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.