Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The ideological contradictions perceived by the terrorists - mostly in their twenties and thirties, that motivate them to wage their terrors should not be however seen as a clash of Islam and the West, a clash of Islam and Hinduism, clash of Islam and secularism, and clash of Islam and colonialism. The historical and contemporary situations are more complex than these perceptions perpetuated by the terrorists and many fundamentalist media reporters and leaders. Islam has been defined, constructed, implemented, and practiced in so many different ways, within contexts: local, regional, and global. A sound analysis of what really happens should involve both textual dimension of a religion and contextual situations that could change.
Any kind of murder and killing of innocent people is not humanistic, not Islamic (which I adhere to), not at all to bring the actors to the heaven they are wishing for. Islam has and can become tolerant, moderate, peaceful, democratic, and diplomatic through all kinds of educational, cultural, diplomatic, economic, political efforts made by Muslims and non-Muslims in the world. Obviously many of the terrorists use Islam for their own political ideology against their enemies. The terrorists' enemies" are not the enemies of most Muslims.
Labeling the terrorists as "Islamist fundamentalist radical", is not the key effort in the world's struggle against terrorism and its roots. More grass-root efforts are what we need: cross-religious, cross-cultural, cross-national. These efforts are endless and should be even more serious and more global and local at the same time in order to reduce if not to eliminate the political ideology that fuels hatred against the "other". The problem of violence is always complex, but clear and sound judgment about its roots will help a lot.
We, including the U.S. government, should not make another mistake like what is happening in Iraq: Targeting the wrong enemy, Ignoring the roots.
Glen Mor, 8:21 pm, Nov 26, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
• With some exception (some radical Muslims), most people in some 56 Muslim-majority countries apparently favor Obama in the elections because of the perceived and actual failure of the current administration’s foreign policies and international relations.
o Obama’s victory represents change in direction of the U.S. relationship with the world; the rest of the world have been watching the whole process of the elections from the start and people congratulated and many celebrated Obama’s victory. No “anti-Americanism” has existed if it means anti-American people and values. The target of world’s criticisms has been politics and foreign policy. Few radicals are skeptical: the U.S. will not change: they still don’t like political Islam/Islamism. “great global expectations”
• Obama’s victory has demonstrated to the world that it is one’s capability, rather than racial identity, that most matters, and American elections show democracy both in procedure and substance. “the global impact of the desirability and workability U.S. democracy”
• Obama is also seen as a truly global president: African, Asian (Indonesian), American. Facilitating his sensitiveness to cross-cultural problems. His speech in Berlin also attests his global appeal: “the walls between countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian, and Muslim, and Jew cannot stand. There now are the walls we must tear down”..
What can Obama do to repair the damage done by the current administration to the reputation of the U.S. in the Islamic World?
• Prioritize” “Soft power” (public diplomacy, talks, dialogue) over Hard power (military intervention): not “politics of fear”, but “politics of reconciliation and hope”,
o STABILISATION of IRAQ and its unity. Two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (reduce violence, civilian casualties, support the Iraqis in rebuild their lives): troops careful withdrawal-
o Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis (resume talks, amidst uncertainty of Israeli leadership on Feb 20, two state solutions: a secure and lasting peace): the challenge is the political division among HAMAS, PLO, the rejectionists and the conformists
o Rapprochement with Iran: send a clear message to Iran that it must abandon its nuclear ambitions, but the challenge: “nuclear for weaponry or peaceful purposes”
o Independence from Middle East oil
o India, China, and Southeast Asia (Indonesia: the largest Muslim majority country in the world, working with moderates)
• “Understanding the roots of violence and terrorism” (sense of injustice, “colonialism”, ideological conflict), the step is “reaching out” not just to opponents at home but also enemies abroad”, remaking alliances with the Muslim moderates everywhere, but making sure that the world have enough information about the U.S. history, culture, and society.
• “Reconciliatory, and communicative leadership”: listening, willing to be criticized, empathetic, acknowledging complexity of every problem, differences between faiths, cultures, political interests, but seeking commonalities in resolving common problems as human, as citizen of the world
• “A new and global partnership”: “partnership with Muslims at home and abroad”, interfaith dialogue and cooperations, dialogue of civilizations, alliances of civilizations, American Peace Corp, American Library/Corners, international exchange (journalists, educators, students, etc), humanitarian works for social justice and peace.
• The responsibility should also be taken by civil society (national and international) and the Islamic world themselves to engage with the West, to learn about American cultures and religions.
