The Islamic State Attacks Indonesia – And its ‘Middle Way’
(James Clad, November 28, 2018)
Transcript available below
About the speaker
James Clad is Senior Fellow for Asia at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington DC. He is also a senior adviser for Asia at the CNA Corporation in Arlington, Virginia. During 2002-10, he served as U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia (including Australasia and the Pacific islands) and as Senior Counselor at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. From 1995-2002, he was professor of Asian Studies at Georgetown University and Director/Asia-Pacific Energy at Cambridge Energy Research Associates.
Trained as a New Zealand lawyer, James Clad’s career has focused on Asian diplomatic, energy and security issues – broadening after 2002 to include the Middle East. During the 1980s-90s, he held Far Eastern Economic Review staff positions in various Asian capitals, and held fellowships at Harvard University and St. Antony’s College/Oxford. In 1991, he joined the Carnegie Endowment in Washington DC as senior associate for Asia.
In the early 1980s, Mr. Clad belonged to the New Zealand diplomatic service, serving in Delhi and more extensively in Jakarta. His books include Business, Money & Power in Southeast Asia (1991); After the Crusade — America in the Post-Superpower Era (1996), and Borderlands of Asia (2012), a volume of political geography. His recent articles deal with power politics in the western Pacific, with China/U.S. relations, and the U.S. shale revolution.
In 2009, he received the US Secretary of Defense Exceptional Public Service Award and in 2012 became a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM), a royal honour.
For more on Indonesia, see Wibawanto Nugroho’s Westminster talk, Understanding Islamist Radical Terrorism, Lieutenant General Agus Widjojo’s Westminster talk, How to Support Democracy: The Case of Indonesia, and Jeff Moore’s Westminster talk, the Evolution in Islamic Insurgency in Asia.
Robert R. Reilly:
I am delighted to introduce tonight someone I have known for some years, James Clad, who is now a Senior Fellow for Asia at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC, an organization which I have occasionally had an affiliation with thanks to its president, Herman Pirchner. Herman founded and is president of AFPC as he has been since the early 1980s and we are delighted to have his wife Liz with us tonight as well. Well, that is enough about Jim. No, actually-
James is also a senior adviser for Asia at the CNA Corporation in Arlington, Virginia. Between 2002 and 2010, he did several things, including acting as Senior Counselor at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia in the Defense Department. James trained as a New Zealand lawyer, a past he has been able to overcome with difficulty. He has also served in the New Zealand Foreign Service in places like Delhi and indeed, extensively in Jakarta, which pertains to the topic he will be addressing tonight. He was also a journalist for many years with one of the truly prestigious publications, the Far Eastern Economic Review. He’s the author of a number of books. I’ll only mention one and the latest since it also pertains to the topic tonight, Borderlands of Asia. In 2009, Mr. Clad received the U.S. Secretary of Defense Exceptional Public Service Award. His subject tonight is The Islamic State Attacks Indonesia – And its ‘Middle Way’. Please join me in welcoming James Clad.
I am really glad to be here because we had, through the auspices of the American Foreign Policy Council, the Senior Vice President Ilan Berman and I went to Indonesia in April for an extremely interesting study tour that was looking at some of the issues that I will try to traverse tonight. We did an op-ed for The Weekly Standard and there is actually a report, and if any of you want to have a look at it later on, just send me an email. I have got some cards if you find it interesting.
What I think I might do is go into the things that make Indonesia different, different as and far away from being just another Muslim country, which happens to be the biggest Muslim population in the world. That is generally how it is rated. Stanley Roth, who was the assistant secretary for Asia under Bill Clinton, used to say, tellingly and accurately, that Indonesia was the most important country that most Americans knew nothing about. I mean it is still extraordinary how that remains true today.
And so what I would like to do if I can, with your permission and forbearance, is go through some of the things that make Indonesia special and have to be thought about when you see a headline that says, you know, another terrorist incident happens in Maidan or something like that. Without seeing it in context, and of course that is true with everything, everywhere, your knowledge will be poverty stricken.
Okay. Here is the thing about Indonesia. It is a big place, but Java in the middle of it is the biggest of all, biggest of all influences. It is 128 million people on a very small island, it is the most densely populated island in the world. It is phenomenally influential, but things are changing, so Sukarno, Suharto, Widodo now – the President, most of them in between, except for I guess Habibie, were from Java, so a Java-centric country still remains by virtue of numbers and temperament, but things are changing, so keep that in mind. You talk about the inner islands, Java and Bali, where Hindu-Buddhist traditions remain strong, effecting their religious devotion, and then you think about the outer islands, which have pockets of Christianity and all the rest of it, but it is Java or non-Java, essentially.
The second thing to think about in Indonesia, and I think this must be unique in the world of Islam, is that the proselytization, if I pronounced that right, of Islam, the spreading of Islam through the archipelago that now forms the Republic of Indonesia, took 850 years to finally the fall of the Hindu Javanese Kingdom, Majapahit, in I think 1480. And that is an extraordinarily long period of time to change people’s temperament, but it changed the temperament without changing the basis of their past traditions, so that it is often described as a place that is very syncretic, meaning layered, layer upon layer and that happens to be true even at places that regard themselves as most devoutly Muslim, most assertively Muslim.
Aceh: Aceh for example, which is the tip of Western Sumatra, is the place where up until the middle of the 17th century, actually the beginning of the 18th century, they were fielding ships that would have fights with the Portuguese and the Dutch out there in the Indian Ocean in the Straits of Malacca. I mean it is a place that is big, pre-existing, pre-colonial traditions. So, slow Java, Java-centric, or non-Java, slow spread of Islam.
