The Islamic State Attacks Indonesia – And its ‘Middle Way’
November 28, 2018
James Clad is Senior Fellow for Asia at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington DC. He is also a senior adviser for Asia at the CNA Corporation in Arlington, Virginia. During 2002-10, he served as U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia (including Australasia and the Pacific islands) and as Senior Counselor at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. From 1995-2002, he was professor of Asian Studies at Georgetown University and Director/Asia-Pacific Energy at Cambridge Energy Research Associates.
Trained as a New Zealand lawyer, James Clad’s career has focused on Asian diplomatic, energy and security issues – broadening after 2002 to include the Middle East. During the 1980s-90s, he held Far Eastern Economic Review staff positions in various Asian capitals, and held fellowships at Harvard University and St. Antony’s College/Oxford. In 1991, he joined the Carnegie Endowment in Washington DC as senior associate for Asia.
In the early 1980s, Mr. Clad belonged to the New Zealand diplomatic service, serving in Delhi and more extensively in Jakarta. His books include Business, Money & Power in Southeast Asia (1991); After the Crusade — America in the Post-Superpower Era (1996), and Borderlands of Asia (2012), a volume of political geography. His recent articles deal with power politics in the western Pacific, with China/U.S. relations, and the U.S. shale revolution.
In 2009, he received the US Secretary of Defense Exceptional Public Service Award and in 2012 became a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM), a royal honour.
Robert R. Reilly:
I’m delighted to introduce tonight someone I’ve known for some years, James Clad, who’s now a Senior Fellow for Asia at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC, an organization which I’ve occasionally had an affiliation with thanks to its president, Herman Pirchner. Herman founded and is president of AFPC as he has been since the early 1980s and we’re delighted to have his wife Liz with us tonight as well. Well that’s enough about Jim. No, actually-
James is also a senior adviser for Asia at the CNA Corporation in Arlington, Virginia. Between 2002 and 2010, he did several things, including [acting as] Senior Counselor at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia [in] the Defense Department. James trained as a New Zealand lawyer, a past he has been able to overcome with difficulty. He has also served in the New Zealand Foreign Service in places like Delhi and indeed, extensively in Jakarta, which pertains to the topic he will be addressing tonight. He was also a journalist for many years with one of the truly prestigious publications, the Far Eastern Economic Review. He’s the author of a number of books. I’ll only mention one and the latest since it also pertains to the topic tonight, Borderlands of Asia. In 2009, Mr. Clad received the U.S. Secretary of Defense Exceptional Public Service Award. His subject tonight is The Islamic State Attacks Indonesia – And its ‘Middle Way’. Please join me in welcoming James Clad.
I’m really glad to be here because we had, through the auspices of the American Foreign Policy Council, the Senior Vice President Ilan Berman and I went to Indonesia in April for an extremely interesting study tour that was looking at some of the issues that I’ll try to traverse tonight. We did an op-ed for The Weekly Standard and there’s actually a report, and if any of you want to have a look at it later on, just send me an email. I’ve got some cards if you find it interesting.
What I think I might do is go into the things that make Indonesia different, different as and far away from being just another Muslim country, which happens to be the biggest Muslim population in the world. That’s generally how it’s rated. Stanley Roth, who was the assistant secretary for Asia under Bill Clinton, used to say, tellingly and accurately, that Indonesia was the most important country that most Americans knew nothing about. I mean it is still extraordinary how that remains true today.
And so what I’d like to do if I can, with your permission and forbearance, is go through some of the things that make Indonesia special and have to be thought about when you see a headline that says, you know, another terrorist incident happens in Maidan or something like that. Without seeing it in context, and of course that’s true with every thing, everywhere, your knowledge will be poverty stricken.
Okay. Here’s the thing about Indonesia. It’s a big place, but Java in the middle of it is the biggest of all, biggest of all influences. It’s 128 million people on a very small island, it’s the most densely populated island in the world. It is phenomenally influential but things are changing, so Sukarno, Suharto, Widodo now – the President, most of them in between, except for I guess Habibie, were from Java, so a Java-centric country still remains by virtue of numbers and temperament but things are changing, so keep that in mind. You talk about the inner islands, Java and Bali, where Hindu-Buddhist traditions remain strong, effecting their religious devotion, and then you think about the outer islands, which have pockets of Christianity and all the rest of it, but it’s Java or non-Java, essentially.
