Toba in Sumatra a candidate for super volcano in 2012

Toba in Sumatra a candidate for super volcano in 2012 – increasing harmonic tremors have started after the Tsunami two years back

The devastating Tsunami was precursor to what is coming in 2012. Toba in Sumatra can explode 100 times more violently than what happened 74,000 years back.

The last supervolcano to erupt was Toba 74,000 years ago in Sumatra. Ten thousand times bigger than Mt St Helens, it created a global catastrophe dramatically affecting life on Earth.

Scientists now find through extrapolation cycle study that the 74,000 years back super volcano in Toba, Sumatra was the warm up for what may be coming in 2012.

Around Toba, increasing harmonic tremors have started after the Tsunami two years back.

It would devastate the planet. Climatologists now know that Toba blasted so much ash and sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere that it blocked out the sun, causing the Earth’s temperature to plummet. Some geneticists now believe that this had a catastrophic effect on human life, possibly reducing the population on Earth to just a few thousand people. Mankind was pushed to the edge of extinction.

http://www.indiadai ly.com/editorial /15051.asp

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Press Release: Gaza Crisis

In the name of Allah, Most gracious, Ever Merciful Press Desk Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat International 16 January 2009 PRESS RELEASE As the war in Gaza nears its fourth week, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat takes this opportunity to condemn the continued attacks which are leading to a humanitarian disaster. Innocent men, women and children are losing their lives on a daily basis due to the brutality of the occupying force. Whatever action is being taken is wholly disproportionate and cruel. The world Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad has cautioned that the current conflict in Gaza could yet escalate further. He said: “I have always said that if fairness and justice does not prevail then the world is facing a grave disaster. If we wish to save our future generations from the horrific effects of war then we must act now and with justice. Otherwise, I fear, the current situation may not remain limited to just one or two countries but could escalate into a global war, the result of which would be truly devastating. ” It is of note that during the current crisis the majority of the Muslim world has remained silent and it has been left to academics, politicians and various organisations in the West to condemn what is happening in Gaza. The Muslim world should be grateful to all of them for displaying the courage and conviction to speak out against such atrocities. Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad said: “The cruelty of the Israelis is progressively increasing. Indeed many people who had previously offered their support are now turning against them. Those countries who remain silent are actually assisting with this cruelty.” The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat views with utmost concern the growing humanitarian disaster that is occurring in Gaza. The community is committed to alleviating this suffering. Commenting upon this, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad said: “The situation in Gaza is getting worse and worse. We see that innocent children, women and the elderly are being killed on a daily basis. The United Nations and other organisations such as Save the Children have been given limited access to provide aid. Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat should individually support such organisations to the best of their ability and on a collective level our own charity, Humanity First, will also do so.” The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat wishes to be clear that it is a peaceful community who harbours no political agenda or ambition. It wishes only to serve the world by spreading its message of peace. Amidst the current conflict, the community’s motto of, ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’, is ever more resonant. The community desires and prays for peace in Gaza and in all other troubled parts of the world. Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad continued: “May God protect and safeguard the world from self-destruction and calamity. May peace prevail and may the world be saved from all forms of war and terror.” The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat also wishes to remind all concerned, that in the past whenever the name of Islam has been used to justify any form of terror or extremism, the Jamaat has always condemned such acts without hesitation and it will continue to do so in the future. In this respect the Jamaat is forever guided by the Qur’anic injunction that ‘There should be no compulsion in religion’. End of Release Further Info: Abid Khan, Press Secretary AMJ International (press@…) / (UK) 07795490682 http://www.alislam. org

Palestine’s Guernica and the Myths of Israeli Victimhood

This is a guest post written by Mustafa Barghouthi, Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative. These comments and views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Huffington Post. Barghouti is a former secular candidate for President of Palestine and has been a strong advocate of non-violent responses to Israeli occupation. Barghouti is thought by many to be a leading contender in the next Palestinian presidential election. Perspectives have also been solicited from various national leaders and incumbent Knesset leaders in Israel.

Here is a link to an interview that Steve Clemons did with Barghouti in July 2008 regarding Barack Obama’s trip to Israel and Palestine.

Palestine’s Guernica and the Myths of Israeli Victimhood

The Israeli campaign of ‘death from above’ began around 11 am, on Saturday morning, the 27th of December, and stretched straight through the night into this morning. The massacre continues Sunday as I write these words.

The bloodiest single day in Palestine since the War of 1967 is far from over following on Israel’s promised that this is ‘only the beginning’ of their campaign of state terror. At least 290 people have been murdered thus far, but the body count continues to rise at a dramatic pace as more mutilated bodies are pulled from the rubble, previous victims succumb to their wounds and new casualties are created by the minute.