Another thing that is more recent to think about is that it was an authoritarian state under Sukarno, under Suharto. That is when I served there as a pipsqueak New Zealand diplomat, running something that became very interesting project for the Indonesians because they had never developed it before. And who can tell me what 25% of New Zealand’s electricity comes from?
Geothermal. Who knows that? This is supposed to be a very well-informed group. Yes, geothermal so we had the first geothermal project in Java, and it sees a lot of interest; the Ministry of Mines, the PLN, the electricity people, Pertamina, the oil company. And then one fine day B.J. Habibie, who became president after Suharto passed, came in and said that is an interesting project, technically very interesting, I will have that, and just seized it. It was very interesting because I got to know the guy.
The thing to do is to realize that that period of time, which was highly authoritarian, yielded with the departure of Suharto and some turbulent times, into the next feature which I would like you to remember, which is this is a place that has gone through liberalization and something else, decentralization, right? You can liberalize as much as you want if it is a top-down effort. Often, it does not go anywhere. People say yes, we are much freer now, but they are looking over their shoulder. In this case, it is real, and it went down not just the provincial level, it went down the kabupaten level, which is the unique Indonesian district.
And if you think this is fake, you are wrong. And the number of times I have talked to people who like to get a project under way in Indonesia, you know, invariably in natural resources or agricultural, will say why are there so many hands outstretched to be part of this project (outstretched in the grasping way)? And the answer is a lot more people are part of the decision cycle, which makes illicit payments a little bit more difficult and certainly more time consuming, so it is another feature which is really important to remember, decentralized and liberalized at the same time.
Within that matrix there are very interesting changes in political party behavior. It is not a functioning democracy, directly elected president now. It did not used to be. I remember going along to the sessions of the supreme legislature and Suharto was known for his ponderous, interminable, and uniquely boring speeches and the Javanese can still remember the cadence, boom, boom, boom. And I feel it was torture for the junior diplomats who were invariably sent, where you would accompany your ambassador. You would say gotta run, and we were there listening to this, but you know, top-down, top-down, military presence in the legislature, military presence in the back of everyone’s mind. Different now. Different.
Some of the previous parties exist but they are kind of a shadow of their former selves. There were only three in Suharto’s time. They would have elections… when was it? Every five years? Something like that. And then the idea would be how many people would dare to vote for another party, which was equally tame. Golkar was the government party. And if there was a slight uptick in the votes for another party, that was seen as an act of civil disobedience, just about. So, the party behavior before and after. See that cleavage there at the end of the last century, departure of Suharto, turbulent period of time, presidents coming and going, as something that is directly related to what I am going to try to talk to you about today because unless you see it in situ, you know, in context, you are going to miss the story. It will just be another narrative about Islam and a particularly virulent variety of it, appealing to youngsters. It is more than that.
So, you have now ten parties, holding 560 seats. Probably four of those ten are going to disappear in the next election, which is this coming April. There was a new law in 2017, which said you have got to achieve I think 4%. Is that right? You know, you guys are the pros. I am running into too many terrifyingly competent Indonesia experts here, so shoot me down but I think it is 4%, is it not? In other words, you have got to achieve at least 4% of nationally cast votes to get in. It is a bit like party-list politics in Germany and New Zealand. And some of them are ostensibly Islamic parties that are probably not going to reach the threshold.
I am trying to think of it, the one party that I am trying to think of is… was it the PKB, no, there was a group of Sharia-based parties, including especially the PKS. It is known as Justice and Prosperity, which is another thing you have got to remember about Indonesia. No one says the Sharia party now and forever and that is its banner in the election posters. It is, you know, anodyne names like Justice and Prosperity, Peace and Goodwill, Mother and Apple-pie, that kind of thing, which contains an Islamist element, but never triumphant, never transcendent.
There are 189 million voters. Their choice even of the ostensibly open Islamic parties does not indicate a wave toward a stricter interpretation of Islam. In fact, the parties are very much the creatures of locality, and of the people who lead them, and of familial dynasties. You go into West Java for example, and the number of, you know, Bantan people, the old families that come from there, it is remarkable. And then, of course, the Dar ul-Islam elements, which was an Islamicly-inspired rebellion against the new government of Indonesia in the 1950s. But all of that has a tenacious hold.
We are inclined as news consumers – I guess just as people – to want the quick, fast narrative and yet with Indonesia, the moment you drill into these things, you find locality, you find – tribe is the wrong word – but ethnicity. Habits that go way back, go way back to the origins of the two major mass Muslim movements, the Muhammadiyah and Nahdatul Ulama, which are both colonial times. I am trying to remember which one was the 19th century. It might have been Nahdatul Ulama, but in any event-
Yeah. It goes way, way back and it is part of the fabric of Java. It is also important to remember that these mass Muslim movements – by the way, the membership of which, of Nahdatul Ulama, the daughter of Abdurrahman Wahid, Gus Dur, said it is probably 70 million. You know, and I do not think that is sloppy bookkeeping. I think they probably do not know. You know who regards him or herself as a member of Nahdatul Ulama? In a sense it is irrelevant because it is so big. The other thing to remember is they are social organizations, they are welfare, there is education, they look after widows and orphans. It is not about getting together and firing up, you know, Islamic teachings.
It is very, very different, although, the Muhammadiyah, by the way, supervises the world’s – not just Indonesia’s – the world’s largest number of religious schools. It runs, mostly for-profit, 172 universities in Indonesia, right, which allows it to fund its benign and important, you know, important activities, which you know we, and successive administrations, have talked a lot about doing. You know, the idea of having volunteer activities, locally situated, community-based things, that is what Nahdatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah do.
