Agam's Gecko
Monday, August 15, 2005

n the day that representatives of the Republic of Indonesia sit at a table in Finland with representatives of the Aceh Freedom Movement (GAM) to formally sign a comprehensive peace agreement, on a day that sees the start of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, moving toward its final handing over to the post-Arafat Palestinian Authority, and on a day in which Iraqi democrats are striving very hard to complete the constitutional framework for their new country through concilliation and compromise, it seems that important things are happening all around us. Add to these, the recent decision by the Irish Republican Army to, at long last, repudiate their terror-based struggle and accept that the democratic process is the only way to realise their aims. Today also happens to be the national Freedom and Independence Day of India -- which is by far the world's largest democracy.

I'm presently watching a "live event" on Indonesia's MetroTV, with satellite links simultaneously showing the happenings in Helsinki, at Merdeka (Freedom) Palace in Jakarta, and at the Great Mosque Baturaihman in Banda Aceh. It looks set to be an interesting afternoon (morning in Finland), and most Indonesian networks are offering live coverage. I'll stick with good old MetroTV which as usual, looks to have the most comprehensive reporting -- under the title "Welcome to Peace in Aceh" (Amen!). Lead negotiators of each delegation are seated on either side of the former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, who was a major impetus in keeping the long negotiating process going, and indeed maintained optimism for a mutually agreeable solution when the chances were looking pretty dismal from the outside.

The documents have now been signed, and following brief remarks by Mr. Ahtisaari, the chief GAM negotiator Malik Mahmud has read his prepared statement. Focussing on the "leap of faith" by the Acehnese in placing their trust in the Indonesian government and especially the TNI (Indonesian military), he made several statements about the past decades of violence which cannot have gone down very easily with the Indonesian side, particularly with the assembled political leadership listening in from Merdeka Palace in Jakarta -- president, vice-president and cabinet members. He cautioned about the seemingly large number of "organic" TNI troops to be left in Aceh (for "external defense"), which he said would be roughly double the amount of such troops stationed in any other region (that is, after the withdrawal of the "non-organic" forces sent in to do battle over the past several years). He also drew attention to the government sponsored "militias" which remain, and which he says have been heard to claim that once the non-Aceh based TNI troops are out, they (the militias) will embark on a campaign to kill GAM members. Mr. Mahmud stated that if GAM would defend themselves against this type of militia campaign, that the TNI would take this as a reason to re-enter the region and resume the war against GAM supporters.

Evidently this talk was a little bit too blunt for some TV producers, because Metro abruptly cut away from Mr. Mahmud's address, for a commercial break! I switch over to SCTV which continues to cover the speech, and then they too cut away before it's finished! Well, let's try the state broadcaster TVRI.... and they stick with it until the end. Now it's the Indonesian lead negotiator's turn, Mr. Sofyan Djalil, who makes a much shorter address of mainly generalities about peace and democracy, and full of praise for Mr. Ahtisaari's tireless efforts to shepherd an agreement through. A few further comments from a westerner sitting on the GAM side of the table, regarding process and the involvement of EU and ASEAN observers. President Yudhoyono then struggles with some communication problems with Helsinki as he tries to address his comments and thanks to all those present at the signing ceremony (he can't hear them, but they can hear him). He gives a lot of praise to Mr. Mahmud and the GAM negotiating team, as well as for the Finnish government and Mr. Ahtisaari. Very good words from SBY, and let's hope all officials of his government (and the TNI) heard them well.

There is a massive crowd of people surrounding the Great Mosque in Banda Aceh, and I presume there is some facility for them to at least hear, if not also view the proceedings. I hope they're getting more consistent coverage than I'm seeing from the Jakarta networks though. State broadcaster TVRI seems to be sticking with things the best, but even they didn't stay with the post-official event press conference for more than a few minutes before going back to in-studio discussion. Well ok, questions were mostly in English, but they missed an Indonesian language question, and likewise answered by the Aceh delegate Mr. Mahmud. I had moved over to my source of last resort (also useful whenever BBC decides an important event isn't gripping enough to stay with), which is to say the APTN live news feed. APTN stayed with the press conference through to the end.

There was a question about the involvement of the "Qadaffi Foundation" (Libyan leader Muamar Qadaffi, eh?) in the peace agreement, however Mr. Ahtisaari said while he'd heard these rumours, he didn't know of any such involvement. Mr. Mahmud was asked if he planned to return to Aceh, something which would have landed him in prison until now, but he was non-committal saying he hadn't decided yet. I hear now that the promised release of the five GAM negotiators who had been arrested back in 2003 while on their way to Tokyo for that other series of peace talks sponsored by the Henri Dunant Centre, and which marked the resumption of hostilities by the Megawati government, has still not occurred. The five GAM negotiators remain in jail, somewhere. So I can certainly understand Mr. Mahmud's reluctance.

In two more days, it is the 60th anniversary of the declaration by Sukarno and Mohammed Hatta of Indonesia's independence, August 17, 1945. I wish Indonesians all the best and every success in building a truly democratic nation. I believe President Yudhoyono is a good man at the helm for the country in this period, and I believe he has a true committment to democratic values and pluralism for this vast and incredibly diverse country. Independence Day will have a special significance this year, not only for the nice round number of 60, but for the success in reaching this compromise keeping Aceh within the republic, after so many years when this eventuality -- or any sort of peaceful solution at all -- seemed like a hopeless dream. Of course I also wish the best for the people of Aceh, who have suffered so long and hard in the conflict, not to mention the catastrophic natural disaster which brought a further, almost unfathomable destruction barely eight months ago. Far too many of your people did not make it to see this day.


orm Geras has received a lot of flack for his recent article, Apologists among us, which I linked to a couple of weeks ago (and which was also published, in edited form, in one of the London daily papers). In that article, he examined some of the responses from the British wing of the anti-Iraq-liberation "Left" following the London bombings -- mainly their very determined explorations toward gaining understanding and empathy with the righteous anger among British Muslims toward their country's involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, the attendant humiliation of Islam at the hands of a "cowboy" and his "poodle", and so on and so forth.

Norm had been taking onboard these arguments from his critics -- mainly along the lines of, "to understand is not to condone...," and wrote a careful and logical reply to the critics in Apology and its modes 2. If you took the time to read the first piece, you really ought to read the follow-up lesson in logic for the "understanding != condoning" crowd. While it is true that attempting to understand this anger (and the ensuing mass murder which was, in many eyes, the inevitable product of it) is not always or necessarily the same as condoning it -- it certainly can be so, and evidently has been provably so in very many instances in the British discourse since July 7. And we're not simply talking about the modern world's Lord Haw Haw here either -- although he could undoubtedly be proposed as exhibit "A" apologist for terror and tyranny, for sure.

Norm's conclusion at the end of a seriously sensible examination of these issues? An even more solid case that, as he showed quite well in the first piece, there are indeed many apologists for terrorism amongst us.

In fact, and it's encouraging to make note of this, some of the best illuminations into the underlying factors of this "British Muslim anger" following July 7 & 21 has come, not from the intellectual "Left" of (most) Guardian opinion writers and their fellow travellers, but from some previously silent Muslims living in the democratic west, Arab intellectuals writing in the Arab press, and indeed other non-Muslim British immigrants who are now at some risk of having difficulties in the new environment of heightened awareness in their adopted country. One of Norm Geras' readers, named Jay, writes to him:
It is disconcerting to think that people may have suspicion towards me because of the colour of my skin, it is strange to think that as a Sikh (non-practising) I could be thought of as a Muslim...


...the instinct to proclaim that a stop and search policy based on scrutiny of those who match intelligence reports of a specific nature - to describe that as being a result of a form of latent (racism) is wicked in its implications and mischievousness.


This needs some moral clarity and this relativism has to stop. Have you noticed why they hardly ever focus on British Indians in the questions of multi-culturalism? Because Indians have on the whole succeeded and integrated whilst maintaining our cultural and religious identity - we are a poke in the eye of those who claim that British society is intrinsically to blame for the 'marginalisation' felt by Muslim youth - and that is a fact that many people do not want to face up to.
Also see this piece by Tunku Varadarajan in the WSJ's Opinion Journal on racism and profiling, and whether these are necessarily (there's that important little word again!) the same thing.

And before anybody gets excited about my poking (once again) of the so-called "Left" in this article, let me leave you with another example (one of many, and I hope, many more to come) of what I consider to be the still honourable left, with this piece by Nick Cohen: I still fight oppression. Nick is the exception that proves the rule, as far as al Grauniad's opinion pages are concerned -- a man of the left with his ethical senses still intact. Also see Wretchard's commentary on Cohen's piece. Nick Cohen ends his article with a call to his former comrades to, once and for all, doff their straight-jackets and get back over to the right (not as in "un-left" but as in "un-wrong") side of the barricades.

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