Fri, 05 Sep 2003

Don't corner Muslims

Kornelius Purba, Staff Writer, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta,

After saying his predawn prayers at the At-Taqwa mosque in a housing complex in East Jakarta on Thursday, a man approached his old friend, a Catholic neighbor who was jogging near the mosque. But this time the face of the engineering lecturer looked grim.

His neighbor saw that he was evidently disturbed by the criticism of Australian Prime Minister John Howard over the verdict of cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir. Howard described the verdict as too lenient, but when the Bali bombers were sentenced to death his foreign minister Alexander Downer said he did not condone the death penalty.

"Why can't Indonesia do anything right in the eyes of western nations, while the U.S. and Australia can do no wrong?" said the man who preaches regularly on Friday's at the mosque.

"Bush and Blair have duped the world in invading Iraq. They shamelessly continue to hide their deception. What did they find in Iraq? Why do they think they can do no wrong?"

A key minister in President Megawati Soekarnoputri's Cabinet also expressed the same sentiment. The minister pointed out that Indonesia had done a lot to prove its commitment to combating terrorism, ranging from the issuance of an antiterrorism law, and the transparent and fair trial of Bali bombing defendants. He is clearly irked with the international criticism over the verdict for Ba'asyir.

Indonesia is the world's largest nations where Muslims are in the majority, and most of them are people who only want a peaceful and prosperous life, who are tolerant of their non- Muslim compatriots. The country however for the last six years has continued to face severe economic hardship, deteriorating living conditions and fighting among power-hungry politicians. Foreign companies are leaving because the country has lost its competitiveness and comparative advantages.

Millions do not have work. Crops have failed due to severe drought and people are struggling just to get clean water. The country now is not only among the world's poorest but also among the most corrupt.

Western countries, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), criticized mega-scale corruption committed by former president Soeharto's family and cronies. But when Soeharto's successors tried to annul megaprojects carried out by international corporations -- because the projects were full of marked up costs -- the same organizations and countries screamed that Indonesia should honor the contracts.

And now the nation has a new claim to fame: major supplier of international terrorists. Look at Hambali, who is described by U.S. President George W. Bush as a world-class terrorist.

We have very little pride left as a nation now, and because the majority of the people are Muslims they are the main victims of this chaos. Worse, they are led by leaders of society who think they are born only to enrich themselves, to abuse their power, and to take anything within their reach.

Talk to ordinary Indonesian Muslims, and we will see that very few have any sympathy for cleric Abu Bakar. They are angered with the convicted and suspected Muslim terrorists who burned churches, bombed Bali and the Marriott Hotel, and who boasted that they represent Islam and that their evil acts are based on their belief as Muslims.

A little bit of respect, encouragement and empathy from neighbors and friends would indeed be welcomed by the people who have been suffering so long. Continued patronizing language by western countries and richer neighbors may lead many here to stand up and say: "If we are poor and stupid as you say, so what?" And then when they feel they have nothing to lose, that others are continuing to bully them, they might just do something really stupid in retaliation.

The country is blamed for destroying its forests, but where do most of the forestry products go? The plywood is not exported to poor nations in Africa, but to super rich nations like Japan and European countries.

Many Indonesian Muslims currently feel their religion has been linked to the barbaric acts of terrorists; these are the Muslims who believe that Islam teaches peace, tolerance and equality. The pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) are now cited as major sources of fundamentalists. But do Catholic seminaries only produce angels?

To be fair, the government has done a lot in curbing terrorism under the circumstances, though it may be regarded as far from enough.

Western leaders like Prime Minister Howard might want to glance in the mirror and ask: "Am I innocent in the killing of thousands of Iraqis during our support for the invasion in Iraq?"