The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Monday, January 24, 2022



               A woman’s place is on the agenda



Diperingati Setiap 21 April, Ini Biografi Singkat RA Kartini dan Sejarah  Ditetapkannya Hari Kartini - Mobile

Source: Tribun

Although there’s no academic survey to prop up this assertion, here goes:  For most Indonesians, the idea of rape in marriage is as alien as denying prayer in a place of worship.

Joko Widodo aka Jokowi is finally realising that human rights are gender-inclusive, Indonesian women’s anger may carry more clout than the menace of the religious right, and that the Me Too movement isn’t just a fleeting foreign fad.

This is the best explanation for the President’s sudden decision this month to say in public: ‘I hope that the Bill on the Crime of Sexual Violence will soon be passed so that it can provide maximum protection for victims of sexual violence in the country’.

He could have spruiked similar wake-ups at any time during the past six years while the proposed law was in hibernation, but he lacked the will to confront hardliners bent on dilution and delay.

The current criminal code recognizes sexual violence as molestation, adultery and rape.  Forced sex in marriage is not illegal and till recently considered a matter to whisper, not broadcast.

 Five years ago there were 2,979 reports of sexual violence.  Just 172 were allegations of marital rape. Activists claim the real number is far higher as only the bravest speak out.

 Tengku Zulkarnain, a former deputy Secretary-General of the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (Council of Islamic Scholars) and hostile to the bill explained his mores of marriage to a TV audience: ‘If desire wants, then it (sex) must happen. The wife can just lie down or sleep, it doesn’t hurt.’

Komnas Perempuan (the National Commission on Violence against Women) Commissioner Mariana Amiruddin reportedly told a Jakarta website: ‘If wives are forced, they cannot refuse.  It means that wives are merely seen as sex slaves.’   

New laws have been demanded by NGOs since 2012.  Their campaign gained force in 2016 after 14 drunks raped and murdered a 13-year-old schoolgirl in Bengkulu on the west coast of Sumatra.  (The gang leader Zainal, 23, has been sentenced to death.  Others have been jailed for up to 20 years.)

Activists want domestic bashing and intimidation treated as criminal conduct and the government to provide protection and recovery for victims. The original bill defined nine types of sexual violence, but concessions made in debate have cut these to four.

Politicians from the Islamic Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (Prosperous Justice Party) and other conservatives shouted that the reforms have been engineered by pro-Western stirrers promoting a ‘liberal feminist agenda with a permissive attitude towards free sex (meaning a licentious lifestyle) and LGBT’.

They claimed the bill was out of whack with religious and traditional values and would lead to promiscuity and births unsanctioned by wedlock, euphemistically dubbed MBA –married by accident.

Only recently has the media started to highlight cases of brutality against women in a Men First society.  An outrageous example of official discrimination occurred in Aceh province this month where a woman was flogged 100 times for adultery – briefly paused because she suffered too much agony.  The government officer involved got 15 lashes.

Regional prosecutor Ivan Najjar Alavi reportedly said the court gave different sentences because the woman confessed to having sex in a palm oil plantation while the guy pleaded not guilty.

In 2005 Jakarta made a peace deal with the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh Movement) after 29 years and 15,000 deaths through on-off fighting between separatist guerrillas and the army.  To get the cease-fire, Aceh was allowed to use sharia law.  This permits whipping for offences like gambling, adultery, drinking alcohol and gay sex.

The public punishments which draw crowds with cameras have long been furiously condemned by international and local human rights organisations. In 2017 Widodo called for an end to the brutality.  All protests have been ignored.

The role of women in Indonesia has long been defined by men. The nation’s government-approved heroine is the 19th century aristocratic Javanese Raden Adjeng Kartini who died in 1904 aged 25 after giving birth. Although she condemned polygamy she accepted an arranged marriage to a local leader with three wives.

Kartini advocated for girls’ access to a full education and a ban on child marriage.   Both are now the law though not the practice. According to Lies Marcoes of Rumah KitaB, a research institute advocating for the rights of the marginalised, Indonesia has the second-highest rate of child marriage in ASEAN.  One in nine girls under 18 quit school to wed.  Few relationships survive – another factor in domestic violence. 

Kartini’s fame rests on published letters she sent to friends in the Netherlands arguing for equality and critical of Dutch control. First president Soekarno, a notorious womaniser who had nine known relationships, found the mild self-taught feminist a safe symbol for his anti-colonialism, so made her 21 April birthday a national holiday.

In case this encouraged uppity women to travel beyond their station, second president Soeharto created an organisation of public servants’ wives called Dharma Wanita. Till his fall in 1998, this kept women close to the stove, sink and bed and distant from books – unless needed for the compulsory Pembinaan Kesejahteraan Keluarga (Family Welfare Training).

