Indonesia: An Islamic Force for Peace and Progress

By Hughes, John | The Christian Science Monitor, June 13, 2007 | Go to article overview

Indonesia: An Islamic Force for Peace and Progress


Hughes, John, The Christian Science Monitor


The most populous Islamic country in the world, Indonesia, is emerging as a would-be peacemaker in the troubled Middle East and a moderating counterbalance to jihadist extremism.

The steps are tentative, as perhaps befits a mystic land, as complex as the wayang, the popular Indonesian shadow play in which puppets are manipulated behind a backlit curtain.

Some critics are skeptical that Indonesia will have much heft. In the world scheme of things, Indonesia is not a political heavyweight. But with a largely Muslim population of about 240 million, it is forging a significant example of how democracy and Islam can successfully coexist.

In a recent interviewwith The New York Times,Indonesian Foreign Mini-ster Hassan Wirajuda signaled his nation's desire to take a larger role in solving problems of the Islamic world. Countries in the Middle East, he said, have been so deeply involved intheir problems for so longthat they can get too focused on specific aspects. "We who follow events in the Middle East from a distance," he said, "can see a larger, clearer picture. Hence we are able to produce some fresh ideas that might be helpful in the quest for a solution."

The first major test of this new policy of involvement will come in August when Indonesia attempts a conference of reconciliation between the competing Palestinian factions of Hamas and Fatah. With its approach to internal political problems, Indonesia typically adopts the practice of mushiwara, the art of bringing everybody together to make decisions by consensus, rather than determining winners and losers.

Thus the conference will include an array of interested scholars and political figures from the United States and Europe to participate in the discussions. If a satisfactory decision by mushiwara could erase the divisions between the Palestinian factions, it might breathe a little new life into the frozen Israeli- Palestinian peace process. This would enhance Indonesia's credibility as a potential interlocutor in Islamic affairs.

Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of neighboring Singapore, and considered one of Asia's wise elder statesmen, cites Indonesia as an essential participant in the war against terrorism.

In a Foreign Affairs article earlier this year, he wrote, "When moderate Muslim governments, such as those in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Persian Gulf states, Egypt, and Jordan, feel comfortable associating themselves openly with a multilateral coalition against Islamic terrorism, the tide of battle will turn against the extremists. …

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