Sat, 29 Nov 2003

Old crime, new crisis


authoritarian former Indonesian president Soeharto, why has one military massacre of Muslim civilians been singled out for accountability, almost two decades after the fact? The answer is as much entwined in the present day threat posed by extremist Islam - and its terrorist offshoots - as in popular demands to right past wrongs.

On September 12, 1984, Indonesia's notorious special forces, Kopassus, opened fire on a crowd of protesting civilians in Jakarta's impoverished port district of Tanjung Priok. Ostensibly, the crowd's anger was provoked by a group of soldiers who had defiled a local mosque by not removing their shoes. The real fuel, however, was resentment over official corruption and misrule. Under Soeharto, all political dissent was brutally oppressed. Much unhappiness was channelled into the mosques. The death and injury of perhaps hundreds of devout Muslims at Tanjung Priok, and the riots and arrests that followed, formed a deep scar on Indonesian society.

A human rights trial which opened in Jakarta last month dredges up the bloody past of a cast of serving military officers implicated in the massacre, including the Kopassus commander, Major-General Sriyanto Muntarsan. So abusive was Soeharto's rule, however, that thousands of serious crimes against humanity will forever go unpunished. The only other charges to have been laid relate to Indonesia's military occupation of East Timor. This suggests the Tanjung Priok case, no matter how deserving and symbolic, is not just about retrospective justice.

For the government of President Megawati Soekarnoputri, Indonesia's Islamic opposition parties represent a serious political challenge. Ms Megawati, although a Muslim, rejects the Islamic identity these parties peddle in favour of tolerance and respect for Indonesia's religious and ethnic minorities. The US- led "war on terrorism" has made her political balancing act especially difficult. This is not because Indonesia's majority Muslims oppose harsh security measures against terrorists inside Indonesia. Rather, it is because of deep public unease over Western stereotypes of Islamic terrorism, which many believe tar peaceful, moderate Muslims with the extremist brush. This perceived humiliation of Islam is buoying Ms Megawati's Islamist political opponents.

Ms Megawati's recent criticism at the United Nations of the "prolonged, unjust attitude exhibited by big powers" towards nations which profess Islam was an attempt to revive confidence in an Islamic identity. While Ms Megawati must continue to crush terrorism, she must also engender respect for Indonesia's legitimate, moderate Muslim majority. Justice, however overdue, for the victims of Tanjung Priok can only help this cause.

-- The Sydney Morning Herald.

-- Terror in Istanbul and beyond

The murderous car bomb attacks in Istanbul at the weekend will achieve none of their apparent political objectives. Turkey is the most secular of Islamic nations and was possibly targeted for that reason. It will not be distancing itself from either the United States or Israel, with both of which its ties are longstanding and unusually cordial. Turkey is more likely to remain close to the U.S. and seek, among other things, an abatement of criticism of its stern treatment of its Kurdish minority, whose defiance of its authority Istanbul customarily describes as its own terrorist problem.

Not that those behind Saturday's bombings were of Kurdish origin. Rather, a radical Islamic group linked to al-Qaeda, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, has claimed responsibility for the bombings outside two synagogues in Istanbul which killed 18 Muslims and six Jews. It threatens further attacks in other countries, including Australia.

The group says "Jews around the world will regret that their ancestors ever thought about occupying the land of Muslims". It says the U.S. and its allies must "put an end to the war they are waging against Islam and Muslims in the name of the war on terror and withdraw from all Muslim lands desecrated by Jews and Americans, including Jerusalem and Kashmir". It also calls for the release of all detainees held at Guantanamo Bay and of Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, the spiritual guide of Egypt's Jamaah Islamiyah, who is jailed in the U.S.

It backs these demands with threats: "We say to the criminal Bush and his Arabs and Western hangers-on -- in particular Britain, Italy, Australia and Japan -- that the cars of death will not stop at Baghdad, Riyadh, Istanbul, Nasiriyah, Jakarta and the rest until you see them with your own eyes in the middle of the capital of this era's tyrant, America."

There is not the remotest chance that the wild demands accompanying these obscene threats will be met. The first response in all countries under threat will be to heighten vigilance and increase counter-terrorist measures. That is the only sensible immediate response. In Australia that means, especially, taking special care to protect potential targets in the Jewish community.

That is not to say that reflexive, defensive measures are enough. For the long haul, the even harder task of achieving peace and stability in the Middle East, to remove the conditions in which such hatred breeds, must continue.