The other thing too is you will sometimes see articles talking about the vice-presidential candidate of the current president who is running for reelection, Widodo, and the guy’s name is Ma’ruf Amin, right? Yeah, who is seen as, you know – the Western papers will say ‘conservative’, but you know, what precisely does that mean? Being conservative within a group like Nahdatul Ulama means being tolerant, right? You have your views but just because you have your views and just because you are Vice President does not mean you are going to impose them by fiat. I think an awful lot of bad habits have arisen since 9/11 and the idea of a kind of assertive, intolerant Islam is one of them and we run into it all the time even without realizing it.
I think the other thing to point out, and I alluded to it a little bit earlier, is Islam in contemporary Indonesian history has a storied past and when I say contemporary, I am using it in the British way that I learned at Oxford, which is anything that is a hundred years ago is still contemporary and that is a good way to think about the impact of Islam in Indonesia. I mentioned a moment ago the Dar ul-Islam revolt in western Java, which again Islam was the centerpiece of it, at least the articulated centerpiece.
All of the revolts in Indonesia among the people who happened to embrace Islam are cast in terms of justice, right, adil as they say in Malay. It is really an important point to realize. It is not that they are desperate to cram the Qur’an or the Hadith down your throat. It is just that their ideas of a just society are derived from that tradition. It is important to realize that because someone will quote something from the Hadith or refer to the prophet and somehow it seems to be, as it were, ‘tainted’ by Islam. It is not. It is just tradition. It is important to realize that.
But Permesta, which was a revolt in the 1950s in Sumatra and even in the 19th century, Diponegoro, you have probably heard the name. He was a rebel who again, you know, flew the green flag as he road across the rice fields on his white charger. I mean what could be more evocative of, you know, the advance of Islam? And yet it was primarily a local revolt. They were speaking in terms that made sense to them and remember there are syncretic countries, syncretic islands, for sure. It’s one of the most interesting things about Indonesia, is to run into a set of habits, and they were more pronounced under Suharto, who kept various religious faiths in line.
You sre aware of the pancasila, are you not? The pancasila, it means the five principles of Sanskrit, and the ideas is – and we always forget them – its humanitarianism, social justice, belief in one god, material welfare, and I am running out of steam. I cannot think of what the other one is. You know, they are noble, abstract things. But the room that was made available for religious adherence in Indonesia, those days and still today, was Islam, obviously, 75% of the population, Roman Catholic Christian, Protestant Christian, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
And during the time I was there, initially, the first time, Suharto was encouraging the growth of a fifth element to this idea of belief and it was called kebatinan, b-a-t-i-n, batin- you say mahon ma’aflahir outside, danbatin inside, and it was the idea that the spirituality need not be pegged to belief in a particular god or divinity, that we were, you know, the world is spiritual and all that kind of thing. And Suharto really liked that stuff and there was leeway. Now, that was seen as – by people who embrace Islam – as, if not idolatrous, then straying widely from the path.
The other thing I think is worth working out about Indonesia is, we have gone through the points so far that make it unique, the Java/non-Java balance, the slow proselytization from Aceh, West Sumatra, all the way to Java, taking 800 years, liberalization politically after Suharto, tumultuously but effectively true and decentralization, so power not just went to the national capital, more people were grabbing it. It went to the localities as a way to preserve the country and then the two big, large, mass Muslim movements, which are like those in Egypt and elsewhere, very focused on the broad spectrum of people’s needs and beliefs and requirements, social welfare, that type of thing.
There is another element that makes it special. I have talked about Islam in contemporary Indonesian history, having a recurrent impact in playing to the imagination and remember down the generations, right, it is not some hot-headed embrace of certain precepts. It is not.
But another feature that is important to realize is Indonesia is a place that has experienced a lot of change with globalization, with the ability of people to move, with the arrival of mass literacy, and with migration both internally, that is inside the archipelago and outside the archipelago. Inside the archipelago there are government programs of transmigration.
The whole idea was to move people from over-populated Java to some of the outer islands. That would create interesting difficulties in places and sort of lost its steam, but there is another type of migration called informal migration, and the group that was very proud of their Islamic traditions who would come closer to, you know, true, fervent, pure Islam than say the Javanese tradition and that would be people from Madura and South Sulawesi, the Buginese and Madurese. And they would spontaneously move because the Buginese are traders as well to other islands, have their own strict interpretation, but again, Islam in the Buginese society is part of the culture. It is not, you know, it is part and parcel of what they believe.
So, this question of mass movement of people… I have talked about internal Indonesia. Outside, of course, when I first went there, I was sort of – it was so long ago – twenty something. It was rare to meet an Indonesian that spoke English, right? It was rare to meet them abroad, traveling. All of that has changed. You know, there is a significant Indonesian community in the Greater Washington, DC area. It is not as big as some of the others, but it is there and there is a sense of becoming familiar with the rest of the world, one.
Two, standards of education have risen enormously since then. The economy has diversified enabling more people to experience more life choices than ever before. And then the global world also, of course, invites people to take a direct interest in the events preceding and after 9/11, and there is a copycat function. If someone can blow up a place somewhere else, we can blow up a nightclub in Bali, which was frequented by Westerners, primarily Australians, in 2002. It killed a lot of people. Or, hotels in Jakarta. So, there was a sense of getting with that agenda if you took that view that jihad was a violent displacement of nonbelievers.