Julia Suryakusuma, author of State Ibuism: The Social Construction of Womanhood in the Indonesian New Order said Soeharto’s authoritarian regime defined women first as a husband’s loyal partner.  Then she was expected to be the kids’ educator, household manager and generator of extra income while still ‘a functioning member of society’.

The scene’s not entirely bleak: A 2020 World Bank study supported by Australia shows  Indonesia has made considerable progress toward gender equality over the past decade, with improved rates of literacy, school enrolment, and employment, as well as policies to pave the way for a more gender-equitable society.

Some rice husks blown by the breeze of change:  The Javanese phrase Kanca wingking translates as ‘a friend behind’.  It used to mean a woman’s place in the street and home but is now seldom heard.

Men can be seen nursing babies and pushing prams, even in villages, and some mornings hanging washing.  Elderly couples in Muslim garb occasionally hold hands in public, a rare sight last century. 

As in Australia men overwhelmingly run most shows, though women are featuring more in politics and business.  Six of the 34 members of the Cabinet are women (along with six retired generals) – and 120 women in the 575-seat Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (People’s Representative Council).  For the first time that’s just above 20 per cent.

Whether these movements will drive society’s thinking about respect and equality to the point of taking a left turn have yet to be measured. Like the level of marital rape.


A version was first published in Pearls & Irritations, 24 January 2022:







Sunday, January 16, 2022



                        ASEAN sloughs into its own chasm


 Myanmar ethnic groups attend government peace talks - BBC News

 Photo:  BBC

It was being billed as a clash of ideologies, democracies versus authoritarians over handling a ruthless regime. Then suddenly the contest was off.

Foreign ministers from some of the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations were expected to meet for their annual closed-door retreat on 18 and 19 January. But with less than a week to go chair Cambodia ‘postponed’ the Siem Reap event because it’s ‘difficult’ to travel.

Maybe, but not impossible as politicians and bureaucrats have been zipping around the region for the past year despite the pandemic. Far more arduous is keeping ASEAN alive when it seems determined to die.

Apart from those who make a living serving the decrepit organisation, few believe it has value and purpose.

There is one – Australia’s Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne.  As reported on this website Payne told diplomats and the media in Jakarta last September that ‘engaging with ASEAN and supporting our partners in Southeast Asia is one of the best investments Australia can make in a stronger, more prosperous, and more secure future for our region.’

FM Payne’s bid to use ASEAN to get into SEA because of its ‘centrality, openness, transparency, inclusivity (as) a rules-based region’ makes Australia look naive.  Harsher commentators would write ‘maladroit’.

Tracking ASEAN’s achievements over 54 years requires forensic skills.  Its most vigorous boosters, like political analyst Dr Beginda Pakpahan, stress the organisation has preserved ‘peace and stability’ without listing diplomatic initiatives.

The most worthy move should have been the unqualified and united condemnation of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) February power grab.  Three months earlier electors in the nation of 54 million had voted 87 per cent for the civilian National League for Democracy led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.  Shocked by this insolence, the generals decided preserving power trumped the people’s will.

More than 1,200 protesters have reportedly been killed in the past year.  Some have been burning the ASEAN flag.  Suu Kyi, 76, is in jail and likely to die there unless the international community gets its act together.

Myanmar, formerly Burma, joined ASEAN in 1984. In 2017 it started slaughtering the mainly Muslim ethnic Rohingya.  More than a million have fled to neighbouring countries leaving behind the bones and ashes of 13,000 victims of genocide.

The UN hasn’t accepted the self-declared ‘State Administration Council’ as Myanmar’s legitimate authority but has delegated Dr Noeleen Heyzer, the Secretary-General's special envoy on Myanmar to negotiate.  This month she won Pearls & Irritation’s Gibberish Gong with her entry calling for: ‘a coordinated strategy towards creating an enabling environment for inclusive dialogue’.

Western nations protested furiously but ASEAN leaders’ responses were more subdued in keeping with its ‘Asian Way’ culture of avoiding criticism, aka spineless.  


Myanmar army general Min Aung Hlaing excluded from leaders' summit - BBC  News 

Photo: BBC News

Some met Myanmar's self-styled PM General Min Aung Hlaing (above)  - who had no difficulties flying to Jakarta - and reached a ‘five-point consensus’.  This included an end to violence, a return to democracy, humanitarian help, negotiations with armed ethnic groups, and visits by outside envoys.