Friday, November 07, 2008
UCR Scholars Analyze Election Results
Obama's election is historic and inspiring, panelists say.
(November 4, 2008)
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The 2008 presidential race was historic in the election of Sen. Barack Obama as the nation’s first African American president and energized minority and first-time voters, UCR scholars agreed in a panel discussion two days after the election. But Obama’s agenda of social and environmental issues likely will be pushed to a back burner by the necessity of addressing the economic crisis, they said. “I’m giddy, tempered with dread,” said John Cioffi, assistant professor of political science. “Given the severity of economic conditions a lot of environmental programs are going to be put on hold. They tend to be expensive and the costs are front-loaded.” The exception could be where environmental policy supports new industry that would put more people to work, he said. Reviving the economy must be Obama’s priority, said Anil Deolalikar, professor of economics and associate dean of CHASS. “Many people are predicting unemployment may reach 8 to 10 percent. To prevent that Obama will have to move quickly,” he said. “To prevent the collapse of the economy what will be needed is a new stimulus. … What will be needed is a program of increased government spending, perhaps new construction projects that governments have already deemed worthy, but there was no money. This might be the opportunity to invest in infrastructure we have ignored for decades … that will improve our economic competitiveness in the long run.” Obama’s election “raises the glass ceiling, but does not eliminate racism,” said Erica Edwards, assistant professor of English. His skill at organizing a grass-roots campaign is a reaffirmation of the individual as a participant in democracy, a powerful demonstration of the ability of people to get together and decide what they want, she said. “It’s a fair start for a more participatory democracy,” she said. Obama’s election represents a new direction in how the United States relates to the rest of the world, a change that is particularly welcomed by Muslim nations, said Muhamad Ali, assistant professor of religious studies. “The positive response from the Muslim world suggests there is no anti-Americanism,” he said. “They have been critical of American foreign policy. They see Obama’s election as a victory of American values. … They see this as a sign of democracy’s workability.” Ali cautioned that Obama needs to understand the roots of violence and terrorism. “It is in colonialism and a sense of injustice,” he said. “In the Muslim world there is also some sense of a clash of civilizations.” Although many pundits have referred to this as an historic election, “it was and it wasn’t,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate professor of political science. Voter turnout – about 62 percent – was higher than in recent decades, but was well below the 80-plus percent of eligible voters who cast ballots in the last half of the 19th century, he said. The youth vote was not greater than in previous elections, “but they were far more likely to vote for Obama,” he said. Georgia Warnke, distinguished professor of philosophy and associate dean of CHASS, said she has been moved by Obama’s eloquence and the traditional American values of equality, opportunity and hope that are constant themes in his speeches. “He really believes them,” she said. “That’s what makes him so inspiring. In an age where we have become cynical and have to be ironic, all of a sudden we have a president-elect who can bring up Abraham Lincoln and the ideas of our founding, who can remind us about Kennedy and FDR. He brings us back to the ethical sense of who we are.”
Susan Beals, (951) 827-2762
The University of California, Riverside is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment of about 17,000 is expected to grow to 21,000 students by 2020. The campus is planning a medical school and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Graduate Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion. To learn more, visit http://www.ucr.edu/ or call (951) UCR-NEWS.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
I would live to congratulate Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and all the people behind him and all those who support him, but also to McCain and others who did not vote for Obama. They all demonstrate a beautiful model of what democracy should like. And the rest of the world can learn from this historic moment: moment of excitement and commitment for change, moment for addressing challenges in the best way.
Glen Mor, Riverside, 10.30 pm, November 4th, 2008
Monday, November 03, 2008
Pesantren progressives defend constitutional religious freedoms
It is a sweaty April afternoon, and the community hall in Cangkol, a fishing community on the outskirts of Cirebon on Java’s north coast, is packed to the gills. People have come to see former first lady, Ibu Sinta Nuriyah Wahid. Ibu Sinta, the wife of former president Abdurrahman Wahid, is touring halls like this around the country ahead of next year’s election, listening to ordinary people talk about the problems they face in their everyday lives.
Today, however, there are some technical difficulties in hearing those voices. The sound system is playing up, and while technicians fiddle, the MC, a popular and charismatic young kyai, KH Maman Imanulhaq Fakieh, keeps the crowd entertained. The captive audience presents a perfect opportunity for him to push his favourite issue of the moment: freedom of religion, a hot topic in Indonesia thanks to recent attacks on Ahmadiyah mosques and calls to outlaw the sect.
