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

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Don't get annoyed - publish

It doesn’t seem to take much to rile Vedi Hadiz. Which is strange because he’s not a gouty Dr
Grumps railing impotently against real or imagined wrongs.
In fact the Professor of Asian Studies and Politics at
Western Australia’s Murdoch University is a relaxed and funny iconoclast in a
dream job, with many good years and yarns left in his nimble 48 year old brain.
It’s just that he gets mightily upset about sloppy reporting, shallow thinking and easy assumptions about Indonesia. Particularly when these come from ‘security experts’ whose facile pronouncements get picked up in the media, recycled by politicians and used to mould policy.

(In this swipe he excluded the International Crisis Group’s Jakarta analyst Sidney Jones.)

“A sense of being annoyed is a great incentive for research,” he said “I’m pissed-off by simplistic ideas, like decentralisation equals democracy which leads to good governance and good civil society.

“That’s naive and misleading. In fact decentralization has provided a lifeline for the old elites who’ve continued their predatory political behaviour, assembling private wealth through control of public resources.

“I get annoyed by the rants of people with no knowledge of Islamic politics who claim terrorism equals chaos and who think (the jailed firebrand cleric) Abu Bakar Bashir runs Indonesia.
“In fact the radical Islamists have found politics and bombs don’t work so they’re going back to proselytizing and dakwah (the preaching of Islam).”

Professor Hadiz hasn’t voted in the new democracy because “the presidential field has been so pathetic”.

He doesn’t expect either his position or the offerings to change in the 2014 elections. The same faces are still in charge, though this time their platforms are festooned with democracy

For President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) Professor Hadiz reserves special disgust, particularly for not standing up to the “thugs” in the Front Pembela Islam (FPI – Islamic Defenders’ Front) who have terrorised those it considers deviants and heretics.

“SBY is afraid of everything under the sun,” he said. “He’s afraid of (political party) Golkar, (Golkar chair) Aburizal Bakrie, his fellow generals, Islamic radicals and people in his own party.
He claims he doesn’t have the power to fix some problems, but he’s more gutless than powerless.”
Professor Hadiz’s comments aren’t the soundings of an empty vessel. He’s also a Future Fellow of the Australian Research Council, an honor not given to blowhards
The son of a diplomat whose family was originally from Bukittinggi he spent time as a child in the US and UK. In Britain he developed a taste for soccer and Earl Grey tea. He also tweaked his vowels into a fine English accent, now laced with Aussie slang, smothering his Jakarta origins and University of Indonesia education.

This was during the authoritarian rule of President Soeharto that banned liberal pronouncements and unauthorized books. The first obstacle was overcome at home where the family of parents plus five (he was number four) discussed local and world affairs, underpinned by Western publications smuggled into the Republic.

He found UI “politically staid” and run by fearful old men. He became an activist in the danger days. “Most of what I learned was from outside the university,” Professor Hadiz said. “I didn’t want to follow my father into the bureaucracy.

“Some of my writing was so heavily censored I couldn’t understand what I was supposed to be saying. “Every time I came back to Soekarno-Hatta I feared Immigration would pull me aside. Not now. Instead it happens in Europe and the US because I travel on an Indonesian passport.”

On graduating he moved to Murdoch as a doctoral student, attracted by the high quality work being undertaken at the Asian Research Centre. After a few years he returned to Indonesia with a
PhD expecting academic accolades. Instead his homeland universities turned their backs on their high-achieving son.

Maybe they were still edgy – Soeharto had gone but not his acolytes. Employing a lecturer infected by the Western tradition of academics speaking their minds might stir students are rupture routines.
Indonesia’s loss – neighbor’s gain. For the next ten years he worked as an associate professor in Singapore’s National University Depa rtment of Sociology. Two years ago he moved back to Murdoch to research State, class and Islamic populism.

