15 years on from the Bali bombings and what have we learned and how have things changed?
That’s the question posed by Judith Jacob, whose Twitter account here proceeds to answer in 15 tweets that I happen to agree with.
Brunei, Buddhism, Cambodia, deep South of Thailand, demographics, environment, geography, history, Indonesia, Indonesian language, Islam, Java, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Sumatra, Thailand, Vietnam
If I had to limit the content of this blog to just one topic, I would be hard pressed to choose between Indonesia’s volcanoes and historical maps of Southeast Asia. I have written previously about Indonesia’s volcanoes here (and elsewhere from memory), so I thought I would take a moment to share my interest in just one set of the fascinating maps that are out there.
I have always believed that when I had made it professionally and was casually wealthy (the day is still quite a way ahead of me!) I would buy the book I have wanted since I first encountered it in my University Library.
Needless to say most Universities have more money than me, and given there are plenty of functioning motor cars available at a cheaper price than I have seen the book quoted online, I will simply continue to dream of buying it.
The book is the Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company. Volume VII: East Asia, Burma to Japan & Supplement. Volume VII is the last of the series, with the others being;
Volume 1 – Atlas Isaak de Graaf (Atlas Amsterdam)
Volume 2 – Java en Madoera (Java and Madura)
Volume 3 – Indische Archipel en Oceanië (Malay Archipelago and Oceania)
Volume 4 – Ceylon
Volume 5 – Afrika (Africa)
Volume 6 – Voor-Indië, Perzië, Arabisch Schiereiland (India, Persia, Arabian Penninsula)
(Volume 7 – Oost-Azië, Birma tot Japan (East Asia, Burma to Japan & supplement))
For reference purposes see the link here.
Of course I would love Volume II & III and ideally the whole set, but the complete set is getting into the price range that would rival the cost of some houses I have lived in. Such is life.
For those interested in the superlative atlas of Indonesian History I point you to the link here, while for those readers simply wanting to browse the maps by appearance there are commercial options such as the one here and free (to view) maps such as the set here.
Some really interesting background reading on the story of these maps is available here.
I hope you find some of the links as compelling as I do.
Disclaimer – I have no connection with or potential benefit from any of the commercial sites to which I link to here, nor do I make any recommendations on purchasing. Links are provided solely for informative reasons.
Putting together a quick post, I decided to return to one of my original interests in Southeast Asia and look again at the region’s Muslim populations.
I am conscious of and seek to respect the ethics around copyright protections, so in this post I will simply insert hyperlinks.
A couple of years later Tom Pepinsky contributed his work to the topic here. I am always fascinated by information presented diferently, and the cartogram in that link prompted me to search for what else might be available.
That led me to the great infographic from The Observer that is reproduced here. One problem I have with presenting that to you dear readers is that it again reinforces the nexus in the public consciousness between Islam and terror. To my mind that says more about the focal points of the Western media and their perception of what is of interest to their readers. That is fair enough from a commercial perspective, but it sells short (no pun intended) the vast number of other intriguing stories on what is happening with Islam in the region.
There is, for example, my recent post here on the dynamics on who is now becoming more and less welcome in Indonesia. There is fascinating work on Islamic education in Myanmar available here, revelations about Asia Islamic Fashion Week here and here, stories on Malaysia’s efforts to become a global hub of Islamic finance here and further cementing of ties between the region and the Middle East with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz sending an invitation to Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei Darussalam, inviting him to attend the Arab-Islamic-US summit, set to take place in Riyadh later in May available here.
Again, there is a lot happening, but little that bubbles to the surface of Western media.
The most recent graphic I could find on Southeast Asia’s Muslim population, again from the Pew Research Centre, is available here. The numbers in the graphic look neat are precise, but the true picture is messier, more complicated and much, much more intriguing.
Among the biggest frustrations with this blog is the number of great topics to explore and so little time in which to write about them.
I will as a result quickly flag the possibility that Indonesia is, in a historical sense, in the midst of another national identity crisis. There are two ways a nation state works its way through such doubt, seen in efforts to define both what the country is and what the country is not. In practice, this manifests itself as painting certain social groups as being welcome and unwelcome.
Efforts to make others unwelcome are always more newsworthy, particularly for outsiders seeing Indonesia through the prism of international media.
You can define non-Muslims as being unwelcome neighbours, seen here, but they also need to be the right kind of Muslims or they too are unwelcome, as seen here. Of course there are the unwelcome others that persistently rejected, rightly or wrongly, for their perceived threat to the very fabric of Indonesian society. Chief among these recurring targets of moral panic are drug dealers here and gays as seen here and here.
And who is welcome? Sadly anyone with enough money. Even a strange and seedy tinpot President like the one mentioned here. Sad.
