Tuesday 05 Jul 2022 | 08:18 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 05 Jul 2022 | 08:18 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Faith in Indonesia

This post is part of the Australia-Indonesia relations debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

30 May 2012 14:06

This post is part of the Australia-Indonesia relations debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Duncan Graham writes:

Sam, I agree with your reasons regarding the lack of political will and add a couple more.

The standard journalist's opening line for stories about Indonesia has been 'the world’s most populous Muslim nation' for so long it must be embedded in the mind of every Australian, even if they know nothing else about the country.

The Bali and Jakarta bombs have added the words 'Muslim terrorists' and there’s the equation for distrust.

Engagement that’s based solely on trade, aid, defence and security is doomed to fail if it doesn't embrace the many other factors that build identity: culture, music, sport, history, cuisine, entertainment, humour, governance, education, law, faith and more.


Hugh White suggests 'three obvious priorities'. Winding back aid is an excellent suggestion and this can probably be done with relative ease and only minor political damage.

But the others are far more resistant. Cows, Corby and people trafficking are emotional matters, so much easier to trigger and respond to than politics and culture. Even when steers are stunned and beauticians banished other issues will fill the space. 

We have to find a way to handle 'third order' crises just as we do when they occur in the UK or US. That requires a deeper understanding of Indonesian geography, history, politics and culture being offered through schools with the same energy applied to teaching about Europe. That must include beliefs.

Now here's the real challenge for largely secular Australia trying to understand the huge role faith plays in the lives of Indonesians – and the reverse. We have to engage with moderate Islam, still the mainstream religion despite the gangster mobs masquerading as pious Muslims. 

Past contacts have included government-sponsored high-level multi-faith conferences. These have usually been tolerant and worthy – but seldom touch the easily manipulated xenophobic folk in kampongs there and suburbs here.

This can't be a one-way mission. Indonesian Islam has a heavy PR job ahead to convince us that it really is 'moderate' (the other journalist cliché); so far only the liberals (backed by US funds) have shown the enthusiasm. So here's a task for Australian Muslims to develop an enduring relationship with their colleagues in Indonesia and extend that to the wider community.

The thousand-year relationship between Britain and France has been soaked in blood, twisted by distrust and warped by all the same differences that distort Australian-Indonesian understandings. 

For the Channel substitute the Arafura Sea. For us it should be easier to establish a Southeast Asian Entente Cordiale. We've never been to war with Indonesia, we both drive on the same side of the road, and the Republic is only 67 years old. Should be a pushover.