Indonesia’s dark-horse candidate

http://www.atimes. com/atimes/ Southeast_ Asia/KC31Ae01. html

Mar 31, 2009

Indonesia’s dark-horse candidate
By Katherine Demopoulos

JAKARTA – Career soldier Prabowo Subianto is still a dark-horse candidate among the 38 different political parties jockeying for position ahead of next month’s legislative elections and a looming presidential race set for July.

A former son-in-law of dictator Suharto, and an alleged mastermind of the violence and abuses that attended East Timor’s break from Indonesia in 1999, he is running a decidedly slick and well-financed campaign that appears to have substantial grassroots resonance.

Although he is trailing incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and frontrunner Megawati Sukarnoputri in the polls, Prabowo and his political party’s numbers could be pivotal to the formation of the next ruling coalition. His Great Indonesia Movement party, or Gerindra, claims 11.2 million members.

The most recent polls forecast his party to win between 2.6% and 6.23% of the legislative vote, sufficient popular support to cross the 2.5% threshold needed for a party to assume legislative seats. Those figures could rise considering between 9% and 50% of polled voters say they are still undecided.

Political analysts say that if Gerindra wins 6-7% of the legislature, it will be a major player in the coalition building for presidential nominations. A party or coalition needs 20% of seats of parliament or 25% of the popular votes to put forward a presidential candidate.

Political analysts partially credit Prabowo’s and Gerindra’s early success to the financial resources of his brother, Hashim Djojohadikusomo, who last year was ranked by Globe Asia magazine as Indonesia’s 14th richest person with a net worth of just over US$1 billion.

He has helped to bankroll Prabowo’s prime time media barrage, depicting glossy panoramas of Indonesia, peopled with smiling children and hard-working farmers and fishermen. Market research firm Nielson estimates Gerindra has garnered more TV exposure than any other party by positioning its ads around Sikar, the country’s most popular soap opera and most viewed news bulletin.
His campaign has also been burnished by high-profile foreign advisors, including US political communications expert Rob Allyn, who worked for outgoing US president George W Bush‘s successful Texas governor campaign in 1994, and reportedly a German scriptwriter involved in various popular Indonesian soap operas.

“If you were a political actor in Indonesia, you’d have to be looking at him closely and paying attention. There might be a hidden agenda. It might be quite a legitimate tilt at the president or it might be a tilt for 2014, or getting something else he wants,” said Damien Kingsbury, associate professor at Australia’s Deakin University.

Rural sensitivity
By spending much of his campaign time in rural villages, Prabowo has shown a populist touch certain other top candidates have lacked. He has in particular courted farmers and fishermen, demographic groups which make up the majority of the rural population.

He has leveraged his position as chairman of the Indonesian Farmers’ Association, which claims 10 million members nationwide, to build up his grassroots credentials and has lobbied the agriculture ministry on matters of rural concern. He has also vowed to create 36 million new agricultural jobs and double the average per capita income from its current $2,000 to $4,000 per year.

“I haven’t seen any politician who has been so active and so persistent in approaching the farmers down to the village across the archipelago, ” said Aleksius Jemadu, professor at Pelita Harapan University, located on the outskirts of Jakarta.

“He is a military strategist and he has a long-term perspective and he knows what he can do to strengthen his popularity. He used to be known by the public as a general, but knows he has to change his image to [that of] an effective leader,” he added.

Gerindra spokesman Haryanto Taslam echoes that assessment. He said in an interview with Asia Times Online that during a recent village visit Prabowo bought up palm oil stocks – at above the market price – from farmers who had complained about falling prices.

He has also distributed fertilizer directly to farmers and tried to get cheaper rice seed than that on offer from a government-appointe d company, according to Haryanto.

In many ways, Haryanto is central to Prabowo’s image-conscious electoral strategy. As a former democracy activist, Haryanto was kidnapped and held for 40 days during the waning days of the Suharto regime. In his capacity as former Kopassus commander, Prabowo has since personally apologized to him for his detention, Haryanto says.

“The issue is not personal, but [it was] the system at that time,” he said. “Prabowo asked me to join him to fight together to fix Indonesia. And I wanted to join because my political attitude is parallel with Prabowo’s, wanting to give the best for Indonesian people. I think there is no problem working together with him.”

