trafficking.

Realizing that his efforts need to be more institutionalized, together with activists Affandi Mokhtar, Marzuki Wahid and Faqihuddin Abdul Kodir, Husein helped establish the Fahmina Institute in November 2000 in Cirebon.

It is a not-for-profit, non-government organization concerned with the study of religion and society and strengthening of the community. It has an ethnically, ideologically and geographically diverse membership.

The vision of the Fahmina Institute is to realize a civil society that is critical in its thinking, open in its attitudes, powerful in its dignity and just in the way it regulates and orders people's lives.

Activities include community organization training, efforts to abolish corruption and abuse of position or power, the improvement of regional policy control regarding women and impoverished communities, advocacy for free and high-quality education, bolstering the capacity of women and combating women-and child-trafficking.

Husein said women-trafficking is a delicate problem in Indonesia. The Indonesian Migrant Workers Consortium (KOPBUMI) reported that about 1.5 million Indonesian migrant workers are victims of human trafficking.

Approximately 700,000 to one million Indonesian migrant workers are exploited as sexual workers and in other degrading jobs. The most serious cases occur mostly in West and East Java, particularly Cirebon and Indramayu.

Husein regretted that many victims are "criminalized" by society, and added that it was the responsibility of society to combat human trafficking. Husein has received an award from the U.S. government for these efforts.

Nonetheless, Husein's noble efforts are not without challenges. Last May, the hard-line Forum Ukhuwah Islamiah (FUI) sealed the office of the Fahmina Institute. The group accused the organization of being a Western puppet that works to a hidden Western hidden agenda to destroy Islam.

The group put up a poster with offensive words on the window of the office.

"They even said that my blood is halal. I don't feel intimidated, but my colleagues are. I'm safe enough due to my authoritative position as a cleric," said Husein, who is also a leader of Pesantren Dar el-Tauhid Arjawinangun in Cirebon.

"I also have to face challenges from other prominent clerics, but thanks to my social status as a cleric they don't dare to confront me directly. They merely persuade people not to follow my teaching."

In spite of this, Husein vowed to continue his struggle.

"More and more women are now benefiting from a quality education, so why not give them a dignified chance to contribute to the development of this country?" he challenged.


Book Title:
Revitalisasi Kearifan Lokal: Studi Resolusi Konflik di Kalimantan Barat, Maluku dan Poso (
Revitalization of Local Wisdoms: Conflict Resolution Studies in West Kalimantan, Maluku and Poso)

Alpha Amirrachman

Tamrin Amal Tomagola, John Haba, Lies Marantika, George Junus Aditjondro, Ridwan Rosdiawan, Zaenuddin Hudi, Ibrahim M. Shalej, Hasbollah Toisuta, Abubakar Kabakoran, M. Yani Kubangun, Eka. D. Uar, Mustakim Zein Nuhuyanan, Florida Attamimy, Agustanty e. S. Ruagadi, Darwin Waru, Sonny V. E. Lempadely dan Syamsul Alam Agus

International Center for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP) and European Commission (EC), Jakarta, Indonesia

January 2007