So, currently what have we got? We have got a situation in which the things that I have attempted to describe to you hold fast but also are seeing necessarily and inevitably, we being humans, and this being the time going by, inevitably things are changing somewhat and those things that have changed seem to be at variance with the type of Indonesia that people, my generation, and many of the people here remember as being an extraordinarily tolerant place. I will give you an example. I do not know how many Westerners I have met who might have been oilfield workers, you know, in the heyday and are like now in their ’70s or something and they are saying oh, all the women have hijabs, you know, they are all wearing headdresses. There must be a terrible, radical element, sweeping through the country. I think no, not really. It is just [that] it is kind of a fashion statement. It is religious, yeah, I get it, but it is the idea that you take one accoutrement and blow it up, extrapolate a type of extremely jihadi-minded Islam is way, way wrong.
Nonetheless, nonetheless, there is a situation at the moment where a number of fringe groups seem to be able to operate with comparative impunity. In other words, not being sussed out. Again, the information revolution has enabled a lot of this to happen. Before the local policeman or the village ulama would see people wandering around at night and meeting in a strange place, they would be aware, and would pass the information to the authorities. Now you have got these damn computers, and everyone can be fired up by this stuff and really taken to it. I think there is no place in southeast Asia where a computer revolution and certainly the communications part of it has been adapted with such gusto as Indonesia.
And so, with these attacks – and just this last year there was a terrible situation where a family in Surabaya sent their children in to be suicide bombers and there was three successive explosions, one leveling a police headquarters and killing twelve policemen. But there are other people, they just randomly went outside places and blew them up. There is also a disagreeable increase in intolerance of people like the Ahmadis, which are often from Pakistan and are seen as apostates, and Pakistan to its discredit has a law that says anyone who embraces the Ahmadi version of Islam is an apostate. It is automatic apostasy.
Just like Malaysia has a rule, it is a law, you cannot change your religion if you are a Malay. It is impossible. What do you mean? You must be mad. We will take you to the asylum. So, there is this business of saying you know fixed viewpoints are sort of taking hold and you will find a degree, in my personal opinion, of executive cowardice in the Indonesian government when it comes to thinking about protecting the Ahmadi. And also, there are – not many – but there are Shia Muslims in Jakarta and other parts of Java. Not many, but they are feeling under threat as well.
Again, is it the contemporary world? Is it really a rising movement within Indonesia? The thing that Ilan Berman, the Senior Vice President of the think tank where I work, and I wrote about was probably not, that the endurance of these traditions is very strong. It is not just, well, let us be tolerant today and everyone will like us. It is just imbued in the Javanese outlook, and I find the only time someone refused to shake my hand the whole time I was in Indonesia and various times since then was in the middle of Kalimantan, north of Palangka Raya, and there was a person there who was an ulama. And I introduced myself to shake my hand and he went like this. And guess where he was from? Saudi Arabia.
So, it was the Wahhabi thing way back – in the early ’80s – way back, so none of this is new. None of this is easily extirpated. But let me give you a bit of a, kind of summary. Then let me have a bit of this and let you ask some questions if you like and throw it out to you because I am very interested in your views as people who are by and large interested in Indonesia, sometimes intimately, and follow events there because, you know, I go back periodically. I am not a religious scholar, far from it.
I think the first thing to think of is what I have just said. It is a tolerant country. Tolerant and you can see people dressed even sometimes the full hijab, but, you know, I went to a theater in Jakarta called Mschichi. Have you ever heard of this? It is a popular street theater. It is done in Sundanese and Bahasa Betawi. Bahasa Betawi means Jakarta language.
And people dress up sometimes as sorcerers. Sometimes they dress up as Hindu Java, you know, medicine men, and sometimes as grasping landlords, and then sometimes ulamas. It is all part of the flow, and it is super important to understand that and not be upset by things that occur because that is newsworthy. You blow something up, that is pretty newsworthy, still.
So, tolerance, and then second, it is a socially turbulent time both because of what happened after Suharto, democratization, decentralization, liberalization of things, and also because that is the state of the world today. It is enormously turbulent; in case you had not noticed. The mass movement – the numbers of people in the air at any time are staggering, and people going places and forming good or bad opinions, so it [has been] turbulent times since Suharto.
Third, the global communications revolution and exposure to many things, the ability to speak English, it is extraordinary. I remember visiting our ambassador, the American Ambassador in Cairo, and they were dismayed to hear that I had described that I had gone down the Midiyu Nile, you know, the place where all the Umayyad and Abbasid mosques are there, some of them in a sad state. I said, ‘Yeah, I wanted to go to the Al Azhar, the university, yeah, you know, because they do not really speak Arabic there. So many of them are from Southeast Asia. They speak Indonesian or Tagalog.’ And the staff – the ambassador was cool, but the staff said, ‘You did what?’ You know, they had never been. We close ourselves off an awful lot through the strictures of the security people.
So, there are continuities that I have mentioned to you. Most particularly, the mass nature of the two major Islamic groups, mass Muslim organizations, Muhammadiyah and Nahdatul Ulama. They continue to be very influential. Within the PKB, which is a party, they are almost synonymous. If you are working with that party, that party will be Nahdatul Ulama. It is a very fractured and fragmented electoral and political picture and so it should be. Indonesia is not the sort of place which is going to give you a one-size fits all political suasion.
Final thought, and a troubling one for me, is when we were there we met with the people in Nahdatul Ulama, daughter of Abdurrahman Wahid, named Yenni, and we were introduced to a group of theirs which is like the youth wing, and they formed kind of protective activities. They are meant to kind of involve the youth in healthy, wholesome activities and all the rest, and this is a big thing because Nahdatul Ulama; there are millions and millions of people who belong to this thing called Ansur. But it also reminded some people, not just me, of the days in the late Sukarno period when street fighting between gangs related to, you know, political parties and movements were a common phenomenon. The application of street muscle is something that seems to be happening a little bit more often in Indonesia than before.
So with those thoughts and forgive me, they’re a tad bit random, but I wanted to approach it in a slightly different way and I’d be very happy to take any questions that you have.