-- The Sydney Morning Herald

Masked attack on the Constitution

This is why non-Muslims have responded vociferously to the Islamic State Document unveiled by Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS). Although PAS has made much of the fact that the document was the result of intense discussion and deliberation for two years inside and outside the party, it is clear that it has paid no heed to the sensitivities of non-Muslims. The groundswell of non- Muslim objections, whatever their political allegiance or religious affiliation, indicates that they refuse to be ignored in any attempt to re-make the future of Malaysia. Nor do rightthinking Malay realists.

Despite the seemingly high moral ground it seeks to occupy, PAS is profoundly expedient when it comes to political power. It will strike alliances with any party that will increase its influence, as attested by its links with Keadilan, Parti Rakyat and DAP. The document is another instance of the political Machiavellianism that PAS is so good at. As PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang has admitted, the blueprint is above all a polls ploy. In its attempts not to scare the non-Muslim voters, the document employs the language of democracy.

But the strident objections from non-Muslims show that they have not allowed neither this rhetoric on rights, nor Hadi's disclaimer that PAS is not establishing a theocracy, to pull the wool over their eyes. The document has been left deliberately vague, full of generalities and lacking in detail to make it malleable for the slick tongues of its demagogues, except for its version of hudud, its ultimate and paramount aim. To paraphrase Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, when they use a word, it means just what they choose it to mean. They have been good at interpreting the Quran to mean what they want it to mean.

What it means is that any state shaped in accordance with the PAS version of Islam will lead to radical changes in the constitutional framework. And what would hudud mean if not a theocracy? Which is why every Malaysian who subscribes to the social contract struck by our founding fathers 46 years ago must strike hard against the PAS attempt to throw it out and replace it with their own version.

-- New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur

Terror in Turkey

Terror is still at large, seeking its prey. During this week, after Saudi Arabia, Turkey became the target. Last Saturday at least 25 people were killed and 150 others injured in blasts that destroyed a pair of synagogues. Further blasts destroyed the HSBC bank and the British consulate on Thursday, leaving 26 people dead and hundreds more injured.

The attacks were believed to be systemized and well planned, instead of a spontaneous display of anger. Therefore, it is feared that there will be another, more horrible blast in the future.

Turkey is a die-hard supporter of U.S.-led moves against terror, and the attacks could become a reminder for George W. Bush, currently visiting the UK.

Given the blasts in Turkey, the international community's worry that the antiterror drive declared by Bush would be countered, is being proven. Here in Indonesia, it is not easy for people to forget the horrible JW Marriott Hotel bombing. They are also hoping that the police will arrest the number one suspect, Azahari.

The fight against terror is now a global predicament, not the problem of America only. A bomb attack can happen anywhere, anytime.

Indonesian religious leaders' messages conveyed to President Bush in a meeting in Bali some time ago were clear: One of the complex problems was the perceived arrogance of America, with its biased policies in dealing with international affairs.

The messages do not mean that terrorism is acceptable. We condemn any acts of terrorism, including those taking place in Turkey. Using terror to settle problems is a backward step for civilization.

-- Republika, Jakarta

Afghan challenge

The UN's suspension of its demining operations in Afghanistan does not augur well for a country riddled with millions of mines. The world body's decision comes in the wake of the tragic killing of one of its aid workers of French origin over the weekend and the snatching of a UN vehicle at gunpoint on Monday in Ghazni, south of Kabul.

The two incidents show once again the extent of insecurity in the country beyond Kabul, which has become relatively safe since the deployment of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Time and again it has been argued that the scope and the mandate of ISAF - or some such multinational peacekeeping force - should be widened to enable it to be deployed across Afghanistan. This will ensure a minimum of unhindered activity by various NGOs and UN agencies, on whose work a majority of Afghans depend for subsistence.

Afghanistan today needs all the assistance it can get from the international community to recover from the devastating effects of two decades of war and civil war that have left its physical and social infrastructure in a shambles.

The first priority of the government in Kabul and ISAF should be to rebuild the country's damaged infrastructure and provide succor to the people. To return life to a semblance of normality, the warlords need to be somehow neutralized and prevented from causing trouble.

The recent attacks on international relief agencies and NGO personnel, who have no agenda other than to help the destitute, point to the law of the jungle being the rule of the day in Afghanistan. It is the responsibility of the nations that pledged moral and material aid to the ravaged country at Berlin two years ago to see to it that some degree of peace and security returns to Afghanistan sooner rather than later.