‘Is Islam a religion of violence?’ he cries, raising his fist in the air. ‘No!’ The crowd, largely comprised of jilbab-wearing housewives, responds with enthusiasm. ‘Does Islam permit violence by anyone?’ ‘No!’ ‘Towards anyone?’ ‘No!’ ‘On any grounds?’ ‘No!’ ‘Do we want the government to uphold the rights guaranteed in the constitution?’ ‘Yes!’
Kyai Maman, 35, is the spiritual leader of Al-Mizan Pesantren in Jatiwangi, West Java. Outside Indonesia, thanks to coverage of terrorism cases, Indonesian pesantren, or Islamic boarding schools, have earned a reputation as extremist havens where young students are indoctrinated in fundamentalist teachings and groomed to become terrorists. While it is true that many pesantren teach conservative, literalist interpretations of Islam, only a tiny number have links with terrorist organisations and in fact the pesantren world is the source of some of the most progressive Muslim voices in Indonesia and indeed the Muslim world.
The best known progressive kyai is former president Abdurrahman Wahid, but surrounding Wahid are a number of increasingly vocal and influential progressive pesantren leaders. Kyai Maman is a protégé of a group of kyai and pesantren alumni in West Java that includes KH Syarief Usman Yahya, head of Kempek Pesantren and KH Husein Muhammad of Dar al-Tauhid Arjawinangun Pesantren. The late KH Fuad Hasyim of Buntet Pesantren and KH Yahya Masduki of Babakan Ciwaringin Pesantren were role models for this group. They preach values of pluralism and encourage their students, or santri, to reread religious texts contextually. The vision of Islam that they promulgate is grounded in the Qur’an, Sunna and classical Islamic texts and advocates justice for all human beings.
Earlier this year, the Ahmadiyah issue became a rallying point for progressive Muslim leaders. While fundamentalist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI), along with many moderates, called for Ahmadiyah to be outlawed, progressive kyai, including Kyai Maman, were organising community events with Ahmadiyah in order to emphasise a message of tolerance and pluralism. When police and local government failed to protect Ahmadiyah from increasing incidents of vandalism and violence, progressive kyai offered NU paramilitaries, known as Banser, to protect Ahmadiyah mosques and homes.
For those like Kyai Maman who defended Ahmadiyah, the issue was never really about Ahmadiyah, but about upholding the rights of citizens, guaranteed in the constitution, to practice their respective religion and beliefs. The issue also had the potential to set a precedent for the religious beliefs of the majority to become the basis of laws that discriminate against other groups. This potential looked set to be realised when in April, a government-appointed body of prosecutors, religious scholars and government officials recommended that the government outlaw the sect, declaring that its members ‘had deviated from Islamic principles’.
Whether Ahmadiyah members have deviated from Islam is not the point, argues Kyai Maman: ‘I have never defended Ahmadiyah’s teachings,’ he says. ‘What we are defending is their rights as citizens, as set out in the constitution. I would defend FPI if they were being oppressed and terrorised. This issue is not about Ahmadiyah but about people whose rights as human beings, as citizens, have been denied.’
For their defence of Ahmadiyah’s rights, progressives have themselves become targets of violence by extremist groups. The most high profile incident occurred at the National Monument (Monas) in Jakarta on 1 June this year, the anniversary of Sukarno’s famous 1945 speech where he formulated Indonesia’s state ideology, known as pancasila. With the government’s decision regarding the fate of Ahmadiyah due to be handed down any day, dozens of demonstrators, among them Kyai Maman, held a peaceful rally in support of religious freedom. ‘We came to Monas for two reasons,’ Kyai Maman explains. ‘One was to celebrate pancasila, our national philosophy, which is all about living in a plural society. The second was to urge the government to uphold the constitution.’
‘We were just about to get started,’ Kyai Maman recalls, ‘when suddenly a group of people wearing white robes and carrying FPI banners arrived, shouting “Allahu akbar!” (God is great).’.The FPI supporters attacked the demonstrators with sharpened bamboo stakes and stones. Nineteen people were injured, some seriously. Kyai Maman was among the most badly hurt. He recalls being beaten on the head with bamboo stakes until he fell to the ground where he was repeatedly kicked and stamped on by at least ten people. He was hospitalised with concussion and head wounds.
