Nothing to fear but the Fearmongers


March 25, 2017

Nothing to fear but the Fearmongers

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for geert wilders, marine LePen, and Trump

Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and Geert Wilders– The Fearmongers

Possibly the best-known comment on fear is US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s attempt in his 1933 first inaugural address to encourage Americans facing the great depression with the ringing reminder that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

But of course what Roosevelt and many others who had expressed this sentiment before him actually meant was that what we have to fear is excessive fear.Because a moderate degree of fear, or at least caution, is essential to the maintenance of human, indeed all animal, life in the face of potential threats like hunger, thirst or physical assault.

So that, as a former Australian government sensibly advised its populace following the terrorist bombings in Bali bombings that killed a good many of its own and other countries’ citizens in 2002, it pays to be “alert, but not alarmed”.

This represented a most welcome change of attitude from the state of xenophobic paranoia if not outright panic at the imagined threat of being swamped by the so-called ‘yellow peril’ that until all too recently inspired the disgracefully racist so-called ‘White Australia Policy’.

However relatively less fearful my country has sensibly and mercifully become, though, ugly traces of old anti-other attitudes unfortunately persist in the disordered minds of at least a small minority of Australians, as witnessed by the existence of the appalling party that Pauline Hanson and her supporters call One Nation.

Or, as I prefer to think of the thing, One Notion, given that its sole policy and preoccupation appears to be the winning of a share of political power by promoting fears of ‘threats’ to Australia allegedly posed by the nation’s admitting and failing to assimilate ‘too many’ non-European, non-Christian immigrants and refugees.

In other words, it’s the same fear campaign that’s being waged around the world by right-wing, or in other words wrong-wing, parties and pressure groups like those headed by the likes of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France, and Donald Trump in the US.

Trump being, by dint of his pre-eminence as the President of the world’s richest, most culturally influential and most militarily powerful nation, by far the most dangerous of these and countless other leaders, or rather misleaders, who busily seek to seize or retain power by playing on the fears of their most racist, religionist or otherwise ignorant and insecure citizens.

And as regrettable as Trump’s exclusionary efforts are in theory, they’re even more ridiculous in fact. For example, his list of Muslim-majority countries whose citizens he is determined to deny entry to the US illogically doesn’t include Saudi Arabia, of which most of the 911 terrorists were citizens, or Pakistan, the country whose secret police harboured Osama bin Laden while George W Bush was busy hunting him in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, his exclusion of selected Muslims for the purported purpose of protecting US citizens from terrorism is a spectacular case of errorism, given that home-grown citizen-on-citizen terrorism disguised as the ‘right to keep and bear arms’ costs infinitely more lives than imported terrorism could imaginably do, as US deaths by gunshot total some 30,000, or eight or nine times the toll taken by the 911 atrocity, every year.

And there is as little sense behind Trump’s claims that American jobs have been ‘taken’ by other countries, in light of the fact that the US has been the most tireless promoter of so-called ‘globalisation’, or in other words, US corporations’ exploitive export of production and other facilities to other, poorer countries in the pursuit of cheaper labour, expanded markets and thus fatter profits.

However little sense fearmongering makes, though, it will persist for as long as there are mongrels prepared to resort to it, and to demonstrate that it apparently works, as in the case of Trump’s recent election, for example, and the success of so-called ‘Brexit’ case for the UK to quit the EU.

It doesn’t necessarily work for very long

But there’s also ample evidence that it doesn’t necessarily work for very long. For example, despite his virtually writing the book on fear-mongering, Mein Kampf, in which he declared that “the art of leadership… consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention”, Adolph Hitler only managed to sustain his projected ‘Thousand-Year Reich’ for a decade or so.

On the other hand, however, today’s ultimate example of fearmongering, the North Korean regime’s terrorising and enslavement of its people by sustaining the pretense that it is still fighting a war that it lost over 60 years ago, continues to work after a fashion, though arguably only with China’s assistance.

And Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional (National Front) has sustained itself in uninterrupted power since 1957 by apparently taking a leaf out of Mein Kampf (My Struggle) and literally putting the fear of God into the majority of its subjects by pretending to ‘struggle’ to save not only their religion but also their race and royalty from attack by alleged enemies.

Enemies primarily including ‘the Jews’, George Soros and ‘The West’ in general, according to former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during his 22 democracy-crippling, rule-of-law-destroying and kleptocracy-creating years in office.

And now, with Najib Abdul Razak desperately defending his even more disastrous premiership, he and his BN accomplices are busy mongering even more frightful fears.