What has and is occurring is nothing short of a war crime, yet the Israeli public relations machine is in full-swing, churning out lies by the minute.

Once and for all it is time to expose the myths that they have created.

1. Israelis have claimed to have ended the occupation of the Gaza Strip in 2005.

While Israel has indeed removed the settlements from the tiny coastal Strip, they have in no way ended the occupation. They remained in control of the borders, the airspace and the waterways of Gaza, and have carried out frequent raids and targeted assassinations since the disengagement.

Furthermore, since 2006 Israel has imposed a comprehensive siege on the Strip. For over two years, Gazans have lived on the edge of starvation and without the most basic necessities of human life, such as cooking or heating oil and basic medications. This siege has already caused a humanitarian catastrophe which has only been exacerbated by the dramatic increase in Israeli military aggression.

2. Israel claims that Hamas violated the cease-fire and pulled out of it unilaterally.

Hamas indeed respected their side of the ceasefire, except on those occasions early on when Israel carried out major offensives in the West Bank. In the last two months, the ceasefire broke down with Israelis killing several Palestinians and resulting in the response of Hamas. In other words, Hamas has not carried out an unprovoked attack throughout the period of the cease-fire.

Israel, however, did not live up to any of its obligations of ending the siege and allowing vital humanitarian aid to resume in Gaza. Rather than the average of 450 trucks per day being allowed across the border, on the best days, only eighty have been allowed in – with the border remaining hermetically sealed 70% of the time. Throughout the supposed ‘cease-fire’ Gazans have been forced to live like animals, with a total of 262 dying due to the inaccessibility of proper medical care.

Now after hundreds dead and counting, it is Israel who refuses to re-enter talks over a cease-fire. They are not intent on securing peace as they claim; it is more and more clear that they are seeking regime change – whatever the cost.

3. Israel claims to be pursuing peace with ‘peaceful Palestinians’ .

Before the on-going massacre in the Gaza Strip, and throughout the entirety of the Annapolis Peace Process, Israel has continued and even intensified its occupation of the West Bank. In 2008, settlement expansion increased by a factor of 38, a further 4,950 Palestinians were arrested – mostly from the West Bank, and checkpoints rose from 521 to 699.

Furthermore, since the onset of the peace talks, Israel has killed 546 Palestinians, among them 76 children. These gruesome statistics are set to rise dramatically now, but previous Israeli transgressions should not be forgotten amidst this most recent horror.

Only this morning, Israel shot and killed a young peaceful protester in the West Bank village of Nihlin, and has injured dozens more over the last few hours. It is certain that they will continue to employ deadly force at non-violent demonstrations and we expect a sizable body count in the West Bank as a result. If Israel is in fact pursuing peace with ‘good Palestinians’ , who are they talking about?

4. Israel is acting in self-defense.

It is difficult to claim self defense in a confrontation which they themselves have sparked, but they are doing it anyway. Self-defense is reactionary, while the actions of Israel over the last two days have been clearly premeditated. Not only did the Israeli press widely report the ongoing public relations campaign being undertaken by Israel to prepare Israeli and international public opinion for the attack, but Israel has also reportedly tried to convince the Palestinians that an attack was not coming by briefly opening crossings and reporting future meetings on the topic. They did so to insure that casualties would be maximized and that the citizens of Gaza would be unprepared for their impending slaughter.

It is also misleading to claim self-defense in a conflict with such an overwhelming asymmetry of power. Israel is the largest military force in the region, and the fifth largest in the world. Furthermore, they are the fourth largest exporter of arms and have a military industrial complex rivaling that of the United States. In other words, Israel has always had a comprehensive monopoly over the use of force, and much like its super power ally, Israel uses war as an advertising showcase of its many instruments of death.

5. Israel claims to have struck military targets only.

Even while image after image of dead and mutilated women and children flash across our televisions, Israel brazenly claims that their munitions expertly struck only military installations. We know this to be false as many other civilian sites have been hit by airstrikes including a hospital and mosque.

In the most densely populated area on the planet, tons upon tons of explosives have been dropped. The first estimates of injured are in the thousands. Israel will claim that these are merely ‘collateral damage’ or accidental deaths. The sheer ridiculousness and inhumanity of such a claim should sicken the world community.

6. Israel claims that it is attacking Hamas and not the Palestinian people.

First and foremost, missiles do not differentiate people by their political affiliation; they simply kill everyone in their path. Israel knows this, and so do Palestinians. What Israel also knows, but is not saying public ally, is how much their recent actions will actually strengthen Hamas – whose message of resistance and revenge is being echoed by the angry and grieving.

