Learning about Indonesian language, history, society and culture

Stop Throwing Around the Label ‘the Donald Trump of…’


Calling other politicians ‘the Donald Trump of…’ obscures more than it clarifies

Since the election of Donald Trump, there has been a tendency in certain parts of the media to label anyone with the most superficial similarity with the US President as ‘the Donald Trump of…’. It has been used in the context of Europe, the Philippines, and Guatamala, to name but a few cases. Yesterday the BBC ran with a story Meet the Donald Trump of Indonesia about Indonesian businessman and politician Hary Tanoesoedibjo (often known in Indonesia as Hary Tanoe). This kind of analysis is really not helpful.

The point I am trying to make is not that Hary Tanoe has no connection to Trump. The BBC story details Hary Tanoe’s dealings with Trump, as a business partner and guest at Trump’s inauguration. A more nuanced story for the Financial Times points out certain parallels between the two men:

Both are aggressive dealmakers who express admiration for Russia’s Vladimir Putin; have run beauty pageants alongside their glamorous wives; and seek to marry business acumen with political power.

Yet this by no means makes Hary Tanoe ‘the Donald Trump of Indonesia’. An obvious difference is that Hary Tanoe is from an ethnic and religious minority, being Chinese-Indonesian and a Christian. There is a certain irony in likening him to Donald Trump given this given Trump’s history of discrimination against minority groups.

This points to another flaw in the BBC analysis, which describes Hary Tanoe as ‘known for his forthright and straightforward views’. Although outspoken in some regards, being a public figure from a minority background involves a challenging balancing act. Hary Tanoe’s visits to Islamic religious sites and establishments are well publicised, as are his links to the family of the late Abdurrahman Wahid, former President and leader of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation. He has also backed Anies Baswedan in the race for Jakarta governor. Anies Baswedan, formerly seen as a proponent of religious tolerance, has cosied up to the hardline Islamic group that has been at the forefront of an attempt to press blasphemy charges against the current governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (often known as Ahok), who is Chinese-Indonesian and Christian. Earlier Hari Tanoe had expressed support for the police announcing Ahok was a suspect in the blasphemy case.

The above goes to show that Hary Tanoe must be understood on his own terms, in a particular context. It is over 60 years since the historian (and former colonial official) DGE Hall argued for seeing Southeast Asia as ‘worthy of consideration in its own right’ (though as has been argued, Hall did not necessarily follow his own advice). It is a shame that the argument still needs to be made.

All this is not to say that the comparative study of populism is not valuable, if one fully engages with the methodological and conceptual challenges such an enquiry poses. But to just call someone else ‘the Donald Trump of…’ is lazy and unhelpful.




An Indonesian Muslim Response to Trump’s Divisive Approach to Islam

An esteemed Muslim academic warns that Trump’s attitude towards Islam may prove counterproductive

Professor Azyumardi Azra is the former rector of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University Jakarta, a prolific author, and in 2010 was awarded a CBE by the British government for services to interfaith dialogue (to list just a few of his many achievements). So when he raises concerns about interfaith relations, it is wise to pay attention.

The below is a brief translated excerpt from his recent article in Republika, a major Islamic news website in Indonesia. This was written before Trump signed his executive order restricting entry to the US for refugees and citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries, but that order adds yet greater force to the argument:

The statements of President Trump from the campaigning period through to his inauguration speech seem to have rejected diversity…

It seems that Trump has not changed much since he was chosen as president. In his inauguration speech, it’s true Trump did not again mention ‘banning Muslims entering the US’. But he did put out statements that were no less confrontational, among others ‘[we] will unite the civilised world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.’

There is a big question mark over how Trump can unite the ‘civilised world’ with a confrontational manner and a hard approach. Various academic studies about eradicating terrorism have shown that a hard approach is not always effective in overcoming radicalism and terrorism – not only among Muslims, but also among followers of other religions.

