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, July 27, 2009


Kiwi response to Jakarta killings restrained Duncan Graham

When the first news of the Jakarta hotel bombings reached New Zealand the Prime Minister John Key said the outrage was a tragedy for Indonesia.

After the body of businessman Tim David Mackay, the Kiwi victim of the explosions, was returned home it was taken on Thursday to Wellington’s magnificent Old St Paul’s church. The casket was draped with NZ maritime insignia (Mr Mackay was a former captain in the merchant marine) and Indonesia’s Merah-Putih.

Hundreds, including ten Indonesians from the Embassy, attended the service.

Tom Clough, an executive of the Swiss company Holcim Cement where Mr Mackay, 62, was president-director told the mourners: “It’s easy to blame Indonesia … but that is not what Tim would have wanted. He loved Indonesia and its people.”

Tributes to Mr Mackay mentioned his good relationships with Indonesians and the charities he helped establish. His family thanked the Indonesian people for their support. The Indonesian Embassy condemned the ‘cruel and inhumane’ bombing, and offered sympathy to the victims. Diplomats visited the family privately.
The suicide bombing of the two hotels that claimed the lives of nine people and injured more than 50 is no longer page one in NZ. Media comment has been limited and muted.

That’s not the situation in Australia where updates following the police inquiry continue to dominate the news.

Three Australians died in the blasts. The activities and views of Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir have been widely reported, including hate statements directed at Australia and its people.

There have been regular media reminders of the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202. The Australian toll was 88; three Kiwis died. Then there was the 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta that killed nine and injured 150.

Other sad, bad histories continue to grate in Australia, including the killing by Indonesian troops of five journalists working for Australian TV at Balibo in East Timor. That was in 1975, but a new film has revived the story. In fact one of the men, camera operator Gary Cunningham, was a Kiwi, but that’s often overlooked.

Understandably the rest of the world tends to bundle Australia and NZ together. Both countries were ‘discovered’ by English navigator James Cook in the 18th century and soon settled by the British.

Today they share a common heritage. Their flags are confusingly almost identical. They have a similar outlook on many things – but not towards Indonesia.

Australia has set up a taskforce to help Indonesia deal with the Jakarta bombings. But NZ Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said his country wasn’t going to be part of the response. He said the reason was because Australia has a closer relationship with Indonesia than NZ.

However two NZ police liaison officers in Jakarta are reportedly helping the Indonesian police and NZ has followed Australia and put out a travel warning against visiting Indonesia.

Australians are acutely conscious of Indonesia and sadly a large number, according to many surveys, still harbor suspicion towards their over-populated northern neighbor. The fearful know that any attack on Australia would have to pass through the Indonesian archipelago, even if it didn’t originate there.

There’s no such paranoia in NZ, where an armed threat to the South Pacific country would first have to seize and occupy 7.7 million square kilometers of Australia, much of it desert.

Having such a huge barrier between NZ and Asia helps most Kiwis take a benign view of Indonesia.

More than 50,000 Indonesian-born people live in Australia, but only 4,000 in NZ. Indonesians in NZ are frequently confused with Filipinos, and at street level there’s widespread ignorance of the nation with the largest number of Muslims in the world.

Bahasa Indonesia is widely taught in Australia, but not in NZ.

Although Kiwis are great overseas travellers they usually overfly South East Asia on their way to Europe. Australians have long seen Bali as their back-yard holiday home, while Kiwis favor the Pacific Islands.

Overall the response to the bombings in NZ has been sober and balanced. There’s been much condemnation of terrorism, but no hatred directed to Indonesia and its people, despite fanatics killing a Kiwi who only wanted to help Indonesians.

(First published in The SundayPost 26 July 2009)


Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Responses to Indonesian bombing mature Duncan Graham

‘Where, after all, is the Muslim outrage at these events, as their ancient, deeply civilized culture of love, art and philosophical reflection is hijacked by paranoiacs, racists, liars, male supremacists, tyrants, fanatics and violence junkies? Why are they not screaming?’