Borrowing or rather stealing Donald Trump’s concept of the spectre of ‘fake news’ to attempt to discredit inconvenient or incriminating truths about them and their crimes; fomenting or at least magnifying a fake ‘conflict’ against an allegedly hostile North Korea to foster faux-patriotism; and just for good measure, inventing untold other, unspecified ‘enemies’ to further terrify the timorous.

Image result for Najib Razak the Fearmonger

Playing with Imagined Malay Fears

According to BN’s own ‘fake news’ agency, Bernama, Najib recently “reminded the people regarding crucial matters which could destroy the country including being the country’s covert enemies or conspiring with the country’s enemies”, then continued with a litany of alleged lies and further confusion in the same vein.

Thus signifying that he’s absolutely terrified that someday a majority of Malaysians will finally find the courage to face the non-existent fears that have kept them in thrall to BN all these years, and throw these fear-mongers out on their ears.

1MDB–What’s Najib Razak’s next move


March 25, 2017

1MDB–What’s Najib Razak’s next move ?

Journalists from Switzerland’s Le Temps newspaper have unearthed a startling connection between the snooping private investigator, Nicolas Giannakopoulos, who conducted a bizarre seminar on 1MDB at Geneva University and Malaysia’s governing Barisan National party

Image result for Najib Razak and J Lo

The newspaper has in the process identified concerns that individuals closely connected to Barisan National are preparing to employ the latest highly controversial (and expensive) ‘Big Data’ tactics to swing voters at the next election.

Nicolas Giannakopoulos, who was recently suspended from his position at the University following an expose by Sarawak Report, is the Swiss agent for SLC (otherwise known as Cambridge Analytica).

SLC specialises in collecting a mass of data, particularly about individuals in key marginal consituencies, in order to seek to deliberately influence their voting patterns. The company is credited with having swung BERXIT in the UK and the Donald Trump win in the US.

Le Temps points out that SLC has now opened an office in KL headed by one of BN’s established public relations figures, Azrin Zizal, who has made no secret in public that his messaging to voters is to stick with the “safe” and “tried and tested” BN, rather risk than an ‘uncertain future’ with the opposition.

READ: SARAWAK REPORT:

http://www.sarawakreport.org/2017/03/latest-on-genevas-1mdb-snooper-raises-fears-that-najib-is-employing-big-data-tactics-to-try-swing-ge14/

Malaysia-North Korea Diplomatic Row–Wisma Putra left out of the loop as confusion reigns


March 21, 2017

Malaysia-North Korea Diplomatic Row–Wisma Putra left out of the loop as confusion reigns

by Dennis Ignatius

Image result for Malaysian Foreign Minister out of the loop on Malaysia--North Korea Diplomatic Row

Is Foreign Minister Anifah Aman  being left out the loop?

In just one day, the continuing confusion and conflicting messaging relating to the ongoing standoff with North Korea was aptly captured on a single page of a local newspaper. It suggests a disquieting level of disarray in the upper reaches of government at a time when the security and well-being of Malaysian diplomats and their families in Pyongyang are in question.

Image result for Apandi Ali
Attorney-General Apandi Ali–The new Foreign Policy spokesperson? If so, Anifah Aman should resign

At the top corner of the page was a statement by Attorney-General Mohammad Apandi Ali that “no minister or government official is allowed to make any statement on the negotiations between Putrajaya and Pyongyang” due to its sensitive nature. He indicated that only Prime Minster Najib Tun Razak would be commenting on the issue because “if too many people make statements about the matter, it will cause confusion.”

Too many statements, too much confusion

 

What Games are these guys playing?

That did not, however, appear to deter others from having their say, as was evident from other reports on the same page.Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi and Tourism Minister Nazri Aziz publicly disagreed with each other as to exactly how many North Koreans are in Malaysia under the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) Programme. Zahid, who also oversees the Immigration Department, and ought to have access to the relevant data, had said that there were 193 North Koreans in Malaysia under MM2H while Nazri insists that only four are enrolled in the programme.

What does it say about inter-agency coordination if the Home Minister and the Tourism Minister cannot even agree on just how many North Koreans are here?

Still on the same page, Zahid announced that the government is considering deporting some North Korean citizens who are still in the country. He said that there are currently 315 North Koreans still in the country and some of them have expired work visas. “I will make a decision today whether to arrest or deport them,” he was quoted as saying.

