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

Thursday, December 27, 2018


Playing the blame game                          

Early-warning buoys were either absent or broken when last Saturday’s tsunami roared through Selat Sunda, killing around 400, smashing villages and resorts.

Even if the devices had been present they’d have made no difference.  An undetectable freak undersea landslip sent the high-speed wave across the narrow strait, say geologists.

Measurable earthquakes cause most tsunamis, so buoys and other gear desperately need upgrading.  The tragedy has goaded the government with President Joko Widodo pledging on TV to review the budget for disaster readiness.

Welcome news for the Badan (Agency) Meteorologi, Klimatologi dan Geofisika (BMKG).  Its 2018 budget was around Rp 1.7 trillion (US $116 million). It claims more than double is needed to modernize the tsunami warning system.

Still not enough.  Experts urge a shake-up of all agencies along with an intensive and persistent public education campaign to help reduce deaths and destruction.

Starting point

Among the first outsiders to know of a natural disaster are the young scientists working in an eerie chamber on the second floor of BMKG’s Central Jakarta HQ.

This squats on the notorious 40,000 kilometer-long circle of Pacific coastlines; this Ring of Fire is where more than 75 per cent of the world’s volcanoes spew terror, and their attendant quakes turn buildings to rubble.

At any one time at least six staff watch two giant screens cluttered with maps and quivering with ever-changing data 

If all sensors across the world’s largest archipelago and neighboring seas and lands are in place and working well, an earthquake will be reported within seconds.

A signal flashes to the circling 1.3 ton Himawari 8 Japanese satellite 36,000 kilometers above the Equator, then dives down to the BMKG.

An alarm shrills.  A stentorian voice speaks: ‘Attention, attention, attention.  Earthquake detected. Please check your data as soon as possible.’ 

In less than five minutes the staff must analyze the flood of information suddenly swamping their screens. 

Information engineers’ favorite saying is GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. If key data is unavailable or corrupted then decisions are also likely to be flawed.

No warnings came with the Selat Sunda tragedy, but the situation was different in Central Sulawesi. On the evening of Friday 28 September the system failed for the people of Palu.  So who was at fault?

Reform needed now



When it all starts to crumple a scapegoat has to be found.

Dr Dwikorita Karnawati knows this well.  After the magnitude 7.5 quake hit Palu, wagging fingers pointed at the head of BMKG for not ensuring her office had warned of the incoming five-meter high tsunami; the wave swept through the city killing 2,256, injuring double that number.
The damage bill has already reached Rp 13.82 trillion (US $911 million), according to Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana (BNPB - the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.
In Indonesia’s bureaucracy handling calamities there’s an abundance of departments and ministries with confusing acronyms, most starting with the letter B; Karnawati has to negotiate with at least ten outside her own.
The UK-trained geological engineer and former Rector of Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University, was publicly pressured to resign by a Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat  (DPR -House of Representatives) commission which handles public works.
She refused.  “Unfortunately equipment which should have been turned on was not working,” she said.              We had to rely on data from elsewhere which didn’t show a tsunami of any magnitude.”
After the 2004 Indian Ocean wave which killed 228,000, most in the northwest Sumatra city of Banda Aceh, sensor buoys were launched to monitor ocean movements.  Their installation and maintenance was the responsibility of Badan Pengkajian dan Penerapan Teknologi, (BPPT - Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology).
During the following years there were reports of the buoys being vandalized and poorly maintained.
“They were not accessed by BMKG,” Karnawati said. “We considered tidal gauges more reliable.
“The one nearest Palu showed only a slight swell. Warning Receiver Systems (WRS) have been provided to the Local Authority Command Centers.  (WRS can be computers linked to the Internet, fax machines and phone lines.  All are susceptible to power failures.)
“The evacuation command can be activated only by the BNPB or its district counterparts after receiving the early warning from us.
“WRS must stay on for 24 hours every day. The ones in Palu had either been turned off or were not working. Phone and electricity lines were down so contact was impossible.
“We have no power beyond supplying information and warning.  Then it’s up to others.”
The most potent alert should have been the thumping earth, telegraphing residents to head for the hills.  Why didn’t more do so? 

Coping with complacency

A recent Lion Air flight from Jakarta to Malang had six uniformed off-duty flight attendants seated by mid-cabin exits.  Despite knowing the routines inside out, they were still publicly instructed by the crew on how to open the windows and deploy the slides.