His latest book is Localising Power in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia: A Southeast Asia Perspective.
Soon he’ll fly to Cairo to swap ideas with fellow scholars on the development of Islamic parties since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. He’s undertaken similar research in Turkey.
Not speaking Arabic and being a “KTP (ID card) Muslim who drinks beer and wine” isn’t a handicap. His Middle Eastern name flags red at US border controls but in the Nile Valley it’s a credibility passport for field trips.

Recently he’s looked at Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey’s AKP (Justice and Development Party). He’s compared these with Indonesia’s Islamic Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), the Justice
and Prosperity Party.

Professor Hadiz believes that unlike the AKP the PKS is in decline, unable to develop broad support. “It’s in a bind,” he said. “It doesn’t have access to big funds, which in Indonesia are
controlled by the Chinese bourgeoisie.

“It can’t get to the regions through charity work because (the Islamic organizations) Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama dominate. If it seeks public appeal as an open party its Islamic colors will fade.

“Intellectually it’s important for scholars to get away from a Southeast Asian focus. I find comparative studies theoretically enriching, useful in understanding what’s happening in Indonesia. For example, unlike others I never bought the euphoria of 1998.

“Nor do I accept all economic boom claims. There’s a mega black economy
involved in smuggling, deforestation, gambling and drugs that never features in
the official GDP statistics. We’ve had growth without investment – so where did the money come from?

“People say I’m a pessimist. I can’t understand that. I’m not disillusioned with Indonesian democracy – this is the way I expected it to go. Yet with all its faults I still prefer this
to the New Order.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 21 February 2012)

Sunday, February 19, 2012


So near, so far

The figures on Australians learning Indonesian offer a sad commentary on neighborly respect.
Eight years ago 28 universities were teaching Indonesian. Now there’s only 15. About 99 per cent of children who start learning the language of the people next door quit before they finish school.
One woman is determined to reverse the trend.
Duncan Graham reports from Perth:

It started simply, just a social tennis club outing. Australian Karen Bailey wasn’t keen when her team mates suggested an end-of-season trip to Bali. The primary school teacher thought there were better ways to spend a vacation. She was 28, married with two children, settled in the job she’d wanted since she was five.

The year was 1987 and Bali was already overcrowded with hedonistic young Westerners.
“Everyone went there, so I didn’t want to,” she recalled. “I knew Bali was part of Indonesia but that was all.” However her friends jollied her along.

“After three days of culture shock I noticed one team member carried a little phrase book,” Ms Bailey recalled. “I saw how well he was interacting, and how people warmed to him.
“I thought about this back in Perth and later made a decision: I resolved I would learn Indonesian and I would teach the language. It was a gradual process but I got there.”

In fact much further. Twenty-five years on she’s the Asian Languages Consultant in the West Australian Department of Education and Training, and can even decode sinetron
(TV soap operas using Jakarta slang) though she finds the plots tiresome.

Mrs Bailey has just returned from Denpasar where she supervised a group of Australian teachers building their skills and knowledge. But it’s her voluntary work as founder and project
manager for Balai Bahasa Indonesia Perth that’s helping turn around the declining
interest in Indonesian.

It wasn’t always so.
The golden years were the 1990s. Japanese had been the Asian tongue of choice as Australians sought to interact with their important trading partner. But as Japan’s economic power waned,
so did interest in the language.

Indonesia, about to shake off the shackles of an authoritarian regime, was on the move.
It was time to reposition. Mrs Bailey became the president of the Westralian
Indonesian Language Teachers’ Association in 1994 when the organization had 30
members. Ten years later it had 184. The surge seemed unstoppable.

Sadly, no. The 1999 East Timor Referendum changed
the situation dramatically. Indonesians saw their southern neighbor interfering in the Republic’s internal affairs and assaulting the near-sacred Unitary State.
On the south shore of the Arafura Sea Australians reacted with horror at the brutality of military-backed militias refusing to accept the will of the majority and taking revenge on separatists.
Next was the 2002 Bali bomb, killing 202 people, including 88 Australians. The Indonesian
love affair was over. Who’d want to learn the language of bad losers and abusers of human rights? Never mind only a tiny minority offended and the issues were complex; the poisons of prejudice were swallowed by both sides.