The second thing to think about in Indonesia, and I think this must be unique in the world of Islam, is that the proselytization, if I pronounced that right, of Islam, the spreading of Islam through the archipelago that now forms the Republic of Indonesia, took 850 years to finally the fall of the Hindu Javanese Kingdom, Majapahit, in- it was I think 1480. And that is an extraordinarily long period of time to change people’s temperament but it changed the temperament without changing the basis of their past traditions, so that it’s often described as a place that’s very syncretic, meaning layered, layer upon layer and that happens to be true even at places that regard themselves as most devoutly Muslim, most assertively Muslim. Aceh, Aceh for example, which is the tip of Western Sumatra, is the place where up until the middle of the 17th century, actually the beginning of the 18th century, they were fielding ships that would have fights with the Portuguese and the Dutch out there in the Indian Ocean in the Straits of Malacca. I mean it’s a place that’s big, pre-existing, pre-colonial traditions. So, slow Java, Java-centric, or non-Java, slow spread of Islam.
Another thing that’s more recent to think about is that it was an authoritarian state under Sukarno, under Suharto. That’s when I served there as a pipsqueak New Zealand diplomat, running something that became very interesting project for the Indonesians because they had never developed it before. And who can tell me what 25% of New Zealand’s electricity comes from?
Geothermal. Who knows that? This is supposed to be a very well-informed group. Yes, geothermal so we had the first geothermal project in Java and it sees a lot of interest; the Ministry of Mines, the PLN, the electricity people, Pertamina, the oil company. And then one fine day B.J. Habibie, who became president after Suharto passed, came in and said that’s an interesting project, technically very interesting, I’ll have that, and just seized it. It was very interesting because I got to know the guy.
The thing to do is to realize that that period of time, which was highly authoritarian, yielded with the departure of Suharto and some turbulent times, into the next feature which I’d like you to remember, which is this is a place that’s gone through liberalization and something else, decentralization, right? You can liberalize as much as you want if it’s a top down effort. Often, it doesn’t go anywhere. People say yes, we’re much freer now, but they’re looking over their shoulder. In this case, it’s real and it went down not just the provincial level, it went down the kabupaten level, which is the unique Indonesian district.
And if you think this is fake, you’re wrong. And the number of times I’ve talked to people who like to get a project under way in Indonesia, you know, invariably in natural resources or agricultural, will say, ‘Why are there so many hands outstretched to be part of this project?’, outstretched in the grasping way. And the answer is a lot more people are part of the decision cycle, which makes illicit payments a little bit more difficult and certainly more time consuming, so it’s another feature which is really important to remember, decentralized and liberalized at the same time.
Within that matrix there are very interesting changes in political party behavior. It’s not a functioning democracy, directly-elected president now. It didn’t used to be. I remember going along to the sessions of the supreme legislature and Suharto was known for his ponderous, interminable, and uniquely boring speeches and the Javanese can still remember the cadence, boom, boom, boom. And I feel it was torture for the junior diplomats who were invariably sent, where you’d accompany your ambassador. You’d say, ‘Gotta run’, and we were there listening to this but, you know, top-down, top-down, military presence in the legislature, military presence in the back of everyone’s mind. Different now. Different.
Some of the previous parties exist but they’re kind of a shadow of their former selves. There were only three in Suharto’s time. They would have elections… when was it? Every five years? Something like that. And then the idea would be how many people would dare to vote for another party, which was equally tame. Golkar was the government party. And if there was a slight uptick in the votes for another party, that was seen as an act of civil disobedience, just about. So, the party behavior before and after. See that cleavage there at the end of the last century, departure of Suharto, turbulent period of time, presidents coming and going, as something that’s directly related to what I’m going to try to talk to you about today because unless you see it in situ, you know, in context, you’re going to miss the story. It’ll just be another narrative about Islam and a particularly virulent variety of it, appealing to youngsters. It’s more than that.
So, you have now ten parties, holding 560 seats. Probably four of those ten are going to disappear in the next election, which is this coming April. There was a new law in 2017, which said you’ve got to achieve I think 4%. Is that right? You know, you guys are the pros. I’m running into too many terrifyingly competent Indonesia experts here, so shoot me down but I think it’s 4%, isn’t it? In other words, you’ve got to achieve at least 4% of nationally cast votes to get in. It’s a bit like party-list politics in Germany and New Zealand. And some of them are ostensibly Islamic parties that are probably not going to reach the threshold.