To what degree is tourism a percentage of their economy? To a heavy degree? To a light degree? How does an Islamic movement affect tourism?
*See Jeff Moore’s talk on the Evolution in Islamic Insurgency in Asia for more on this topic.
Yeah, good question and multifaceted. I mean, you know, you still go to Japan and find people who are looking for a country called Bali and, ‘What? My visa says Indonesia. Where is the Balinese visa? You know great numbers of people are moving around the world. Vast, you know who is it, Matthew Arnold, [who] talked about ignorant armies, you know, vast numbers of people not bringing a great deal because they go on packaged tours and all the rest of it, and there is always a risk and I certainly see this in the South Pacific and the Caribbean of countries becoming a nation of waiters.
So, I would think in that particular element, the Balinese tourist phenomenon, some of the outer island stuff has opened peoples’ eyes. But remember, it is not a new phenomenon. Bali has been visited for a long, long time, even during the Dutch East Indies time. It was a very fashionable place to go.
Beyond that, the Indonesians themselves are now tourists, so it is not a question of them being recipients, but they will go over to places. You know, they will have rice to fill in Amsterdam, which is the best, you know, sort of Javanese-type style of rice that you can find in the world, and they will go there, and they feel a type of affinity. It is very weird. They feel a type of affinity with the former Dutch colonial oppressor. That is what it is, so tourism is a multifaceted thing.
And then you have – it is an interesting thing that you have tangentially raised too. The Indonesians are now part of the global labor force, right? It used to be Filipino maids or whatever the hell, Sri Lankan day-laborers working in Qatar, but now the Indonesians are out there and there is a huge uproar over the capital punishment given to an Indonesian maid who resisted a rapist who was her employer. She was in prison nine years, and they just killed her recently.
Saudi Arabia. And you know the degree of hatred for people from the Gulf who have contempt for Southeast Asian Islam is very underestimated, you know, and often that is the thing that plays against the people who want to be strict or jihadi-minded takfiri, Salafi, whatever you want to call it minded-Muslims, because it is seen as aping the Arabs and that does not go down well at least in Java, at least most places in Java. Whereas Malaysia is an Islamic state by its constitutional arrangement. And they have – it is the Hanafi school – so they are not way over the top toward Wahhabi stuff, but they are very keen to be seen as a fully participating member of the Islamic world and, of course, there is the Philippines.
And that is another element to remember. Southeast Asian Islam is not something that just has flown into consciousness as a result of the aftermath of 9/11. You know, we went into the Philippines and snuffed out an independence movement in 1898 and fought a very brutal war against insurgents, including people in the south in Mindanao. Now, at that time in Mindanao if you looked at the whole population of the Philippines archipelago, Mindanao probably had 15% of the total population, would have been Muslim. It is down to around 2% now because of huge demographic shifts by the Filipinos and migration coming down from the Visayas into Mindanao.
But that is a place where, again, people say oh, it is an Islamic revolt against the central government. Well, actually, we make it an Islamic revolt by tarring them as Islamic enemies and that is, you know, the 45 pistol was supposedly- This is the urban legend designed to stop Moro charging at you full tilt, I mean that kind of unhappy talk. So, Islam as an identifying thing, as a source of inspiration for justice, is big in the region.
One thing that should also be mentioned too is that with the fluidity of movement in Southeast Asia – and of course, people speak Malay, Indonesian, and, you know, Brunei, Malaysia, even southern Thailand – so those currents, which are sometimes not very consistent with the way the Javanese approach Islam are in full play too, so there is a lot in the mix. I think I have exhausted your patience in trying to expand the definition of tourists but there it is.
On your trip, Jim, did you get an update at all on what is happening in Papua, which you did not mention, and very specifically, the effort of the Freeport mine to finally be turned over to majority Indonesia ownership? I do not know if it has actually happened yet, but it is in the works under Indonesian law.
This is the Freeport-McMoRan?
Yeah. I will just – for those of you who are not conversant in this, Freeport was the first company to go in after the ‘New Order’, quote, unquote of General Suharto took power, and the story goes, I have had it confirmed, Jim Bob, what was his name? He was the head of the Freeport-McMoRan. The name escapes me. He went out and he did an Elvis impersonation for General Suharto who thought it was so terrific that he invited him to stay and of course, one thing led to another and the biggest copper and gold mine in Southeast Asia, I think the biggest copper mine in the world, number two in the world… I mean, it was a license to print money for Freeport for a very long time. To give them credit, over the years they began to be – perhaps belatedly, perhaps not – attentive to things like the local, indigenous people and what kinds of working conditions, and will you please take care of the destruction you are wreaking on the environment, so, you know, they played catchup.
And now, the question Michael raises is there has been an underlying nationalist thing and again a very important element of understanding Indonesia is that resources are seen as the patrimony of the country no matter how corruptly they are exploited by Pertamina and others but that is fixed, so the idea that some foreign company should just have this right in perpetuity to kind of mine gold and copper and nickel increasingly ran up against resistance. I am taking a long time to say no, I do not know, but I know that is it there, and there is a chance that Widodo is going to do it. Just like a lot of shipping rules are going to require foreign shippers to do things and of course, is that a good thing or not. So, and the other thing was…?
Papua. [Does] everyone know what I am talking about when I say Papua? Okay, Papua New Guinea. The western half of this extraordinary island in which two thirds of the world’s languages can be found; the whole world, two thirds of languages are there, and it is an island of deep ravines and mountain ranges that all run east-west. Bismarck over brandy and a cigar at the Congress of Berlin said, ‘Well, we’ve had a good day, dividing up Africa’, and someone says, ‘Oh, what about that place New Guinea, Papua New Guinea?’ Everyone goes, ‘Oh, god, it is late’ and he says, ‘I will take care of it.’ So he went out there – and this is apparently true – he drew a straight ruler down this island, just followed the latitude.