The targets of the strike, police and not Hamas militants, give us some clue as to Israel’s mistaken intention. They are hoping to create anarchy in the Strip by removing the pillar of law and order.

7. Israel claims that Palestinians are the source of violence.

Let us be clear and unequivocal. The occupation of Palestine since the War of 1967 has been and remains the root of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Violence can be ended with the occupation and the granting of Palestine’s national and human rights. Hamas does not control the West Bank and yet we remain occupied, our rights violated and our children killed.

With these myths understood, let us ponder the real reasons behind these airstrikes; what we find may be even more disgusting than the act itself.

The leaders Israel are holding press conferences, dressed in black, with sleeves rolled up.

‘It’s time to fight’, they say, ‘but it won’t be easy.’

To prove just how hard it is, Livni, Olmert and Barak did not even wear make-up to the press conference, and Barak has ended his presidential campaign to focus on the Gaza campaign. What heroes…what leaders…

We all know the truth: the suspension of the electioneering is exactly that – electioneering.

Like John McCain’s suspension of his presidential campaign to return to Washington to ‘deal with’ the financial crisis, this act is little more than a publicity stunt.

The candidates have to appear ‘tough enough to lead’, and there is seemingly no better way of doing that than bathing in Palestinian blood.

‘Look at me,’ Livni says in her black suit and unkempt hair, ‘I am a warrior. I am strong enough to pull the trigger. Don’t you feel more confident about voting for me, now that you know I am as ruthless as Bibi Netanyahu?’

I do not know which is more disturbing, her and Barak, or the constituency they are trying to please.

In the end, this will in no way improve the security of the average Israeli; in fact it can be expected to get much worse in the coming days as the massacre could presumably provoke a new generation of suicide bombers.

It will not undermine Hamas either, and it will not result in the three fools, Barak, Livni and Olmert, looking ‘tough’. Their misguided political venture will likely blow up in their faces as did the brutally similar 2006 invasion of Lebanon.

In closing, there is another reason – beyond the internal politics of Israel – why this attack has been allowed to occur: the complicity and silence of the international community.

Israel cannot and would not act against the will of its economic allies in Europe or its military allies in the US. Israel may be pulling the trigger ending hundreds, perhaps even thousands of lives this week, but it is the apathy of the world and the inhumane tolerance of Palestinian suffering which allows this to occur.

‘The evil only exists because the good remain silent’

From Occupied Palestine. . .

— Dr. Mustafa Baghouthi

http://www.huffingt onpost.com/ mustafa-barghout hi/palestines- guernica- and-t_b_153958. html


“Anti-porn” bill could threaten Indonesian women

“Anti-porn” bill could threaten Indonesian women

by Soe Tjen Marching
25 November 2008

Jakarta – Two weeks ago, Indonesia’s parliament passed an “anti-porn”
bill, which bans anyone from wearing clothes or promoting material
that could incite “sexual desire”.

Although regulations regarding pornography are important, there is
some concern that there will be other implications, for instance for
women’s rights, even down to what is permissible to wear in public. In
addition, the law also criminalises homosexual activities which
previously were not illegal in Indonesia.

The head of the special committee that drafted the bill, Balkan
Kaplale, insists that it will protect Indonesians’ morality, and guard
women and children against sexual exploitation.

But by putting the blame on the “cause” of sexual arousal, this law
victimises women rather than protects them, allowing perpetrators to
argue, for example, that the victim provoked incidents of rape or
sexual harassment.

In Indonesia, a passed bill becomes law after it is signed by the
president or 30 days after it is ratified by Parliament.

However, only three days after the law was ratified, three exotic
dancers in Mangga Besar, West Jakarta were arrested, while the
managers and owner of the club were left alone.

In fact, the police detained these women based on a provision from a
previous draft of this bill.

Unfortunately, this victimisation and negative stereotyping of women
in relation to sexuality is not new in Indonesia.

Under former president Soeharto’s “New Order” government, which was
dominated by the military and characterised by a weakened civil
society, emphasis was put on the purity of women, stressing the
importance of their roles as loyal wives and good mothers.

After Soeharto’s resignation in 1998, however, Indonesians took
advantage of their newfound liberties to express their opinions and
criticise authority.

Several female Indonesian authors, including Ayu Utami, Dewi Lestari,
Clara Ng, Djenar Maesa Ayu and Herlinatiens, gained popularity,
writing new roles for women, particularly when it comes to sexuality.
Similarly, Indonesian film directors, such as Mira Lesmana, Nia
Dinata, and Sekar Ayu Asmara, have become widely known in the
Indonesian film industry for portraying multi-faceted, complex
Indonesian women.