I’m trying to think of it, the one party that I’m trying to think of is… was it the PKB, no, there was a group of Sharia-based parties, including especially the PKS. It’s known as Justice and Prosperity, which is another thing you’ve got to remember about Indonesia. No one says the Sharia party now and forever and that’s its banner in the election posters. It’s, you know, anodyne names like Justice and Prosperity, Peace and Goodwill, Mother and Apple-pie, that kind of thing, which contains an Islamist element, but never triumphant, never transcendent.
There’s 189 million voters. Their choice even of the ostensibly open Islamic parties doesn’t indicate a wave toward a stricter interpretation of Islam. In fact, the parties are very much the creatures of locality, and of the people who lead them, and of familial dynasties. You go into West Java for example, and the number of, you know, Bantan people, the old families that come from there, it’s remarkable. And then, of course, the Dar ul-Islam elements, which was an Islamicly-inspired rebellion against the new government of Indonesia in the 1950s. But all of that has a tenacious hold.
We are inclined as news consumers – I guess just as people – to want the quick, fast narrative and yet with Indonesia, the moment you drill into these things, you find locality, you find – tribe is the wrong word – but ethnicity. Habits that go way back, go way back to the origins of the two major mass Muslim movements, the Muhammadiyah and Nahdatul Ulama, which are both colonial times. I’m trying to remember which one was the 19th century. It might have been Nahdatul Ulama, but in any event-
Yeah. It goes way, way back and it’s part of the fabric of Java. It’s also important to remember that these mass Muslim movements – by the way, the membership of which, of Nahdatul Ulama, the daughter of Abdurrahman Wahid, Gus Dur, said it’s probably 70 million. You know, and I don’t think that’s sloppy bookkeeping. I think they probably don’t know. You know who regards him or herself as a member of Nahdatul Ulama? In a sense it’s irrelevant because it’s so big. The other thing to remember is they’re social organizations, they’re welfare, there’s education, they look after widows and orphans. It’s not about getting together and firing up, you know, Islamic teachings.
It’s very, very different, although, the Muhammadiyah, by the way, supervises the world’s – not just Indonesia’s – the world’s largest number of religious schools. It runs, mostly for-profit, 172 universities in Indonesia, right, which allows it to fund its benign and important, you know, important activities, which you know we, and successive administrations, have talked a lot about doing. You know, the idea of having volunteer activities, locally situated, community-based things, that’s what Nahdatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah do.
The other thing too is you’ll sometimes see articles talking about the vice presidential candidate of the current president who’s running for reelection, Widodo, and the guy’s name is Ma’ruf Amin, right? Yeah, who’s seen as, you know – the Western papers will say ‘conservative’, but you know what precisely does that mean? Being conservative within a group like Nahdatul Ulama means being tolerant, right? You have your views but just because you have your views and just because you’re Vice President doesn’t mean you’re going to impose them by fiat. I think an awful lot of bad habits have arisen since 9/11 and the idea of a kind of assertive, intolerant Islam is one of them and we run into it all the time even without realizing it.
I think the other thing to point out, and I alluded to it a little bit earlier, is Islam in contemporary Indonesian history has a storied past and when I say contemporary, I’m using it in the British way that I learned at Oxford, which is anything that’s a hundred years ago is still contemporary and that’s a good way to think about the impact of Islam in Indonesia. I mentioned a moment ago the Dar ul-Islam revolt in western Java, which again Islam was the centerpiece of it, at least the articulated centerpiece.
All of the revolts in Indonesia among the people who happened to embrace Islam are cast in terms of justice, right, adil as they say in Malay. It’s really an important point to realize. It’s not that they’re desperate to cram the Qur’an or the Hadith down your throat. It’s just that their ideas of a just society are derived from that tradition. It’s important to realize that because someone will quote something from the Hadith or refer to the prophet and somehow it seems to be, as it were, ‘tainted’ by Islam. It’s not. It’s just tradition. It’s important to realize that.