Then came the political and industrial rise of China. Mandarin is now the must-have
language for enterprising students hoping to market their services internationally.
Funds? No worries. The Chinese government-backed Confucius Institute had the cash, following the model of European countries pushing their culture and languages abroad through organizations like Germany’s Goethe Institut and France’s Alliance Francaise.
An Australian government paper described Indonesian as ‘a language without a clearly articulated educational rationale that resonates with students, families and school communities’. It asked:
‘How does a ‘big’ language without a significant advocacy group arrest a steep decline?’
Cometh the moment, cometh the woman. Speaking at the Kongres Bahasa IX (the quinquennial conference on Indonesian language and literature) Mrs Bailey argued that Indonesia’s Balai
Bahasa (language centers) should spread overseas.

At Soekarno-Hatta she bumped into Perth vice-consul Suhendar. Over a coffee he became
infected by the Australian’s enthusiasm and promised consular support.
Balai Bahasa Indonesia Perth (BBIP) was formed in 2008 as a non-profit body to ‘assist Australians and Indonesians to interact more effectively … and strive to foster a positive attitude amongst the people of our two countries.”

BBIP was the first in the Commonwealth. Another has been formed in Canberra – other capitals are interested. Three years later the efforts of Mrs Bailey and her
colleagues have won a two-year Federal Government grant of AUD $ 380,000 (Rp
3.6 billion) to turn the tide.
Getting Australians to reappraise Indonesia won’t be easy. “I’ve been marking essays by students studying Indonesian,” Mrs Bailey said. “Several wrote that asylum seekers are Indonesians. (Refugees board Indonesian craft but are from Afghanistan, Iran, Burma and Sri Lanka.)
“The biggest obstacle is that many of my teaching colleagues don’t acknowledge that Indonesian is important. School leaders develop their perspectives from the media.
“As educators we shouldn’t be focusing on economics, but these factors are really
important; we tend to look over Indonesia to more distant countries. Yet we are so close and our lives so connected.”

BBIP is now running evening language classes at the Consul General’s office. Most students are adults planning business or adventurers seeking a richer travel experience.

Some teachers of Indonesian in WA are Malaysians, so the organization is bringing in Indonesian graduates to work as teaching assistants. Last year BBIP staged Perth’s first Indonesian film
festival featured with visits by actors like Derby Romero, star of Cinta di Perth (Love in Perth).
There’ll be more. Mid-year BBIP will take Australian principals on a tour of Java to spur their interest, and will sponsor Indonesian artists to work with local schools.

At the same time the unstoppable Mrs Bailey wants sister-city relationships established as bases for cultural exchanges.

“The Australian funding isn’t recurrent so I hope we’ll get Indonesian support in the future,” she said. “We can’t work Indonesia out if we can’t communicate.”
The tennis club trip has become a love-all match with the neighbors.
(First published in The Sunday Post, 19 February 2012)


Historian dolf Heuken has complained in this newspaper about the loss of Jakarta’s
heritage, particularly the Dutch era homes of Menteng.

The German-born Jesuit is now an Indonesian citizen and the author of scholarly books on old Jakarta. He’s earned the right to comment and be heard.

So what’s it like to live in this splendid suburb where you can almost smell the money
and sense the might?

I’d like to report my trial as an exercise in learning how the other half lives. Instead I
discovered a little of how half of 0.01 per cent thrives in decaying colonial
grandeur or kitsch modernism.

Cliché recyclers describe Menteng as a ‘leafy suburb’, but the evergreen menteng,
aka Burmese grapes, are now rare.

There are other trees, but the real attraction is the solid Dutch architecture that’s
fighting a losing battle against Philistine developers. These tasteless wreckers prefer garish mixes
of Venetian Gothic and Mock Romanesque to the steep tiled roofs, shuttered
windows and whitewashed walls of a Euro-centric past.