Prabowo has in the past admitted responsibility for kidnapping pro-democracy activists. Speaking recently to foreign journalists, Prabowo said of the government’s past political kidnapping policy: “Under one regime it is preventative detention, then there is regime change and it is called kidnapping.”

Controversial past
Such elliptical wordplay does little to assuage the activists who recall Prabowo’s controversial history. He stands most pointedly accused of organizing thugs who terrorized pro-independence figures in East Timor, as well as involvement in orchestrating the riots that targeted ethnic Chinese Indonesians in 1998.

In a fully embedded democracy, “a candidate like him would not stand a snowball’s chance in hell,” said Kingsbury. “Indonesia is on a reformist political and economic path and Prabowo represents the opposite of that.”

But for most of Indonesia’s rural poor, activists’ kidnappings and communal riots are a world away. Their hardships have not eased in the decade of democracy and among many there is nostalgia for Suharto’s strong leadership and policies that helped to uplift tens of millions out of poverty.

“Some people are harking back to the New Order. I think there has been some re-swinging of the pendulum,” said one Jakarta-based commentator, who requested anonymity. “My fear [of Prabowo’s candidacy] is a reversion to fascism.”

Prabowo’s campaign appeals to the masses through promises to reschedule foreign debt payments and put the cash into education and healthcare. He has also taken a nationalistic line in vowing to stop the sale of strategic state assets to foreigners and review perceived unfavorable existing government contracts.

“The message is so concrete, so real, so relevant with the situation of his audience, especially the farmers, the people at the grassroots … He provides a clear vision to solve all the real problems that they are facing in their everyday life,” added Pelita Harapan University’s Jemadu.

“He’s making some very basic appeals to popular nationalism and populist economics,” said Tim Lindsey at Melbourne University’s Asian Law Center. He warns that if some of Prabowo’s proposed policies were actually implemented, Indonesia would risk being cut off from international credit markets.

Some analysts fear that a Prabowo-led or influenced government could bid to turn back the clock on Indonesian democracy. Prabowo has said he wants to revert to the original form of Indonesia’s constitution, which gives strong powers to the executive and lacks checks and balances. Others, such as Lindsey, believe Indonesia has moved past Suharto’s and his former New Order regime’s legacy.

“The time for New Order leftovers is running out. In 2014, it’s pretty unlikely that we’ll be seeing the same array of politicians. We’re witnessing a generational shift,” said Lindsey. “Young ones are not aware of Prabowo’s record, but it also works against them because the ideas they stand for resonate with fewer people. Rather than being the re-emergence of New Order politicians, perhaps this is their last hurrah.”

Katherine Demopoulos is a journalist based in Jakarta, Indonesia. She works as a freelance reporter for the BBC and Guardian, and also writes extensively on Asian energy markets.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing)

Israel’s War of Deceit, Lies and Propaganda

Israel’s War of Deceit, Lies and Propaganda

By Uri Avnery

January 12 “Gulf Times” — – -Nearly 70 years ago, in the course of the Second World War, a heinous crime was committed in the city of Leningrad. For more than a thousand days, a gang of extremists called “the Red Army” held the millions of the town’s inhabitants hostage and provoked retaliation from the German Wehrmacht from inside the population centres.

The Germans had no alternative but to bomb and shell the population and to impose a total blockade, which caused the death of hundreds of thousands.

Some time before that, a similar crime was committed in England. The Churchill gang hid among the population of London, misusing the millions of citizens as a human shield. The Germans were compelled to send their Luftwaffe and reluctantly reduce the city to ruins. They called it the Blitz.

This is the description that would now appear in the history books – if the Germans had won the war.

Absurd? No more than the daily descriptions in Israeli media, which are being repeated ad nauseam: the Hamas “terrorists” use the inhabitants of Gaza as “hostages” and exploit the women and children as “human shields”, they leave Israel no alternative but to carry out massive bombardments, in which, to Israel’s deep sorrow, thousands of women, children and unarmed men are killed and injured.

In this war, as in any modern war, propaganda plays a major role. Almost all the Western media initially repeated the official Israeli propaganda line. They almost entirely ignored the Palestinian side of the story, not to mention the daily demonstrations of the Israeli peace camp. The rationale of the Israeli government (“The state must defend its citizens against the Qassam rockets”) has been accepted as the whole truth. The view from the other side, that the Qassams are a retaliation for the siege that starves the one and a half million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, was not mentioned at all.

