INDONESIA: 'As friends we have to allow differences'
Karin Palmquist

On September 9, a car bomb set off outside the Australian Embassy in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta killed at least eight and injured more than 160. Within hours police said the attack bore the hallmarks of the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, the group blamed for last year's attack on Jakarta's JW Marriott Hotel and the October 2002 Bali bombing. Jemaah Islamiyah claimed responsibility on a radical Islamic website and pointed to Australia's involvement in Iraq as the motivation for the attack.
 
DiplomaticTraffic.com asked Indonesia's ambassador to Washington, Soemadi D.M. Brotodininrat, about the recent terrorist attack and the prevalence of extremism in Indonesia.
 
Quoting the official statement by the Indonesian government, Ambassador Brotodininrat said his country "strongly condemns the terrorist attack," and "expresses its deepest condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims." Further, Indonesia "is determined to bring all the perpetrators of this cruel and wicked crime to justice." The ambassador said that this inhumane and cowardly act would only strengthen Indonesia's resolve to combat terrorism, in even closer cooperation with other countries.
 
"Extremism is not only an Islamic or Indonesian phenomenon," Ambassador Brotodiningrat said. "Islamic extremism in Indonesia is not growing; it was always there. Some wanted an Islamic state from the beginning, but this was voted down at independence (in 1945). Last year two small parties tried again and failed to make Indonesia an Islamic state by constitution. What we are afraid of is that this 'with us or against us' approach, this way of looking at everything in black and white, will push the moderate majority closer to the extremist minority. The prejudice profiling hurts moderates. It's difficult to convert extremists, but at least we can prevent moderates from getting sucked into extremism. People want to help in strategies against terrorism, but it is important not to automatically and indiscriminately link terrorism to Islam.
 
"Directly after the 9/11 attacks we found ourselves in an awkward situation. At the time of the attacks we were enthusiastically democratizing ourselves. One of the public symbols for our democratization was the abolition of the hated Anti-Subversion Law. We're the largest Muslim-populated country in the world. The media has always linked Islam and terrorism. Any action [to] reinstate the Anti-Subversion Law was resented by the public. Then the Bali bombing happened and public opinion turned in support of a new anti-terror law. Since then our legal instruments for dealing with these issues have much improved.
 
"We're working bi-laterally among others with the United States, regionally with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and Australia, and globally with the United Nations. We're also targeting money laundering and financing of terrorists. We have received equipment from the United States and we have agreements for intelligence sharing. We are not a treaty ally of the United States by choice, because our constitution stipulates non-alignment. We are not aligned militarily with anyone. We are not a member of the Coalition of the Willing because we differentiate between Iraq and terrorism. On this issue we have agreed to disagree with the United States. But we are friends, and as friends we have to allow differences."
 
The cooperation is not always without friction. Indonesia feels targeted by accusations of human rights abuses, and by State Department warnings against travel to the country.

"Some problems in our military cooperation with the United States are still unresolved," the ambassador said. "We can't buy anything lethal from the United States. For example, we can't even buy spare-parts for our F16s. All this has to do with the allegation of human rights violations by our military in East Timor in 1999, and that the legal process in Indonesia is viewed in the United States as unsatisfactory. Some of the accused military officers were exonerated. But the Indonesian government has no influence over the judicial authority. There is a difference between responsibility and accountability. Purely from a human rights point it may be clear-cut, but war is not so simple. The public sentiment in Indonesia asks: 'Horrible things happened in Vietnam, yet the US public still respect the US military.'

"When it comes to [State Department] travel warnings we are of course concerned, and quite frankly annoyed. Of course the travel warnings have a negative impact on our image abroad, on our efforts to attract foreign investments, and on our tourism industry".

The bomb attack came in the midst of elections in Indonesia. Two candidates, President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, will meet in run-off elections on September 20. Former president Abdurrahman Wahid recently threw his weight behind Bambang, and the Golkar Party is backing Megawati. Golkar's own candidate, former armed forces chief Wiranto, finished third in the first round of the presidential election on July 5, failing to advance to the two-candidate second round. Whichever candidate wins, he or she will be faced with not just the threat of terrorism, but with a shaky economic situation as well.
 
"The problem with Indonesia is that the [Asian] economic crisis was compounded with political transformation," the ambassador said. "Thailand, for example, had completed its political reforms many years before the economic crisis. In Indonesia, the economic crisis triggered political reform. The reforms that were carried out complicated the economic recovery. We have lagged behind our neighbors. We've had a GDP growth of four percent, while others have returned to the level of the good days before the crisis. Unemployment is the most difficult problem. The worst estimate is that 30 million of well over 100 million workers are unemployed or under-employed. Many have resorted to the informal sectors. The 30 percent includes people who could otherwise be more productive in the formal sectors.
 
"We need to boost investments, which are below expectations so far. Japan is our biggest investor; other neighboring countries like Korea and Taiwan are also important investors. The United States' investments are more concentrated in oil and gas, mining, energy and to a lesser extent in banking. We'd like to see the American investments be more diversified. Japan didn't fly away during bad times. We need to encourage investments both by big companies and by small and medium enterprises. During the crisis our SMEs proved to be more resilient. In Indonesia, our social safety net is not yet well developed, so during the crisis the informal economy served as an alternative safety net.
 
"Indonesia is a member of ASEAN. There are ten of us. What has bound us? In the beginning ASEAN was conceived as an economic association, but now there are more political and social bonds. Our bond has nothing to do with religion or form of government. In ASEAN there are Muslim-majority members, Buddhist countries, a predominantly Christian member, democracies, monarchies and so on. As a country, Indonesia is both regionally and globally oriented."
 
SOEMADI DJOKO MOERDJONO BROTODININGRAT
AMBASSADOR OF THE REPUBLIC OF INDONESIA

Ambassador Soemadi Djoko Moerjono Brotodiningrat has had a very long and distinguished career in Indonesia’s Foreign Service. He has been with the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia since 1965. Prior to his assignment as Ambassador to the U.S., he was Ambassador to Japan and to the Federated States of Micronesia, 1998-2002.

He was Director General for Foreign Economic Relations, Department of Foreign Affairs, 1995-1998; Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Indonesia to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva, Switzerland; Director for Multilateral Economic Cooperation, Department of Foreign Affairs, 1988-1991; Minister Counselor, Indonesian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, 1984-1988; Deputy Director, Directorate of Multilateral Economic Cooperation, Department of Foreign Affairs, 1982-1984; First Secretary/Counselor, Indonesian Permanent Mission to the United Nations, New York, 1978-1982; Deputy Director, Directorate of Social and Cultural Relations, Department of Foreign Affairs, 1975-1978; Third Secretary/Second Secretary, Indonesian Embassy, Brussels, Belgium (also accredited to Luxemburg and to the European Community), 1971-1975; and Staff/Head of Section, Directorate of Information, Department of Foreign Affairs, 1965-1971.

He received his degree in International Relations from Gajah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and graduate diploma in Diplomacy from the Institute International d’Administration Publique, Paris, France.

He is married and has two adult children and one grandchild.