To live in Menteng is to do a time somersault. Soekarno once told the Dutch to go to hell, but some hibernated in Menteng.

Actually there were more Javanese in our villa than wrinkled ex-imperialists. But the latter controlled the soundscape, shouting greetings as though communicating across canals, not a narrow corridor of hard ceramic where consonants ricochet and vowels skate off the polished

The locals have learned to be spare in manners and movements, to keep the pace slow, to
perfect the Menteng Shuffle. This is a showplace for the refined Javanese art of energy conservation.

Traffic is so calm it’s even safe to cross the streets without first getting three
insurance quotes. The Hondas are muffled by a sense of reverence for Menteng and its up-scale residents. Even the mosques use quietspeakers.

The Australian ambassador lives close to his Vietnamese counterpart; across the road are the
Saudis and Iraqis. If they used their peaceful surrounds for a street party maybe the Middle East protests and the asylum seeker issues could be sorted out under the soothing perfume of the

A century ago architect PAJ Moojen designed Menteng as Jakarta’s first garden city.
Recent residents have done their bit to destroy the planner’s open vision by excluding
outsiders with high walls and steel screens.

Fortunately some servants leave gates open as they gather round roadside snack vendors
after saluting farewells to the tinted windows. Only they know if there’s anyone actually inside the limousines.

Once the sleek black Mercedes have slithered away the minders relax, giving passers-by the
chance to gape at the occasionally handsome, sometimes crass, buildings within.

This is a high security area bristling with police. But the cheery cops bored brainless watching for terrorists are happy to chat, treating us twilight strollers like human beings, guilty only of enjoying the environment. Imagine that happening in Pennsylvania Avenue or Downing

We’re not alone. The diplomats may be aloof but there are drivers, gardeners, maids and
guards abroad – mostly friendly folk.
And cats. These aren’t the scared kinky-tailed creatures of the kampong, but well-bred lynx-eyed lovelies.

Menteng’s pedigree pussies are regal, as befits creatures that patrol this weird
topsy-turvy world, with its mysterious little openings in the rusting fences
and crumbling concrete, gateways of creepers leading to dank and curious

Embassy courtyards are swept by movement sensors, monitored by cameras, but high tech
cannot reach the musty nooks and crannies where the felines prowl, knowing the

They’re the guardians of Menteng, along with Father Heuken who lives here in an understated
palace of books. He says the suburb will lose its identity if demolition continues.

Menteng’s architecture may change but it will remain an island in the Archipelago. Curved
roofs will yield to flat tops. The old will tumble and the grotesque grow, but the identity will stay.

Menteng is exclusive inside and mildly egalitarian outside, likeable but fully accessible
only to VVIPs as in colonial days. For those thinking of moving in, here are some tips: Hearken to Heuken. Be kind to the custodian cats - and wonder why more Indonesians can’t enjoy such surroundings.

(First published in The Sunday Post 19 February 2012)


Monday, February 06, 2012


Contemplating change
Siriakus Ndolu knows what it’s like to be persecuted for religious beliefs.

In 2005 the Catholic priest was meditating in WestJava. Because he fears retelling the
event might spur a repeat we’ll keep the location secret.Enough to say a fundamentalist nob stoned his tiny cottage and those of four other meditating priests, claiming they were there to
‘Christianise’ villagers.
Ironically the priests were hermits in silent contemplation. They weren’t even communicating with each other; conversion was neither planned nor possible.
The police intervened and local people gave protection. Further trouble was prevented when key
Catholics in the government and military got involved.

“Yes, I was frightened,” said Father Siriakus. “That was a psychological reaction. But faith is deeper. I trust my life to God.
“The attackers didn’t understand Christianity. They came from outside the district. They were provoked, told they must kill. Of course I forgive them.”