Arrest North Korean citizens while Malaysian diplomats are being held hostage in Pyongyang? How smart is that? Zahid also intimated that thus far the government has yet to receive any official request from the next-of-kin to claim Jong-nam’s body. He then went on to add that “if there is a claim, we will adopt several approaches and obtain confirmation from the Attorney-General’s chambers on the handling of the remains.”

How one adopts several approaches when dealing with a single body was not explained.

Who speaks for the deceased?

Our Health Minister, in the meantime, whose role, if any, was confined to the autopsy, was reported, again on the aforementioned page, to have indicated that the government is giving two to three weeks for the family to claim the body before it decides on the next course of action. “We are told that he has wives and children. We hope that they respond and come forward to claim the body.” Continuing, he said that if the family does not come forward to claim the body, “we will address it as a government-to-government matter.”

To further add to the confusion, the Deputy Inspector-General of Police announced the next day that the next-of-kin had in fact left it to the government to decide what to do with the remains of the victim.

We have our advantages 

And finally, the Defence Minister, perhaps feeling neglected by the press, issued a fatuous statement declaring that while “we can’t fight a country like North Korea which focuses so much on defence assets … we have our advantages which will allow us to move forward in any eventuality.” Reassuringly, he also “ruled out the possibility of both countries going to war as negotiations have been positive.”

Was war with North Korea ever even a remote possibility? As well, it is hard to fathom what negotiations he was even referring to seeing as none have as yet taken place (according to the Prime Minister).

Who’s in charge?

Both Malaysians and foreigners alike reading all these reports must be shaking their heads in utter bewilderment at the way our government works.

Leaving aside the sometimes asinine nature of these remarks, don’t they realize that nine of our own diplomats and their families are being held hostage by a reckless, ruthless and unpredictable regime and that in such a situation quiet diplomacy must be given the time and the space to go forward?

With the well-being of our citizens at stake, they should know better than to try to score brownie points with unnecessary if not silly remarks.

Most of these issues – the disposal of the body, the fate of North Korean citizens in the country, the future bilateral relationship – are undoubtedly going to feature in the negotiations between Wisma Putra and the North Korean mission here; it only makes Wisma Putra’s job that much harder if our ministers keep jumping in this way. One has to wonder as well how much weight the Prime Minister’s instructions now carry and even whether the Prime Minister has lost control over his own cabinet.

How not to manage a crisis

Of course, it may be that the remarks of our ministers were somehow misreported. The general decline in professional standards that is increasingly evident across the board naturally affects the media as well. However, having witnessed too many silly statements on this and other matters over the years from our senior officials, it is more than likely that the fault lies with the officials themselves.

Whatever it is, somebody ought to write a book on how not to manage a crisis based on Malaysia’s continuing response to our very own North Korean saga.

 

Geo-Politics of Environment


March 19, 2017

The Geopolitics of Environment

by Giulio Boccaletti

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/environment-economic-and-geopolitical-challenges-by-giulio-boccaletti-2017-03

Much of the world seems to be on edge. The West’s relationship with Russia, the future of NATO, the Syrian civil war and refugees, rising right-wing populism, the impact of automation, and the United Kingdom’s impending departure from the European Union: all of these topics – and more – have roiled public debate worldwide. But one issue – one might say the most significant of them all – is being ignored or pushed aside: the environment.

Image result for Environmental challenges of 21st century

That was the case at this year’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. Beyond a mention of the Paris climate agreement by Chinese President Xi Jinping, topics like climate change and sustainable development didn’t even make it to the main stage. Instead, they were relegated to side meetings that rarely seemed to intersect with current political and economic events.

Allowing environmental issues to fall by the wayside at this time of geopolitical and social instability is a mistake, and not just because this happens to be a critical moment in the fight to manage climate change. Environmental degradation and natural-resource insecurity are undermining our ability to tackle some of the biggest global issues we face.

Environmental insecurity is a major, though often underestimated, contributor to global instability. The UN High Commission on Refugees reports that natural disasters have displaced more than 26 million people per year since 2008 – almost a third of the total number of forcibly displaced people in this time period.

Image result for global environmental disasters

Even the current refugee crisis has an environmental element. In the years leading up to the war, Syria experienced its most extreme drought in recorded history. That drought, together with unsustainable agricultural practices and poor resource management, contributed to the internal displacement of 1.5 million Syrians and catalyzed political unrest ahead of the 2011 uprising.

The link between environmental and agricultural pressures extends far beyond Syria. Over-reliance on specific geographies for agriculture means that food production can exacerbate environmental problems, or even create new ones. This can pit global consumer interests against local citizen interests, as it has along the Mississippi River, where fertilizer runoff from one of the world’s breadbaskets is contributing to concerns about water quality.