Only when the horrible scenes from Gaza started to appear on Western TV screens, did world public opinion gradually begin to change.

War – every war – is the realm of lies. Whether called propaganda or psychological warfare, everybody accepts that it is right to lie for one’s country. Anyone who speaks the truth runs the risk of being branded a traitor. The trouble is that propaganda is most convincing for the propagandist himself. And after you convince yourself that a lie is the truth and falsification reality, you can no longer make rational decisions.

Falsification

An example of this process surrounds the most shocking atrocity of this war so far: the shelling of the UN Fakhura school in Jabaliya refugee camp.

Immediately after the incident became known throughout the world, the army “revealed” that Hamas fighters had been firing mortars from near the school entrance. As proof they released an aerial photo which indeed showed the school and the mortar. But within a short time the official army liar had to admit that the photo was more than a year old. In brief: a falsification.

Later the official liar claimed that “our soldiers were shot at from inside the school”. Barely a day passed before the army had to admit to UN personnel that that was a lie, too. Nobody had shot from inside the school, no Hamas fighters were inside the school, which was full of terrified refugees.

But the admission made hardly any difference anymore. By that time, the Israeli public was completely convinced that “they shot from inside the school”, and TV announcers stated this as a simple fact.

So it went with the other atrocities. Every baby metamorphosed, in the act of dying, into a Hamas “terrorist”. Every bombed mosque instantly became a Hamas base, every apartment building an arms cache, every school a terror command post, every civilian government building a “symbol of Hamas rule”. Thus the Israeli army retained its purity as the “most moral army in the world”.

The truth is that the atrocities are a direct result of the war plan. This reflects the personality of Ehud Barak – a man whose way of thinking and actions are clear evidence of what is called “moral insanity”, a sociopathic disorder.

The real aim (apart from gaining seats in the coming elections) is to terminate the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In the imagination of the planners, Hamas is an invader which has gained control of a foreign country. The reality is, of course, entirely different.

A top priority for the planners was the need to minimise casualties among the soldiers, knowing that the mood of a large part of the pro-war public would change if reports of such casualties came in. That is what happened in Lebanon Wars I and II.

This consideration played an especially important role because the entire war is a part of the election campaign. The planners thought that they could stop the world from seeing these images by forcibly preventing press coverage. But in a modern war, such a sterile manufactured view cannot completely exclude all others – the cameras are inside the strip, in the middle of the hell, and cannot be controlled. Al Jazeera broadcasts the pictures around the clock and reaches every home.

Hundreds of millions of Arabs from Mauritania to Iraq, more than a billion Muslims from Nigeria to Indonesia see the pictures and are horrified. This has a strong impact on the war. Many of the viewers see the rulers of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian National Authority as collaborators with Israel in carrying out these atrocities against their Palestinian brothers.

If the war ends with Hamas still standing, bloodied but unvanquished, in face of the mighty Israeli military machine, it will look like a fantastic victory, a victory of mind over matter.

What will be seared into the consciousness of the world will be the image of Israel as a blood-stained monster, ready at any moment to commit war crimes and not prepared to abide by any moral restraints. This will have severe consequences for our long-term future, our standing in the world, our chance of achieving peace and quiet.

In the end, this war is a crime against Israelis too, a crime against the State of Israel.

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to Counter Punch’s book ‘The Politics of Anti-Semitism’ .


Indonesia Papua:More religions, more trouble

Indonesian Papua  

More religions, more trouble

Jul 17th 2008 | JAKARTA
From The Economist print edition

 


THE separatist conflict in Indonesia’s Papua region—formerly known as Irian Jaya and once one of the world’s great liberal causes—has become relatively quiet in recent years. Small groups of protesters still occasionally gather to wave the Morning Star independence flag and get arrested for it. But decades of repression by the Indonesian security forces, combined with the granting in 2000 of partial autonomy from Jakarta, have sapped the separatists’ ranks. However, according to a recent report on the region, there is a risk that the separatist conflict may be rekindled or replaced by religious strife because of the arrival of new and more muscular forms of both Islam and Christianity.

 

 

 

 

 

Broadly speaking, indigenous Papuans—who are dark-skinned Melanesians, like their kin next door in Papua New Guinea and Australian aborigines—tend to be Christians or animists, whereas the many migrants to the region from elsewhere in Indonesia are mostly Muslim. In recent years fundamentalist Christian groups, some started by American and Canadian preachers, have been proselytising among indigenous Papuans. Their success has also prompted the development of fundamentalist streams in the established Protestant churches.