The longitude, you are quite right. I am just testing you.
And everyone has lived with it since. Now, part of it belonged to The Netherlands and the eastern part had been German at least the top part and that is why you come across names like New Bismarck and various things. It is completely nuts. In any way, the point is they are very ethnically different from the predominant Malay peoples of Southeast Asia. And one of the most unpleasant things I saw when I was there… They had just opened a thing called Taman Mini Indonesia, and it was really an interesting concept. You had kind of landscaping to create islands that were seen from the air it looked like a map of the archipelago and there were different people there, living in, you know, Minangkabau houses, various things, tourist stuff.
And then the saddest thing of all was the Irian Jaya as they used to call it. And they were kind of, I do not know, just hanging around in their kind of grass dresses and things. And I said, “Do you like doing this?” And he said, “What do you think? We are in a zoo.” Right? And there is an unpleasant part of that part of the greater Malay peoples. It is like looking down on the Papuans. Melanesians generally they have a hard time.
And the answer to that is more trouble coming. How can it not be? There are people in the West who are trying to fan interest in helping them achieve some kind of at least basic autonomy, but it usually run by the military, either overtly or disguised. The group that originally rose against the Indonesian military – I guess it goes right back to the ’70s or ’80s was a group called the OPM, a ragtag group really for sure. Either by force of arms or force of suasion or pressure from outside, I regard it as an unlikely thing, but then we all said that in 1998 about East Timor, so who knows.
East Timor is the most extraordinary thing. I went to Portugal when I was a Georgetown professor. Seeing the Foreign Minister, I said you will never get that place free. The Indonesian military got it under their thumb. They all fight like cats amongst each other. Forget it. And he said you wait. And we did, and it changed. I was right there with President Carter’s group, the Carter Center, and we were up monitoring the vote.
We and another fellow had the bad luck to be last out of the highlands of East Timor, getting to Dili at the time, navigating roadblocks manned by drunken kids with M16s. I mean really high as a kite kids. And each time I would have to get out and say [in] my pretty good [Bahasa] Indonesian at the time, saying wow, that is a really amazing rifle. Where did you get that gun? Wow! How did you do that? Like playing the gringo fool six times getting there, and Michael will remember this. We all got out an ancient Hawker Siddeley British jet prop plane. As we looked behind, you could see, and it was very disturbing, once again the gringos get to get away to safety. And the militias were closing in on the compound. It was not pretty. It was a really indelibly pictured thing.
East Timor was one of those things, yeah it would be a good idea if – and we are sorry for you, but accept your fate. Well, they did not [accept their fate], and now, arguably, they are becoming a Chinese colony, but that is another matter.
Those of us who are contemporaries go back a number of years about Indonesia, and the Indonesia that you described, the layered culture of tolerance, are all there and we keep seeing it. Bill Little, for instance, every time there is an election [he] talks about how the Muslim parties have not really gained anything, but – and that is the but that is a little disturbing, say a couple of words about Ahok, just how Islam really did inject itself in a very frightening way.
Yes, frightening and rapid way. Ahok is an ethnic Chinese Indonesian who became Governor of Jakarta Province, and he was displaced and vilified by street demonstrations, which acquired a rolling character. Hizb ut-Tahrir is the group, and they mobilized people, and he was accused of having blasphemed against the word of the Prophet. He is an extraordinarily cultured and interesting guy with a great sense of humor, by the way, but that was taken amiss by the rather strict, puritanical types who were opposing him. And I did not think it stood much of a chance to go anywhere, but it did.
He is in jail.
He is in jail, so blasphemy is one of those things that is now out there as something that can be levelled against you, right, unfairly. Well, try Pakistan. Try a lot of places where blasphemy is – what do they say in [Bahasa] Indonesian? Pengkhianatan, it is like treachery, so there is all of that, and that is a disturbing feature. I still think it is a bigger picture than just that, and I think it can be contained. On the other hand, the parliament passed new laws against homegrown terrorism. On the other hand, they have been releasing people, so it is a kind of carrot, stick, carrot thing where they try to do the same thing, actually, in a way the Saudis did. I once flew over there to see Prince Muhammad bin Nayef’s rehabilitation efforts for people who he had sprung from Guantanamo Bay. And you had the sense of great pretense about it, that actually their minds were made up and they were released into the wider world, and you could expect some trouble, not from everybody, but you could [expect trouble from some of them].
Just one comment if I may; talking about jilbabs as a fashion statement, a woman who worked for me in the embassy had never worn a jilbab, and she came in one day with one. And I knew her well enough to say what is going on? And she said, well, my in-laws are giving me a little bit of pressure, but I tell you what, it saves me fifteen minutes in the morning because you cannot have a bad hair day with a jilbab.
Yeah, no, absolutely. In fact, I was trying on a few myself. It is a very good point, and it actually leads us to that point I have been attempting, perhaps imperfectly, to emphasize, which is it is complicated. Do not be put off by the fact that people look intimidating because of their dress. They are Indonesians. They are likely to be Javanese Indonesians or Sunda people in Jakarta.
I remember once in Rawalpindi, we were all dressed up like monkeys like this, and I was with a group of people from the American government. And everyone was spooked by the fact that on the other side, about where that camera was, on the other side of the street [there was] a number of ulama and other people with turbans. And I said, well, just go say hi. So we go [say] ‘assalamu alaikum’ and all of that, and [their] faces open up. They do not get us. They work in stereotypes just as we do, perhaps even more so, more virulently so, but it does not mean that we cannot make the effort.
With regard to shaking hands, you mentioned one incident where a Saudi, somebody with a Saudi background, refused to shake your hand.
What about meeting women? Have you encountered women refusing to shake your hand?
Never. Never, but on the other hand, I do not lunge forward. I am not running for president (hey, how are you?). But I say, madam, how are you? It is also kind of a touchy country, too. I mean touchy feely.
Thanks for the optimistic report. The things that we worry about here have developed, but not as much as people get the impression. I have a question about inevitability or otherwise. There was as you emphasized a secular dictatorship, Suharto, very similar to other secular, national, postcolonial governments, although Suharto came first. And there has been a trend toward indigenization and re-religionization, not only in the Islamic world, even in India, so the Congress Party gets displaced partly by the Hindu nationalists. Do you see this as inevitable, this indigenously developing in Indonesia or do you see it more as a product of the external influence of this developing throughout the rest of the Islamic world, and the copycat element?
And a second question [is] would it be inconceivable for the Suharto type regime, a secular authoritarian regime to have continued in place of political liberalization and democratization? Could there have been continued social liberalization and modernization, and if so, would these disturbing trends, even if [they are] not as bad as people think they are, still they are there, would these same disturbing trends have inevitably developed anyway in terms of Islamic intolerance, Islamism, and some terrorism or would such a regime have more successfully prevented it? I think that is of some ideological importance here because Americans made the theory that democratization is the answer to Islamism, and the opposite possibility is democratization has promoted Islamization.
Well, I always like to comment that the former Foreign Minister of a country called Yugoslavia made to Jim Baker when he said how do you feel about these elections, really? He said I am not actually sure the country is going to be there much longer. He saw elections as a partisan mobilizing thing that would reinforce ethnic hatreds and resurrect an awful lot of difficulties, so the idea of contestation periodically through elections plays to the type of possible result you were just mentioning. I think that I do not want to seem [like] a Pollyanna about all of this. I think things anywhere can go bad and can quickly go wrong. I think that, for example, there is an awful lot in the supersaturated solution that is Java today. I mean it is cheek to jowl life, and luckily there has been an improvement in economic circumstances.
But what if three volcanoes go off at the same time? I mean the devastation that will visit on the farming sector and all the rest is huge. There is an awful lot of talk about this at the moment. Is the Chinese model something that you would want to emulate? Well, if you are [a] dictator in Africa, sure you want to emulate. Everybody is making money, no one is giving you trouble, at least it looks that way, so the idea is can you have prosperity [without political liberalization]. Gorbachev went the political liberalization route. The Chinese always tell you this, that was their big mistake, we did not [liberalize], we kept tight control. And for a look into that, read Richard McGregor’s book, The Party. It is just absolutely fantastic how it describes a Leninist outfit, top-down, being capitalist, making money.
Your question is a good one. I think the relations, the daughter of Suharto is even talking about resurrecting the good old days. There is already getting to be a sense of missing the old man even with is interminable speeches. And that is always out there. People go in the direction of authoritarians. If you have something to lose, property holding, lower middle-class person, and it is threatened, do you go for free speech and free association or do you go for authority? Well, the answer is pretty obvious. You are protective that way, so the answer I think is I am kind of surprised that Indonesia has managed as well as it has. I think it is extraordinary what they are able to do with the downfall of Suharto. Let us not forget there were huge riots in Jakarta, attacks on the ethnic Chinese minority there and in Medan. Things looked very, very bad, and they pulled themselves together.
I will tell you one thing. I would occasionally do some consulting for Exxon. And it was weird, I would write some long paper of this and that, and argumentation. And they would say, Jim, just call in, we will patch you in. Okay, there I am. We got three or four ‘b‘s we have got to invest, billions. That seemed [like] big money back then when Suharto was falling. And I said, yeah? [They asked] should we put it into Saudi or Indonesia? I said I think Indonesia. Well, but it is falling apart. No, it is not, it is elastic. It can take it. It can take an awful lot of stretching and bending and buckling, and I will not tell you what I was paid for that minute-and-a-half comment, but visions of sugar plumbs danced in my head. I thought this is great, I love consulting. Anyway, that is another story.
Do you hear anything [about] the emerging groups of cults in the younger generation? You have touched on a really good point, and again, that is part of the culture too, there is an awful lot of – I think the word in [Bahasa] Indonesian is aliran. It means like currents or temperaments. They have always had a kind of mystical bent, and sometimes they will take that mysticism, and it will look like Sufi Islam, which is mystical too. Other times it will be Javanese to a fault to the people who are looking for strict purity and ascetic reward, and so the answer is yes, there are. They are probably not dangerous, the things that young people do anyway, but the cult part is seen also in – who is the fellow, Abdul Rahman, who has just been executed? He was a leader who really led his group of young followers into blowing up stuff in Jakarta. And [he] paid the price, he was executed, so I think people watch over this very, very tightly.
And one thing that has not changed from Indonesia, even though it is in the hands of a democracy now, a democratic arrangement, [it is] very, very free and open. You just look at Indonesian media, it is incredible, but one thing that has not changed is the role of the intelligence agencies. They are there. If they are maintaining peace and order within a democratic environment, and not being excessively harsh, I am for it. Good question.
Jim, if I could bring up to current times and policy issues. Are you worried or concerned at all that Indonesia and ASEAN might get lost in the shuffle as the Trump administration shifts from an Asia-Pacific focus to an Indo-Pacific focus with Indonesia in the middle, and ASEAN presumably less important, and the pivot to Asia kind of forgotten?
Yeah, does all of that make sense to you guys, Pacific, Asia-Pacific, Indo-Pacific? Some of it is word games. Some of it is stuff designed to kind of pull the Indians in to our nefarious games to kind of blunt Chinese assertiveness, that is what it is about. It is about balance of power stuff. And the Indians, of course, are extraordinarily attentive to their pride, and sovereignty, and all of the rest, so the idea of overtly lining up with us is anathema, so what are the things that you, India, want in the Indian Ocean? And we will just pull them in to our worldview.
At the moment, the Indians are saying the Indo-Pacific, at least as they see it, reaches all of the way to Madagascar and Kenya. And then as others see it, they see it reaching across the Asia-Pacific all the way to Chile and South America, so it is a big area. A lot of people are earning good think tank salaries, thinking out what the Indo-Pacific means. If you go in and do a search, it is mostly mid-career academics who are coming out with an awful lot of stuff that looks important but does not really address the issue. They are trying to give substance to something which is a fictive diplomatic device in my view, but it is good.
Does anyone know what the Quad is? We are not talking about a university, the Quad, the Quadrilaterals; India, Australia, Japan, and the U.S. And the idea that we would even think of meeting would freak the Chinese out. And we put together a meeting, and someone was at the side of a meeting in ASEAN, so it was the Quad. They were all there for some reason, so we had a separate room in a hotel, and everybody talked, and they said but what is the agenda, and in the cable back I said it does not matter, the agenda. Talk about the Chelsea Garden Show. I remember saying that. [Talk about] anything you like. I said the fact that it happens [is what matters].
So, anyway, fast forward. Michael Pezzullo, who was Deputy Secretary of Defense for Australia, came into the office in the Pentagon. He said, boy, we were really given a hard time by the Chinese. I said you were? He said yeah, they démarched us last week, twice, three times. So, one of the younger staff in OSD said tut, tut, tut, really, well, that is – he said no, mate. He says that is the whole idea.
That is what you do. You measure short of war, and then some. You play this minuet. And they still cannot bare the idea that there is a common interest, which is explicitly and implicitly anti-People’s Republic of China agenda, and that is where we are going, so the Indo-Pacific question is a really good one, but it all about what wallpaper are we going to put up in our new creation.
And the final point, Michael, is ASEAN has been amazingly successful at being the clearinghouse through which issues do not really need to go. It is much easier to talk about the Senkakus in northeast Asia without all of the Southeast Asians hanging around, and without the Khmers and the Laos passing every bit of information directly to the Chinese. You have heard that, have you not? And if you want China to really know something fast and reliably, tell the Cambodians. It is kind of where it is. Well, it is alright, that is the world as it is.
So, I think that there is a lot that can be done with that kind of wallpaper, but do not fall into the trap of thinking that whatever the latest communiqué about the Indo-Pacific is saying really reflects reality. I mean it is like State Department coming up with a new program. You look behind the podium, and all they are doing is taking programs together and shuffling the cards in a new way, and they do not have any money. And it is dressed up as something, and it always looks mean-spirited and second best when you measure against the Chinese.
Robert R. Reilly:
If I may, James, someone mentioned the media in Indonesia, [and] I know the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which inherited the Voice of America from USIA, and the other government broadcasting entities have spent a lot of money in Indonesia on television and radio. Are you aware of any impact or any awareness of that presence?
No, I asked about it obliquely and indirectly, but not the direct answer I got, but the impression I got was it is a riot of contending voices and channels, and cable this and satellite that, so the idea that you are going to have some diktat that will work, and you have written so convincingly about our reaction after 9/11. You now, you cannot fool them. There are people who pass that message implicitly, but I am not aware of it, and certainly nobody spoke to it, and we gave them plenty of opportunity when I was out there with Dr. Berman.
Robert R. Reilly:
If I can just ask one last question, of course, Afghanistan had a form of folk Islam very much like the one you were describing in Indonesia.
Yeah, good point.
Robert R. Reilly:
It has been largely if not completely destroyed by the Taliban. It has been damaged by the Taliban. The shrines have been blown up and etc., and you know that some of the roots of that go back to what the Saudis did in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan during the war with the Soviet Union. No one spoke more forthrightly or angrily against Saudi influence in Indonesia than Abdurrahman Wahid.
Yes. He also went to Israel.
Robert R. Reilly:
I will not say you have been dismissive about it, but I have heard from others who go regularly to Indonesia who are worried about the damage to folk Islam [that] the Wahhabi influence has done.
I am not remotely dismissive. I tend to try and see it in a larger picture, which is an awful lot of that stuff, just by rapid movement of contemporary society and change in globalization, is at risk anyway. Look to the people who run the World’s Monument Fund up in New York. I mean every week there is some hideous tale, not of blowing it up like they did those statues in Bamyan [in Afghanistan], but just cleared for a new hotel or something. I mean it is inexorable, that is partly what I am saying, and in Java, the lore of modernity, and money, and prosperity, and flashy things that work is true, just true.
On the other hand, I think there is something in the zeitgeist, the contemporary mood in Indonesia, that is slightly more intolerant, maybe a lot more intolerant of those little, interesting swirls and eddies in the flow of religiosity in Indonesia that made it such an interesting place. I hung out with some people who were working with this – remember I mentioned there was a sixth possible stream that Suharto was interested in, Kebatinan mysticism (Kejawèn). I just went along for about a month talking to these people, and found it fascinating, rather vague, but interesting stuff. And I do not think it is easy to do now. I think that there is a lot of self-imposed strictures, but remember, all times change. This is kind of an embarrassment, and someone getting up there, saying death to the infidel, and all of the rest of it, just does not cut it. [It is] not that kind of country.
Robert R. Reilly:
Great. Jim, thank you very much.