But besides the above-mentioned problem, Trump’s confrontational and Islamophobic tone received condemnation from many moderate Islamic figures, both leaders and academics. Condemning Trump does not meaning that they ‘approve of’, let alone support, radicalism or terrorism. Simply put, Trump’s statements and approach may be very counter-productive in their efforts to overcome the problems of radicalism and terrorism. Conversely, tension, conflict and violence may find a new raison d’etre and momentum on a scale that is difficult to imagine.

The 1%

It is not exactly a cheery note to end the year with, but during my holiday I was listening to some back episodes of the podcast Talking Indonesia and was particularly struck by a statistic quoted by Dr Matthew Wai-Poi from the World Bank, in an episode about inequality in Indonesia. Based on a 2014 study it was estimated that the richest 1% of households owned 50% of wealth in Indonesia, one of the highest rates for any country where data was available. The report is available here and the relevant chart is on page 18 (using the report’s pagination).

Peaceful Indonesia?

A divisive campaign against the Jakarta Governor misappropriates the language of peace and unity

The ongoing efforts to have Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (also known as Ahok), the Christian Governor of Jakarta, prosecuted under Indonesia’s blasphemy law have a noticeable element of doublespeak to them.

Without going into the ins and outs of the case and the social and political dynamics behind it (these have been explored in a series of articles on New Mandala, for example), in this post I want to zoom in on one aspect, the inherent contradictions of mobilising the language of peace and unity whilst using divisive and inflammatory rhetoric. To take a specific instance, I have in mind the sermon of Muhammad Rizieq Shihab (also known as Habib Rizieq) at the mass rally held on 2nd December in Jakarta in support of the prosecution of Ahok.

It is a remarkable speech, both for the contradictions raised above and the fiery manner of delivery. It is available on Youtube (the below section starts at 31 minutes 45 seconds into the clip, and it is well worth hearing that section of the clip to get a sense of the tone). In it he calls for the whole country to submit to the Quran, and calls for the upholding of Surah Al-Maidah 51. It was Ahok’s statement about the alleged misuse of this Surah (he complained that some people were misleadingly saying that it meant that Muslims should not vote for him as a Christian) that is at the centre of the controversy. What’s more, whilst calling for peace and unity Habib Rizieq inveighs against liberals, sinners, ‘deviant sects’ (aliran sesat) and the LGBT community. So much for peace and unity.

‘…our struggle is not only to have Ahok detained or imprisoned, but must be more than that. Surah al-Maidah must be upheld in Indonesia, must be enacted in Indonesia. A country where the majority are Muslims, must submit to the noble Quran. There must not obstruction to the application of Surah Al-Maidah 51, brothers and sisters. We ask Allah that our steps in the future will be more steadfast, our unity will be stronger in upholding Allah’s law in Indonesia, this mother land of ours that we love. So let us defend religion, let us defend the country, let us protect Islam, let us protect the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia. Let us, brothers and sisters, let us respect all religious groups, it can’t be allowed that there is mutual insulting or abuse. Brothers and sisters, Indonesia is peaceful without the insulting of religion, Indonesia is peaceful without deviant sects, Indonesia is peaceful without liberalism, Indonesia is peaceful, brothers and sisters, without LGBT, Indonesia is peaceful without disobedience to God and sin.’

A transcription of the relevant section in Indonesian can be found below:

‘…perjuangan kita tidak hanya sampai kepada Ahok ditahan atau dipenjara tetapi harus lebih dari itu. Surat al-Maidah 51 harus diteggakan di bumi Indonesia, harus diperlakukan di bumi Indonesia. Bumi yang berpenduduk mayoritas Muslim harus tunduk kepada al-Quran al-Karim. Nggak boleh ada lagi yang halangi untuk menerapkan surat al-Maida 51, saudara. Kita mohon kepada Allah semoga ke depan langkah kita makin mantap, persatuan kita makin kuat untuk menegakkan hukum Allah di bumi Indonesia, bumi pertiwi yang kita cinta ini. Mari kita bela agama, mari kita bela negara, mari kita jaga Islam, mari kita jaga NKRI. Mari, saudara, kita hormati semua umat beragama. Tidak boleh kita saling mencaci atau mencerca. Saudara, Indonesia damai tanpa penistaan agama, Indonesia damai tanpa liberalism, Indonesia damai tanpa aliran sesat, Indonesia damai saudara, tanpa LGBT, Indonesia damai tanpa kemungkaran dan kemaksiatan…’


