Fri, 03 Nov 2000

Indonesian Muslims must find better ways of expressing ire at U.S.

Groups of Indonesian Muslims, enraged by Washington's stance in the Middle East violence, conducted earlier this week a hunt for Americans staying in Surakarta, Central Java. Azzam Tamimi, a researcher at the University of Westminster's Center for the Study of Democracy, lent his views in the following e-mail interview. The director of the London-based Institute of Islamic Political Thought also co-wrote Islam and Secularization in the Middle East with John L. Esposito.

Question: What is your opinion of the Muslim groups seeking to flush Americans out?

Answer: Muslims around the world have been outraged by the policy of shoot to kill that has been adopted by Israeli occupation troops in the West Bank and Gaza.

Muzzled by domestic politics, these Muslims feel frustrated since they are disempowered and denied the opportunity to support the victims of Israeli oppression, those victims whom they regard as their brothers and sisters in faith.

At the same time, Muslims are rather angry because of the biased stance adopted by the United States of America who condones Israeli crimes against Palestinians.

(However) it is regrettable that some of these Muslims resort to violent action in order to express their anger and frustration. Attacks on institutions or personnel outside Israel do not do the cause of the Palestinians any good.

While this is unlikely to change the U.S. position on the matter, it is highly likely that such actions may result in causing harm to innocent people. Consequently, a bad name will be given in the media to Muslims and to the Palestinian cause which is a just cause. Muslims should look for better ways of expressing their anger at Israel and its allies in the West.

Q: How can Muslims do that?

A: In my opinion this should include considering boycotting, whenever and wherever possible, American companies and products and any interests, economic or commercial or diplomatic or touristic, for the Zionist entity, that is, for Israel. This is the least that Muslims can do and it can be done without much hardship to them.

Imagine what would happen if hundreds of millions of Muslims refrained from buying or using any products made by American companies or Israeli interests or other firms proven to support Israel.

Q: Some Muslim groups have also been angered with President Abdurrahman Wahid's initial reluctance to take a tough stance against Israel...

A: President Abdurrahman Wahid has been a great disappointment to us. We never expected someone who is supposed to be a scholar and a leader of a large Islamic movement in Indonesia to be such a close friend of the Zionists.

We ask Allah to bring him back to his senses and to guide him to the truth. Otherwise, the Indonesian people must have a say in what their President is doing or not doing.

Q: What can Indonesia contribute to find a solution to the Middle East violence?

A: Indonesia is the largest Muslim country and has enormous resources. It is regrettable that in spite of western anti- Islamic policies toward Indonesia, we see insistence on the part of Indonesian politicians to stay tied to the tail of America and its western allies.

Could this be the result of fear for their personal interests by those who are in power? Most probably yes. We have seen the Indonesians express support and solidarity with the Palestinians and demand action. In contrast we have seen a total failure on the part of the government.

Regrettably, this has also been the case with some major Arabic countries whose inaction only provides the pretext for doing nothing by more distant countries such as Indonesia.

I believe Indonesia can be very effective in pressuring America and the West to be fairer to the Palestinians. Why does the Christian world care about the Christians of East Timor and other localities in Indonesia while Muslim governments pay no attention to what is happening to Muslims around the world and especially in Palestine?

If only some of these leaders were to telephone Clinton and say to him "enough is enough, we can not take any more of this humiliation and disrespect". If they could threaten to boycott American products and even wield the weapon of oil. If they could at least sever relations with Israel no matter how low the level of representation is.

We hope that the time will come soon when governments, including that of Indonesia, will have no option but to go along with the wishes of their people rather than impose on them things they hate.

Q: What is your assessment of the progress, or lack of it, in the peace talks?

A: Peace talks were destined from the beginning to fail to achieve anything worthwhile. The fact that the current settlement is based on legitimizing injustice and oppression means that it will never work. This is the main reason the Palestinians have opted for revolution once more in what has become known as the Al-Aqsa Uprising.

It is true that (Ariel) Sharon's visit to the mosque sparked the revolution, but it did no more than provide the means of igniting the barrel of dynamite that has been waiting to explode in the face of the Israelis and their partners in a peace process that has led to more humiliation and suffering among the Palestinians.

Take these figures for just a small sample of what has been going on since the peace process started in 1993. Since the Oslo Agreement was signed between the PLO and Israel in September 1993, more than 80,000 new settlers have moved to the occupied territories, and more than 11,000 new housing units have been constructed since then on land confiscated from the Palestinians with whom Israel was allegedly seeking peace and normalization.

During the same period, more than 900 houses belonging to the Palestinians were demolished. This is in addition to the fact that more than 3,000 Palestinians continue to be detained in Israeli jails.

You may add to this the fact that the Palestinian authority, which is the outcome of the peace process, has added to the suffering of the Palestinians with a rather poor record of human rights and a high level of rampant corruption.

More Palestinians have become impoverished after the start of the peace process and more land has been confiscated by the Israelis to expand existing Jewish settlements or construct highways for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers. (Santi W.E. Soekanto)