Agam's Gecko
Tuesday, October 24, 2006

efore getting into this, let me open this with a sincere wish for my Indonesian friends:

Selamat Hari Raya Idul Fitri
Mohon Ma'af
Lahir dan Batin

The end of the fasting month came last night for Indonesian Muslims, and today has been a time for visiting with friends and family, exchanging small gifts, sharing meals, new clothes for the children, asking forgiveness (the 2nd & 3rd lines in the above customary greeting for today), and an amazing array of unique local festivities across the archipelago.

Those few religous chauvinists who consider it a sin to wish Christians a Merry Christmas, or Buddhists a blessed Waisak (Visaka Bucha in Thailand), are also welcome to accept this Lebaran greeting from a non-Muslim. I've been exchanging SMS's with many dear friends in Indonesia today, though I hardly need that to remind me of the overall kindness, generosity and acceptance that I've known as a generally Indonesian characteristic -- Muslim or otherwise.

So it was with disappointment that I learned, in the wake of the slaying of Reverend Irianto Kongkoli in Palu, Sulawesi last Monday, of a blogger-based campaign to boycott Indonesian products, travel, etc. The call was put out by Dr. Rusty Shackleford at The Jawa Report. While not a regular reader, I have linked to articles there in the past, and I do recognise the site's great work in tracking the global jihadist movement. The boycott call was noted by a few other bloggers I respect, namely Charles and Michelle, though I'm glad to see that neither has endorsed it.

I fully understand the frustration with the ineffectual police work in Poso / Palu, the lack of success in solving anti-Christian atrocities, and the contrasting swift retribution against Christian suspects -- including three executions last month. I make no excuses for what appears to be the institutional bias of law enforcement in Central Sulawesi. It needs to be rooted out and corrected, but making an enemy of Indonesia is not going to have the desired effect.

This country is, and will be one of the most important fronts in the battle of ideas. To those who have recently played up the 9% of Indonesian Muslims who told a poll that they agreed with violent jihad (and it's a lot easier to say you agree, than to actually do something about it), to those who sneer at the description of Indonesian Islam as "moderate and tolerant," and to those blogging boycotters who believe that making Indonesia into an enemy will help her religious minorities, let me offer a challenge.

Come with me, and let me prove it to you. Dr. Rusty and the others in your campaign (Michelle and Charles, and anybody else would be most welcome to join) -- take a week or two off blogging, take a little vacation to one of the most beautiful countries on earth, and your humble correspondent Agam will offer you as much of my time as you'd wish, to serve as facilitator / translator. I won't say "guide" because you should pick a destination on your own with a little research (more than likely it would be one I haven't visited either), from among the thousands of choices for fantastic natural beauty or incredible cultural diversity.

The objective isn't to meet Indonesians, but to go to a place you'd actually like to visit. In the course of the experience, you will meet hundreds of Indonesians without even trying, and I would do my utmost to ensure that a quality engagement and understanding with each one will be possible. Sometimes it seems that one can meet hundreds of local people in a single day (if you have the stamina), so a very broad sampling of ordinary people will not be a problem.

I guarantee that you will come away with a radically different perception of Indonesia, if you are willing to engage as much as they are, and you would realise why alienation of this country is exactly the wrong thing to do. Should your boycott catch on internationally, and thus become widely known among citizens of Indonesia, you will have handed the radical fundamentalists within the population exactly what they want. They will no longer have only their radical theology and messianic revolutionist dogma to peddle, with the very marginal appeal such things currently have, but they will have acquired a far more potent tool in appealing to national pride. From there they would have no problem enlisting even the most revered national icon, the late Bung Karno into the jihad -- a prospect that even now makes me shiver.

Boycotts against entire nations need to be appropriate, or they can be massively counter-productive. It seems to me that taking this step against a country must be in response to explicit state policy of that country. The international boycott of apartheid South Africa is a good example. A last resort, a refusal to do business with a state whose national policy was universally condemned as abhorent.

Almost 2,000 innocent people have been killed in Southern Thailand over the past two and a half years, and the past couple of weeks have been among the worst periods. A group of Buddhist monks were targetted the other day by homemade bomb, wounding many and killing a policeman tasked with protecting them. Authorities have been unable to control the violence. Will we boycott Thailand next? Jihadists killed a nun in Turkey a few weeks ago. Why not boycott Turkey?

Here's another example. In a country that lost its independence when a much larger country annexed it 56 years ago, people cannot educate their children in their own language, native religious institutions are governed by atheist / communist "management committees" responsible only to the Party, and prisons are full of people deemed "guilty" of thought crimes. When the people of this occupied country (large in geography but small in population) attempt to seek their freedom outside its bounds, the government of the occupying state has issued orders for its security forces to shoot them on sight. Shoot to kill, that is, which they have done. Worthy of boycott? Certainly far more than is Indonesia. Yet I've noticed no interest among you big bloggers for the former case, even while it happens concurrently with this new call to take a stand against the latter.

By the way, it's Tibet and China I'm referring to if you haven't guessed. Which is understandable. More than half a century of world disregard is a hard habit to break. I have much more of a case to make for a moderate Indonesia, to be continued tomorrow. (If any of these important bloggers actually see this -- who am I kidding?)


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