Asia Politics Podcasts

My pick of the podcasts focusing on Asian politics

In a previous post I discussed the ‘Talking Indonesia’ podcast coming out of the University of Melbourne. Since then I have been finding out about maritime law whilst doing my laundry, listening to the latest Vietnamese diplomatic wrangling whilst doing my grocery shopping, and pondering on Australia’s submarine purchasing whilst staring out of the train window. In short, I have entered the world of Asia politics podcasts. So I thought I’d share what I’ve been listening to:

The Diplomat – Asia Geopolitics. The name says it all really. Coming out approximately weekly, it generally takes the form a 20 minute or so conversation between Ankit Panda and another member of The Diplomat‘s Staff or another expert. Recent highlight’s include ‘How can Asia’s Navies Learn from the Era of the Mighty Battleship?’ and ‘Can the Afghan War be Won in 2016’. The episodes mentioned are nice examples of covering topics that would otherwise only be covered in very specialist publications (e.g. naval history) or issues that have receded from the mainstream press (e.g. war in Afghanistan).

CSIS Podcast and CogitAsia Podcast from CSIS – The Centre for Strategic and International Studies produce a series of podcasts. Although CogitAsia is dedicated to Asian affairs, quite of a few of the episodes on the broader CSIS Podcast also focus on Asia. Given the CSIS was co-founded at the height the Cold War by a retired admiral and a future Regan advisor, the CSIS unsurprisingly has very close ties to US government. This is reflected in the outlook of the podcasts, which sometimes even slip into using ‘we’ to refer to the position of the US. A recent highlight for me was ‘A Dormant Conflict Erupts’ about conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. If you haven’t even heard of Nagorno-Karabakh, here’s your chance to find out more.

Asia News Weekly – Run by Steve Miller, a wonderfully enthusiastic VOA broadcaster, with a format generally based on Steve phoning up experts to chat about current events across Asia. Covering several stories per episode, this is less in depth than the others listed here, but it is a nice way to keep up with the latest stories coming out of Asia.

Asia Rising – A fortnightly Podcast from La Trobe University, hosted by Professor Nick Bisley, who talks to experts, often from La Trobe or other Australian universities. It tends to be a bit less focused on the international relations angle and a bit more interested in the internal workings of Asian societies than say, the CSIS or The Diplomat podcasts mentioned above. For example there is a very interesting episode on North Korea’s emerging middle class, including discussion of the Rason Special Economic Zone, an area in the Northeast of Korea where trade with Russia and China has been encouraged (for more on Rason see One blip was the episode ‘Why Australia Will buy Submarines From Japan’: in the end Australia ended up buying them from France.

Taking a Wider View on Corruption in Indonesia

Given the seemingly unending series of corruption scandals covered by the Indonesian press, it is easy to lose site of the bigger picture of corruption in Indonesia. That is why I was particularly interested to read the following articles by Jeremy Mulholland that look at the history of the KPK (Corruption Eradication Commission):

Particularly striking is the account of the constraints placed on the organisation by those at the centre of power, anxious to avoid family and allies being implicated by the KPK.

One section that sticks in the mind is the argument that:

‘the best analogy for KPK’s evolution and its relationship with successive presidents is Megawati as a mother who never wanted the ‘child’ (read- KPK), SBY as an abusive stepfather who lived through his child’s achievements, and Jokowi as the estranged and feeble uncle.’

Somber reading for those concerned with clean govenment in Indonesia (and judging by the polls that includes the vast majority of Indonesians).

Talking Indonesia

Indonotes welcomes the arrival of a new podcast from the University of Melbourne

It has been said that we are entering a ‘golden age’of podcasting. On a personal level I have found myself listening to podcasts increasingly often – for example some of the best coverage of the US election has come from the elections podcast of So when I recently came across a new podcast from the University of Melbourne called “Talking Indonesia” I was delighted, and thought I would try and spread the word by posting about it.

