SEPARATING OUR ENEMIES FROM OUR FRIENDS--The
Indonesian Ambassador Drops in to Offer Some Pointers
Know thy enemy? That’s a good
idea, especially for us Americans when we set out to police the world.
Another good idea is to know who our real friends are. Confusion, in this
age of a so-called “clash of civilizations” – where the enemy is said to
be Islam – is definitely a bad idea.
So here’s the question of the
day: Indonesia, that far-flung archipelago in Southeast Asia that’s home
to more Muslims than any nation on earth – is it friend or foe?
The question is especially
salient with all that’s roiling in the Middle East right now, raising anew
more questions about Islam. And, strategically speaking, Indonesia (right
next to Singapore, that quiet but firm friend of America, and not far from
Australia, that noisy but pivotal U.S. ally) straddles heavily
sailed-through commercial sea-lanes. Right now, this overwhelmingly Muslim
nation may be the most important country in the world that we Americans
tend to know least about.
For their part, Indonesians are
not keen to keep their country a secret. Not only do they feel that they
have little to hide, they believe there is much to point out. Last week an
Indonesian gentleman came to Los Angeles aiming to explain which side was
up in Islamic Southeast Asia: That’s Dino Patti Djalal, Indonesia’s
ambassador to Washington. And folks, as far as political salesmen go, he’s
Ambassador Djalal is not only
selling the idea that Islam in its mainstream can be America’s ally but
also that America must become mainstream Islam’s true ally. His latter
point about us meeting them at least halfway is an even a harder sell in
America than the former.
So what to do? The dapper
ambassador says let’s start with a monumental fact. “There are more
Muslims in Indonesia than in the entire Middle East,” the ambassador
explained, to a business and academic audience at the University of
Southern California’s annual Asia Pacific Business Outlook. Let Indonesia
be more on our minds: While virulent forms of Islam exist in Indonesia as
in the Middle East, we here in Southeast Asia are on top of the problem.
Maybe the headlines from the
Middle East present a bit of a distortion about Islam overall and not
enough emphasis on the tolerant Islam that is eager to move forward into
the modern globalized world without jihad-ing anybody at all. That’s
precisely the current pitch from Jakarta as Indonesia offers for our
inspection Susilo Mambang Yudhoyono. He is the country’s third consecutive
president elected democratically – and the first to be democratically
re-elected (overwhelmingly, in fact, in 2009).
Quite far from perfect, but more
than willing to be judged by his government’s steady economic progress,
Yudhoyono climbed to the pinnacle of power after a career in the
Indonesian armed forces. That can be a scary organization, to be sure, as
Western human right groups will properly point out. But we need to keep in
mind that when the Dutch colonialists scampered away more than a half
century ago there wasn’t much left behind to keep this archipelago country
stitched up – except by the potential and actual brute force of its
Another set of groups both adding
to and subtracting from cohesion are various Muslim organizations. Large
moderate ones like Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) are so mainstream they produced
the country’s president in its first real democratic election in 1999. But
others have been an utter terror, aligning themselves with al-Qaida,
especially the cruel Jemaah Islamiyah. It was JI that launched those
infamous killer attacks in Bali and Jakarta (Marriott Hotel) in 2002-2003.
So what will it be from
Indonesia, what will you be giving us: NU – or JI?
Djalal touts Indonesia ‘s chances
for an NU approach because so many Indonesians want to move forward; and
because so many of those want to do so hand-in-hand with America. The fact
of the matter is that surprisingly few Indonesians would be comfortable if
the U.S. were to recede back into some shell and leave the geopolitical
fate of Asia to the sole will of China. “Reclaim your self-confidence,”
the ambassador beseeched his Los Angeles audience, “because more people
than ever out there have confidence in you.”
Our U.S. media rarely brings us
such a message. The picture we often get is that there’s hardly even one
party out there to which we’re cordially invited. On the contrary, says
this friend of America, at this moment the onus is not on the United
States to prove to people that it’s a good neighbor to Asia, it’s on
someone else. “China must assuage concerns,” said the ambassador, flatly,
America needs to hear more advice
from Asian leaders at the obvious level-headedness of Ambassador Djalal.
There are all sorts of good reasons why a mainstream Muslim/American
alliance could offer almost everyone geopolitical utility.