Among the Islamic radical groups to arrive in Papua with the migrants is the Indonesian chapter of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an organisation started in Jerusalem, which seeks to unite Muslims worldwide under one government or “caliphate”. But there are also a few indigenous Papuan Muslims, some of whom have recently returned from studies in the Middle East, bringing back fundamentalist ideas.

The report, by the International Crisis Group (ICG), a think-tank, says rising religious tension has already come close to triggering violence between Muslims and Christians, as is already common in the nearby, mixed-faith province of Maluku. In Kaimana district, for example, members of the two religions had long lived together harmoniously. But in December locals came close to blows over the erection of an iron tower shaped like a Christmas tree, topped with a Star of David—often used by charismatic Christian groups but best known as a symbol of Judaism.

The new Christian groups have raised Muslims’ hackles by boasting (sometimes falsely) of their conversions of Muslims. Muslims, in turn, have become increasingly vigilant against any perceived threats either to their faith or to Indonesian sovereignty. Some Islamic radicals are prone to conspiracy theories about plots to prise Papua away from Indonesia, often involving America and its majority-Christian regional allies, Australia and the Philippines.

Increased fundamentalism has sharpened each ethnic group’s fear of domination by the other. The Indonesian government has discontinued its programme of transportation to Papua and elsewhere to relieve overcrowding on Java. But migrants are still flooding in. Official figures show that in 2004 Muslims were 23% of the region’s 2m-odd population, up from 6.5% in 1964. In reality the proportion of Muslims is thought to be much higher, probably over half now—but the government has not published accurate updated figures.

Christians believe this is a cover-up to hide the truth: that migration has made Papuans a minority in their homeland. They also fear that the government in Jakarta is increasingly endorsing Islamic orthodoxy at the expense of Indonesia’s non-Muslims. The Muslims, in turn, agree that they are now the majority in Papua—a local Hizb-ut-Tahrir leader recently claimed that Papua is 65% Muslim—but they feel that Papuan autonomy could lead to them being discriminated against or even expelled from the region.

There are some moderating influences: last year, mainstream Muslims set up a new body, the Papuan Muslim Council, to put the case for tolerance. Some of the charismatic Christian groups, far from inciting separatism among ethnic Papuans, argue for accommodation with the Indonesian powers-that- be (render unto Caesar and all that). Even so, argues the ICG, there is a danger that continuing migration, combined with the radicalisation of both main religions, could re-ignite the dormant separatist conflict.

If the heightened religious tension is not to become a catalyst for violence it would help if there was a sense of urgency about improving the dismal quality of life of almost all Papuans, whether indigenous or migrants. Autonomy has had a feeble start: central-government ministries have been reluctant to cede control to local Papuan authorities; where they have, money has been misspent, including by newly recruited Papuan bureaucrats struggling with responsibilities for which they lack skills. Last year President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered his officials to speed up development programmes for Papua. As usual, his orders fell on deaf ears.

Leaders urged to embrace pluralism

[The Jakarta Post 23/07/08] Political and religious leaders must embrace pluralism, which has become part of Indonesian society and protected by the Constitution, a seminar concluded Tuesday.

Harmony and unity in Indonesia will be ruined if leaders fail to adopt pluralist values, implement them in the protection of minorities and uphold the Constitution by protecting human rights, speakers of the one-day seminar said.

The seminar panel included members of various religious and nongovernmental organizations, as well as activists and political leaders.

“We are a pluralist nation. That’s why, from the very beginning, our founding fathers declared Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) as one of our nation’s pillars. Our constitution clearly guarantees pluralism,” Constitutional Court chief Jimly Asshiddiqie said in the keynote address.

Jakarta Archbishop Julius Darmaatmadja and Indonesian Communion of Churches chairman Andreas Yewangoe said pluralism was a given and must be accepted by all citizens.

“I always tell my congregation to be inclusive instead of exclusive in forging harmony and peace in society,” Julius said at the seminar organized by the International Center for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP), which will celebrate its fifth anniversary this year.

By accepting Pancasila as the state ideology, all religions must embrace pluralist values, Andreas added.