The connection goes both ways, with environmental conditions also shaping agricultural production – and, in turn, the prices of agricultural commodities, which represent about 10% of traded goods worldwide. For example, rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns are already driving up the price of coffee. With the global land area suitable for growing coffee set to contract by up to half by 2050, price pressures will only intensify.

A sudden shift toward trade protectionism could drive up agricultural commodity prices further. Such an increase would affect farm-level household income, favoring some farmers while harming others. End consumers, particularly the poor and vulnerable, would also suffer.

Another reason why the environment should be at the center of economic debates is its role as the world’s single largest employer. Almost a billion people, just under 20% of the world’s labor force, are formally employed in agriculture. Another billion or so are engaged in subsistence farming, and therefore don’t register in formal wage statistics.

Any initiatives to support economic development must support this population’s transition toward higher-productivity activities. This is particularly important at a time when increasingly sophisticated and integrated technology threatens to leapfrog an entire generation of workers in some countries. Efforts to benefit this huge population must focus not only on training and education, but also on new models that allow countries to capitalize on their natural capital – the landscapes, watersheds, and seascapes – without depleting it.

Just as natural-resource insecurity can cause displacement and vulnerability, effective natural-resource management can support conflict resolution and sustainable economic development. On this front, efforts to achieve environmental remediation, to boost the resilience of rural communities, to advance sustainable agricultural production, and to support community-based environmental stewardship have all shown promising results.

Consider the Northern Rangelands Trust, an organization focused on creating community conservancies to enable sustainable and equitable land use in Kenya. NRT has helped pastoralist communities establish effective governance mechanisms for the environment on which they depend, reducing conflict over grazing rights, especially in times of drought.

For many communities, members’ relationship with the landscape in which they live is an integral part of their identity. With effective governance and planning, open dialogue, resource-sharing frameworks, and sufficient investment, including in skills training, these communities can translate this relationship into effective environmental stewardship – and build healthier and more secure societies.

The crises engulfing the modern world are complex. But one thing is clear: the environment is connected to all of them. Solutions will mean little without a healthy world in which to implement them.

 

Much Ado over the word “Alleged”– But Missing Dean’s Message


March 18, 2017

Much Ado over the word “Alleged— But Missing Dean’s Message

by Dean Johns @www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Malaysian Official No.1

The Alleged Malaysian Official No. 1 who allegedly stole Billions of Ringgit from 1MDB

Many readers have complained about what they see as the over-use of the word ‘alleged’ in the alleged columns that allegedly appear in Malaysiakini under my alleged name. And I sympathise with these critics in the sense that constant over-use of ‘alleged’ or indeed any other word can be very tedious.

But in my own defence I have to say that a good many appearances of ‘alleged’ in my columns are there by courtesy of my long-suffering sub-editors, in their ceaseless attempts to lend some sense of journalistic propriety to my practice of accusing members of Malaysia’s UMNO-BN regime of crimes of which, despite apparently overwhelming evidence, they have not, at least so far, been proven guilty.

Far from convicted, in fact, most have never even tried, investigated or identified as suspects, or even, for that matter, have even admitted that the crimes I and others allege against them have ever actually occurred.

As, for example, in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) case, which the court of public opinion and a good many legal jurisdictions around the world regard as a monstrous swindle and money-laundering scam, but whose alleged mastermind, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak aka Malaysian Official 1 or MO1 and his alleged accomplices and supporters claim is entirely free of any shred of irregularity or impropriety, let alone criminality.

A situation that explains why I have to plead guilty of frequently pre-empting my sub-editors by personally employing, and in the process arguably over-employing, the word ‘alleged’ for the purpose of making the point that there is no evidence, let alone proof, that any of the UMNO-BN regime’s alleged agencies of alleged government can be accused of honestly carrying-out its sworn duty.

Image result for Malaysia's Attorney General

Malaysia’s Attorney-General who allegedly cleared Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak of any wrongdoing over RM2.6 billion of 1MDB money that went to the latter’s personal bank account

There’s precious little or no proof, for example, that the alleged Royal Malaysian Police Force properly performs its function of impartially and equally enforcing the laws of the land and protecting the populace, as it is evidently far too busy protecting the interests, allegedly criminal and otherwise, of the regime that effectively owns it.

Just as there is lamentably little evidence for the proposition that the alleged judiciary administers the laws, either criminal or civil, for the benefit of the Malaysian people at large.

Especially in light of the fact that an Attorney-General (AG) who some time ago showed signs of intending to investigate the 1MDB can of worms was summarily ‘retired’ in favour of a successor who immediately decided that allegations against Najib/MO1 and his fellow suspects were false and without foundation.

Similarly, the alleged ‘journalists’ of Malaysia’s alleged mainstream ‘news’ media can never be suspected or accused of performing their professional duty of reporting the news without fear or favour, or indeed of reporting anything at all that might inconvenience, embarrass or more likely incriminate the ruling regime.

Image result for Malaysia's Attorney General The Pious Saudi Royals who were allegedly donated RM2.6 billion to the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak

While the regime’s alleged ‘religious’ authorities, for their part, persistently support UMNO’s alleged, indeed all-too-obviously false claim to be the ‘defender’ of Islam, despite the regime’s routinely committing such excesses of corruption and criminality as to disgrace Islam or any other alleged ‘faith’.

And the alleged Electoral Commission (EC) is apparently on a mission to avoid even the hint of any suggestion that it might honestly perform its function of ensuring relatively equal numbers of voters across electorates, as specifically required by the constitution, let alone polls free of bribery or other forms of rigging in the regime’s favour.

Indeed, the alleged EC is so extremely biased toward UMNO-BN that the current alleged government, since it lost the majority vote in the 2013 general election, can arguably be considered not guilty of actually being legitimately in power at all.

Preferring a more presidential role?

 Prime minister Najib Razak has denied accusations that he stole money from state fund 1MDB.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has denied accusations that he alledgly stole money from state fund 1MDB. Allegedly  Pious Muslim. Photograph: Fazry Ismail/EPA

And as far as many of us are concerned, Najib Abdul Razak is only allegedly Prime Minister of the country, as he clearly prefers playing a more presidential role in which he seldom deigns to attend Parliament, and he and his alleged ministers are protected from replying to questions by an alleged speaker who perceives his function solely in terms of preventing the alleged opposition from speaking.

Speaking of speaking, I suspect that at least some of the readers of Malaysiakini who allege that ‘allege’ appears far too often in my alleged columns are themselves only allegedly regular, honest Malaysians.

In other words, a great many anonymous alleged readers, to judge by the low standard of their alleged English and the idiocy and suspicious uniformity of their alleged ‘opinions’, are actually so-called ‘cybertroopers’, or in other words paid propagandists, or, if you prefer, propagandistutes, for UMNO-BN’s alleged ‘government’.

Admittedly, of course, it could be alleged that my ceaseless allegations against UMNO-BN and its members and minions could be nothing but figments of my alleged imagination, and evidence of a tendency to paranoia into the bargain.

Image result for Malaysia's Attorney General

Kevin Morais who was allegedly murdered

It’s altogether possible, of course. But, as boring as all my alleging may be to some, I can’t bring myself to either apologise for this practice or to allege that I intend to engage in it any less.

After all, I owe it to myself as a genuine rather than merely alleged writer, and even more so to you as a truly rather than allegedly respectable and intelligent reader, to go right on expressing my allergy to UMNO-BN’s countless alleged Ali Babas and their ridiculous alleged alibis.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.

 

Saudi King Salman’s Visit to Indonesia: Bound by Ties of Islam


March 16, 2017

Image result for asia-pacific bulletinNumber 375 | March 16, 2017

ANALYSIS

Saudi King Salman’s Visit to Indonesia: Bound by Ties of Islam

 By Endy Bayuni

When he came to Indonesia last week, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was not just another head of government passing through on an Asian tour. At least not by the way Indonesia greeted him. He received as close to a royal welcome as possible for a republic to provide. Perhaps deservedly so. King Salman is special because he is the custodian of the two Islamic holy cities, Mecca and Medina, while Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. The king is the first Saudi monarch to visit Indonesia in 47 years, and local media celebrated the significance of the visit. The 1,500-member royal delegation arrived in eight wide-bodied jets with cargo that included a few limousines. The king and his entourage spent a nine-day holiday in Bali – Indonesia’s most famous tourist island.

While the visit was historic, it raises the question: why now? If it has taken this long for a Saudi leader to visit Indonesia, what is the true state of relations between te two countries?

Image result for King Salman with Jokowi

In Asian culture, regular face-to-face encounters are essential in nurturing relations. Islam similarly has silaturrahim, the tradition of visiting friends and relatives on a regular basis. This is true in everyday life, and should also be true in diplomacy. Indonesian presidents, Suharto, Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati Soekarnoputri, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and Joko Widodo all visited Riyadh, symbolizing the importance they attached to Saudi ties.  The visits by Indonesia’s leaders were as much addressed to the Saudi hosts as to the Indonesian public who judge their leaders by their displays of religiosity. Religion is indeed the one thing that binds Indonesia and Saudi Arabia more than other factors like economics and politics. To suggest that the relationship lacks warmth because of the long absence of a Saudi king’s visit is to deny the power of Islam in bringing two nations together.

Trade and investment between the two countries have remained low in comparison with the economic ties Saudi Arabia has forged with Indonesia’s neighbor Malaysia and many non-Muslim countries. In Jakarta, King Salman witnessed the signing of several economic agreements, including a pledge of $1 billion from the Saudi Fund contribution to finance development projects. There were deals worth $2.4 billion signed separately by private business sectors. Prior to the visit, Indonesian officials had raised the prospect of multibillion dollar deals. After the king’s departure, they decided to include the $6 billon oil refinery project signed in December to the king’s overall economic package. Even that still falls short of the $25 billion they had touted ahead of the visit.

While the two countries have a growing economic relationship, the pace remains slow. Indonesia has never been a major beneficiary of Saudi’s petro-dollars. Any hope that the visit will change economic relations has to be tempered by the fact that Saudi Arabia is undergoing an economic recession and is itself undertaking a National Transformation Program making the economy less dependent upon oil.

There is probably more money flowing in the other direction. Indonesia sends the largest contingent of any country to the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca/Medina. With rising economic prosperity, many Indonesians choose Saudi Arabia as their first overseas trip, to perform the umrah, the off-season pilgrimage. Riyadh is spending billions of dollars renovating and expanding the capacity of Mecca and Medina as part of its post-oil Saudi plan. When tourism replaces oil as a chief source of revenue, Indonesia will be the main target because of the sheer size of its Muslim population.

It is not exactly a two-way road when it comes to tourism. King Salman’s visit to Bali may be a good promotion for Indonesia, but the Middle East has never been a big market, and only a few places in Indonesia cater to the specific needs of Arab tourists. Instead, they go after the bigger markets like Australia, Europe, the United States, and Asia, including now China.

Indonesia also contributes a significant number of workers to Saudi Arabia, particularly domestic helpers. When Indonesia halted the flow of young women to work in Saudi houses following reports of abuse, Riyadh intervened, pleading with Jakarta to resume the flow of these workers.

Bali, a predominantly Hindu island, made the point of not covering up the nude statutes during King Salman’s visit. “Take Bali as it is” was the message when the island welcomed the Saudi royals. The Saudis could have gone to Lombok, the island next door, which is developing its sharia-tourism to attract Muslim tourists. Nevertheless the king chose Bali, even extending his stay by three days.

Indonesia and Saudi Arabia have some common but limited strategic interests. Although predominantly Sunni, Indonesia has stayed away from the rivalry between Sunni-Saudi Arabia and Shiite-Iran by cultivating relations with both countries. The week of King Salman’s visit, Indonesia announced billions of dollars of new oil deals with Iran. Indonesia has tried to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran, an effort that did not go very far. But the gesture is important diplomatically to show Jakarta’s non-aligned status in this rivalry that is almost as old as Islam itself.

Religion is the one big factor binding the two nations, but even in religion they do not always see eye to eye. Indonesia has not been spared from the global struggle within Islam between more traditional, strict interpretations of the religion and the moderate and tolerant brand that has evolved in Southeast Asia. The battle line has been drawn between Wahabism, the conservative ideology propagated and financed by the Saudi Kingdom, and Nusantara Islam, the name Indonesian Muslim scholars coined to describe the Islam widely practiced in nusantara (the archipelago) that incorporates local cultures and wisdoms.

King Salman also announced the establishment of Arab language centers in three Indonesian cities in addition to the one in Jakarta, which is also known as the center for the propagation of Wahabism. The Indonesian government raised no objection to the plan, but President Widodo organized a meeting between King Salman and leaders of various religions to show that in spite of being a majority-Muslim nation, Indonesia is progressive when it comes to interfaith relations.

The language used by the two countries’ leaders reflects an ideological gap. While King Salman in his speeches stresses the need for unity among Muslims to face their common challenges, Indonesian leaders put the emphasis on more tolerance and moderation. Islam may bind the two nations, but each seems to have its own interpretation.

About the Author

Endy Bayuni is editor-in-chief at The Jakarta Post. He can be reached at EndyBayuni@gmail.com
The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.

East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111

East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995