Image: Ma’ahad Jamio Mindanao Al-Islamie, Marawi City
To quote from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict here…
“The battle for Marawi in the southern Philippines is likely to have long-term repercussions for extremism in Southeast Asia. The ability of pro-ISIS fighters to occupy an entire city and hold the Philippine armed forces at bay for almost two months has already inspired violence elsewhere in the region and may lead to more attacks in the region’s cities; a more coordinated regional strategy among extremist groups; and strengthened capacity among pro-ISIS cells in Indonesia and Malaysia”.
The full report, available here, makes grim reading. I concur with the page 23 assertion that there is “simply no chance in Indonesia of a military-style assault by extremists on a town centre“, however I also agree with the report’s argument that an entrenched disconnection from the benefits of democratic governance in the region, including accountability and equality, will continue to provide fertile soil for extremist ambitions and strategically scratchy assaults on state power.
Note – Taking a step back and considering conflict more broadly across Indonesia and the Philppines, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict website here is an excellent source of information and analysis that goes beyond the headlines, while the images on the site here marvellously convey the Islamic culture that permeates the region.
Image source: The Economist here
One influential element in Southeast Asian history has been the impact of external great powers. Some of these powers have risen to prominence more recently, such as Japan and, even more recently, the United States, but others have had a significant impact over a much longer period.
Few of these external great powers have had a greater impact than China and India. These power centres haven’t always been recognisable in their current forms, but the underlying Sino-Indic tensions and influences have been present for centuries and have significantly shaped the contemporary political and cultural landscapes.
This is evidenced in a vast range of examples, spanning the Brahmanic traditions in Thai Royalist rituals, the syncretic form Islam in Indonesia with its Hindu-Buddhist traits and the Chinese mercantile philosophy embedded in Singapore’s deep state.
Looking at contemporary societies in Southeast Asia it is tempting to consider these Sino-Indic influences as being largely historical relics, slowly being erased by global forces including capitalist consumerism and radical Islam, but I think that view is only partially correct.
The graphic above is, and can only be, a hazy snapshot of a point in time. How, for example, is starting or stopping being Chinese or Indian defined? How accurate is the visual depiction here? Despite the difficulty of answering those questions I believe two broad assertions are valid.
One is that most of the great Indian diaspora is not seeing, and has not seen for some time, a future for themselves in Southeast Asia. Whether this is by choice or compulsion is a different question, but I see the region as now being much more inclined (demographically) to a Chinese orientation.
The other is that, notwithstanding the rubbery figures presented, the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia would itself be a sizable nation state. In other words, China has already established a presence in Southeast Asia that goes beyond seizing control over some small and other inconsequential rocks in the South China Sea.
What is much more ambiguous however is the extent to which this diaspora can, and desires to, access and exert political power in support of its Chinese origins and against the interests of its host state/s.
That test of loyalty is complex and from what I have read seems to throwing up some interesting answers, but must sadly be a topic for another day.
Unsurprisingly to regular readers I’ve been wanting to post about the verdict in Ahok’s blasphemy case, but a desire for reflection and other commitments delayed my posting.
Of the other commentary I have encountered the closest to my own position is the one here. I would use different premises, but my conclusion would resemble the author’s. I’d also paint the outcome in terms of the damage to Indonesian democracy, but that is a lot more abstract than, in Lindsey’s words, the verdict being “a warning to minorities”.
With Ahok’s conviction and sentencing the political ground underneath Indonesia’s democratic pillars just shook with a little bit more intensity.
A quick update.
A summary of what happened can be read here, with Muslim candidate Anies Basweden streaking ahead almost from the moment polls opened. That sudden shift is captured in the graphic here. What his win means for Indonesia in the longer term is still unclear however given Indonesia’s highly fluid political envirnoment.
So what’s next? Probably the next “big” moment will be the imminent outcome of the blasphemy trial of Anies Basweden’s opponent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – commonly referred to as Ahok, who is Chinese Christian (the emphasis that both are significant elements of his perceived political identity).
In no way will the trial provide closure to the issue however. As the very apt title of the article here phrases it, Ahok’s absurd trial won’t satisfy anybody.
And the caravan moves on.
Anyway, the next chapter in the focus of those earlier posts occurs tomorrow, with Jakarta Election Round II after the ambiguous polling result in Round I. Some brief summaries of the situation are here and here, with both links (and others) pointing to just how close the race to office now appears.
It is in that environment, of competitive tension and high stakes, that stories like the one here are not only emerging but adding to tensions. The link is particularly relevant and interesting, as it touches on many of the subterranean issues (of violence, religion and memory) that keep bubbling to the surface of what is (another) very tense moment for Indonesia’s political future. The only key element that would otherwise be missing in the link, that of race, was introduced by the author as it too is central to the election.
There are dissenting views on the importance of the election though, such as the one here that paints the election as merely a blip in a much greater trend towards “a capitulation of the largest moderate Islamic organisations in Indonesia to the Islamist wave“.
That may be true, but Indonesia and its politics is fascinatingly unpredictable. There is a saying in English that “a week is a long time in politics”. In Jakarta that “long time in politics” can be just a day, so let’s wait a long time and see what happens.