-- The Dawn, Karachi

Victory for the people PRIORITAS

The Central Jakarta District Court turned down on Wednesday Sinivasan Marimutu's lawsuit against Tempo weekly magazine. The same panel of judges -- on the same day -- also agreed to Sinivasan's request to withdraw the lawsuit his company (PT Texmaco Group) had filed against Kompas daily.

The court's decisions, like candlelight in the dark for the nation, boosted the hope that efforts to build a better Indonesia in the future are not futile.

It is not just because the court favored Tempo, Kompas or the national press community. It is because the court has just favored the people of Indonesia, who should no longer worry about losing access to information in the public domain.

It is true that the national press was shocked upon learning the plaintiffs' demand for a huge sum in compensation. There is also a belief among the public that court decisions depend more on the size of the bribe offered (to law enforcers) than the evidence under consideration.

Wednesday's verdicts indicate strongly that we still have bright judges who want the public to enjoy the right to information, as stipulated in Law No. 40/1999 on the press.

We do hope that in the future the courts will use the press law to deal with press-related cases on the basis of lex specialis or special law, which involves special professions, instead of lex generalis or (general) criminal law.

-- Koran Tempo, Jakarta

Warning for tardy civil servants

Civil servants who fail to return to work in the days after the Idul Fitri holiday will be punished. State Minister of Administrative Reforms Feisal Tamin revealed the government's policy on Monday, saying that anyone not on official leave must be at their desk on Dec. 1, 2003.

Idul Fitri will fall on Nov. 25 and Nov. 26, but the government has declared an extended holiday, from Nov. 22 through Nov. 30, meaning that the total holiday for civil servants will be nine days. With such a policy -- hopefully -- all government office employees will have no reason to skip work after the holiday has ended.

Feisal's intentions could be achieved if a monitoring system, involving the public, were run properly, because electronic attendance records can be manipulated.

The bosses (at state institutions or offices) usually want their offices to look clean and disciplined; therefore, there is a possibility that they may be concealing the fact that many of their staff are unpunctual.

Almost all government offices are usually empty on the days following the Idul Fitri festivities. A few workers turn up at the office just to greet each other, with no sanctions taken against those who fail to show up on work days after Idul Fitri.

-- Warta Kota, Jakarta

Firecracker menace

Year in year and year out the guilty parties are the same -- the people who peddle the illegal stuff and the parents who never learn. Sometimes images in the newspapers of children with fingers maimed and faces burnt do not shock anymore because it happens with alarming regularity, particularly as Hari Raya approaches. But it could be our son on that hospital bed with eyes patched, face scarred and fingers blown off.

The peculiar aspect of firecracker mishaps is that most, if not all, of the casualties are Malays. Does this mean that they are more mischievous than others or are they simply more foolish? Perhaps both. Strict parental control and supervision are needed if such accidents are to be curbed.

In the first place firecrackers are banned. Yet children have access to them and have the means to acquire them, showing that there are people out to make a fast buck by breaking the law at the expense of fun-loving kids. And parents cannot plead ignorance because, firstly, it is their money that children use to buy the firecrackers. Secondly, playing with firecrackers is a noisy affair and there is no way children can indulge in it discreetly or undetected.

Parental supervision is therefore a most important element if measures to curb firecracker injuries are to be successful. Strict enforcement too is needed for the supply lines to be cut. But ultimately, the fight against this menace can only be won by eliminating the demand.

-- New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur

The second six months for Aceh

As the first six-month military operation in Aceh has yet to crush the rebellious activities of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), the government has decided to extend the operation for another six months.

The second, six-month period of martial law started on Wednesday, based on Presidential Decree No. 97/2003, which legalizes an integrated operation, to include economic recovery, law enforcement and security restoration, as well as administrative order.

Rumors have it that martial law in Aceh will affect people's rights in the 2004 general elections, because of the military's presence. Therefore, it is feared that the elections will not run smoothly in Aceh.

To counter the rumors, Coordinating Minister for Social and Political Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono plans to hold an open dialog with the General Elections Committee (KPU), the Elections Supervisory Committee and several Aceh-based, non-governmental organizations. The meeting will also involve the Aceh governor and police and military chiefs.

Apart from the question of whether or not the military operation or the general elections will be a success in Aceh, there are 1,686 family refugees -- 7,202 people -- who cannot observe the Idul Fitri holiday at their villages. Celebrating Idul Fitri in refugee camps will be a miserable experience for them.

-- Harian Ekonomi Neraca, Jakarta