That outburst came from British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses. It followed the 2001 World Trade Centre destruction and the 2002 Bali bombing which destroyed the lives of 202 people, including 88 Australians.
His words were appropriate then, but not in 2009 with the Jakarta hotel bombs which killed nine. That’s because the genuine fury and concern that followed the latest blasts came from within Indonesia and across the religious landscape.
The conservative Muslim organisation Muhammadiyah did not qualify its anger. The Indonesian media even reported that cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged spiritual leader of the fundamentalist group Jemaah Islamiyah, disapproved of the bombings.
Past reaction tended to follow the ‘wayward lad’ excuse: ‘Well of course this is wrong and shouldn’t happen, but we can understand their anger and after all they are Brother Muslims …’
In 2002 the president was Megawati Soekarnoputri. She took a floppy position fearing firmness might alienate Muslim support. She also rejected US requests to interdict Bashir.
Her vice president Hamzah Haz refused to accept that radical Islam was linked to terrorism until the evidence became overwhelming. At the time Indonesia wanted no part in George Bush’s ‘war on terror’; many believed the JI was a phantom invoked by the CIA, which was why the organization was never proscribed.
But this time president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) pulled no punches, vowing to pursue and prosecute.
Sure, it’s good hairy-chested stuff, but the Indonesian security forces haven’t found the JI hardliner and master bomb-maker Noordin Mohammed Top who was probably behind the Bali and Jakarta bombings. This despite his photo being widely posted in public buildings around the country for the past five years.
He and other fundamentalists yearning for an Islamic republic may not be getting support from the public outside the extremist pesantren (Islamic boarding schools), but plenty have been prepared to turn a blind eye to their activities.
Indonesia is a country with few secrets. There’s an extensive community watch system introduced during the Japanese occupation, and which reaches right into the smallest street. Coupled with people’s natural nosiness means that no one escapes the neighbours’ scrutiny.
Unfortunately there’s little trust in the police, so unusual comings and goings may arouse comment, but are unlikely to get formally reported. Although reform continues since the police force was split from the military after Soeharto lost power, the public still believes the men in khaki are corrupt and untrustworthy, more interested in pocketing traffic fines than investigating crime.
Western culture has long included a respectable print and screen tradition of clever cops solving complex crimes. It is totally absent in Indonesia.
SBY’s instant and unequivocal response does indicate a welcome rejection of past equivocation. That included tolerating outlandish theories to brush away the idea of homegrown Islamic terrorism.
The looniest explanation had a micro nuclear weapon being fired by a US warship into the Bali nightclubs in 2002 to provoke hatred against Muslims.
The world has moved on. A new man with links to Islam and Indonesia is in the White House. The US is pulling out of Iraq. There are still plenty of reasons for disliking Western imperialism, but the easiest excuses have gone.
The JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta has been marketing itself as a safe venue following the 2003 bombing and a major upgrade in security. It has just been tested and failed dreadfully.
Security in Indonesia has always been porous and reports that this year’s bombers got into the hotel despite triggering screening alarms sounds right.
Like most Westerners I can rattle off a list of examples at many venues where security guards (known as satpam) have gone off duty leaving doors open, guards being posted on one entrance but not another, and bored officials waving through people in a hurry without making baggage checks.
Security gets tightened after every bombing so expect to see heavily armed soldiers in the streets. These will vanish as time passes, creating the opportunities for anyone with evil intent. They just need to bide their time.
Satpam are badly paid – few get more than AUD 100 a month – and many are understandably open to bribes. Some embassies reportedly replace their guards after six months in the belief that by then they’re likely to have been corrupted.
Satpam are also employed in the suburbs, closing streets between 11pm and 5 am, but if your house gets burgled, they’re the first people under suspicion.
Travel warnings may help the Australian government avoid litigation should wounded travelers who don’t read, watch or listen to the news claim they should have been told of the risks. However the alerts tend to do more harm than good. They certainly damage neighbourly relations.
Academics, students, businesspeople and others genuinely interested in Indonesia will be denied the opportunity to visit by nervous bosses and restrictive insurance polices.
Bad things and evil people exist everywhere; wise travelers will not go to the obvious targets like the up-market hotels (where you’ll never experience the real Indonesia) and maintain a low profile.
Most Indonesians are tolerant pluralists, genuinely friendly, proud of their country, and keen to meet and help visitors. Proportionally there are probably no more fanatics in Indonesia than Australia and the chance of meeting one ready to do serious harm is rare – there and here.

(First published in On Line Opinion 20 July; a similar version was also published on Scoop (NZ) the same day.)