One of the things I enjoy about podcasts is that they allow for a more discursive format, with a slightly less formal, more conversational tone. This strength is particularly evident in the episode of Talking Indonesia when Ken Setiawan discusses her experience visiting Buru Island with her father, who was earlier held there as a political prisoner during the period under the New Order when the island acted as a prison camp. Not only was this podcast full of interesting information (I had no idea, for example, that a significant number of former prisoners decided to stay on the island even after their release; or that Jokowi recently visited Buru to laud it as an agricultural centre, but did not meet with any of the former prisoners) but also conveyed a deeply personal experience, with some of the emotional resonances delicately articulated in the conversational tone of the podcast. As Ken says during the episode, ‘the personal is political’. And the podcast format seems to convey that particularly well.

Indonesia by Numbers (with some help from The Economist)

I feel ambivalent about The Economist, but one thing I admire is its ability to condense lots of information into very succinct articles. What’s more, it has just published a special report on Indonesia. Given it’s penchant for statistics and concision, I hope  The Economist will forgive the below, where I have cherry-picked the most illuminating statistics from its special report to present Indonesia by Numbers:

255 million – Indonesia’s population

½ – proportion of the population under 30

2/5 – proportion of the population with a smartphone

41.2m rupiah – GDP per person per year in Jakarta

2.8m rupiah – GDP per person per year in Maluku

109 out of 189 – Indonesia’s rank on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index

88 out of 168 – Indonesia’s rank on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index

60% – approximate proportion of Indonesia’s Exports that are commodities

$100 per tonne – drop in the value of coal since 2011 (when it cost $150 per tonne)

30% – drop in the value of the rupiah vs the dollar since mid-2013

26% – public debt as proportion of GDP (George Osborne eat your heart out!)

27m – number of registered taxpayers

10% – approximate tax revenue as proportion of GDP (again George Osborne eat your heart out!)

27% – estimated logistics costs as proportion of GDP

65 – number of planned dams (16 of which are under construction)

$23.1 billion – estimated cost of Trans-Sumatra toll road

2m hectares – conservative estimate of forest area burnt in in 2015

18.5m hectares – reduction in tree covered areas between 2001 and 2014

26 – number of online comments on The Economist’s leader article about Indonesia at time of writing

2031 – number of online comments on The Economist’s leader article about Donald Trump at time of writing

Indonesian Voices on the Massacres of 1965-6


A remarkable collection of Indonesian perspectives on the 1965-6 massacres in Indonesia is now freely available in English, collected in a special edition of the Bhinneka magazine.

The editor is the equally remarkable Soe Tjen Marching, whose personal experiences are also touched on in an Al-Jazeera article.

Cartoon Villains

The heavy handed treatment of a popular cartoonist draws the world’s attention to Malaysia’s disregard for freedom of expression

Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, a well-known Malaysian cartoonist better known as Zunar, faces trial for 9 offences under the Sedition Act. If convicted he faces up to 43 years in jail for posting 9 tweets criticising the decision of the Malaysian Federal Court to uphold the conviction of opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy. A recent Human Rights Watch Report points out that this is part of a broader pattern of the ‘government’s use and abuse of a range of broad and vaguely worded laws to criminalize peaceful expression, including debates on matters of public interest… [and] a disturbing trend of abuse of the legal process…’

In Zunar’s ongoing legal battle his next day in court will be 8th December, but in the meantime there has be growing international attention on the case. Zunar has appeared on the BBC and ABC and met with elected officials in the US, UK and Australia. Zunar’s plight was again in the spotlight on 25th November when he received an International Press Freedom Award.

In addition to Zunar’s profile and personal energy, and the visual impact of his cartoons which gives his story an immediacy that appeals to the international media, an important role has been played by an international network of advocacy organisations. In addition to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International have also taken up the case, as have Malaysian groups such as Lawyers for Liberty, and Bersih.

Yet despite this attention, Western governments been tepid in their support for human rights (and anti-corruption efforts) in Malaysia, balancing professions of concern with their pursuit of other priorities, whether the US effort to counterbalance China, or the UK’s trade and security emphasis.

As ever, Zunar skewers the hypocrisy with a caustic pen: