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Fears of a backlash to war JAKARTA - As the United States prepares to disarm Iraq by force, Indonesia's secular government faces the prospect of a sharp backlash to a war from the country's Muslim majority. Even before any fighting has begun, leaders of Islamic and nationalist organizations in Indonesia are expressing indignation. As elsewhere in the Muslim world, Indonesians are accusing the United States of being an arrogant global cop with little regard for international law.
. Analysts who believe that a war in Iraq will barely, if at all, disturb relations between America and Indonesia are wrong. Unlike the Gulf War in 1991 and the campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan, the public reaction in Indonesia towards any U.S.-led strike against Iraq could be dangerous.
. Indonesians generally viewed the Taliban in Afghanistan as an outlaw regime. Hence, it was a relatively easy diplomatic exercise for the Bush administration, especially after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to get Indonesian support. This was also the case with the Gulf War, in which Iraq was viewed as the aggressor after it invaded Kuwait.
. Although many Muslims felt offended by the presence of Western troops in Saudi Arabia, their holy land, the fact that the war to liberate Kuwait was short and did not incur substantial civilian casualties helps explain why there was not much of a backlash from the Islamic world.
. Since the fall of Suharto, Indonesia's strongman, in 1998, political Islam has become a significant influence in the world's fourth most populous nation. Islamic organizations are courted by members of the country's governing elite. Such people include enemies of political and economic reform who built their careers and fortunes under the Suharto regime and are intent on preserving or even extending their power and privileges. In many cases, they have been key players behind radical Islamic groups who attack alleged Western influence and oppose democratization.
. Even leaders of moderate Islamic organizations with millions of members, such as Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, refrain from criticizing their extremist counterparts, mostly because they believe that they would be discredited and attacked from within if they were to voice dissent.
. Opponents of President Megawati Sukarnoputri will certainly exploit war in Iraq to stoke instability and possibly unrest. The aim will be to weaken her administration by challenging her ability to maintain law and order.
. Meanwhile, opinion polls reveal that mainstream Indonesians have, in increasingly large numbers, become disenchanted with Megawati's administration as it struggles to create enough growth and jobs while coping with separatist pressures in places like Aceh and Papua.
. Ultranationalists, Islamic parties and moderate Islamic organizations are ready to organize large anti-war protests in Indonesian cities. Throw a pinch of extremism into this recipe, and it is not hard to see an explosive outcome.
. If Megawati is perceived to be defending the United States on Iraq, she will be accused of betraying fellow Muslims. If Megawati plays the Islamic card, she will scare away foreign investors and invite American wrath. If she seeks a middle path, she will be seen as a political weakling by both sides and risk losing the support of her party as presidential elections in 2004 loom.
. Already, army commanders - who were shunted out of the political arena after Suharto's fall - are drawing up contingency plans for restoring law and order, and perhaps their old political power.



Posted in General @ 06 March 2003 00:02 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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