Thursday, July 16, 2009


Indonesians reject race and religious politics Duncan Graham

Next week the Indonesian presidential election results will be officially announced. Counts so far show the present incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will be back in power for a further five years with a whacking 62 per cent of the popular vote.

His main rival in the three-way tussle was Megawati Soekarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia’s charismatic first president and so-called father of the nation. So far her score is 29 per cent. Jusuf Kalla, the vice president for the past five years, has mustered under 10 per cent despite having the backing of Golkar, the most powerful party in the country.

This is good news for the West that’s long feared the republic would suffer Balkanisation, fragmenting into warring groups fighting over sectarian issues and creating turmoil in South East Asia.

Indonesia is an archipelago nation straddling the Equator, a heady mix of about 300 ethnic groups dominated by the Javanese. It’s the fourth largest nation in the world with about 240 million people.

SBY, as he’s widely known, seems to have been re-elected because he’s stabilised the economy, tackled corruption and combated terrorism in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Up-beat commentators in Indonesia claim his win marks the end of politics based on race, faith and ethnicity as voters in the direct presidential election plumped for secular pragmatism.

Cynics, noting a drop in the number of electors bothering to vote, claimed SBY won not on his merits but because his rivals were long on slogans and short on policies. Either way it seems democracy is taking root

SBY is a US-educated former army general with a PhD in agricultural economics. Despite his military background his first term was marked by indecisiveness, though he was hampered by having to work with a coalition.

Indonesian scholar Professor Jeffrey Winters from Chicago’s Northwestern University said the lack of violence in the transition to democracy was “no small achievement.”

In adjacent Philippines, a country with a far longer democratic record, between 80 and 100 candidates get assassinated every election.

“The number one election issue was poverty and economic performance,” said Winters, in Wellington last week to address the Institute of International Affairs at Victoria University,

“Issues of human rights were not in the forefront of the debate. People are tired of the old politics known as KKN – Korupsi, Kolusi and Nepotisme – no translation required.

“It seems that the power of the generals left over from the Soeharto period has peaked.”

Indonesia only returned to democracy in the past decade after 32 years of military rule under General Soeharto.

Winters said the election campaign was lacklustre and the electorate apathetic with up to 30 per cent no longer participating in the political process.

Some tried to play the religious card claiming the wives of SBY and his running mate, Australian-trained economist Boediono, were not proper Muslims because they don’t wear headscarves.

Smear campaigns were run against ‘neo-liberals’. “Few defined the term though it generally meant being too reliant on foreign investments, not being sufficiently nationalistic and getting a bad shake internationally,” Winters said

Voters rejected candidates running on religious issues. However the rapidly expanding PKS (Prosperous Justice Party), which won almost nine per cent of the parliamentary vote on an anti-corruption, more piety ticket, is alleged to have another agenda.

The PKS has been linked to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the fundamentalist Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia, and is alleged to be working in a sophisticated way to slowly impose Islamic Sharia law on Indonesia. The party’s development is concerning moderate Muslims and the ten per cent of the population registered as followers of other faiths, mainly Christian.

As in the US, presidents are restricted to two terms. The next test for Indonesian democracy will come when SBY has to quit politics in 2014. He’ll then be 65.

“There’s already talk in Jakarta that he might want to hold onto power by trying to amend the constitution or getting his wife Ani to stand for office,” said Winters.

“The problems of succession remain.”

(First published in Scoop 15 July)


Thursday, July 02, 2009


Loving to learn: Mr Change Agent’s dream © Duncan Graham 2009

If job descriptions were written honestly, Dr Surya Dharma’s would read like this:

· Change Indonesian culture, with particular relevance to Java, so formal education is embraced as a life-long journey of learning, not something to be endured just to get a certificate for a job.
· Lift the status of teachers so the best and most incandescent school leavers compete to study education rather than business management.
· Turn Indonesian schools into humming, pulsing places where students clamor for entrance and thrive in a knowledge-rich, welcoming environment.

“I suppose I am a social engineer, and yes, it is a big task,” said Surya, catching breath during an international tour seeking the help of foreign governments, universities and schools to upgrade Indonesian education.

“I don’t know if it can be achieved in my lifetime (he’s 55 and looks robust enough) – but I hope so. We started this ten-year program in 2005 and so far it’s going well.”