Unnecessary?  Not to the International Civil Aviation Organization, the UN authority which sets emergency procedure rules.   No matter how experienced the passengers they still get lectured about seat belts, life rafts ‘and a whistle to attract attention’.

That’s not happening in Indonesia with natural disaster preparedness. According to the BNPB - in 2017 Indonesia had more than 2,300 floods, tornadoes and landslides.

Almost 400 people were killed or disappeared; more than a thousand were injured and 3.5 million displaced.

Bad though these were individually, they lacked the huge trauma of this year’s events that have triggered demands for better readiness.

“It’s different in Japan,” said geophysicist Tri Handayani,(left) who like many BMKG scientists has been trained in the East Asian nation.  

“The realization of danger is embedded in the culture from grandparents through to little children.  They all know what to do.”

Karnawati talks of 2008 as the “golden age” of awareness when citizens still remembered the Indian Ocean tsunami four years earlier.

And not just the survivors and victims’ families; politicians passed a raft of laws to create InaTEWS, the tsunami early warning system. 

Then people began to forget.  Budgets were trimmed and training courses given less attention.  Rigid rules became rubbery.

This despite the InaTEWS guidebook stating that knowing what to do ‘depends on the preparedness both of local institutions and communities at risk … who are obliged to analyze the tsunami risk, prepare tsunami contingency and evacuation plans’.

The law orders local authorities to implement instructions.  The rules even go down to the duties of hotel managers to explain escape routes to guests.

“If there’s no community engagement it’s very challenging for our warnings to turn into action,” Karnawati said. “Among the many problems is that leaders and officials constantly change; so do their policies.” 
Homes, shops and offices collapsed because they’d been badly built, or erected on unstable ground.
Natural hazards expert Professor Phil Cummins of the Australian National University worked on an aid program with Australian and Indonesian scientists updating the National Seismic Hazard Map. This underpins the building code.
“The problem is that the code is only applied and enforced for tall buildings (above eight floors) in Java,” he said.  “It should be used for a wider class of buildings but that could really drive up construction costs.”
The geological events that caused the quake and tsunami are still being researched but some academics, including Cummins, claim the death toll was not a failure of technology, but education and planning. 
Commented Associate Professor Adam Switzer, principal investigator at Singapore’s Earth Observatory: “No tsunami model could accurately provide a warning for what happened in Palu.
“The earthquake is the warning and people need to be educated to move quickly away from the coast or get to an elevated position as soon as the shaking stops.
“(Computer) tsunami models are very effective in places at a distance where the earthquake may not have been felt but a tsunami is heading in that direction. In the local sense like Palu the tsunami will be at your feet before the warning arrives.”
Karnawati said she’d technically broken the law by venturing into education. Her office has produced a limited edition of a thin brochure titled: What you should do before and after an earthquake. 
Although it has some cartoons it’s also text heavy. In New Zealand schoolchildren are simply taught to DROP (to the floor) COVER (with desk or chair) and HOLD - and to know evacuation routes.   Internationally the Great Shakeout earthquake drills keep the public alert.
More than 62 million participants in 62 countries have registered.  The Philippines has seven million, Mexico nine million and Iran 14 million. 
Indonesia, with more than 5,000 quakes a year and 26 million primary school students, has just 196 individuals involved.
The present surge in building roads and rails recalls last century’s exciting age of development.  The downside is that maintenance and equipment replacement requests from dull departments slip off the list of priorities.

Karnawati estimates BMKG requires Rp 3.5 trillion (US $241 million) to get the system working efficiently. (The 2018 budget is around Rp 1.7 trillion (US $116 million).

 “That’s needs, not wants;” she said.  “The money wouldn’t go on staff (she already has almost 5,000 across 31 centers in the archipelago) but modern equipment and training.

“The government is now preparing an additional budget for the enhancement of the existing Tsunami Warning System; this will more than double the 2018 budget allocation.”
 “The question is not that Rp 3.5 trillion will be enough, it’s how coastal communities can be better prepared,” responded Indonesian academic Dr Jonatan Lassa. He lectures in humanitarian emergencies and disaster management at Australia’s Charles Darwin University 
”Technical updates are necessities; this very much depends on negotiations by the upper-stream of InaTEWS plus politicians.
“Having solid sub-systems at the downstream end (communities), and the middle stream (local governments), is not yet in the minds of policy makers.
“What’s always neglected is community preparedness. So far we have only a few episodes of ‘unfinished reform’. Policy responses for a long-term solution are also slow. I can’t see how reform is taking shape.”
Karnawati stopped short of arguing for fewer agencies and more cooperation; these are policy issues and could unleash political pique if a bureaucrat ventured too far.  But she did say:

 “In my correspondence with ministers I always note that in the 1945 Constitution it’s the State’s role to protect the entire Indonesian nation.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 27 December 2018)



Wednesday, December 19, 2018


ASEAN:  WETHERS, NOT RAMS              

Half a century ago five neighboring nations got together with a set of fine ideals.  These included boosting economic growth, promoting peace and lifting living standards.

That was the excuse. The real purpose was to block the spread of Communism, now a spent force outside China and satellites like North Korea. So why keep the Association of Southeast Asian Nations alive?


That’s the question posed by former Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Marty Natalegawa’s book:  Does ASEAN Matter? A view from within. (ISEAS Press, Singapore).

ASEAN has tried remakes: A decade ago the members - now expanded to ten - decided to emulate the European Common Market; that goal was kicked aside by the 2008 financial crisis. 

Then it was suggested ASEAN develop a Human Rights Charter; that’s been shredded by member Myanmar’s brutal persecution of the Muslim Rohingya, forcing 700,000 into Bangladesh from their razed villages in Rakhine State.

They fled what the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission has labeled genocide, and urged ASEAN to act.

A year has passed. The refugees have not returned home.  Apart from calls for a ‘durable solution’ ASEAN summits have shuffled around the mess, revealing the organization is more wether than ram.

Western critics of ASEAN get squashed by cultural racism claims, being told clumsy outsiders don’t appreciate the ‘Asian Way’ of quiet consultation and resolution by consensus.

Natalegawa, FM between 2009 and 2014, understands East and West. Educated in Britain, the US and Australia (at the ANU) he joined Foreign Affairs when just 23.

He bypassed the stairs and went straight to the lift with coveted postings to New York and London before scoring the top job under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, known as SBY.

The suave Sundanese became internationally recognizable for his trademark heavy frame glasses.  He seemed to radiate confidence and calm - at least in public.

His job was to articulate Indonesian foreign policy in ways the world could understand. Under SBY this meant the glib slogan ‘a thousand friends and zero enemies.’

OK for countries where politicians use Google to locate the Archipelago.  However not for those nearby where consensus has been rare, like the century-old Cambodia-Thailand border dispute.

Natalegawa impressed many, though not SBY’s successor Joko  ‘Jokowi’ Widodo. The former Governor of Jakarta, more concerned with domestic affairs, picked Netherlands Ambassador Retno Marsudi who hasn’t had the same impact.

Why did Natalegawa go?  Goodness, he’s only 55 and has much to give. Jakarta gossip claims Megawati Soekarnoputri, chair of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, the largest party in the House of Representatives, imposed her choice on Widodo.

Another theory is that the untested new president felt insecure having such a cosmopolitan intellectual at the high table.

Face-to-face Natalegawa is warm, but his prose is cold, an academic trying to be a journalist. This makes an awkward read for those without acronyms in their lexicons. 

Occasionally he speaks his mind: ‘... It is a source of profound regret that lately ASEAN has not been able to project a united position to the outside world.’  He contrasts this to the time when members backed Myanmar’s so-called transition to democracy.

The Rohingya’s plight flared under Natalegawa’s watch. ‘In January 2013 I took special efforts to build the appropriate ‘comfort level’ among the Myanmar authorities.’  Whatever that means, it failed.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Islamic nation and ASEAN’s Big Daddy could be using its clout to lead condemnation of Myanmar and maintain the pressure. But here’s the sticking point:  Members agree not to interfere in their mates’ affairs.

Widodo has visited the Bangladesh camps, approved aid programs and warned that the calamity could impact regional peace. Thus far, but no further. There’s no record of demanding ASEAN action or UN intervention.

Occasionally the odd academic suggests Australia should join ASEAN. Earlier this year some Fairfax papers quoted Widodo saying this would be a ‘good idea’, and deduced this meant active encouragement.
Aaron Connelly, Director of the Lowy Institute’s Southeast Asia Project, delivered a short lesson on squinting at different cultures through Western specs:
Reality check: Australia has not been invited to join ASEAN, and will not be invited to join ASEAN in our lifetimes. Jokowi (Widodo) was offering a ‘Javanese response’, trying to be polite.’
Natalegawa stresses ASEAN’s wins - no wars, visa-free movement of citizens, more trade and a forum where diplomats can quench misunderstandings by having their counterparts on speed dial.

Maybe calm and cooperation would have prevailed anyway as the US withdrawal after losing the Vietnam War moved countries from belligerence to development.
Fixing the Rohingya’s plight isn’t the only catch ASEAN has dropped.  Natalegawa says he worked hard to get a common position on China’s extensions into the South China Sea.

The reality is that Indonesia, like other ASEAN states, has trade ties and is heavily in debt to China for major infrastructure loans.  ASEAN’s population of 640 million is half that of China.  Size matters, but does ASEAN?

The author had a near-impossible job. Sometimes he vents frustration but overall sees more positives than negatives, though member states are such a disparate mix - authoritarian, Communist, military and feudal.

Indonesia is the only true democracy in this weird gathering. Natalegawa could have used his pages to muster a powerful argument for his nation to show moral leadership. 

Although he concludes with some suggestions for improving ASEAN, these are delivered in jargon, like ‘transformative outlook’ and  ‘people-centric’.

Readers looking for clear policy directions from a master diplomat will be disappointed.  Historians who enjoy posed handshake snaps might be satisfied.

Now that’s out of the way, here’s the plea:  Dear Dr N: Please find a tough editor and write another book answering the important question posed in your title.  We need to know.

First published in Pearls and Irritations, 19 December 2018: 


Monday, December 17, 2018


Having a say on everything 

Despair needs no tour guide in Indonesia.

Chaotic traffic, trash-clogged drains, poverty, corruption ... if the list had an official STOP sign it would be dug up and sold.

Enough negativity. This review celebrates a positive. Offsetting the moans is freedom to comment, a right that veteran activist Jusuf Wanandi has exercised well during his long adventurous career and now collected in Testimony of Changes. 

Hazards remain, like blasphemy charges ignited by militants, and defamation writs fired by the wealthy to mask their chicanery. Three of the four pillars of democracy – the judiciary, the executive and the law, badly need repair.

However the fourth column – the media – is, in this century, upright by the standards of a region where armies and autocrats crush those venturing alternative ideas.

Singapore’s Straits Times is a most handsome daily, clean and well laid out like the city. It splashes international news with a sprinkling of minor local happenings. Expect nothing critical of the government.

Now consider Wanandi. The only country in the region where this intellectual gadfly is free to let his mind roam publicly, is the one where he was born in 1937, cursed to live in interesting times, blessed to do so with a muscular mind..

The sub-title Consolidating Indonesian Democracy and Forging Regional Cooperation is hardly an invitation for anyone beyond academic historians.

Which is sad because there’s much here to help latecomers understand how the world’s third largest democracy arrived at this position.

Wanandi has an easy style but the freewheeling employed in his autobiography Shades of Grey is largely absent.

Face-to-face he’s a splendid retailer of gossip and a vault of secrets. Some he unlocks. He’s selective, careful, knowing values shift; Policies which once seemed right, like the extrajudicial persecution of real or imagined Communists in 1965 - 66, are now considered criminal.

His ebullience tends to deflect criticism of his more questionable decisions, like support for taking over East Timor.

In print he’s more restrained – though not with former Australian PM John Howard: ‘A gentleman from a small town in 19th century England who was unaware and not interested in
what was happening in East Asia.’ In fact Howard was born (1939) and raised in Sydney. Wanandi later modified his judgment.

His favorite all-bundling term ‘East Asia’ befuddles; Westerners define it as Korea and Japan, with all below as Southeast Asia.

The book is organized in seven sections each holding 15 to 30 op-eds from The Jakarta Post. They’re in chronological sequence, starting in 1984 when this newspaper began, showing it was into serious journalism with concerns about Kampuchea – now Cambodia.

Lots to savor – knowing where we’ve been and what some were thinking can help us see ahead.
But, alas, alack; how to access that vision without an index?

An incomprehensible omission because Testimony of Changes isn’t a set-course dinner but a spread of snacks. How does the author assess former US Presidents Bush and Obama? What are his hopes for ASEAN, which he strongly supports, and VP Jusuf Kalla’s thoughts on democracy?

To find the answers stock-up with limitless patience and bookmarks.

Applauders include former Australian Labor Party Foreign Minister Gareth Evans. He praises Wanandi’s ‘informed, balanced and constructive voice.’

Yes, but; Wanandi is not a colorless bob-each-way observer. The former University of Indonesia law lecturer was a strident right-wing activist during the 1965 coup.

He backed, then abandoned Soekarno, then did the same with his successor. . Wanandi advised Soeharto but fell out when the second president ‘ignored the economy and started to exhibit megalomaniacal tendencies.’ These included censoring the press.

Wanandi’s consistent position has been support for the State ideology Pancasila. He’s had little formal power though much influence, carrying a gold pass into presidential suites and closed-door discussions. Entre came through his anti-Red convictions when these were most in vogue, and his worldwide Catholic contacts.

Though a fourth-generation Sumatran, his Chinese ethnicity has at times been a handicap, his patriotism and motives distrusted by some pribumi (indigenous Indonesians). Conversely membership of a frequently persecuted minority has made him canny and savvy.

Apart from this newspaper his principal pulpit is the Centre for Strategic and International Studies which he set up with help from ethnic Chinese businessmen and his brother Sofjan in 1971.

Labeled in this book as the region’s ‘leading think tank’, it was earlier involved in political lobbying in the US, trying to sell the New Order government’s credentials to skeptical scholars, like the late Benedict Anderson.

Wanandi doesn’t shy from much of his controversial history, so first reading Shades of Grey will help understand where he’s coming from when assessing Testimony of Changes. 

All his writing is informed, seldom bland, occasionally parochial. Who remembers the disputed appointment of a national police chief after President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo’s 2014 election?

Other columns show the author’s prescience. In 1991, when Donald Trump was more concerned with getting out of a financially troubled casino, Wanandi was worrying about the US quitting Asia, leaving a vacuum to be filled by China.

In a piece on Mahathir Mohamad written before the Malaysian leader’s political resurrection, Wanandi comments on autocrats obsessed with ‘very strong views about where the state and society should go ... so obsessed about achieving them, such that they had no scruples about their ways and methods towards the end.’

His book ends with profiles – mostly obituaries - of ‘friends and actors of change.’ Wanandi spent his early years siding with the heavy-hitters, but is now drawn to ‘patriots and peacemakers, humanists and teachers’.

In debates about doers and dreamers, about ends justifying means, moral stands in public affairs get to perform strange acrobatics. Testimony of Changes helps freeze some positions where they can be better understood in the context of times past.

All up, a most useful collecion of a passionate thinker’s opinions, mainly on matters which matter.
Testimony of Changes, by Jusuf Wanandi The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

First published in The Jakarta Post 17 December2018

Friday, December 14, 2018


Help! What would Gus have done?

They’re idealists working out of the center of Javanese arts, culture and education. They want to promote harmony, but are bumping into difficulties with the acceptance philosophy of their guru.

The fourth President of Indonesia, the late Abdurrahman Wahid, was better known as Gus Dur. So his followers have dubbed themselves Gusdurians. 

Asian Currents teased out a few sometimes-taboo ideas with a group of sharp and bright young Gusdurians at their national headquarters in Yogyakarta. 

When asked if they’d marry a person of another faith they found a score of excuses; most centered on the hurt it would cause their extended families and separation from friends and community.
They had lists of negatives; the joys of discovering difference and compromise seemed of little importance. 

So better to marry a bad Muslim than a good Christian? “Well, not so easy.” said Ahmad Aminuddin, 26, who recognized the possibility that love can smite in unplanned ways. “There are other factors of customs and culture. We want to keep our identity. It’s complicated.” 

Though not to someone brought up in the secular West where families often leave faith choices to their kids when they reach the age of discretion. But this is Indonesia where the question: ‘What’s your religion?’ is as common as ‘cold enough for you?’ in Hobart or ‘this one’s a scorcher, eh?’ in Sydney.
The organization has 110 branches around the archipelago and a few overseas, including Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. It was established to keep Gus Dur’s nine values alive.
These are respecting and practicing faith, humanity, justice, equality, liberation, simplicity, brotherhood, chivalry and local wisdom. 

