Wednesday, May 27, 2009

INDONESIA: Reflections from a recent dinner ...

Well, not that recent. The Australia Indonesia Institute held its 20th anniversary dinner in Sydney on Thursday 19 February 2009. I was there armed with a notepad and a cheap ball-point pen. I typed out some of the points made in a number of speeches which I thought were of interest (at least to me).

Geraldine Doogue, a prominent ABC personality, was MC at the event. Among the speeches was that of AII Chairman Professor Tim Lindsay. Professor Lindsay spoke in fluent Bahasa Indonesia, albeit with a slight Aussie accent. Lindsay said that without the foundation of people to people links, little chance of proper diplomatic relations. He noted there is a declining Indonesian language capacity in Australia.

Katika Kari, an Indonesian journalist, then spoke. She described relations between Canberra and Jakarta as being similar to those between Tom and Jerry. They fight sometimes, criticise each other sometimes but remain good friends. Kevin Rudd has already visited Indonesia 3 times. She made special mention made of the victims of the Victorian bushfire and their families, and remined us that Indonesia sent a forensic team to assist with the bushfire investigation.

Sarah Malik, an alumnus of the 2007 Muslim Leaders Exchange Program, spoke as a first time traveller. She said our views of Indonesia were mediated by the media. Yet this was a country of 17,000 islands and dozens of ethnic groups which recognised the need to balance everyone’s sentiments. Multiculturalism here is not just a luxury but a necessity.

In the tropics of Indonesia, in its sights and sounds, a piece of me still wonders.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave an off-the-cuff speech with no speech notes whatsoever! Here is a summary of his speech in numbered paragraphs:

[01] In 2008, Rudd and SBY met 7 times. This in itself shows just how vital the relationship is to Australia. Indonesian government and people showed enormous generosity to Australia during the recent bushfires. Indonesians proved they wanted to be not just good neighbours but also good friends. The brutal power of nature affects both nations, and both came to each other’s help.

[02] In 1947, Australia declared that it would stand with Indonesia in seeking independence from the Dutch. This was very unusual for a Western country.

[03] Indonesia is a country of 230 million people spread across 17,000 islands. It’s an extraordinary nation building achievement. One can see the extreme diversity in Indonesia just after spending a few weeks or months. To build a nation out of such diversity is an extraordinary achievement.

[04] Indonesians have had to work and struggle hard to build and maintain their democracy.

[05] For the past 60 years, a major foreign policy preoccupation of leaders of both Indonesia and Australia has been how to manage relations with each other.

[06] Australia, a nation with a Christian heritage, works closely with the largest Muslim country on earth in a seamless fashion. Surely this must send a strong message to the world.

[07] We have embarked on the century of the Asia-Pacific.

[08] Australians need to do more to understand the complexities of Indonesian Islam. Australia needs to be the most Asia-literate country in the West. We need to regard the languages, cultures and religions of our region as familiar and not foreign.

[09] Australia and Indonesia will host a large conference on interfaith dialogue. Rudd and SBY have agreed that Australia and Indonesia must play a key role in the dialogue between Christianity and Islam.

[10] The prepared speech is on the internet in case anyone is interested!

More to follow.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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