Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Things are heating up . . .

On September 9th the head of the US-Indonesian Chamber of Commerce sent me two extremely disturbing articles regarding the decision by the Acehnese legislature to implement a harsher type of Sharia law, with physical penalties up to an including death for offenses such as adultery, relationships between unmarried couples, homosexuality, operating beauty salons, gambling, etc. [Students demand harsher sharia law implementation, Hotli Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh; The Jakarta Globe; Aceh Prepares To See Stonings, Lashings as Law, Nurdin Hasan & Dessy Sagita]. He went on to say “I am asking my Acehnese members about this. They want me to attend a meeting in Aceh next year to promote investment but I doubt I can be of much help if the Acehnese want to become a Taliban outpost.”

I sent this article to a group of daily contacts including Aguswandi, the author of the article in my last post, with a note expressing concern about not only the violation of human rights that could occur, but the reluctance on the part of outside investors to bring much-needed economic development to the province in light of these new developments.. (One article stated that many Acehnese, including students, were actually in favor of the new legislation.)

Aguswandi was first to reply.

This is so outrageous. we should stop this 'acehnistan' project by conservative Islam. this law is an insult on Acehnese tradition, history and Islam itself. conservative Islam is hijacking the peace in Aceh to push their own agenda. actually the problem is not them, but us who do very little to stop this.

Then I received this from the Pak Nur Djuli, head of BRA, which is the agency designated to assist ex-combatants.

For your information, the Governor has REFUSED to sign the Kanimef and has asked mendagri to veto it, and about a hundred people mostly women demonstrated at Dpra and were hackledo by men in white and turbans. These are activists from lina, Kontras, Lbh, flowers.Shadia made a statement to serambi saying it is against mou but not published. You know what yarmen's stand is on this aguswandi. Where are Aguswandi's PRA people? It is easy to write smart articles to a convinced gallery. I want to know where is the old Aguswandi I used to admire! The one who stood up against the military at the peak of the conflict? Sara, don't just bark at the wrong tree against us acehnese, try to voice your complain against Jakarta and not just by emails, use your congressmen in washington. But of course you are not going to do that, indonesia has just become your country's hero nĂºmero UNO for killing nordin top.

A little background: Aguswandi, the author of the article in my last post, was a student leader during the conflict. He also was a human rights activist. He was not in GAM (the resistance movement) but rather in the student organization. He lived in exile in England for about 5 years, and has also worked at BRA.
Pak Nur Djuli is 60-something and was in exile in Malaysia and Singapore for many years. He remained close to the GAM governing body during that time. He was made Head of BRA a few years ago due to pressure by well-connected individuals abroad. He is also the person who asked JMD to begin projects in Sawang, which we did, when no one else was willing to take the risk. Prior to this letter I believed we were on good terms and I have no idea what I did to piss him off; nothing I said reflected anything but admiration for the Acehese whom we serve.

I felt better, however, after receiving this from a valued staff member at our headquarters in Banda:

I can't believe Pak Nur would send his reply to everyone on this list, criticizing you and Aguswandi in front of everyone. It is very rude.
We've been helping Acehnese people getting back on their own feet with livelihood and education. We're not voicing our opinion, we’re just doing our job directly at the grass root level, risking our lives going to most dangerous places in Aceh (which even Nur Djuli or any ex GAM commander would never go after the mou), and you've used your personal resources because you really care about the Acehnese people.
I'm upset that Nur Djuli would say such harsh things to you in public emails. I don’t understand where Pak Nur stands in all this, or what he has done for his own people.
If I were you I would tell him what you've been giving to Acehnese people, being away from your family in NY, going to the Aceh jungle, almost being kidnapped twice, you've done your part in the development of Aceh, it's time for him to do something with the new law, since nothing good has come out from his BRA agency yet.

You gotta love her.

During all this, I/we received another note from Nur:
I agree with you on this Sara. I am not really concerned about foreign investments, but of our own understanding of the Syariah law. These parliamentarians are of the old regime, they are on the way out and they are rushing to put everything in place before they left end of this month. If you remember, GAM was against the imposition of the Syariah Law in Aceh as interpreted by GusDur. Now it has been solidified complete with its own bureaucracy and the Syariah Police unit. This is not what Islam is all about.

Aguswandi said we should stop this acehnistan, ok, how my friend? I think beyond coining smart terminology it is rather difficult to do anything about it when we are across the Globe from Aceh, isn't it? You are very right when you say the problem is us who do very little to stop this. During the conflict the Gusdur's imposed Shariah did not work, you know why? Because GAM prevented it, remember the time when GAM forbid Laskar Jihad which is a branch of Jemaah Islamiah from setting up an office in Banda Aceh?? GAM even told them to leave Aceh or else. Even when they tried to make a speech at the Grand Mosque, GAM, not wanting violence in a house of God, just told the mosque authorities to prevent the use of the microphones, forcing them to shift to a small mosque in the outskirt of the town, following which they declared war on GAM and because they said GAM was anti-Islamic. In the new parliament GAM/PW will be the majority, but if the law was already there, it would be very difficult for them to repeal, as that would give those who branded GAM as anti-Islam would have more weapons to prove their point.

Yes Sarah, I am worried. But then again, we Acehnese have somehow always found ways to solve our problems, eventually.... God willing we shall overcome this one too. Those of you who are afraid of getting whipped, well my advice is, don't do it, or just skip Aceh from your agenda. What else could we Acehnese say? If you want to attach strings to your assistance/investment, that's your right, what else you want us to do/say?

BTW. With a stroke of a pen, the President of the Republic CAN overrule any Aceh Kanun! Yes, some democracy huh, but would he? I doubt it, he doesn't want to be branded anti-Islam either ... that's politics for you my friend. He had already refused to veto the Quran reading test rule to be a candidate of the last two elections in Aceh. So why just condemn and threaten not to be friendly with us tiny Acehnese who can even give you visa on arrival, when the real culprits are actually across the Sunda Straits? Aah, but they are very good at anti terrorism, so let's not bother them, right? What's a little matter of human rights? Even Uncle Sam is not too concerned about that.

Yaah, human rights, what indeed we have achieved in the matter so far? Back to Aguswandi, because this is your favorite subject, today Munir's wife and your old friends in Kontras are holding a protest meeting in Rodia Cafe, and this evening they are holding a rally protesting the various attempts to drown the case for good. Why in Aceh? My guess is that because only Acehnese are still concerned about it and consider it is a great honour to have Suciwati visiting Aceh. Her late husband had done very much for Aceh, we owed him a lot and we are not forgetting.

AND meanwhile, Permadi, a shaman member of Parliament in Jakarta has called for war against Malaysia for stealing a Indonesian dance in an TV program produced by the Singapore Discovery Channel ...AND in the streets of Jakarta hundreds of demonstrators armed with sharpened bamboo (bambu runcing) are blocking roads looking for Malaysians, causing a 5 hour traffic jam, forcing Malaysian government to issue a travel warning to its students ...

Gee whiz ... here I am worrying about getting whipped for illicit sex when the whole country is being whipped by some unknown lunar virus ...

Peace !

How many ways can you put your life and values in danger before it is too much?? At what point do you take a stand?? I am sorry for the people of Aceh but not enough to condone this type of behavior. I am so upset. There are over 4 million Acehnese and 100 of them demonstrated. Shame on them. Our agency only looks at this from the humanitarian side, not the political one. Nur should remember that we went into Sawang at his suggestion when no one else did, and as of October we will have been there for two years with 8 projects. We are trying to help Aceh, not destroy it. They are doing it on their own.
I have been embarrassed by my country for 9 years. I do not condone what it does. If Jakarta made them have sharia law than why haven't they gotten rid of it in the 4 years since the Memorandum of Agreement?? Jakarta didn't force the new laws on Aceh, their own people did it.

My reply was short.
If the students are involved it will happen. When Governor Irwandi spoke at the Yale Club on Oct. 26th 2007 in New York he made it very, very clear that being a Sharia state had been forced on Aceh by Gus Dur and Jakarta. I doubt that very much now, since the trend is leaning towards more punishment and a stricter Sharia State.

On September 11 Nur had more to say.

Dear Sara, the women here are furious, but no important NGOs are helping them, fearful of being branded anti-Islam. Shadia and Yanti when attending a forum organized by PEMDA (Aceh Government) as representatives of LINA they clashed immediately with MPs from PKS Mps. Yanti, a very petite woman, stood on a chair to be seen and heard, the MP told her to shut up and read a few verses of the Quran. You think dozens of other people attending,including many major NGO reps would stand up? Shadia let go a barrage of statements declaring the laws against MoU ... nobody supported her. Now LINA is no longer invited anywhere, even the EU and USAID people are keeping a distance from it. MPs from this PKS and PPP openly stated that they should rush with these laws (6 in all) because "if not they will never pass it when we are gone. This will be our legacy ..." They KNOW, PA will not introduce that kind of laws, but will not stand up to oppose it.

What I hate about this discussion is the threat of not investing. Come on, who is the biggest investor in Saudi Arabia? You think oil companies like Exxon would be fearful of some turbaned people and not try to get petroleum exploitation in East Aceh, they are pushing hard for it, but still blocked by the Governor and Bupati, for environmental reasons. There are dozens of big investors in many fields of industries waiting to come in, what hold them?, I can assure you not Syariah, but the lack of electric power!

I am amazed at the nerve of some people at appropriating blame, of condemning the victims. Look at Afhanistan. Who brought in Hamid Karzai who now signed the law that allow a husband to starve his wife for refusing him sex? Who created the Talibans? The so-called fundamentalists were living in their remote mountains in Pakistan and Afghanistan, who brought them into the open to terrorize the world?

It is easy to blame us for not doing anything. I don't appreciate smart asses nicknaming Aceh as Acehnistan or such other derogative terms. Aceh has just come out of 3o years of living in a slaughter house, thousands are still without jobs, uneducated. So the smart ones should not just look down on their own people from the high ivory towers.

I will be in Aceh in about a week. I’ll be there for a month, visiting our programs, trying to make some sense of this and see how we can work and implement programs in this situation. In some ways Nur is right. If we’re administering humanitarian aid, then the only requirement of our recipients should be that they need it. But if some of our aid is designed to promote those very practices that could now be looked upon as “unfriendly” to current law, such as women’s empowerment, widow/at-risk male mentoring programs, etc. what exactly are we supposed to do or think?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Stop the cruel sharia `qanun' in Aceh

Aguswandi , Cambridge Sat, 09/19/2009 12:02 PM Headlines

The sharia qanun passed by the Aceh parliament this week is no less dangerous to Indonesia than the recent terrorist attacks in the capital Jakarta. The qanun will allow for adulterers to be stoned to death, and will put Indonesia on a slippery slope, threatening the rights of its people and risking its proud standing as an international beacon of moderate Islam.
Where the July bombings helped unite Muslims across the country in outrage at the barbarism and inhumanity of radical Islamists, most startlingly, the stoning bill has elicited little public condemnation. Only a handful of human rights groups have voiced their concerns at a law that grossly abuses the rights of Acehnese.
In fact, if the latest qanun is implemented, it will be time to stop referring to Indonesia as an example of civilized and moderate Islam. It will be time to start referring to Indonesia as the new Pakistan of Southeast Asia. Well Indonesia is not yet Pakistan, but it will not be too long before it becomes one. If politicians continue to accommodate hard-liners, allowing this type of conservative sharia to flourish, Indonesia is only a step away from being added the list of Islamic pariah countries that treat their citizens inhumanely. It will only be a few more years before Banda Aceh is the next Peshawar and East Java is the next Swat Valley. In fact, Indonesia may become worse than Pakistan, because even there people are not stoned to death.
There is still time to stop the folly. The central and provincial governments need to strongly object to and forbid the enactment of the law. This must be done soon, though. Even if the governor does not sign off on the qanun, the law will automatically take effect 30 days after its approval by parliament. If this is the case, the government should obstruct this barbaric law by not allocating any budget to the sharia institutions. In fact, Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf, who is opposed to sharia law, should consider scrapping the Sharia Affairs Office and the Sharia Police that were created in the province by the old corrupt governor, Abdullah Puteh.
There are a few political options to consider. Because the law was passed by outgoing members of parliament in Aceh, the new legislators can still revoke the law. Aceh's new parliament can make two arguments under the Helsinki MOU, which determined power arrangements in Aceh: First, the old parliament has no right to issue any new law; and second, all Aceh laws must follow internationally agreed-upon human rights standards. Because stoning people to death is in direct contravention of human rights, the law is invalid and therefore should be canceled.
Third, and as a last resort, Jakarta has the power to overturn any local regulations that go against the Constitution and national laws. The central government has the right, if not duty, to block this law that is not in the line with the Constitution, which promises to protect human dignity across Indonesia.
Laws can only be changed though with public support. Sharia proponents who are willing to push the country to this intolerable limit have been met unchallenged by their moderate opponents, who, fearful of a backlash, are slow to speak out. Indeed, the actual problem of Islamic conservativism is not the conservatives, but the moderates who are too cautious in their opposition.
In Aceh, where the law was introduced, the only group actively voicing their opinions are, unfortunately, not those who oppose, but those who support the qanun. They are the students and legislator associated with the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the Islamist Party that is in a coalition with the incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party.
Despite the rhetoric of the PKS nationally that it is a moderate Islamist group, they are the ones pushing for quick and further implementation of sharia in Aceh. This type of qanun benefits neither Yudhoyono's reputation nor the people in Aceh. It is time for the central government to speak out against this law, even though it would mean facing proponents of sharia in Aceh who are part of the party that supported Yudho-yono in the presidential race.
In fact, this is also a good opportunity to turn upside down the whole process of enacting sharia law in Aceh and Indonesia. The government should strangle the sharia institutions and discourse. It is time for moderate Muslims to say no to the newest sharia in Aceh and any future sharia that insults Islam, Indonesia and the present moderate tradition.

The writer is a fellow at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

Thanks so much Aguswandi , for not only forwarding me this but for writing it. It is 100% right. I do believe though that all the moderate voices, who are unwilling to speak and who seem willing to allow this gross public display of total disregard for people’s lives, will not do one thing to change this. That goes for the President , the Governor on down to the littlest man and woman. No one wants to be branded anti-Islamic so they would rather be seen as pro-barbaric. It is so sad and just breaks my heart. I know how you must be hurting for your province which you love and have fought for.I leave for Aceh on Monday night and am just hoping that there will be no stonings while I am there. Take care and keep up the good fight.