In their works, many of them expressed criticism against sexual
restrictions placed on women in Indonesia. If the anti-porn bill is
ratified, the works of these women may be affected, since the new law
could label their books pornographic.

Since early 2006, several women’s groups — Komnas Perempuan (Forum on
Women), Kapal Perempuan (Women’s Boat) and Aliansi Mawar Putih (White
Rose Alliance) — have protested against the bill, which has been
pending for several years. On 22 April 2006, thousands of artists,
activists, students and civilians gathered at Monas Monument in
Jakarta carrying giant posters which read: “Indonesia is not America,
but it is not Saudi Arabia either.

We reject the anti-porn bill.” And “We reject pornography, but we
reject the anti-porn bill.”

More recently, Ayu Utami wrote a play, Sidang Susila (Susila’s Trial),
which demonstrates how the bill could violate women’s rights.

A week after the bill was passed in parliament, a well-known actor,
Butet Kartaredjasa, performed the work in Sidang Susila Teater Gandrik
in Jakarta to protest the new law.

Despite the prevailing impression that this bill is widely supported
by all Muslims, Islamic organisations like the Liberal Islam Network
(JIL) in Jakarta, the Institute for Islamic and Social Studies (LKIS)
in Yogyakarta and the Institute for Religion and Social Studies (LKAS)
in Surabaya have voiced their strong opposition to the bill.

They claim that the bill will limit freedom of expression in art,
including film and literature, and that Islam has been inaccurately
used by certain groups to justify the ratification of the bill. These
groups have created blogs highlighting articles criticising the bill
and organised demonstrations and press conferences.

Non-Muslim minority groups, especially in West Papua, Bali, East Nusa
Tenggara and North Sumatra, have also fiercely opposed this law
because they claim that their local customs and traditions will be
threatened by it. In West Papua, for instance, men and women go
bare-breasted.

In Bali, nude statues proliferate and the Balinese people are also
worried that the new law will negatively affect their tourism
industry, as many foreigners may no longer be able to wear bathing
suits, sundresses or shorts at the beaches.

Recently, governmental officials from these regions have gone so far
as to threaten to split from the Republic of Indonesia in protest.

If the president signs the bill into law, the government may gain more
popularity amongst the conservatives. However, it will simultaneously
offend minority religious groups, as well as women, splitting its
support base and potentially threatening the unity of the nation.

To achieve common ground between different groups, the law must be
completely revised. The term “pornography” must be made more specific
and implicitly or explicitly encourage respect for women’s bodies.

A national dialogue with minority groups — as well as feminists — to
define exactly what pornography is will definitely help. The issue of
subordination of women in pornography must be the bill’s primary focus.

###

* Soe Tjen Marching is a researcher and tutor at the School of
Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, and a
composer of avant-garde music. This article was written for the Common
Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at
http://www.commongroundnew s.org.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 25 November 2008,
http://www.commongroundnew s.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

http://www.commongr oundnews. org/article. php?id=24428& lan=en&sid= 1&sp=0&isNew= 1

Ten reasons to visit Indonesia

Ten reasons to visit Indonesia

Paul Smith suggests ten reasons, in no particular order, to consider a trip to Indonesia, one of the lesser visited destinations in Asia.