Surya, the director of human resources in the Indonesian Education Ministry and chair of the ASEAN Leaders’ Roundtable Discussions, has the task of overseeing what amounts to an education revolution of massive proportions.

His qualifications make him ideal for the job of Mr Change Agent. He has a Masters degree in public policy and management from Pittsburgh University in the US, and a PhD in education policy and management from the same campus.

He has also had books published on academic achievement and performance management.

A career public servant he was handpicked for his present job after years in administration, policy and teaching.

Among Surya’s many responsibilities is doubling the salaries of the nation’s 2.7 million teachers to an average of Rp 5 million (US $500) a month, provided they upgrade their skills and attitudes.

This means they should then be able to concentrate on their day jobs without having to sizzle sate at roadside food stalls or sell mobile phone subs once classes are dismissed, just to put rice on the family table.

His task has been made easier by the truckloads of cash now being tipped into education. Under the Indonesian Constitution this is supposed to be 20 per cent of the national expenditure, a figure only reached in this year’s budget. Now there’s Rp 224 trillion (US $ 22 billion) available.

Surya and his colleagues have already been to China, Japan, Germany, Turkey, Singapore, Australia and Malaysia gleaning ideas and garnering support, and were heading to Korea after a brief stop in New Zealand.

On the Antipodean leg of his travels Surya was accompanied by two Jakarta State high school principals - Pono Fadlullah (School 70), and Harapan Situmorang (School 71).

They were invited to the NZ capital Wellington by the Indonesian ambassador Amris Hassan who has been pushing for better education ties between the two countries and particularly a memorandum of understanding. He’s also offered to pay for two top Kiwi teachers to visit Indonesia and pass on their skills.

“We have to improve the methodologies used by Indonesian teachers,” Surya said. “We want to create a new system that inspires all students so they really love to learn. We don’t want them to become bored and laze away their time in school.

“Many teachers will resist. These are the people who think that students are empty glasses into which they just pour some knowledge, little caring about the quality. Some even resort to corporal punishment. That cannot be tolerated

“Society is changing and so are standards. Teachers who meet the new expectations also have to be entrepreneurial.”

One of these new breed principals is the effervescent Pono who now gets Rp 10 million (US $1,000) a month for leading a school with 1,320 students. While in NZ he proved his worth by teaching two classes of Kiwi high school girls with skill and style, and was chuffed to learn his name in Maori translates as being true, valid and honest.

Despite his high status position in Indonesian society he had no worries about mixing it with the students at their level, singing Indonesian songs in a rich baritone and abandoning the traditional authoritarian teachers’ position behind a desk.

A major goal of the new Indonesian education policy is to have at least one high quality international school in every one of the nation’s 550 districts. Getting one computer in front of every 20 kids (the ratio is now one to 3,200) is another hope that can’t be done just by sending Bill Gates a handsome cheque.

What’s the point in having lots of laptops if there’s no electricity or Internet access, when classes are so big the teachers can’t recall names, and the first priority is to install enough toilets?

Another ambition is to have 30 per cent of school staff holding a masters degree from a certified university, and upgrade about 250,000 teachers a year. So far 600,000 have become super chalkies, and Surya is looking for international help to reach his goals by 2015.

“My message to other countries is this: Give us the opportunity to learn from your education systems and experience,” said Surya.

“The changes we’re trying to introduce have to start in the home with different attitudes towards education.

“Now we have decentralisation its up to parents to take a leading role in school management, and local government to select good principals and spend their budgets wisely. This carries some problems if regents, mayors and others appoint people for political reasons.”

Surya said that the standard parents’ complaints about education being too expensive had to be put into perspective. While primary schooling was free, costs like uniforms and transport had to be handled by local government, which should be working to eliminate disadvantage.

“In Indonesia there’s been a strong culture of authority in schools, as though the teacher knows everything. The students won’t challenge or ask questions for fear they might be considered ignorant.

“In western schools when the teacher asks for questions all the kids raise their hands.

“When I was studying in the US my daughter hated Fridays because that meant the weekend was approaching and she couldn’t attend school and see her teacher for two days.

“She looked forward to Mondays so she could get back to class. That’s a feeling I’d like all Indonesian students to enjoy.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post, 1 July 2009)