But Permesta, which was a revolt in the 1950s in Sumatra and even in the 19th century, Diponegoro, you’ve probably heard the name. He was a rebel who again, you know, flew the green flag as he road across the rice fields on his white charger. I mean what could be more evocative of, you know, the advance of Islam? And yet it was primarily a local revolt. They were speaking in terms that made sense to them and remember there are syncretic countries, syncretic islands, for sure. It’s one of the most interesting things about Indonesia, is to run into a set of habits, and they were more pronounced under Suharto, who kept various religious faiths in line.
You’re aware of the pancasila, aren’t you? The pancasila, it means the five principles of Sanskrit, and the ideas is – and we always forget them – its humanitarianism, social justice, belief in one god, material welfare, and I’m running out of steam. I can’t think of what the other one is. You know, they’re noble, abstract things. But the room that was made available for religious adherence in Indonesia, those days and still today, was Islam, obviously, 75% of the population, Roman Catholic Christian, Protestant Christian, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
And during the time I was there, initially, the first time, Suharto was encouraging the growth of a fifth element to this idea of belief and it was called kebatinan, b-a-t-i-n, batin- you say mahon ma’aflahir outside, danbatin inside, and it was the idea that the spirituality needn’t be pegged to belief in a particular god or divinity, that we were, you know, the world is spiritual and all that kind of thing. And Suharto really liked that stuff and there was leeway. Now, that was seen as – by people who embrace Islam – as, if not idolatrous, then straying widely from the path.
The other thing I think is worth working out about Indonesia is, we’ve gone through the points so far that make it unique, the Java/non-Java balance, the slow proselytization from Aceh, West Sumatra, all the way to Java, taking 800 years, liberalization politically after Suharto, tumultuously but effectively true and decentralization, so power not just went to the national capital, more people were grabbing it. It went to the localities as a way to preserve the country and then the two big, large, mass Muslim movements, which are like those in Egypt and elsewhere, very focused on the broad spectrum of people’s needs and beliefs and requirements, social welfare, that type of thing.
There’s another element that makes it special. I’ve talked about Islam in contemporary Indonesian history, having a recurrent impact in playing to the imagination and remember down the generations, right, it’s not some hot-headed embrace of certain precepts. It’s not.
But another feature that’s important to realize is Indonesia’s a place that has experienced a lot of change with globalization, with the ability of people to move, with the arrival of mass literacy, and with migration both internally, that is inside the archipelago and outside the archipelago. Inside the archipelago there are government programs of transmigration.
The whole idea was to move people from over-populated Java to some of the outer islands. That would create interesting difficulties in places and sort of lost its steam, but there’s another type of migration called informal migration, and the group that was very proud of their Islamic traditions who would come closer to, you know, true, fervent, pure Islam than say the Javanese tradition and that would be people from Madura and South Sulawesi, the Buginese and Madurese. And they would spontaneously move because the Buginese are traders as well to other islands, have their own strict interpretation, but again, Islam in the Buginese society is part of the culture. It’s not, you know, it’s part and parcel of what they believe.
So, this question of mass movement of people… I’ve talked about internal Indonesia. Outside, of course, when I first went there I was sort of – it was so long ago – twenty something. It was rare to meet an Indonesian that spoke English, right? It was rare to meet them abroad, traveling. All of that’s changed. You know, there’s a significant Indonesian community in the Greater Washington, DC area. It’s not as big as some of the others but it’s there and there’s a sense of becoming familiar with the rest of the world, one.
Two, standards of education have risen enormously since then. The economy has diversified enabling more people to experience more life choices than ever before. And then the global world also, of course, invites people to take a direct interest in the events preceding and after 9/11, and there’s a copycat function. If someone can blow up a place somewhere else, we can blow up a nightclub in Bali, which was frequented by Westerners, primarily Australians, in 2002. It killed a lot of people. Or, hotels in Jakarta. So, there was a sense of getting with that agenda if you took that view that jihad was a violent displacement of nonbelievers.
So, currently what have we got? We’ve got a situation in which the things that I’ve attempted to describe to you hold fast but also are seeing necessarily and inevitably, we being humans and this being the time going by, inevitably things are changing somewhat and those things that have changed seem to be at variance with the type of Indonesia that people, my generation, and many of the people here remember as being an extraordinarily tolerant place. I’ll give you an example. I don’t know how many Westerners I’ve met who might have been oilfield workers, you know, in the heyday and are like now in their ’70s or something and they’re saying, ‘Oh, all the women have hijabs, you know, they’re all wearing headdresses. There must be a terrible, radical element, sweeping through the country.’ I think, ‘no, not really.’ It’s just, it’s kind of a fashion statement. It’s religious, yeah, I get it, but it’s the idea that you take one accoutrement and blow it up, extrapolate a type of extremely jihadi-minded Islam is way, way wrong.
Nonetheless, nonetheless, there is a situation at the moment where a number of fringe groups seem to be able to operate with comparative impunity. In other words, not being sussed out. Again, the information revolution has enabled a lot of this to happen. Before the local policeman or the village ulama would see people wandering around at night and meeting in a strange place, they would be aware, and would pass the information to the authorities. Now, you’ve got these damn computers and everyone can be fired up by this stuff and really taken to it. I think there’s no place in southeast Asia where a computer revolution and certainly the communications part of it has been adapted with such gusto as Indonesia.
And so, with these attacks and just this last year there was a terrible situation where a family in Surabaya sent their children in to be suicide bombers and there was three successive explosions; one leveling a police headquarters and killing twelve policemen. But there are other people, they just randomly went outside places and blew them up. There’s also a disagreeable increase in intolerance of people like the Ahmadis, which are often from Pakistan and are seen as apostates, and Pakistan to its discredit has a law that says anyone who embraces the Ahmadi version of Islam is an apostate. It’s automatic apostasy.
Just like Malaysia has a rule, it’s a law, you cannot change your religion if you’re a Malay. It’s impossible. What do you mean? You must be mad. We will take you to the asylum. So, there’s this business of saying you know fixed viewpoints are sort of taking hold and you’ll find a degree, in my personal opinion, of executive cowardice in the Indonesian government when it comes to thinking about protecting the Ahmadi. And also, there are – not many – but there are Shia Muslims in Jakarta and other parts of Java. Not many, but they’re feeling under threat as well.
Again, is it the contemporary world? Is it really a rising movement within Indonesia? The thing that Ilan Berman, the Senior Vice President of the think tank where I work, and I wrote about was probably not, that the endurance of these traditions is very strong. It isn’t just ‘well, let’s be tolerant today and everyone will like us.’ It’s just imbued in the Javanese outlook and I find the only time someone refused to shake my hand, the whole time I was in Indonesia and various times since then, was in the middle of Kalimantan, north of Palangka Raya, and there was a person there who was an ulama. And I introduced myself to shake my hand and he went like this. And guess where he was from? Saudi Arabia.
So, it was the Wahhabi thing way back – in the early ’80s – way back, so none of this is new. None of this is easily extirpated. But let me give you a bit of a, kind of summary. Then let me have a bit of this and let you ask some questions if you like and throw it out to you because I’m very interested in your views as people who are by and large interested in Indonesia, sometimes intimately, and follow events there because, you know, I go back periodically. I am not a religious scholar, far from it.
I think the first thing to think of is what I’ve just said. It is a tolerant country. Tolerant and you can see people dressed even sometimes the full hijab, but, you know, I went to a theater in Jakarta called Mschichi. Have you ever heard of this? It’s a popular street theater. It’s done in Sundanese and Bahasa Betawi. Bahasa Betawi means Jakarta language.
And people dress up sometimes as sorcerers. Sometimes they dress up as Hindu Java, you know, medicine men, and sometimes as grasping landlords, and then sometimes ulamas. It’s all part of the flow and it’s super important to understand that and not be upset by things that occur because that is newsworthy. You blow something up, that is pretty newsworthy, still.
So, tolerance, and then second, it is a socially turbulent time both because of what happened after Suharto, democratization, decentralization, liberalization of things, and also because that is the state of the world today. It’s enormously turbulent, in case you hadn’t noticed. The mass movement – the numbers of people in the air at any time are staggering, and people going places and forming good or bad opinions. So, it’s turbulent times since Suharto.
Third, the global communications revolution and exposure to many things, the ability to speak English, it’s extraordinary. I remember visiting our ambassador, the American Ambassador in Cairo, and they were dismayed to hear that I had described that I’d gone down the Midiyu Nile, you know, the place where all the Umayyad and Abbasid mosques are there, some of them in a sad state. I said, ‘Yeah, I wanted to go to the Al Azhar, the university, yeah, you know, because they don’t really speak Arabic there. So many of them are from Southeast Asia. They speak Indonesian or Tagalog.’ And the staff – the ambassador was cool, but the staff said, ‘You did what?’ You know, they had never been. We close ourselves off an awful lot through the strictures of the security people.
So, there are continuities that I’ve mentioned to you. Most particularly, the mass nature of the two major Islamic groups, mass Muslim organizations, Muhammadiyah and Nahdatul Ulama. They continue to be very influential. Within the PKB, which is a party, they’re almost synonymous. If you’re working with that party, that party will be Nahdatul Ulama. It’s a very fractured and fragmented electoral and political picture and so it should be. Indonesia’s not the sort of place which is going to give you a one-size fits all political suasion.
Final thought, and a troubling one for me, is when we were there we met with the people in Nahdatul Ulama, daughter of Abdurrahman Wahid, named Yenni, and we were introduced to a group of theirs which is like the youth wing, and they formed kind of protective activities. They are meant to kind of involve the youth in healthy, wholesome activities and all the rest, and this is a big thing because Nahdatul Ulama; there are millions and millions of people who belong to this thing called Ansur. But it also reminded some people, not just me, of the days in the late Sukarno period when street fighting between gangs related to, you know, political parties and movements were a common phenomenon. The application of street muscle is something that seems to be happening a little bit more often in Indonesia than before.
So with those thoughts and forgive me, they’re a tad bit random, but I wanted to approach it in a slightly different way and I’d be very happy to take any questions that you have.
To what degree is tourism a percentage of their economy? To a heavy degree? To a light degree? How does an Islamic movement affect tourism? *See Jeff Moore’s talk on the Evolution in Islamic Insurgency in Asia for more on this topic.
Yeah, good question and multifaceted. I mean, you know, you still go to Japan and find people who are looking for a country called Bali and, ‘What? My visa says Indonesia. Where is the Balinese visa? You know great numbers of people are moving around the world. Vast, you know who is it – Matthew Arnold talked about ignorant armies, you know, vast numbers of people not bringing a great deal because they go on packaged tours and all the rest of it, and there’s always a risk and I certainly see this in the South Pacific and the Caribbean of countries becoming a nation of waiters.
So, I would think in that particular element, the Balinese tourist phenomenon, some of the outer island stuff has opened peoples’ eyes. But remember, it’s not a new phenomenon. Bali’s been visited for a long, long time, even during the Dutch East Indies time. It was a very fashionable place to go.
Beyond that, the Indonesians themselves are now tourists, so it’s not a question of them being recipients but they’ll go over to places. You know, they’ll have rice to fill in Amsterdam, which is the best, you know, sort of Javanese-type style of rice that you can find in the world and they’ll go there and they feel a type of affinity. It’s very weird. They feel a type of affinity with the former Dutch colonial oppressor. That’s what it is, so tourism is a multifaceted thing.
And then you have – it’s an interesting thing that you’ve tangentially raised too. The Indonesians are now part of the global labor force, right? It used to be Filipino maids or whatever the hell, Sri Lankan day laborers working in Qatar, but now the Indonesians are out there and there’s a huge uproar over the capital punishment given to an Indonesian maid who resisted a rapist who was her employer. She was in prison nine years and they just killed her recently.
Saudi Arabia. And you know the degree of hatred for people from the Gulf who have contempt for Southeast Asian Islam is very underestimated, you know, and often that is the thing that plays against the people who want to be strict or jihadi-minded takfiri, Salafi, whatever you want to call it minded-Muslims, because it’s seen as aping the Arabs and that doesn’t go down well at least in Java, at least most places in Java. Whereas Malaysia is an Islamic state by its constitutional arrangement. And they have – it’s the Hanafi school – so they’re not way over the top toward Wahhabi stuff, but they’re very keen to be seen as a fully participating member of the Islamic world and, of course, there’s the Philippines.
And that’s another element to remember. Southeast Asian Islam is not something that just has flown into consciousness as a result of the aftermath of 9/11. You know, we went into the Philippines and snuffed out an independence movement in 1898 and fought a very brutal war against insurgents, including people in the south in Mindanao. Now, at that time in Mindanao if you looked at the whole population of the Philippines archipelago, Mindanao probably had 15% of the total population, would have been Muslim. It’s down to around 2% now because of huge demographic shifts by the Filipinos and migration coming down from the Visayas into Mindanao.
But that’s a place where, again, people say oh, it’s an Islamic revolt against the central government. Well, actually, we make it an Islamic revolt by tarring them as Islamic enemies and that’s, you know, the 45 pistol was supposedly- This is the urban legend designed to stop Moro charging at you full tilt, I mean that kind of unhappy talk. So, Islam as an identifying thing, as a source of inspiration for justice, is big in the region.
One thing that should also be mentioned too is that with the fluidity of movement in Southeast Asia – and of course, people speak Malay, Indonesian, and, you know, Brunei, Malaysia, even southern Thailand – so those currents, which are sometimes not very consistent with the way the Javanese approach Islam are in full play too, so there’s a lot in the mix. I think I’ve exhausted your patience in trying to expand the definition of tourists but there it is.
On your trip, Jim, did you get an update at all on what’s happening in Papua, which you didn’t mention, and very specifically, the effort of the Freeport mine to finally be turned over to majority Indonesia ownership? I don’t know if it’s actually happened yet, but it’s in the works under Indonesian law.
This is the Freeport-McMoRan?
Yeah. I’ll just – for those of you who aren’t conversant in this, Freeport was the first company to go in after the ‘New Order’, quote, unquote of General Suharto took power and the story goes, I’ve had it confirmed, Jim Bob, what was his name? He was the head of the Freeport-McMoRan. The name escapes me. He went out and he did an Elvis impersonation for General Suharto who thought it was so terrific that he invited him to stay and of course, one thing led to another and the biggest copper and gold mine in Southeast Asia, I think the biggest copper mine in the world, number two in the world… I mean, it was a license to print money for Freeport for a very long time. To give them credit, over the years they began to be – perhaps belatedly, perhaps not – attentive to things like the local, indigenous people and what kinds of working conditions, and will you please take care of the destruction you’re wreaking on the environment, so, you know, they played catchup.
And now, the question Michael raises is there’s been an underlying nationalist thing and again a very important element of understanding Indonesia is that resources are seen as the patrimony of the country no matter how corruptly they’re exploited by Pertamina and others but that is fixed, so the idea that some foreign company should just have this right in perpetuity to kind of mine gold and copper and nickel increasingly ran up against resistance. I’m taking a long time to say no, I don’t know. But I know that’s it there and there’s a chance that Widodo is going to do it. Just like a lot of shipping rules are going to require foreign shippers to do things and of course, is that a good thing or not. So, and the other thing was…?
Papua. [Does] everyone know what I’m talking about when I say Papua? Okay, Papua New Guinea. The western half of this extraordinary island in which two thirds of the world’s languages can be found; the whole world, two thirds of languages are there and it is an island of deep ravines and mountain ranges that all run east-west. Bismarck over brandy and a cigar at the Congress of Berlin said, ‘Well, we’ve had a good day, dividing up Africa’, and someone says, ‘Oh, what about that place New Guinea, Papua New Guinea?’ Everyone goes, ‘Oh, god, it’s late’ and he says, ‘I’ll take care of it.’ So he went out there – and this is apparently true – he drew a straight ruler down this island, just followed the latitude.
The longitude, you’re quite right. I’m just testing you.
And everyone’s lived with it since. Now, part of it belonged to The Netherlands and the eastern part had been German at least the top part and that’s why you come across names like New Bismarck and various things. It’s completely nuts. In any way, the point is they are very ethnically different from the predominant Malay peoples of Southeast Asia. And one of the most unpleasant things I saw when I was there… They had just opened a thing called Taman Mini Indonesia, and it was really an interesting concept. You had kind of landscaping to create islands that were seen from the air it looked like a map of the archipelago and there were different people there, living in, you know, Minangkabau houses, various things, tourist stuff.
And then the saddest thing of all was the Irian Jaya as they used to call it. And they were kind of I don’t know just hanging around in their kind of grass dresses and things and I said, “Do you like doing this?” And he said, “What do you think? We’re in a zoo.” Right? And there is an unpleasant part of that part of the greater Malay peoples. It’s like looking down on the Papuans. Melanesians generally they have a hard time.