1. TANAH LOT, BALI

About 30km to the west of Bali’s capital Denpasar, Tanah Lot is a special place where Hindu temples sit on outcrops of rock along the volcanic coastline.
The black sand, craggy rocks and white spray from the pounding sea look strangely like Auckland’s west coast beaches but the temples, thought to date from the 15th century, add a mystic feel especially at sunset.
Eating outside dinner at the Melasti Restaurant as the sun goes down is a wonderful experience.
2. CORAL REEF, BUNAKEN
Anyone who snorkels or scuba-dives will enjoy the wonderful coral reef at Bunaken in the province of North Sulawesi.
Boats go out from the mainland each morning for the reef, set just off the palm tree-lined shore of the island.
Hundreds of varieties of fish and marine life can easily be seen in the warm, clear water.
Lunch is available on the island at a basic, sand-floored restaurant.
3. THE FOOD
Meals often start with an excellent soup, often a salty, vegetable broth but sometimes in a more spicy, Thai-style. Main dishes include barbecued fish – skewered and cooked over hot coals with chilli, satay chicken, or beef cooked in a vegetable stock and coconut milk. Green beans cooked in chilli and garlic is a mainstay vegetable dish.
There is a link to Thai food but less in the way of curry as meat is often prepared with an almost dry sauce. You’ll probably need to like chillies because there is some heat in most dishes, though it is not usually overpowering.Dessert leans towards the super-sweet.
4. THE COFFEE
Although the dreaded Nescafe rears its ugly head from time to time, the standard of coffee is usually excellent.
Often made in the filter-style favoured in the US, rather than the espresso-base of New Zealand and Australia, the coffee is usually very smooth and gently invigorating rather than a morning energy bolt.
Coffee beans can be bought direct from plantations in places including Bali for as little as about $3. (Or you can always get some prized luwak coffee beans, which cost about US$55 having been eaten by civet cats and passed through them before being collected.)
5. THE WEATHER
As long as you like it hot and humid, Indonesia’s climate is for you.
Running roughly 5000km along the equator, the country is very warm all year round. Jakarta’s temperatures range from around 23C at night to 31C in the day with a wet season from November to March.
6. SHOPPING IN JAKARTA
Whether you want Western designer goods at the plush Grand Indonesia mall in the city centre, or one of the more traditional mall-cum-markets dotted around the city, shoppers should be happy.
Obvious targets for the credit card are Indonesian-made batik clothing and textiles, while you might just be able to find a new mobile phone at malls which have an entire floor of cellphone stalls one after the other.
Some of the main shopping centres in the city are: Elite Plaza Indonesia, Plaza EX and the Plaza Semanggi in central Jakarta, Taman Anggrek Mall in the west, Kelapa Gading Mall in the east, WTC Mangga Dua in the north, Plaza Senayan and Pondok Indah Mall in the south.
If there is a price displayed it’s probably fixed, but otherwise bargaining is expected.
7. TEMPLE HOPPING IN YOGYAKARTA
Yogyakarta in central Java is one of the historical and religious centres of Indonesia.
The Prambanan and Borobudur temples just outside the city are both Unesco World Heritage sites. The thousands of pieces of volcanic rock they are built from make them an arresting sight.
The Buddhist Borobudur temple is a national icon covering a surface area of 2500 square metres. It was built in the 8th and 9th centuries and restored with Unesco’s help in the 1970s.
An earthquake in 2006 partially destroyed the Hindu Prambanan temple and set back the restoration by several years, but work continues and the site is very much visitable. (A viewing platform at the site collapsed a year later with a tour party of Russians on it, initially sparking fears of another earthquake before it was realised 90 people had been on a structure built for a maximum of 30.)
8. MANADO BISCUIT FACTORY
Almost too surreal for words, the biscuit factory attraction in Manado, North Sulawesi – bizarrely housed in a place called the Merciful Building – has to be checked out.
The crowd of workers who welcome you with big smiles, megaphones and shirts proclaiming “the group the never the sleeps” (I think this translates as “we work 24/7”) are just so Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
They take you down the four floors of the factory (or at least a simulation of what is presumably a real factory somewhere else), explaining how all the biscuits and confectionery are made.
It’s actually quite interesting, and the produce is very good. Funnily enough, you end up at the bottom in the shop where you can then buy to your heart’s content. Which, as the prices are cheap and the taste good, is no bad idea.
9. THE PEOPLE
You can expect a warm welcome wherever you go in Indonesia.
Though the hawkers at tourist sites can become annoying, elsewhere you are likely to be greeted with smiles and genuine friendship.
The governor of the North Sulawesi region even calls his region “The Land of Smiling People” with some justification.
10. SECURITY?
This is the great unknown of Indonesian travel. Following the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 many tourists are understandably wary of visiting.
At the time of writing, the Australian and New Zealand governments are warning against travel because of fears of repercussions following the execution of the Bali bombers.
On the other hand, more than 5m tourists visited Indonesia last year without serious incident. I didn’t see anything to concern me about either terrorism or crime during my visit, but that does not mean dangers do not exist.
* Paul Smith visited Jakarta, Manado, Bali and Yogyakarta courtesy of the Indonesian government.

Indonesia As the New India

Indonesia As the New India

This stable democracy with a hot market economy resembles another Asian giant in the 1990s.

George Wehrfritz and Solenn Honorine From the magazine issue dated Oct 20, 2008 Jakarta today could be any of Asia’s 21st-century boomtowns. The malls buzz, traffic snarls and modern office towers dominate the skyline. It all feels profoundly normal—but that’s big progress in a place that, barely ten years ago, seemed destined for ruin. Following the fall of longtime strongman Suharto, and with Indonesia reeling from the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, many analysts feared that Asia’s third-biggest country (population: 235 million) would go the way of Yugoslavia. Instead, it has become a cohesive, robust and exuberantly democratic moderate Muslim nation. Things are so buoyant that Indonesia invites comparison to another Asian giant: India.

