Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Jerusalem Embassy dilemma: Making the best of a bad situation

By Ross B. Taylor AM

The Morrison Government's decision to formally recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a case of trying to produce the least harmful outcome from an ill-timed and poorly handled issue. 

Given that both Morrison and Indonesia's president Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo will face robust national elections during the first half of 2019 – and whose respective hard-line conservative factions are already pushing their respective leaders to show strength on the issue of Jerusalem - it was folly for Australia's prime minister to even raise the issue at this time, as it was always going to 'wedge' both leaders, with no satisfactory outcome.

 The risk our PM now has of course is that the Palestinian supporters in the Middle East and Australia will be outraged by Australia’s decision, whilst Israel will hardly applaud the recognition of East Jerusalem as a future capital of Palestine. Meanwhile in Indonesia, the ultra-conservatives - lead by the radical Islamic Defenders Front (FDI) - will demand that recognition of Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem be totally unacceptable to the government of Indonesia. The message from Morrison is also likely to be quite confused or misunderstood by most people in the Muslim-world seeing ‘West Jerusalem’ as simply ‘Jerusalem’.

The prime minister will now hope that by striking what may be argued is a 'middle-ground' position, the issue will simply go away until after next year's election. But it was always going to leave his counterpart in Jakarta struggling to maintain internal unity amongst his own ministers and officials over an appropriate response to Australia following Morrison’s announcement. 

The PM has now left Jokowi with a choice: Accept Australia’s position that West Jerusalem has now been recognised as the capital of Israel, and almost certainly alienate the key conservative Islamic factions within Indonesia, including his chosen presidential running mate, cleric Ma’ruf Amin, or secure the critical Muslim vote by taking a tough stance against Australia, including the suspension of the IA CEPA trade agreement.

Jokowi, and a number of his key ministers, including his finance minister Sri Mulyani Indratwati and trade minister Enggartiasto Lukita would prefer to maintain good relations with their southern neighbour, and give the Indonesian government’s economic credentials a boost in financial markets by getting the FTA signed. But if the president has to ‘throw Morrison under a bus’ in order to preserve his conservative Islam support-base, the president would, albeit reluctantly, sacrifice the deal with Australia as after-all Indonesia has been looking north for its major business and trade opportunities; not south. 

The response from Indonesia’s opposition and conservative factions will therefore determine the president’s official position on Australia’s new policy, and that is the ever-present danger that Australia will now face.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yesterday released a measured response to the decision by Australia but it is hard to see IA-CEPA being signed soon as some ministers would like. If both governments do agree to proceed with the signing of this free trade agreement, the chances of it being ratified in the Indonesian parliament at this stage appears very slim. So business groups will need to 'just get on with business' as they have always done, despite the bumps that inevitably occur between neighbours.

Just how Indonesia will respond to the Australian Government's new policy remains to be seen. Almost certainly there will be anti-Australian protests, but whether Indonesia will announce a more severe response is unknown at this stage. A number of senior Indonesian ministers and officials will still want the IA-CEPA signed and the bi-lateral relationship maintained on a good footing, but how to do this without alienating the powerful conservative Islamic groups?

What we do know, is that the conservatives in Australia will react to any anti-Australian protests from Jakarta with a call for us to reject interference from Indonesia. Yet, none of this needed to have happened with a more considered and better-timed dialog with Indonesian officials before any announcement was originally made, and as such avoiding doing even further damage to the bilateral relationship at a critical time in our region for both Australia and Indonesia.

Ross B Taylor AM is the President of the Perth-based Indonesia Institute Inc.

17th December 2018.

(This article also appeared in the Australian Financial Review newspaper on Monday 17th December 2018 as an Opinion article.)

Help! What would Gus have done?

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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.
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Gusdurians in Yogyakarta. Seated – Jay Akhmad; standing from left Rifqiya Hidayatul, Ahmad Aminuddin and Nofa Safitri
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’.
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”.
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‘More important than politics is humanity’
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.
Duncan Graham is an Australian journalist living in Malang, East Java.
14th December, 2018

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Abu Bakar Bashir to be released 6 years early

By Ross B. Taylor

The early release of Abu Bakar Bashir, the ‘Mastermind’ behind the 2002 Bali bombings – that took the lives of 202 people and injured a further 209 – will be met with a mixture of dismay and anger by those directly and indirected affected by this attack, orchestrated by the terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah.

Bashir was given an early-release pardon by Indonesia’s president Joko (Jokowi) Widodo yesterday and will leave his Java prison cell, in Bogor, next week.

The spiritual leader, is now 81 years of age and in poor health. Whilst he still commands a strong following, he is hardly a ‘Mastermind’ any longer, and these facts were obviously taken into consideration by Jokowi when reviewing the case. We do not know what role Jokowi’s presidential running-mate and senior Islamic cleric, Ma’ruf Amin played in this decision and what influence Jokowi’s powerful ‘inner circle adviser', Yusril Mahendra also exercised, however the president would have been mindful that he is only three months away from the national presidential election.

Notwithstanding Bashir’s health and age, for many people his early release will be met with disbelief and concern as to what message this decision will send to the extreme Islamic conservatives in Indonesia. We should also remember that Bashir’s leadership resulted in the deaths of 38 Indonesian citizens as a result of the bombing in Kuta Beach. The Indonesian families of those lost will share the concerns, and pain felt by most Australians.

It is unfortunate that our prime minister is now constrained in making a stronger comment about this unfortunate decision by Indonesia, as his relationship with President Jokowi is hardly warm, and also Mr Morrison needs to remember his owns words during the Jerusalem embassy issue, when he told Indonesia that, "foreign countries should not interfere with another country’s internal or sovereign issues”. Sloppy – or non existent - foreign policy often comes back to bite you.

Bali today however, is a much safer place than in 2002, and the Indonesian police continue to work closely with our AFP to ensure Bali remains relatively safe and secure as 1.2 million Australians make their way there each year.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, right, and the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, at a recent meeting on the sidelines of an international summit in Singapore.CreditMick Tsikas/EPA, via Shutterstock

Tense relations? Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, right, and the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, at a recent meeting on the sidelines of an international summit in Singapore.CreditCreditMick Tsikas/EPA, via Shutterstock

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Is education reform finally paying off for Indonesian kids?

Over the past two decades, income inequality has been increasing in Indonesia, leading to growing worries about disparities in living standards and education.

A particular concern of economists in this environment of climbing inequality is the issue of intergenerational mobility – the extent to which parents’ education or income affects the socioeconomic status of their offspring.

Scholars have described a strong relationship between inequality and social immobility – meaning that the greater the inequality in a country, the greater likelihood that someone will inherit their parents’ socioeconomic status. This finding has been dubbed the “Great Gatsby curve”,(link is external) in reference to the way that the book’s title character defies this relationship and overcomes his simple upbringing.

Educational attainment is one of the most common measures used by economists and sociologists to determine the extent to which socioeconomic status is transferred from one generation to the next. Indonesia has invested huge amounts in education and implemented several progressive policies designed to promote mobility.

In fact, government spending on education has more than doubled since the New Order period. Since 2009, more than 20 per cent of the state budget has been spent on education, in accordance with the Law 20 of 2003 on the National Education System (although there is some debate about how this 20 per cent figure is calculated). These funds have been used to implement a variety of progressive policies, ranging from scholarship programs for poor students to elimination of school fees and school grants.

As the first member of my Betawi family to pursue higher education, I wondered how many other Indonesians had a similar experience to me. What is the relationship between parental education and children’s schooling in Indonesia? Are the government’s efforts to expand education making it any easier for people from families without high levels of education to attain higher levels of schooling?

To explore these questions, I examined the results of four waves of the Indonesian Family Life Survey (IFLS), from 1997, 2000, 2007 and 2015. I examined the educational achievement (in terms of years of schooling) of young people aged 16 to 27 at the time of the survey. My study examined the educational achievement of young people against their father’s education. This is because although many studies have shown only slight differences between whether a mother or father’s education level is used in these comparisons, some(link is external) studies(link is external)argue that the father’s education can be more important for the outcomes of their offspring.

The results showed some interesting findings. First, the average years of schooling increased from 9.21 in 1997 to 10.71 in 2015. Both boys and girls increased their total years of schooling. Average years of schooling for boys improved from 9.2 in 1997 to 10.53 in 2015. Girls fared slightly better, with average years of schooling increasing from 9.2 in 1997 to 10.9 in 2015.

Significantly, the study showed an increase in educational mobility from 1997 to 2015. To examine mobility, I calculated an “intergenerational persistence” coefficient – a measure of the degree to which a father’s education affects children’s education. This coefficient decreased from 0.53 in 1997 to 0.44 in 2015. Notably, there was little change from 1997 to 2007, when the coefficient decreased to 0.51, suggesting that most improvements in mobility have occurred over the past decade.

Despite the improvements observed, however, parental background still plays a major role in shaping children’s futures. In fact, the coefficient of persistence is still considerably higher in Indonesia than in most other nations, with Latin American countries the only close match for Indonesia.

Further, my study somewhat surprisingly showed little difference in intergenerational persistence between urban and rural areas. Living in an urban, developed area seemingly does not automatically promote greater opportunities for educational mobility compared to rural areas. In fact, my study showed that although mobility has improved in urban areas over recent years, historically, mobility was greater in rural areas than in urban ones.

Finally, the intergenerational coefficient declined from 0.55 in 1997 to 0.45 in 2015 for women, and from 0.51 in 1997 to 0.43 in 2015 for men. These findings suggest that female students are less mobile than male students, a finding that is common to many other studies. However, in the Indonesian case, the gap between males and females has narrowed significantly over recent years, and there is now little difference in mobility between genders.

What explains these results? Given the decline in intergenerational persistence over the past decade, there are suggestions that the government’s hefty investment in education may be starting to improve mobility. In 2007-2008, the government spent about 16 per cent of the state budget on education. Since 2009 it has consistently allocated more than 20 per cent.

Past studies have shown that total public expenditure on education has a positive relationship with mobility – the more a government spends on education, the more mobile students become. Public investment in education can compensate for a lack of investment in education by poor families.

One of the most prominent educational policies over the past decade has been the implementation of the School Operational Assistance Grants (BOS). These grants are provided directly to schools every three months on the basis of the number of students at the school. They are designed to increase the enrolment rate by reducing the costs of education borne by parents. Schools can also use BOS funds for activities such as personnel management, infrastructure and professional development.

In 2012, the government also introduced a new regulation that prohibits the charging of fees in primary and junior secondary schools but allows for voluntary parental contributions to maintain the active engagement of parents in school development.

On the demand side, the government has expanded its assistance program for poor students, the Indonesia Smart Card (KIP). Through this program, students are provided with a cash-transfer based on school attendance. The funds can be used for education fees, or other costs associated with attending school, such as transportation, books and uniforms.

In addition to increases in educational expenditure, the government has also put considerable efforts into promoting early childhood education over recent years. The enrolment ratio of children in early childhood education has increased from 15 per cent in the early 2000s to 47 per cent in 2012. Improvements in early childhood education could have also played a role in increasing mobility.

My small study suggests that parental education is still a major determinant of educational outcomes in Indonesia. Further studies are required to confirm my findings, but government investment in education does appear to be making a difference.

Our thanks to "Indonesia at Melbourne" for this article 

Australia's recognition of Jerusalem matters, so does Indonesia's disapprobation

  • Tanita D. RahmaniTanita D. Rahmani-

Australia's recognition of Jerusalem matters, so does Indonesia's disapprobationOld City of Jerusalem (Shutterstock/File)

By Tanita D. Rahmani

The initial anticipation to sign the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between Indonesia and Australia recently dwindled as Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister, announced on Nov. 12 that “there’s no rush” to sign the deal. The shift came after multiple strong condemnations from Indonesia on Morrison’s flag to relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Given Indonesia’s forbearing disposition in its international affairs, its censure meant only serious.
Indeed, support for the Palestinian struggle for statehood has been one of Indonesia’s most emblematic foreign policies for years, and keeping Jerusalem to its special international status is part and parcel to that support. The Palestinians themselves, at least after the 1967 war, consider the city as its future capital city. That’s why in light of the United States’ embassy relocation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last May, not only did dozens of Palestinians themselves fall into martyrdom, the Palestinian authorities also brought its first ever case against the US before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in September.
There are many reasons why Indonesia may be infuriated by Canberra’s unprecedented plan. Australia’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital may have been upsetting because of that emotional connection that many Indonesian have with the Old City. Or perhaps Indonesia wants to reciprocate to Palestinians, among the first to recognize and support Indonesia in our early days of statehood.
Or perhaps Indonesia believes in the cause of independence for Palestinians, owing to the historical anti-colonial movement that Indonesia’s forefather led in Bandung in 1955. Or perhaps it is because of all of them. As Australia’s closest neighbor and one of its most strategic ally, it is understandable to constitute this move as an act of betrayal against a dear friend.
But beyond these valid reasons, what makes Australia’s announcement disturbing is because unlike recognition from small states like Guatemala, which followed the US in moving its embassy, recognition from a country like Australia, if carried out, is impactful enough to create irreversible ramification to Palestine. Even when Australia has never been and probably cannot be a key player in the Israel-Palestine peace talks.
Statehood does not rest on mere existence. A diplomatic mission is the currency to obtain that status. Where one’s mission is established validates the territorial boundaries of a state and recognizes the functioning government; they are the formal recognition that an entity needs to enjoy the privileges of becoming a state. Yet, how many missions does one need to ascend to that status? Indonesia, along with 136 other countries, has recognized the state of Palestine. The city of Ramallah and Jerusalem are home to over 40 foreign consulates to Palestine, and the Palestinian authority has opened 98 embassies abroad and sends missions to various international fora. Yet its status remains inchoate.
Apparently recognition from developed, western, and “virtuous” states has, unfortunately but ultimately, become considerable capital for a state’s successful establishment. In the past, Kosovo’s independence and statehood were not challenged by the ICJ because more than 90 states recognized Kosovo, including the US and United Kingdom.
On the other hand, entities claiming independence -- such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia --  have never fully been admitted as a state due to the very limited number of recognition and the fact that no powerful states have recognized them, save for Russia, which has not really enjoyed the association of being a virtuous state, for whatever reason.
That’s why Australia’s recognition matters for the two-state solution that it earlier claimed to commit itself to. Sweden became the first major European country to recognize the Palestinian state in 2014. However, its move has not inspired enough courage or will among other major European states to follow, although many of them have had missions and deployed representatives in Ramallah.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s move to relocate its embassy for Israel to Jerusalem has been difficult to block. This is despite the United Nations Security Council resolutions No. 242 and 338 that affirm that Jerusalem belongs to neither the Israeli nor the Palestinians until negotiations have been concluded, and although the principle not to recognize a disputed territory exists under international law.
In fact, Australia is itself the proof why its future recognition matters. While no other European countries have laid out their plan to follow the US, PM Morrison has nevertheless. As a politically and economically powerful country which still enjoys relatively good reputation in its global affairs, Australia’s acknowledgment of Jerusalem can further spur other powerful countries to enjoin its course of action. It leaves Palestine in further jeopardy if the shared narrative is that an embassy relocation would end the protracted conflict between Israel and Palestine, as claimed by both Trump and Morrison.
As Norman Finkelstein, a renowned scholar and activist on the Israeli-Palestine conflict, once wrote, there is a huge power that lies in the court of public opinion. While Indonesia’s recognition of another state may not be as impactful as that of the US or Australia, nor are we a key player in the Middle East peace process, the very act of persistent condemnation counts as a useful capital that helps create public opinion; opinions that may have just managed to upend the plan of the big and powerful.
The author is a political and policy researcher at Indonesia In-Depth, a podcast on Indonesian issues. As a student researcher at Cambridge Palestine Trek, she conducted a research trip to Palestine with several other selected students from the University of Cambridge.