The incident shocked many in the Indonesian public. The attack on Kyai Maman in particular was significant in swaying public opinion because FPI had, deliberately or unwittingly, dared to attack a kyai, the moral equivalent in Muslim Indonesia to attacking a priest or a nun. In the days after the incident, calls to disband Ahmadiyah were replaced in the headlines by calls to disband FPI. Fifty-seven members of FPI, including leader Rizieq Shihab, were arrested following the incident, and the group is now seriously weakened.
The government’s eventual decision on the Ahmadiyah case was neither an outright victory for anti-Ahmadiyah campaigners nor a win for pluralism. The joint ministerial resolution, released on 9 June, did not ‘ban’ Ahmadiyah per se but demanded that they stop practising their beliefs and strongly encouraged them to ‘return to mainstream Islam’. Kyai Maman sees the decision as an excessive and ambiguous form of intervention by the government, designed to get them out of a difficult political situation. ‘The government’s job is to guarantee freedom of religion,’ he argues, ‘not to meddle in matters of belief.’
From puritan to progressive
Kyai Maman has not always defended the values of pluralism. There was a time when he supported, rather than opposed, violence in the name of religion. Kyai Maman grew up in a puritanical pesantren where he mixed in narrow circles and studied only traditional religious texts. His understanding of the world, he explains, was black and white, and anyone different from himself was a sinner. Just seeing a church or a Christian cross, he confesses, would make his blood boil. He was involved in militant groups that participated in ‘cleansing’ gambling and prostitution dens in the Majalengka area. In 1998, he stood by while members of his congregation destroyed churches, shops and houses belonging to Chinese Indonesians in Jatiwangi. ‘At that time,’ he says, ‘I thought that there was only one truth: only we were right and everyone else was wrong.’
But the violent events of 1998 proved a turning point in his life. Witnessing the effects of violence perpetrated by Muslims convinced him that there had been something wrong with his readings of religious texts. The texts, he explains, always refer to Islam as a blessing for the whole universe, not just for Muslims. The goal of Islam, he reasoned, could not be to make people afraid of it.
On this basis, he says, he decided to start listening to the voices of ‘the other’. He began inviting leaders of other religions to his pesantren – priests, pastors and Buddhist monks – for inter-religious dialogue. He also invited them to come along to religious and cultural ceremonies at his pesantren, and even to teach classes to his pupils. It was a move that initially met with disapproval in his community and in his own family. ‘My father didn’t like me associating with non-Muslims,’ says Kyai Maman. ‘They were dirty unbelievers (kafir). But eventually my family began to see that, “Oh, it turns out priests are cool, and Buddhist monks are cool.”’
He also began to read from a variety of sources including philosophy, socialist thought and Christian liberation theology, and mixed with artists, writers and musicians. He dabbled in writing his own poetry. In his view, art has values that are congruous with religious values, such as freedom from contamination by worldly power or earthly desires. ‘From art,’ he says, ‘people can understand how to live a more harmonious life, not just see in black and white.’
Politics and public image
Despite having what he claims is a fundamental disinterest in politics; Kyai Maman has recently become an active member of the National Awakening Party (PKB). ‘I was invited [to join the party] by Gus Dur [Abdurrahman Wahid], so I decided to see whether politics could be made into a tool to fight for pluralism.’ Certain goals, he realises, can only be achieved through parties and through policy: ‘We must take steps that push our friends in the legislative assembly to ensure that pluralist values continue to be upheld and defended.’ The Ahmadiyah case, he says, has reinforced this conviction in him.
However, he continues to see his main work as being at the grassroots level. This is not just a matter of seeding pluralist values, he maintains, but about improving people’s welfare. ‘Who can be influenced or provoked by radical groups?’ he argues. ‘Usually they are people who have trouble making ends meet, so our job is not to oppose those groups with violence but to try to create community prosperity and end poverty.’
The Ahmadiyah case and his own brush with celebrity following the Monas incident have also taught him the power of the media in shaping public opinion. ‘The failure of progressive Muslims, in my opinion,’ he says, ‘is that we don’t dominate the media. Maybe this is a problem with the media itself: you know “bad news is good news”. So it means that if a priest eats in my pesantren, or I break my fast in a church or a monastery, that will never get in the newspaper. But if a priest beats me up, or if I poison a priest’s altar wine, that’s the kind of thing that makes the newspaper. ii
Joanne McMillan (firstname.lastname@example.org) works as a translator and editor for Fahmina Institute in West Java and is currently completing a Masters of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development at the Australian National University.