Sun, 13 Apr 2003

RI must be firm, but realistic, says Hidayat

Here is the man behind the largest rally ever held in Indonesia in protest of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on March 30. Hundreds of thousands of antiwar protesters took to the streets of Jakarta to condemn the destruction of Iraq, the cradle of the world's oldest civilization. Despite the huge turnout, there were no clashes or stone throwing reported. It was indeed a very peaceful rally that belied the violent stereotype of Muslim protesters.

Far from a typical outrageous, vocal activist, Hidayat Nur Wahid is a down-to-earth, modest and coherent speaker.

Hidayat, who turned 43 on April 8 and hails from the Central Java town of Klaten, is the president of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) formerly known as the Justice Party (PK). The party, established after the downfall of Soeharto, aims to debunk the image of a president as a sacred, untouchable figure.

Hidayat, also a senior lecturer at the state-run Hidayatullah Islamic Institute in Jakarta, is a keen observer of the crisis currently taking place in the Middle East. Not only because he spent 13 years living in the region, but mostly because it concerns humanity and civilization. Amid his tight schedule, he shared his thoughts on the Iraq issue with The Jakarta Post's Emmy Fitri. Below is an excerpt of the interview.

Question: To address the Iraq crisis, you have staged at least two rallies and one of them was a truly massive one. However, the war was unstoppable and even these days we're still waiting for its final phase, waiting for the U.S. to claim that they have won the war. What will you do next?

Answer: First we have to be realistic and keep things in perspective because we are not a country that has veto rights nor are we a member of the UN Security Council or a country that has powerful diplomatic influence to lobby other countries to take a unified stance against others.

We're just a country, part of the world which, of course, must care and give a contribution to the making of world peace. We also have to be responsible for the future of civilization. Therefore we will keep staging peace marches, sharing our opinions, offering counters to the war logic -- the U.S. propaganda -- to the public.

You met with U.S. Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce when you staged a rally on the first day of the invasion. Was there anything you conveyed to the U.S. government through Boyce?

We had a lengthy discussion. He (Boyce) explained why his country had to wage the war against Iraq.

He said the war was legal because Saddam (Hussein) did not meet United Nations Resolution 1441. I said it was illegal because it was the UN that issued the resolution and not his government. I also told him that it was not reported that the UN gave the mandate to George Bush's administration to act (against Iraq).

The UN had not even issued a penalty (against Iraq). If there had been a penalty, I don't think it would have translated into a war, a brutal action that destroyed a civilization.

If the decision for war was related to Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. should have waited for the results of the UN investigation. The (UN) team was still working. The investigation was ongoing and no conclusion had been made. Boyce was silent and did not comment.

He then assured us that although the war was unilateral, the U.S. had received support from other countries. At that point I told him that we shouldn't pretend that we knew nothing about how his government had stepped up its pressure on the countries that claimed to support the war.

His government has apparently used the carrot-and-the-stick approach with its allies. I asked him why America did not respect the principles of democracy, given that the majority of the Security Council members rejected the invasion and moreover the world community had also voiced its strong objection.

I told him that actually we were of the same opinion that Iraqis must be freed from Saddam's tyranny so they could live in democracy, but the war would not touch Saddam. It would only destroy the civilization there and kill the people. Saddam would survive. If he was the target, why didn't the U.S. do the same thing that they did to Panama leader Manuel Noriega.

We know what happened to Afghanistan leader Mullah Umar and Osama bin Laden. The U.S. government could not even touch him but we see who have suffered in the invasion -- it's the people.

Now what is happening in Iraq, instead of liberating the Iraqis from Saddam's tyranny, the U.S. government introduced three new tyrants; Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard.

What will happen in Iraq then? And what is the implication for us?

There will be new power holder for sure. Exactly like what happened in Afghanistan when Hamid Karzai was up on the stage; he is just an America-made leader.

I am afraid in Iraq there will be a new seemingly democratic administration which is completely controlled by America.

But there is still a lot of unfinished business there right now. We haven't seen how the tug-of-war between the U.S. and the British over who will manage Iraq after war will come out. The already weakened UN can play a role to salvage the remains of ruined international order by forcing the U.S. to forsake its ambitions in Iraq. There will be various implications in connection with who will run Iraq.

If it's the U.S. that runs Iraq, it will have an effect on oil prices, among other things. It will control the world's oil distribution and price which in turn will cause a depreciation in the price of oil. Our state budget will surely be affected.

Secondly, it will also influence our diplomatic ties with Middle Eastern countries because the U.S. will launch a massive secularization in the territory as they have already done, stripping the Arabic letters Allahu Akbar (Allah the Great) from Iraq's national flag.

I have a strong feeling that they will stamp a terrorist label on Muslims and Islam. At this point, our relations with Islamic countries will be affected. America will not stop with Iraq.

Our predominantly Muslim population has close relations with Middle Eastern countries in terms of cultural, social and economic ties.

It's obvious that our government and our people have a clear standpoint toward this Iraq-U.S. issue. I think the U.S. will make this a problem in the future because of our dependence on the U.S. The problem in the future, if our government can't stand firm, is that we will be pressured or dictated to by the U.S. in all matters, including, for example, into taking repressive measures against prodemocracy or critical Muslim groups.

I hope that our leaders still have the courage to say that we're a sovereign country and firmly stand by our decision to reject war and the rationale behind it.

What should be done by the government then?

So, here what we can do is just to counter the irrationalities of the Bush administration and urge the people, the Indonesians, to remain rational and not react emotionally to Bush's propaganda.

We should not be trapped into Bush's war rationale and the government should ride on this issue to push the Indonesian people to improve the quality of their products and ask them to use local products so we can gradually end our dependency on U.S. products and those of other countries.

It's also an effective way to solve our economic problems, isn't it?

We must reverse the thinking that we depend on the U.S. It is we, Indonesians, who enrich the U.S. Many American companies operate here like Exxon, Freeport, Newmont and Caltex. They use our natural resource. Why can't we be richer than them? We must reserve this type of mentality and work on it. How? Improve our regulations and carefully manage our resources.

Sudan is a poor country. They survive amid environmental difficulties. We are a rich people. Who says we cannot survive? Leaders must set an example of modesty and use local products and not flaunt their wealth and lavish lifestyles.