Embracing democracy in Indonesia means upholding the right of anybody — including those from minority groups — to disagree with the majority on any issue, even those related to religion and politics, Jimly added.

“The problem is most leaders don’t really understand the consequences of accepting pluralism. There’s a huge gap between the idea of pluralism and its implementation. Often, pluralist values are sacrificed for political gain,” Jimly said.

He cited as an example of the state’s failure to guarantee pluralism the recent attack by the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) against pro-pluralism activists staging a rally at the National Monument (Monas). The rally was held in support of the Islamic minority sect Ahmadiyah.

Noted lawyer and rights activist Todung Mulya Lubis, another seminar speaker, said the government’s decision to issue a decree banning Ahmadiyah was a constitutional violation.

“Our law enforcement is too weak to punish those violating laws and the Constitution. The ban showed majority rule has prevailed over the rule of law,” he said.

Many activists slammed President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who had said violent groups would not be allowed to hijack the country, because his decree came on the same day thousands of hard-liners gathered in front of the State Palace to demand the ban of Ahmadiyah.

Earlier this year, ICIP and the Swiss Embassy launched a book titled Islam and Universal Values: Islam’s Contribution to the Construction of a Pluralistic World, to push for a more pluralist society in Indonesia.

Commenting on the book during the seminar, Muslim scholar Bachtiar Effendy, of Jakarta Islamic State University, said there was no reason for a confrontation between Islam and pluralism, as they are compatible with one another. (the jakarta post)

Are 400,000 Terrorists Trying to Attack the United States? by Ivan Eland

http://www.antiwar. com/eland/ ?articleid= 13162

July 19, 2008

After having begun a series of investigative stories criticizing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in May 2008, CNN reporter Drew Griffin reports being placed with more than a million other names on TSA’s swollen terrorism watch list. Although TSA insists Griffin’s name is not on the list and pooh-poohs any possibility of retaliation for Griffin’s negative reporting, the reporter has been hassled by various airlines on 11 flights since May. The airlines insist that Griffin’s name is on the list. Congress has asked TSA to look into the tribulations of this prominent passenger.

In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, probably responding to the controversy over Griffin, Leonard Boyle, the director of the Terrorist Screening Center, defended the watch list, claiming that because terrorists have multiple aliases, the names on the list boiled down to only about 400,000 actual people. If there are 400,000 terrorists lying in wait to attack the United States, we are all in trouble.

But wait a minute. There has been no major terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 – almost seven years ago. Where are all these nefarious evildoers?

Boyle says 95 percent of these people are not American citizens or legal residents and the vast majority aren’t even in the United States. He rather sheepishly defends the size of the list by writing, “Its size corresponds to the threat. It’s a big world.”

That brings up a very important issue. The U.S. government regularly tries to police the world and combat threats to other nations – in the process, usually generating more enemies. Examining the forty-four organizations on the State Department’s highly politicized list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO), one finds that only a very few currently focus their efforts on U.S. targets. And the U.S. government has even flirted with one anti-Iranian group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, which was put on the FTO list long ago.

Similarly, the State Department’s list of five state sponsors of terrorism has included Cuba and North Korea – neither of which has actively participated in terrorist attacks in decades. These two countries continued to be on the list for other reasons – namely U.S. government aversion to them. On its website, the State Department even admits that, “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” The website also contains an implicit admission that keeping selected countries on the state sponsors list can reap ulterior political benefits for the United States. The website notes that under the umbrella of the Six-Party Talks, the United States intends to remove North Korea from the list as that nation takes actions toward getting rid of its nuclear weapons program. Even the remaining three nations on the list that do sponsor terrorism – Syria, Iran, and Sudan – don’t support groups that focus their attacks on the U.S.

Thus, the humongous terrorist watch list for airline travel and the excessively large FTO and state sponsors lists are a few more examples of the United States taking on other nations’ security burdens. Trying to be the “big man on (the world) campus,” however, comes at a horrendous cost to American freedom at home.

The terrorist watch list is downright unconstitutional. Under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, no warrants shall be issued unless there is probable cause that a crime has been committed. If the government has such probable cause that a passenger is conspiring to commit a terrorist act on an airplane, it should not hassle that person at the airport when trying to fly or ban him or her from flying; it should arrest them. But of course the government does not have the evidence to do that for the vast majority of the 400,000 people on the watch list.