Both remain corrupt, chaotic and excruciatingly complex. Yet each is also an attractive emerging economy, and in India’s case, a star of the developing world. Could Indonesia be next? Its economy grew by 6.3 percent last year, the main stock exchange ranks among the world’s best performers since 2003 and last year foreign direct investment nearly tripled, to a respectable $4 billion. All of which resembles India in the 1990s, when reforms kick-started a potentially massive economy—though outsiders barely noticed until the IT sector took off and growth passed 8 percent. In Indonesia, the key sectors are energy, mining and soft commodities like rubber, palm oil and cocoa. And in an exclusive interview, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono says he sees no inherent reason why a big democracy like his can’t grow as fast China, which has posted 10 percent growth rates in recent years.

That would put Indonesia on a lot of magazine covers. In fact, the country already looks better than India in two ways: its per capita income ($3,348) is a third higher, and thanks to Jakarta’s fiscal austerity, it now boasts one of the lowest debt ratios in the world. “After ten years of restructuring, Southeast Asia’s largest economy is in great shape,” says Nicholas Cashmore, CLSA’s country head and chief researcher in Jakarta.

Indonesia’s political turnaround has been just as dramatic as its economic one. The president, known universally as SBY, is a former general who was elected in mid-2004 and has since become the country’s most effective democratic leader. In four years, he has helped Indonesia roll up its terrorist problem and rebuild from the 2004 tsunami. Less appreciated (but more enduring), he has backed a profound political decentralization program, empowering hundreds of local administrations. Jakarta now rules by consensus, not decree. This has its downsides: it makes it impossible to railroad through big national development projects of the sort China is famous for. As SBY himself admits, “in many circumstances, we face local communities that don’t agree with government projects, so we have to convince them. I do not think the system is wrong. In a democracy like ours, change, reform and resistance are normal.”

The country’s largest parties now basically agree on economic policy and the need to reduce corruption, improve the rule of law and make government more efficient. Key democratic institutions—including a free press, impartial courts and a legislature chosen by voters—are remarkably robust, and the once all-powerful military has largely removed itself from politics. Meanwhile, regional autonomy has triggered economic booms at the periphery, in contrast to the typical Southeast Asian model. “From the U.S., the U.K. or even Hong Kong,” writes Cashmore, “it is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of Indonesia’s potential [or] appreciate just how much more there is to the country beyond Jakarta.” By his calculation, greater Jakarta now accounts for just 15 percent of Indonesia’s GDP, a relatively small share compared to other Asian capitals.

Indonesia’s accomplishments are all the more impressive when you remember how far and fast the country has come. The fall of Suharto’s New Order (a highly centralized system that vested absolute power in the dictator and his cronies) 10 years ago was accompanied by a financial meltdown so severe that the IMF had to step in. Indonesia also faced fierce separatist insurgencies, Christian-Muslim violence and Islamic extremism underscored by the 2002 Bali bombing. The country seemed to be teetering on the brink of wholesale disintegration. Yet today, as Australian National University economist Andrew MacIntyre and the Asia Foundation’s Douglas Ramage argued in a recent report, observers should start thinking of Indonesia “as a normal country grappling with challenges common to other large, middle-income, developing democracies—not unlike India, Mexico or Brazil.”

In some ways Indonesia’s democracy is even more sophisticated than those other states’. Take decentralization. Jakarta, like New Delhi, oversees national defense, internal security, finance, foreign policy and the justice system. But unlike the Indian government, Indonesia’s—thanks to two “big bang” reform packages passed in 2001 and 2006, and supported by SBY—must now coordinate most other activities through the country’s 33 provinces and nearly 500 local administrations, where popularly elected leaders make policy, manage two thirds of all civil servants and oversee everything from schools to economic development. As World Bank economists Wolfgang Fengler and Bert Hofman observe in a soon-to-be-publishe d study, Indonesia has turned itself from “one of the most centralized countries in the world into one of the more decentralized ones.”

To see what that means on the ground, follow the money. Under a new fiscal system implemented in 2001, regions are allocated a huge slice of the country’s budget to spend more or less as they please. Poor and remote areas receive the most per capita, and those with abundant natural resources get shared extraction revenues. According to the World Bank, regional governments in Indonesia now account for 36 percent of all public expenditures, compared with an average of just 14 percent in all developing countries. And locals can promote whatever agendas they choose. “This is the real revolution,” says Erman Rahman, who heads the World Bank’s local governance initiatives in the country. Regions with proactive leaders have become laboratories of experimentation from which innovative anti-corruption, public-health and economic-growth initiatives have emerged. For his part, SBY has enabled this process by maintaining macroeconomic discipline and political stability. And his support for local autonomy has undermined separatism, extremism and communal violence.

One regional pioneer, Gamawan Fauzi, took power in West Sumatra’s Solok region in 2001 and quickly created a one-stop shop for government services, replacing an opaque and complex web of offices and brokers. Fauzi’s concept was to bring all government services under a single roof, post set fees, promote autopayment and guarantee prompt service as a means of rooting out corruption. And it has worked: the model has since been emulated across Indonesia, and Transparency International reports that corruption, while still high, has been reduced substantially.

Other local leaders have earned fame by initiating innovative new programs. Gede Putrayasa, who heads the poorest of nine regencies on the tourist island Bali, won office in 2001 on a pledge to provide universal medical insurance and free education. The latter proved relatively easy (he simply waived the 5,000 rupiah monthly fees), but improving health care without breaking the local budget was tougher. Under the old system, funds went to hospitals and local administrators, who did things like stockpile pharmaceuticals procured from companies that paid kickbacks. Putrayasa’s innovation: provide every local household free health insurance that compensates clinics for services actually provided. “There’s not a big savings,” says Putrayasa, “but everyone is covered and the efficiency is much better because there is no longer any corruption.”

Such reforms have stimulated economic growth. Putrayasa’s health-care and education initiatives (as well as a jobs program that sends underemployed rice farmers to Japan) have reduced the local poverty rate fourfold to just 5.5 percent today. Better local governance has also made Indonesia a major beneficiary of the global soft commodity boom. Together, the value of its four largest crops—rubber, coconut, palm oil and cocoa—rose from $2.3 billion in 2000 to an estimated $19 billion in 2008, CLSA calculates. That’s thanks to local leaders like Fadel Muhammad, governor of the hardscrabble province of Gorontalo on the island Sulawesi, who turned his constituents into the country’s best corn farmers by deploying teams of agricultural consultants; providing subsidized seeds, fertilizers and rental machinery to farmers; and giving cash rewards to village leaders who boost yields. Since 2002, Gorontalo’s poverty rate has shrunk from 49 to 29 percent.

Of course, decentralization has its problems. Analysts and watchdog groups say that while the number of effective leaders in the 500 local administrations has spiked from a handful to 50 or more under SBY, they are sometimes particularly effective at blocking necessary national reforms and projects. The result, says Ramage, is that progress will be “evolutionary, not revolutionary. ” For example, the Trans Java highway, which would link Jakarta with Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, was launched in 2004 with a target completion date of 2009, but is still only 10 percent done because of local opposition.

Nonetheless, Indonesia has already become a beacon of stability in Southeast Asia and the Islamic world. Its antiterrorism campaign—Indonesia has shut radical madrassas, established an effective counterterrorism force and cracked down hard on suspected cells, while also avoiding human-rights abuses—is seen as a model for the region. And as the world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia’s democratization has implications from Morocco to Mindanao in that it exemplifies an alternative to zealotry, intolerance and extremism. “Indonesia is not immune to radicalism we see worldwide, but this is exactly why we must maintain our identity as a moderate, tolerant nation,” says Yudhoyono. “It enables us to prevent a clash of civilizations. ”

SBY is likely to win re-election next year, but even if he loses, analysts don’t expect any sharp change in policy, because all the major political camps in Jakarta agree on the current reform blueprint. Even India does not enjoy that kind of stable consensus on how to catch China.

With Greg Hunt in Hong Kong
URL: http://www.newsweek .com/id/163572

Islamic Group Gains Power in Indonesia

Source: New York Times October 7, 2008

Islamic Group Gains Power in Indonesia

By PETER GELLING

JAKARTA — In a sign of its growing prominence, Indonesia’s Council of Ulemas moved its headquarters from the basement of a major mosque here into an expensive new office tower in the heart of downtown.

The council was established in 1975 as a quasi-governmental body of Muslim scholars by Suharto, the country’s leader for three decades, partly as a tool to keep politically minded Islamic organizations in check. But in the decade since the dictator’s fall, the group — whose leaders have increasingly espoused a radical form of Islam — has worked to establish itself as an assertive political force.

The group, known as M.U.I., built an impressive network of offices throughout the country, staffed by people who promote the council’s view of Islam. It logged its first major political success this summer when the government agreed to severely restrict the activities of a Muslim sect that does not believe that Muhammad was the last prophet.