The internationally famous humanist was 69 and in ill health when he died in late 2009.
His 19 months in office between 1999 and 2001 after the fall of the long time dictator and former army general Soeharto, followed by the brief Presidency of B J Habibie, were chaotic.
The near-blind Islamic intellectual and all-round funny man often diffused tensions by starting meetings with a joke, frequently poking fun at religion.  He was a bad economist and administrator, but a good social reformer.

After being threatened with impeachment he yielded to deputy Megawati Soekarnoputri. To his biographer, Australian academic Dr Greg Barton, Gus Dur was a ‘non-politician politician’ who refused to make deals with the army, so gathered enough enemies to bring about his downfall.
He supplied ample ammunition by liberating the ethnic Chinese minority of racist controls, reforming the police, forgiving former Communists and preaching harmony. 

The Gusdurians say they are a community network; their HQ is a small and sparsely furnished kampong house owned by Gus Dur’s eldest daughter, psychologist Alissa Qotrunnada. She was overseas when Asian Currents visited. 

His activist second daughter Yenny runs The Wahid Institute research center in Jakarta.
Few Gusdurians ever encountered their hero, only his essays; they’ve translated 13 into English in the just-published Gus Dur on Religion, Democracy and Peace ‘to share his words with the world’.
Caricatures abound, showing the plump scholar looking more like Semar, the wayang character in Javanese mythology. At one level he’s a clown, but is also divine and wise. The name translates as ‘mysterious’. 
Seated – Jay Akhmad; standing from left Rifqiya Hidayatul, Ahmad Aminuddin and Nofa Safitription

The Gusdurians in Yogyakarta are all Muslims but in other centers like Malang, Catholics and Protestants are in the front ranks. Last December an unnamed group in the East Java city lined roads with posters urging Muslims not to wish Christians a Happy Christmas; the Gusdurians organized a rapid removal. 

Gusdurians push multiculturalism but their concept would be better labeled  ‘multiethnic within the Republic’; it’s not the definition used by nations with massive migration programs like Australia where people from across the world have settled. 

For Aminuddin the term means Acehnese through to Papuans living together within the archipelago.
The more cosmopolitan Akhmad Agus Fajari, aka Jay Akhmad, national coordinator of the Gusdurians, has traveled overseas where Islam is the minority faith, so understands the broader interpretation. 

At a 2018 convention which drew 650, he said the Gusdurians were not a fan club or supporter of the former president, just the new generation wanting to spread his ideas. 

There’s another partially similar NGO operating in the Republic. Islam Nusantara seems to be better funded, producing well-made films promoting indigenous culture-based Islam as opposed to the puritan Saudi Wahhabism version that’s long been dominant. Akhmad said Gusdurians were “in line” with Islam Nusantara. 


“Gus Dur is the tree – we’re the twigs,” he explained. “We need to see language and definitions in context. This is one of the challenges.” It’s a word that jumps into many of his statements along with “struggle”.
Another notion that sparks much heat and little light: What’s a liberal? 

For fundamentalists it’s a synonym for Western decadence, for others it means freedom to think independently and be open-minded, difficult when some faiths demand rigid acceptance of their scriptures. 
They were surprised to know that in Australia the major conservative political party is called Liberal. 

Nofa Safitri, 24, plays with these ideas like the academic she’s probably destined to become. Raised in Bukittinggi in West Sumatra she chose Yogyakarta’s Jesuit Sanata Dharma University for her education, dismissing relatives’ fears she’d be converted. 

“I remember going into the classroom and seeing a cross on the wall,” she said. “I was at first concerned but five minutes later I’d accepted this was the environment. I never suffered discrimination. 

“One lecturer joked about pictures of Jesus showing him with a ‘six-pack body’ and saying he needed to be fit to carry the cross. We couldn’t talk like that about our Prophet.” 

Rifqiya Hidayatul, 25, has found that being a Gusdurian carries unexpected responsibilities. The night before she’d been contacted by a family seeking help for domestic difficulties; they assumed she’d inherited the former leader’s reconciliation skills. 

Gus Dur’s thinking on the rights of minorities looks unassailably reasonable – till real events intrude. The Gusdurians were nonplussed by the idea of same sex weddings and gay clergy, unthinkable in the Republic but now accepted even in countries as deeply religious as Ireland. 

Values shift. The wisdom of the elders doesn’t always answer dilemmas unforeseen last century. The Gusdurians have a model, but will have to till their own field.

(First published in Asian Currents 14 December 2028.