And it’s apparently not easy to get yourself off the list once you are on it. Although Boyle claims that the TSA constantly scrubs the list for possible mistaken identities of people who have frequent “encounters” with the list, even if they don’t file a complaint, Griffin uncovered an innocent passenger with a common name – James Robinson – who has complained endlessly and has received no resolution of his case. Senator Edward Kennedy – also with a common name – experienced endless hassles and red tape trying to get his name off the list. If such a well-known figure has such problems, the average misidentified traveler is in big trouble.

And as the economists would say, what about opportunity cost to real security? The U.S. government should spend the time it devotes to scrutinizing 400,000 people on the watch list, and the vast majority of the 44 FTOs and all of the 5 countries who don’t sponsor anti-U.S. terrorism, on the again rising principal threat from Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and their tens of hard core al-Qaeda followers operating out of Pakistan. The American public would be much safer. As the famous Prussian military ruler Fredrick the Great (and closet economist) said, “To defend everything is to defend nothing.” Moreover, under current government policy, we have neither liberty nor security.

Crude Oil Rises to Record on Speculation Israel May Attack Iran

Crude Oil Rises to Record on Speculation Israel May Attack Iran
By Alexander Kwiatkowski

July 11 (Bloomberg) — Crude oil rose more than $5 to a record on concerns that Israel may be preparing to attack Iran, while a strike in Brazil and renewed militant activity in Nigeria threaten to cut supplies.

Oil rallied to a record high of $146.90 a barrel in New York after the Jerusalem Post said Israeli war planes practiced over Iraq, adding to speculation the country is preparing to attack Iran. A Brazilian union said it plans a five-day strike on platforms that pump 80 percent of the country’s crude and Nigerian militants pledged to renew attacks on oil facilities.

“We are now in uncharted territory here with the Iranian situation,” Tom James, head of commodities trading at Liquid Capital Markets Ltd., said in a phone interview “People are just too scared to sell.”

Crude oil for August delivery rose as much as $5.25, or 3.7 percent, to an all-time high of $146.90 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange and was trading at $146.59 at 1:46 p.m. in London.

Israeli war planes are conducting maneuvers in Iraqi airspace and using U.S. airbases in the country, possibly practicing for a strike against Iran, the newspaper reported, citing comments by Iraqi officials in local media. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev denied the report.

Iran, OPEC’s second biggest producer, this week tested missiles capable of reaching Israel.

Brent crude oil for August settlement rose as much as $5.22 a barrel, or 3.7 percent, to $147.25 a barrel and was trading at $146.94 at 1:46 p.m. local time on London’s ICE Futures Europe exchange.

Falling Stockpiles

Yesterday, the contract gained $5.45, or 4 percent, to $142.03 a barrel. Prices climbed to a record $146.69 on July 3.

Oil may rise next week because of threats to supply from Iran and Nigeria and falling stockpiles in the U.S., the biggest energy-consuming country, according to a Bloomberg News survey.

Gasoline prices in the U.S. rose to a record. Futures for August delivery rose as much as 10.46 cents, or 3 percent, to $3.6155 a gallon on Nymex.

The average price of a gallon of gasoline at the pump in the U.S was $4.11 on July 8, according to AAA, 38 percent higher than a year earlier.

About 4,500 employees of state-controlled Petroleo Brasileiro SA will take part in a protest on platforms in the offshore Campos basin to get full pay for the day they return to the mainland after a 14-day shift at sea, a union official said yesterday.

Iran’s Exports

The standoff has led to concern that Iran may come under attack from the U.S. or Israel, disrupting exports from OPEC’s second-biggest producer.

“You could survive with one of these factors, but if they come all at the same time it will drive prices up,” said Thina Saltvedt, an analyst at Nordea Bank AB in Oslo. “As soon as violent attacks increase in Nigeria it is a threat to production.’ ‘

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said attacks will resume on oil facilities. The Nigerian militant group said it will call off its unilateral cease-fire beginning midnight on July 12.

MEND’s attacks on pipelines and other installations have cut more than 20 percent of Nigeria’s oil exports since 2006. MEND says it is fighting for a greater share of oil wealth for the impoverished inhabitants of the Niger Delta.

The group declared a cease-fire after a June 19 attack on Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s Bonga deep-water oilfield, located 120 kilometers (75 miles) offshore that cut 190,000 barrels a day of oil output.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexander Kwiatkowski in London at akwiatkowsk2@ bloomberg. netNesa Subrahmaniyan in Singapore at nesas@bloomberg. net.

Last Updated: July 11, 2008 08:50 EDT

By The Way: FPI too busy talking to God

Sun, 06/08/2008 12:01 PM  |  Headlines

Christians are so close to God that they call Him “father” in prayer, while Muslims are so far away from Allah that they need loudspeakers to talk to Him.

This is an old joke, but I couldn’t tell you earlier because I was afraid. If Rizieq Shihab had found out, he might have beaten me black and blue or, worse, burned down my house.

Thank God, he is now in police custody.

If you happen to have watched the news (not the saucy gossip shows or soap operas) or read the paper recently, you would know of Rizieq, the leader of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI).

A radical group, FPI, attacked members of the National Alliance for Freedom of Faith and Religion (AKKBB), who were rallying last Sunday at the National Monument (Monas) park to mark the 63rd anniversary of Pancasila state ideology.

The FPI made their attack because the alliance supports Jamaah Ahmadiyah, a minority Islamic sect dubbed “heretical” by a government panel which also recommended it be banned.

The hardliners had earlier attacked Ahmadiyah sect members, their houses and mosques, and called Ahmadiyah a deviant sect.

The sect leader was once accused of blasphemy, but other than that I have never heard of the sect’s members committing theft, robbery, murder or any other crimes listed in the Criminal Code.

If they have their own interpretations of some verses in the Koran, it is only God who could decide whether it is right or wrong.

In 2006, FPI members vandalized the Play Boy magazine offices in South Jakarta, when the magazine first published its Indonesian version. They said the publication could damage people’s morality, but perhaps the real reason was that they were disappointed to find the Indonesian version didn’t have the same ‘hot’ pictures as its American parent.

They had also repeatedly attacked cafes, bars and nightspots during the Ramadhan fasting month because they believed the establishments violated existing regulations and would tarnish the Holy month.

And they committed all these violent acts in the name of God. Frequently FPI members shouted “Allahuakbar” (God is Great) while conducting their anarchic deeds. They also prayed a lot.

Praying five times a day is one of the five pillars of Islam followed by, not only FPI members, but all Muslims around the world.

The Muslim call to prayer, and prayer itself, can be heard in every corner of the city. It would seem it is a case of the louder, the better, so that everyone in the neighborhood can hear it. It doesn’t matter if it is still dawn or if it’s during school hours and the mosque is right next to a school. If one mosque is next to another, they may even compete to be loudest.

On Friday, mosques are crowded with congregations who enthusiastically come to pray and listen to preachers.

Non-Muslims also perform their religious rituals devoutly. Churches are always full on Sundays, when Christians and the Catholics pray and praise the Lord.

Indonesia is indeed one of the most religious nations in the world, a fact confirmed by last year’s religion monitoring study conducted in 21 countries by the German-based Bertelsmann Foundation.

Ironically, Indonesia is also notorious for being among the world’s most corrupt countries.

Being religious, corruptors must pray first before stealing state money, or perhaps they set aside a little of the corrupted money to build mosques or churches.

Another indicator of the strength of religion in Indonesia was in the huge number of people who enjoyed the recent movie Ayat-Ayat Cinta (Verses of Love), which is heavily loaded with religious messages.

President Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono who watched the blockbuster along with several cabinet ministers reportedly shed tears because he was so touched by the story. But many joked, saying he had cried because he shared the pain of not being allowed to have more than one wife like the leading role.

Anyway, following the Monas attack, many people (mostly Muslims) demanded the ban of the FPI and some even called its members preman berjubah (thugs in Muslim robes) as they wore long white robes and headscarves during the violence.

Not only FPI members, but it seems many other Muslims, Christians and other deeply religious people are often too busy talking to God in one-way conversations, praising and worshiping God, reading the Koran, the Bible and other holy books, while turning their backs on fellow human beings.

Of course, talking to God is important, but if they think praying five times a day or going to Church every Sunday, or even everyday, is enough to allow them climb the stairway to heaven, maybe they should think again.

By the way, if you find the opening of this piece offensive, please accept my apology. I don’t mean to upset anyone, let alone God, who must be sad enough seeing the violence and frequent religious conflicts within this so-called religious nation.

— T.Sima Gunawan