There’s little chance the Flores-born Carmelite will have a similar experience in his present job as chaplain to the Indonesian Catholic community in Perth. He arrived last year after 15 months of services led by an Australian priest who spoke only a little Indonesian. But the 620 Catholic families in the Western Australian capital wanted a native speaker for their spiritual guide.

What they’ve also got is a man who has clear views on secular issues, nurtured in Indonesia through contemplation and sharpened by his experiences abroad.

“About 90 per cent of my parishioners are ethnic Chinese, mainly from Jakarta and Surabaya,” he said. “They don’t identify with other Chinese living in Australia. They are Indonesians.

“Many arrived after the 1998 riots during the fall of Suharto. Some have retired, others are
students or in business. I’m told they are happy here and more are coming. Many apply for permanent residence but they maintain their Indonesian culture, language and identity.
“Some work in Indonesia while their families stay in Perth. This can create problems. I urge
husbands and wives to stay together. Family unity is so important.”
The other message to his busy Westernizing flock is to slow down and consider the benefits of contemplative prayer.
It’s something he promoted for several years in East Java working out of Malang, the city where he studied theology and was ordained in 1995.
He’s a follower of the English Benedictine monk John Main who lived in Malaysia where he discovered meditation using a mantra. He learned the techniques from an ascetic, then taught them in the US and Britain.
Father Siriakus has written a small book Meditasi Kristiani (Christian Meditation)
outlining his ideas. He has used this to set up contemplative prayer groups across East Java and hopes to do the same in WA.
A mountain to climb, and not just because – as he admits - Indonesians aren’t always happy in their own company. There are demands and seductions not present in the Republic.
While many of the 8,000 Indonesians in Perth attend mosques, temples and churches, their hosts
tend to prefer beaches and barbeques to piety and prayer.
“I’m constantly asked why atheism is increasing,” said Father Siriakus
“I think one reason is that the government in Australia takes care of almost everything, welfare, education, health care. My parishioners pay high tax but they don’t complain because they get good services in return.”
It’s this first-hand experience of a multicultural Western democracy that’s now shaping Father Siriakus’ views. As a child he thought the West was immoral, but as he became better educated realised all nations harbor wrongs.
“We think Australians are secular, but their society has been built on Christian values,” he said.
He’s been impressed with the discipline of traffic, the efficiency of public transport, the quality of roads and parks, the care for the elderly and handicapped and the integrity of politicians.
Cynical Australians electors might raise their eyebrows at this last observation, but the priest is adamant. “Here the government works for the people, but in my country government people work for themselves,” he said.
“Public servants must learn to be servants of the people. I want politicians and administrators at all levels to embrace a code of ethics. This should require them to act with integrity, be rofessional, work for the poor and ensure the nation’s resources are fairly shared.
“I want to tell our leaders that the system can work. I know, because I’ve seen it function here. Like the parable of the sower I want to spread the word.”
It might sound airy-fairy, perhaps the product of excess meditation and insufficient realpolitik, but Father Siriakus, 44, is no callus-kneed philosopher. His father is a farmer and local community leader who fostered a sense of social justice among his nine children. On a recent trip to Flores to visit his sick mother Father Siriakus challenged a local politician to lift his game, and pledges to do the same nationally when he returns to Indonesia in 2014.
With other Carmelites he is establishing a hermitage outside the northern port of Maumere, safe on the slopes of Mount Kelikeo. Here lay and clergy will be able to retreat from the world to meditate, a practice he recommends because it brings the contemplative “closer to God.”
“Our power to serve the people originates from an inner spirit, otherwise known as love,” he said. “During my year as a hermit I spent time gardening and caring for animals and fish – it brought me in contact with nature.
“I’ll probably go back to a hermitage sometime in the future, but now I’m completely engaged with the world.
“Indonesia is a nation full of gossip, of talk about unworthy things, and too many worries. As Indonesians we should follow the culture of quietness that is part of Javanese tradition, to think about our people, our culture, the past and the future.

“Change must come from within. We cannot start to clean the world unless we first clean our own homes.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 6 February 2012)