Advocates of religious tolerance worry that the council’s new clout could signal the start of religious radicalization in a country known for its moderate brand of Islam.

“Islamists use the M.U.I. as a major base of operations, coordinating support for the Islamist agenda,” said Holland Taylor, founder of LibForAll Foundation, an American and Indonesian nongovernmental group that promotes religious pluralism.

Among the goals of some prominent council members is the imposition of Shariah, or Islamic law, throughout traditionally secular Indonesia.

But other experts, even some concerned about the council’s conservative leanings and newfound influence, see the broader radicalization of Indonesian Islam as unlikely. They point out that Indonesia’s largest Islamic association, the Nahdlatul Ulama, promotes tolerance and religious pluralism and that Islamic political parties have struggled to gain ground in recent years.

Beyond that, broad antipornography legislation, which had been championed by the Council of Ulemas and its allies in Parliament, has been scaled back after a public backlash that included large street protests.

“I don’t think the Council of Ulemas is going to turn Indonesia into the Sudan,” said Sidney Jones, director of the International Crisis Group in Jakarta, citing “many other balancing forces.”

The council is an umbrella group that represents established Muslim organizations. In addition to advising the government on religious issues, it distributes fatwas, or religious directives, advising Muslims on how to practice their faith. Its fatwas are nonbinding.

Maruf Amin, the council’s deputy chairman, describes it as a moderate organization that represents the views of more than 60 Islamic groups in this overwhelmingly Muslim country.

“Our job is to communicate to the government the aspirations of Muslim people in Indonesia and to protect the Islamic population here from any bad influences that might lead them to deviate from their faith,” he said in an interview.

But some analysts who have studied the group say Islamic hard-liners have had an increasingly dominant role in the council in the last few years.

“The council has a long history of moderation, but lately it has been infiltrated by some hard-liners,” said Azyumardi Azra, director of the graduate school at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta. “I have told its leaders that if they want to remain a representative organization, they need to be aware of this infiltration.”

The growing prominence of radical voices is partly a byproduct of the transition to democracy. Radical religious leaders who were often silenced during Suharto’s rule now have the freedom to propagate their views and have often proven adept at using the democratic system.

The growing relevance of the Council of Ulemas is partly a result of a budget some analysts believe is growing. (Neither the council nor the government would provide numbers.) Besides government financing, the council has sole authority to license halal food and medicine.

More recently, the council has tapped into Indonesia’s lucrative Islamic banking industry. It acts as one of several organizations overseeing banks that refuse loans to companies in businesses that run contrary to Islamic values, like those producing alcohol or selling pork.

These financing sources have allowed it to purchase its new office tower and to operate more than 150 satellite offices.

But analysts say the group has also benefited from its relationship with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Although the president is considered moderate, he said last year that after the council issues any fatwas, “the tools of the state can do their duty.”

“Hopefully our cooperation will deepen in the future,” he said during the speech, according to translations by the International Crisis Group.

Some experts said they suspected he was supporting the Council of Ulemas to shore up Muslim backing in elections next year. A coalition of Islamic political parties backed him when he first ran for president in 2004.

The council’s biggest coup so far was Mr. Yudhoyono’s decision in June to restrict the practices of Ahmadiya, a minority Muslim sect.

The council had been calling for a ban on Ahmadiya since 2005 when it issued two fatwas, one against the sect for not believing Muhammad is the last prophet and another calling on Muslims to reject “pluralism, liberalism and secularism.”

On June 1 in Jakarta, opponents of Ahmadiya, some affiliated with Forum Umat Islam, an organization formed to promote the council’s fatwas whose leaders include several prominent council members, clashed with demonstrators supporting the sect. Dozens were injured.

Despite an outcry over the incident, the government ordered Ahmadiya members to “stop disseminating interpretations that deviate from the main tenets of Islam” or face legal action. The government then asked the Council of Ulemas, with its network of chapters, to monitor Ahmadiya’s compliance.

A report in July by the International Crisis Group, which analyzed the conditions leading to the decree, laid significant blame on the dominance of radicals within the council and the council’s growing influence.

Several of those members are leaders of groups blamed for burning mosques and houses belonging to Ahmadiya adherents.

In its annual report on religious freedom in September, the United Sates State Department singled out the Council of Ulemas as “influential in enabling official and social discrimination” against minority religious groups in the last year in Indonesia.

Still, most of Indonesia’s Muslims remain moderate, and some have begun to fight back.

Mr. Taylor, whose group promotes religious tolerance, said moderate groups would need to try to take control of the council or press the government to privatize or dissolve it.

The New York Times

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