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Cairo, seen from Asia

By Terry Lacey

(June 11, Jakarta, Sri Lanka Guardian) We wanted him elected, we wish him well in the Middle East and in improving relations with the world´s Muslims. But choosing Cairo and its proximity to Palestine forced President Obama to focus on shoring up US Middle East policy, as Meidiyatama Suryodiningrat said in the Jakarta Post (05.06.09).

He also concluded however in a Sunday Post Editorial (07.06.09) that President Obama had unclenched the fist of America and reached out to the Muslim world.

President Obama must not let the failed Middle East policies of Bush, which must be changed, dictate the terms of a brighter new future allied with Muslim modernization globally.

So choosing Cairo was a bigger risk than Jakarta.

To engage the Muslim world from Central Asia, through Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh to Indonesia, the West must back democracy, development and the subordination of security policies to development strategies.

In Myanmar the US supports democracy and opposes those who stole the result of an election from the people. In Palestine the US and the West did the reverse.

In Asia the US supports development. In the Gaza Strip the US and the West, along with the Israelis, support the boycott of Hamas and continuing blockade of Gaza.

There was no such boycott of Sinn Fein, largely financed by Irish Americans. There was no boycott of Nelson Mandela´s African National Congress, supported by American blacks. Both had military wings, and both used violence.

The view of history presented in the Cairo speech sought to evade these historical truths, for fear of parallels with modern Palestine, and also informed Asians “that it was not violence that won full and equal rights,” but “peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of Americas founding”. “The same story can be told by people from South Africa to Asia”.

But the American revolution was fought by militias led by the likes of Mel Gibson in The Patriot as well as the Continental Army, and backed by the French revolutionaries, who were the Iranians of that epoch.

And black liberation was led by the militant Huey Newton and the Black Panthers (see Seize the Time by Bobby Seale) and by Malcolm X, as well as by the pacifist Martin Luther King, and both the latter were assassinated.

More than 5,000 Indonesians died fighting the British in Surabaya in 1945 because a non-belligerent army would not lay down its arms, in a nation declared to be independent by its own leaders, nor submit to Allied re-imposition of Dutch colonial rule. Fighting continued until 1948 when the West changed sides.

Yes its true “that violence is a dead end”. But we do not win arguments about Hamas or political violence by rewriting a one-sided version of history.

From an Asian point of view these contradictions result in some mixed messages on democracy, development and what is fair in politics and war.

I had the chance in the previous presidential election campaign to ask the now President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono how he would protect me from terrorism if he was elected.

He replied that he would not turn his country into a police state for me, but would pursue economic development and seek to provide security as well.

Later I was chairing a meeting when Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono sent a message and donation supporting expansion of sharia banking (alongside Western finance) to finance SMEs and jobs, and provision of electricity and water for the poor, commending non-military defense through development.

Recently vice presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto told a Chinese-Indonesian Protestant church community that increased welfare weakens fundamentalism.

And Vice President Jusuf Kalla with his track record on the Aceh peace process and his practical involvement in economic development has pursued the same path.

Whoever is elected in the presidential elections on July 8th, the connection between strengthening democracy, supporting development and tackling political violence within a holistic strategy, is embedded in Indonesian political culture.

So lets not throw the global baby of Muslim modernization out with the bathwater of a failed Middle East peace policy. Lets change the latter and pursue the former.

Terry Lacey is a development economist who writes from Jakarta on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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