All spurned. So at its bi-annual meet in Brunei last October the ASEAN nine found a spec of courage and snubbed Hlaing.  This has been praised as a pivotal point in the organisation’s history.

ASEAN is throttled by a policy prohibiting members from interfering in each others’ affairs.  It operates on the principle of musyawarah described as ‘a common voice that’s arrived at by
a continuous process of discussion’.

Background: In 1967 during the Vietnam War Indonesia set up ASEAN with Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore to block the advance of Communism. Tiny Brunei joined in 1984. Ironically two latecomers are Red – Vietnam and Laos, with Cambodia sticking close to China. Myanmar signed up in 1997. 

This year the rotating leadership is held by Cambodia. Prime Minister Hun Sen has already met Hlaing.  Naypyidaw is claiming the ASEAN head’s visit means its regime is recognised.

Charles Santiago, a Malaysian MP who chairs the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights said  Sen and Hlaing were ‘conducting another coup within ASEAN’ that threatened to divide the organization.

‘Hlaing’s coup has plunged the entire country into a multi-dimensional catastrophe and given rise to the most unified and viable alternative to military rule Myanmar has ever seen.’

ANU doctoral candidate Hunter Marston, who is researching great power competition in SEA, claims Hun Sen, who has held power since 1985, views ASEAN as ‘an old boys’ club where dictators can still be dictators.’

Sen wants Myanmar back in the pagoda. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, the four ASEAN members who follow some forms of democracy, say no way without real changes.

With 273 million citizens Indonesia is the biggest member of ASEAN, its instigator and should wield clout.  Although technically secular it’s also the world’s most populous Islamic nation and was expected to take the lead in demanding protection for fellow Muslim Rohingya.  Instead it sent aid to refugee camps in Bangladesh.

President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has reportedly told Sen the ‘implementation of the five-point consensus (is necessary) to bring democracy back to Myanmar through inclusive dialogue’.

‘Min Aung Hlaing's unilateral actions have dramatically weakened ASEAN’s collective leverage to solve the Myanmar crisis’. 

Bilahari Kausikan, former Permanent Secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reckons ASEAN should redefine its roles and set up ‘parameters with Great Powers.’

‘In recent years ASEAN has failed in this quite miserably… we have meetings with all of our
dialogue partners. (There are 11 and include Australia). However, the meetings have been extremely ritualistic, nothing much of substance is discussed.’

This is the mob FM Payne believes is central to her country’s ‘regional vision … underpinned by shared principles.’ DFAT should be urgently seeking another way to engage with the neighbourhood.


First published in Pearls & Irritations,  16 January 2022:

Friday, January 14, 2022



Jihad wanes though threats remain

 Eyes on Southeast Asia – Podcast – FPCIndonesia

 Armed police camped outside churches across much of Indonesia during the Christmas break.  Their vigilance may have deterred some wannabe terrorists, but overall the alert level was low.  There were no reports of outrages as Christians – around ten per cent of the Republic’s 273 million citizens – celebrated their faith across the world’s most populous Islamic nation.

That peace didn’t surprise security studies advisor Sidney Jones of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.  In an online lecture The Legacy of ISIS in Indonesia she told more than 560 academics, diplomats and students that support for ISIS is declining.

Then she added a rider:  ‘But it’s left a very dangerous legacy in Indonesia and other parts of the world… that will affect extremist movements for a long time to come. There will be a process of regeneration and rebuilding under new names and perhaps with new strategies and tactics.’ 

ISIS is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria aka Daesh fighting to impose Sharia (Islamic law). It gained international infamy in 2014 when proclaiming a worldwide caliphate after capturing territory from Western Iraq to Eastern Syria.

Fanatics were drawn by its ruthless interpretation of Islamic teachings and brutal treatment of opponents.  More than 500 Indonesians joined an estimated 30,000 fighters – including 150 Australians - while a further 5,000 lent financial and moral support from the archipelago.

A US-led coalition using the Iraqi army and Syrian democrats eventually crushed ISIS in mid-2019.  Since then pockets of diehard Indonesian returnees and their admirers have occasionally attacked churches and police posts.

Jones claimed that militants denied funds and easy access to guns and explosives following crackdowns by police are using knives and vehicles to hit targets. Women were also moving to the front.

In October 2019 a married couple stabbed and wounded Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto during a low-key visit to a West Java town.

Last Easter newly-wed suicide bombers attacked a cathedral in Makassar injuring 20.  Days later a woman wearing full Islamic garb was shot dead when she allegedly opened fire on staff at a Jakarta police station.

In the past, ISIS treated females as baby factories and carers of men, but women are shaming men to be braver.  Their motives included a desire to raise children in a pure Islamic state and being lured by propaganda predicting Islam’s Armageddon akhir zaman. At the end-of-time war the faithful would fly straight to heaven, so bought one-way tickets.

 ‘Women are now important components of extremist groups, and that’s not going to change,’ said Jones.  ‘So more women will be needed in senior management levels in the police and intelligence.’ That’ll require a rethink by the stout men at the top. Women in uniform are usually used for PR (a favourite is TV traffic reports by the best lookers) and investigations involving children.

Academic’s started disentangling the complex world of terrorism about 50 years ago.  US scholar US Professor Martha Crenshaw  has written that ‘although there’s  no consensus on any general theoretical laws of terrorism, researchers have defined key concepts and deepened explanations of cause, effect, and process.’

Jones previously worked for Human Rights Watch in the US and Amnesty International in the UK.  She praised Australian police sharing intelligence and techniques with Indonesia:  ‘The Australian government plays a huge role which is under-appreciated because they don’t crow.  I’m a big fan because they’ve done a good job.’

She also lauded the work of the Counterterrorism Special Detachment Densus 88 formed after the 2002 Bali bombings with aid and training from the US and Australia.

Jones offered little support for the theory that poverty and economic distress are factors in radicalising individuals.  Instead, she blamed corruption which ‘served terrorism more than any other external factor’ because it showed the state was immoral.

Jones’ slightly sunny forecast runs counter to a South China Morning Post story of the banned Jemaah Islamiah (Islamic congregation) responsible for the Bali bombings trying to infiltrate state institutions.  It claimed 31 civil servants had been arrested in the past decade for ‘involvement in terrorism’.

Last year the police and military snared 370 alleged subversives, though Jones said most were supporters preferring words to weapons. Pressure on courts and jails suggested more lenient punishments are needed for those not directly involved in violence.

Eradication was more cost-effective in combating extremism which was ‘deeply rooted’ in the archipelago. Jones said a low-key approach used by Indonesian authorities had been effective.  It involves persuading jailed zealots to alter their views by building a lasting personal rapport with religious officers able to demolish bloody interpretations of jihad (struggle).

When charismatic leaders were killed or imprisoned terror organisations tended to collapse or fragment.  Muhammad Rizieq Shihab aka Habib Rizieq, leader of the Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders Front) engineered mass protests against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, widely known as Ahok.

The 2016 campaign, described by one Australian academic as ‘probably the largest single religious gathering in Indonesian history’ was a success.  Ahok, an ethnic Chinese Christian, was jailed for two years for blasphemy.  For a while, the FPI seemed to be mustering enough power to threaten the democratically elected government. 

Rizieq’s rhetoric terrified minorities in Indonesia as he raged against pluralism, secularism, liberalism, gays, apostasy and other perceived Western evils. That was the firebrand’s undoing.  Indonesia is a secular state. President Joko Widodo, who’d prayed at the protests, was persuaded to kill the chicken to scare the monkeys.

Rizieq was suddenly accused of involvement in pornography, though no evidence was revealed; the charges were later dropped. He fled to Saudi Arabia and on his return was jailed for four years, not for exhorting hate, but for spreading lies about his Covid test.  The FPI was banned. Six of his followers were gunned down at night on a Jakarta street.  Only police versions of the event claiming self-defence have been published. 

Jones said disputes among dissidents over goals and ideology lead to indiscipline. Dogmatists have to stay active to draw recruits; lone-wolves are rarely smart enough to avoid detection. This month a military sweep in the jungles of Palu (Central Sulawesi) surprised and reportedly killed a xenophobe accused of beheading four Christian farmers last year.

Jones reminded that many Indonesians still wanted to go to Syria, apparently unaware of the defeat of ISIS.  If women and children in refugee camps get home some may seek to reignite extremism.

‘The threat has not gone away, but it’s lower,’ Jones said. ‘Autonomous cells can still be dangerous.’

First published in Pearls & Irritations, 14 January 2022:








Saturday, January 08, 2022



               Mais quelle horreur!  Paris poaching in our paddock leased to Washington


 Australia–France relations - Wikipedia


An ancient European power is putting more energy into courting a paramour 11,500 kilometres distant than the young swain next door. The local is forever professing passion but never seems to get his act together.

Australia gives Indonesia just enough oxygen of attention to keep the relationship breathing.  We  take the world’s fourth most populous country for granted – no risk they’ll turn bolshie as they hate Reds, and don’t sign foreign treaties.

Everything favours us. We’re one huge granary and stockyard.  They’re running up the population and running out of farmland, so they’ll need us more than we need them. 

The faraway Franks think differently. Long before Scott Morrison was labelled more fibber than cobber, Emmanuel Macron’s government had already launched an ‘Asia-wide initiative in an attempt to halt declining trade figures and improve its overall leverage with the region’.  Ironically an earlier version was revealed in Sydney in 2018 BC (Before Covid).


 Leaders of France, Australia discuss ties in 1st call since AUKUS | Daily  Sabah

  Entente cordiale no more.    ScoMo unmasked.                                                                   Credit Daily  Sabah

According to Asia expert, Philippe Le Corre of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Quai d'Orsay has long maintained ‘sustained ambitions in the Asia-Pacific region.’  That was written in 2016 and the effort hasn’t lagged.

Last September’s deal with the US and the UK sank Australia’s $66 billion French submarine contract with all Oz reputations on board.  FM Jean-Yves Le Drian responded: ‘My first comment was some sort of betrayal. The second element is a crisis of trust between historical partners, which is even more of a concern.’

Canberra’s retreat to the cosiness of the Anglosphere infuriated the French, but also re-energised their push into what policy strategists label Australia’s ‘sphere of influence’. By November Le Drian was in Jakarta ‘reaffirming France's commitment to the Indo-Pacific ... and to intensify the relationship with Indonesia.’

While some may think of France as a relic of 19th-century European glamour and the only place to climb the real engineering masterpiece of Gustave Eiffel (there are about 50 imitations around the world), Macron sees his Continental home as ‘a fully-fledged Indo‑Pacific country’.

After the AUKUS decision, Le Corre wrote that France is ‘undoubtedly the most active European country in the Indo-Pacific. The nation has an extensive maritime domain in the region in addition to 1.6 million citizens and a 7,000-men military presence—larger than that of all the other 26 EU member states combined.’

The nuclear-armed Republic is a major arms manufacturer and remains a potent force with eight nuclear-powered subs already underwater.  The Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) has reportedly grounded the idea of buying Russian aircraft and is now considering the French fighter Dassault Rafale.

Its overseas territories of New Caledonia (which voted 96.5 per cent to reject independence in a December 2021 referendum), Wallis and Futuna, French Polynesia and Clipperton Island, make France the world’s second-largest maritime domain behind the US. France also has the world’s biggest Exclusive Economic Zone, with 93 per cent in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Seventy per cent of European containerized trade passes through the Indian Ocean.  Just days before the AUKUS deal was announced the French updated their Indo-Pacific Strategy stressing others ‘can count on France’s full commitment. We will continue to play a full role in contributing to the stability of this new strategic space, which is at the core of major global challenges.’

French overseas development assistance was last year $16.8 billion compared with Australia’s $2.8 billion.  Another barometer is to measure donations against Gross National Income, aka GNP, where the percentages are 0.44 (France) and 0.22 (Aust).

Le Drian claims the Indo‑Pacific ‘is becoming the world’s strategic centre of gravity and because the security, economic, technological and environmental challenges emerging there are also ours, France and the European Union have interests to defend, values to promote and partnerships
to forge there.’

When he visited Jakarta in November the FM got to meet President Joko Widodo, a privilege not extended to Australia’s FM Marise Payne when she was in the Big Durian in September and again in November.

Then there’s the soft sell.  It’s embarrassing to report that TV channel France 24 – which telecasts in English - outdoes our overseas showcase ABC Australia on every level.  During the summer break, ABC executives decided the centrepiece of its overseas telecasts The World should take a break and be replaced by State bulletins.

So foreigners bemused by reports of parochial premiers announcing more controls to cope with the pandemic and the latest Ashes score (Indonesians don’t play cricket), had to click elsewhere for news of Myanmar massacres and the power struggle in Somalia. 

The best choice – along with Al Jazeera and BBC World – is the French State-owned service.  France 24 treats its viewers as people with interests beyond Home and Away and spends around €100 million (AUD $156 million) a year. In 2019, the ABC's budget for all international operations was $11 million, much the same level as in the 1980s.

Could the French be more reliable as amis de la sécurité than the US? As former PM Paul Keating wrote on this website: ‘America can withdraw from Asia to the safety of its west coast on the other side of the Pacific.’ 

The French could also retreat to their homeland under a different leader (the Presidential election will be in April), though shrinking La France entire would damage Gallic pride, something no serious candidate would suggest.

Maybe it wasn’t such a smart move to reject the croissants and vin rouge and go back to beer and burgers with old mates.  The menu is easier to read, but the indigestion is likely to be painful if – Sacre bleu! - the free trade digestif with the EU—now delayed by the waspish French – never gets to the table. 


First published in Pearls & Irritations, 8 January 2022: