Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Australian forces to be allowed into Indonesian waters

Indonesia is poised to allow Australian authorities free rein to rescue asylum seekers in Indonesian waters.

Indonesia's defence minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro says he expects a deal to be signed as early as next month which means Australian authorities no longer need permission to enter Indonesia's Search and Rescue Zone.

In the past 10 months hundreds of asylum seekers have drowned off the Java coast and hundreds more have issued distress calls.

Indonesia says it expects Defence Minister Stephen Smith and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to visit the country this month, with a possible deal to be signed in September.

"There are many illegal migrants coming especially to Christmas Island and they are sending distress signals asking for assistance," Mr Purnomo said.

"So Australia's asking us when their patrol boats can enter our waters, what are the rules that apply.

"So far they have doing that, but actually they're doing it without rules protecting them. They worry that our radar would be catching them, either the air defence system or the maritime radar."
It has been less than a week since the two countries found themselves in such a sticky search and rescue bind.

An asylum seeker boat north-west of Bali sent out a distress call, but once night fell local authorities could not cope and Australia was left waiting an invitation to respond.

"It’s not a joint patrol because we have been doing that already," Mr Purnomo said.

"A joint patrol is when each navy ship is patrolling their own area at the same time, but this one is to let them enter into our waters." By Australia ABC Indonesia correspondent George Roberts

India’s power cuts

BLANK traffic lights, mayhem on the roads, trains at a standstill, water-treatment plants lying inert, coal miners trapped underground. India has felt like the giant set of a disaster movie since Sunday night, when a series of power cuts began to strike the north of the country, including the capital, Delhi. Territory inhabited by at least 600m people has been hit. Back-up generators have kept airports and many offices open, but power supply from the grid is still sporadic, despite the efforts of the authorities.

Although the south of the country, including Mumbai, the commercial hub, is so far unaffected, the power cuts couldn’t have come at a worse time. India faces a slowing economy, a lame-duck government and a drought in parts of the country. The blackout seems to have been selected by a malign God to exhibit yet another glaring vulnerability: rotten infrastructure. The technical fault appears to lie in the national transmission grid that links together the local electricity networks. Officials have suggested it may have been “tripped” by a surge in demand for power. But in truth India’s power sector has been a disaster waiting to happen after years of neglect.

As our briefing earlier this year shows, the entire supply chain is troubled. Not enough coal is being dug up by the state monopolist, Coal India. As a result, generating companies, which own power stations, face the prospect of buying expensive imported coal, with ruinous consequences for their finances. Many are in danger of going bust. As this week’s cuts have shown, the national transmission system that shifts power around the country needs modernisation and investment—some $110 billion according to a McKinsey study. And finally the “last mile” local distribution companies, usually state-owned and which deliver power to homes and businesses, are all but bankrupt. Their tariffs are held artificially low by politicians more keen to win votes than balance the books. They have also chronically underinvested.

Reform would probably entail breaking up Coal India, inviting in private-sector mining companies, privatising the local distribution firms and giving regulators more teeth. But since the early 1990s India’s politicians have ducked the challenge, and been unwilling to tackle vested interests or make difficult decisions. It would be nice to think that when the lights come back on this time they might act with more urgency. But unlike in the movies, disasters in India don’t necessarily have happy endings. By Banyan for The Economist

Monday, July 30, 2012

Bedbugs and Islam
This is GREAT, a MUST watch. If you haven't seen this Brit before, you've missed an extraordinarily erudite speaker. He is serious when he is funny and he is funny when he is serious. And he doesn't pull any punches, either!


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Religion and Politics in SE Asia

Last Monday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III reiterated his endorsement for ‘responsible parenthood’ as a solution to curb the country’s high birth rate. This irked some Catholic bishops who immediately accused the president of launching an all-out war against the church. 

Early this month, officials of Singapore's City Harvest Church were arrested and charged with breach of trust. Investigators alleged that the church had used US$19.2 million of charitable donation to finance the church founder’s wife’s pop music career.

Last May, Malaysian police raided a printing house and detained its director over the publication of a banned book by a liberal Muslim activist.

These separate incidents highlight the special role of organized religion in several Southeast Asian societies. They reflect the political power of churches and the popularity of church leaders among the masses.

In the case of the Philippines, critics are blaming the obstinate opposition of the church for the repeated failure of Congress to pass legislative measures on reproductive health and divorce. The Catholic-dominated Philippines is the only country in the world without a divorce law.    

Meanwhile, the scandal involving Singapore’s largest congregation sparked debate about the practice of tithing. It also led many people to question the moral fitness of church leaders who were reported to be living in luxury. 

On the other hand, the raid in Malaysia became controversial because it exposed the lack of religious freedom in the country. The raid came as no surprise to many analysts and observers, however, who have been raising concerns about the growing religious intolerance in the country. 

Despite being a Muslim majority nation, Malaysia is known for promoting religious harmony. 

Today, there is a demand from many sectors, especially the academy, for an interfaith dialogue to defuse religious tension, end religious discrimination, and revive the spirit of multiculturalism. 

Indonesia too could benefit from interfaith dialogues given the rising number of cases of religious violence in the archipelago. At the minimum, it should revisit its law granting legal protection to only six major religions. Scholars believe the non-recognition of minority religious sects has given impetus to hardliners to attack small churches and their followers. 

Cases of religious persecution have been reported too in Vietnam where several Christian groups have taken the lead in organizing resistance to development aggression projects. Rohingya, the stateless people of Southeast Asia, are facing religious discrimination too in west Myanmar. 

Religious conflicts can sometimes lead to protracted wars. Since the 1970s, for example, the Philippines has been facing a separatist movement in the Muslim-dominated areas of Mindanao Island. Similarly, Thailand continues to battle an Islamic insurgency in the south part of the country. 

Religion is not often discussed in the meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It’s understandable since there is no dominant religion in the region. But if religious bigotry leads to the repression of minorities and the killings of innocent civilians, then it’s necessary to put this matter in the mainstream agenda of the grouping. There’s no point talking about democracy and regional solidarity if discrimination based on religion is allowed to flourish in many Southeast Asian countries.

By Mong Palatino for The Diplomat

Are Muslims willing to learn from Jews and gays?

JC Penny put two daddies in its Father’s Day catalogue this year, and Oreo supported equal rights by posting a picture of rainbow cookies on Facebook. Famous brands such as American Apparel, Levi’s, Starbucks, Target and Disney World have done similar things.

Supporting these causes has led to negative responses from conservative groups, such as the American Family Association (AFA) and One Million Moms, which demand the neutrality of corporations in these so-called wars of culture.

Besides them, liberal celebrities in the US are actively involved in endorsing equal rights. The most recent is well-known news anchor Anderson Cooper, whose coming out made the headlines in American major media.

The US presidential race, which is now underway, not only focuses on economic issues like the recovery, but also on social issues such as birth control, contraception, abortion and gay marriage. Candidates are exploiting the issues to win votes from minorities.

Although criticisms against President Obama’s support for gay marriage are deemed only as a tool to distract voters’ focus on economic recovery — and the companies seek benefits from publicity and product selling by jumping in on sensitive issues — this cultural war seemingly means that the conflict not only pits elites against each other but also individuals who believe in diversity and that everybody has the right to love anyone.

As consumers, individuals are the ones who should have power to decide what products or policies they are into.

Exercising critical consumer skills is essential to supporting causes that might affect larger communities in general.

Both the conservatives and progressives believe what is the best interest of their groups and they have ability to diffuse such thoughts.

The dialogue between members of society emerges as a public discourse in which anyone either wants to follow it or not. This war is not only about the current schools of thought, but it also shows that individualism matters.

Bringing the phenomena to Indonesia, cynical folks might grossly respond with old school arguments such as Westernization and disagreement with religious values. The world has changed and now it is not easy to put a clear border between Western and Eastern values.

It seems they have meshed as the modern state of information technology rapidly grows. National and cultural identity still play their roles, although every individual is unique and cannot be generalized.

Jewish and gay people in Miami, New York and Massachusetts actively spread their influences to policy makers to produce laws that support their interests.

Not only that, but they also communicate their values through the media with the position, power and influence they have so that the general public and government can execute policies that favor their interests. Definitely, this is something that Muslims can learn.

Every group and ethnicity has its own pride, including Muslims. However, this pride is somewhat misleading in most Muslims. Not many of them are willing to look at what Jewish people have been doing to increase their prominence in the world because the Koran says they are our enemies and will always be.

Many will see nothing positive in what gay men are doing to leverage their equal rights movement, as these individual are considered as sinful groups that do not deserve a place in heaven.

There is a very popular hadith that tells Muslims to study in China. At the time this was told, Muhammad was introducing Muslims to another civilization besides Islam. Unfortunately, this wisdom was narrowed by some Muslims down to a geographical point only.

The spirit behind it might be relevant to date by widening the values to learn from anyone and anywhere. In other words, this hadith can be used to encourage Muslims to be open-minded and avoid being chauvinistic.

The Islamic purification movement encourages Muslims to practice the religion as it was originally taught by Muhammad.

However, this idea mainly relates to tedious ritual aspects and is far away from the essence of Islam as a value or way of life.

People are told how to say prayers five times a day without being aware of why they have to do that or whether they need to, and most importantly how Islam is a rahmatan lil alamin (blessing for the universe)

Ramadhan arrives and some hardliners loudly proclaim that all nightlife must be shut down and restaurants must not open during the day over the month to respect those who are fasting.

If those who are fasting are meant to do these rituals since they believe it is good for them, then why do they need to act like this to secure it? Only those who are fasting because of peer pressure, and are not doing it out of genuine faith, may need that conservative action.

Simply put, if you believe that fasting is a way to serve God then you do not need the help of external parties.

Such a radical approach degrades Islam as a peaceful religion and attaches a negative stigma to it. Not every Muslim lives in the Islamic world, they are widely spread across the globe and some live in

They are struggling to be accepted in their communities but still have to deal with these negative stigmas created by the hardliners are part of majorities in other areas.

Islam teaches empathy to live within any kind of society, but this teaching has been reduced by some schools of thought that instead choose to promote violence. They politicize the religion and manipulate their people through negative indoctrination.

The dien is meant to accept dissimilarities and be compatible with democracy, but those groups get it confused with something else.

Living within diversity is about accepting other perspectives. It does not necessarily mean agreeing.

It also relates to balancing majority and minority points of view. If you are part of a majority, it may not be a bad thing to put yourself in the shoes of the minority. You might find it teaches you how to be open-minded and practice your faith

So, if Jews and gays — two groups that most Muslims dislike — can elegantly leverage their interests, are Muslims willing to learn a lesson from them?

Abdul Rohman, Tallahassee, Florida  faculty member of the Indonesian Islamic University (UII) in Yogyakarta and USAID scholar at Florida State University.