Monday, April 30, 2012

The First Global Man

The Americas Before and After Columbus

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Is This The Beginning Of The End For The Petrodollar?

Saudi Arabia And China Team Up To Build A Gigantic New Oil Refinery - Is This The Beginning Of The End For The Petrodollar?

The largest oil exporter in the Middle East has teamed up with the second largest consumer of oil in the world (China) to build a gigantic new oil refinery and the mainstream media in the United States has barely even noticed it.  This mammoth new refinery is scheduled to be fully operational in the Red Sea port city of Yanbu by 2014.  Over the past several years, China has sought to aggressively expand trade with Saudi Arabia, and China now actually imports more oil from Saudi Arabia than the United States does.  In February, China imported 1.39 million barrels of oil per day from Saudi Arabia.  That was 39 percent higher than last February.  So why is this important?  Well, back in 1973 the United States and Saudi Arabia agreed that all oil sold by Saudi Arabia would be denominated in U.S. dollars.  This petrodollar system was adopted by almost the entire world and it has had great benefits for the U.S. economy.  But if China becomes Saudi Arabia's most important trading partner, then why should Saudi Arabia continue to only sell oil in U.S. dollars?  And if the petrodollar system collapses, what is that going to mean for the U.S. economy?
Those are very important questions, and they will be addressed later on in this article.  First of all, let's take a closer look at the agreement reached between Saudi Arabia and China recently.
The following is how the deal was described in a recent China Daily article....
In what Riyadh calls "the largest expansion by any oil company in the world", Sinopec's deal on Saturday with Saudi oil giant Aramco will allow a major oil refinery to become operational in the Red Sea port of Yanbu by 2014.
The $8.5 billion joint venture, which covers an area of about 5.2 million square meters, is already under construction. It will process 400,000 barrels of heavy crude oil per day. Aramco will hold a 62.5 percent stake in the plant while Sinopec will own the remaining 37.5 percent.
At a time when the U.S. is actually losing refining capacity, this is a stunning development.
Yet the U.S. press has been largely silent about this.
Very curious.
But China is not just doing deals with Saudi Arabia.  China has also been striking deals with several other important oil producing nations.  The following comes from a recent article by Gregg Laskoski....
China's investment in oil infrastructure and refining capacity is unparalleled. And more importantly, it executes a consistent strategy of developing world-class refining facilities in partnership with OPEC suppliers. Such relationships mean economic leverage that could soon subordinate U.S. relations with the same countries.
Egypt is building its largest refinery ever with investment from China.
Shortly after the partnership with Egypt was announced, China signed a $23 billion agreement with Nigeria to construct three gasoline refineries and a fuel complex in Nigeria.
Essentially, China is running circles around the United States when it comes to locking up strategic oil supplies worldwide.
And all of these developments could have tremendous implications for the future of the petrodollar system.
If you are not familiar with the petrodollar system, it really is not that complicated.  Basically, almost all of the oil in the world is traded in U.S. dollars.  The origin of the petrodollar system was detailed in a recent article by Jerry Robinson....
In 1973, a deal was struck between Saudi Arabia and the United States in which every barrel of oil purchased from the Saudis would be denominated in U.S. dollars. Under this new arrangement, any country that sought to purchase oil from Saudi Arabia would be required to first exchange their own national currency for U.S. dollars. In exchange for Saudi Arabia's willingness to denominate their oil sales exclusively in U.S. dollars, the United States offered weapons and protection of their oil fields from neighboring nations, including Israel.
By 1975, all of the OPEC nations had agreed to price their own oil supplies exclusively in U.S. dollars in exchange for weapons and military protection. 
This petrodollar system, or more simply known as an "oil for dollars" system, created an immediate artificial demand for U.S. dollars around the globe. And of course, as global oil demand increased, so did the demand for U.S. dollars.
Once you understand the petrodollar system, it becomes much easier to understand why our politicians treat Saudi leaders with kid gloves.  The U.S. government does not want to see anything happen that would jeopardize the status quo.
A recent article by Marin Katusa described some more of the benefits that the petrodollar system has had for the U.S. economy....
The "petrodollar" system was a brilliant political and economic move. It forced the world's oil money to flow through the US Federal Reserve, creating ever-growing international demand for both US dollars and US debt, while essentially letting the US pretty much own the world's oil for free, since oil's value is denominated in a currency that America controls and prints. The petrodollar system spread beyond oil: the majority of international trade is done in US dollars. That means that from Russia to China, Brazil to South Korea, every country aims to maximize the US-dollar surplus garnered from its export trade to buy oil.
The US has reaped many rewards. As oil usage increased in the 1980s, demand for the US dollar rose with it, lifting the US economy to new heights. But even without economic success at home the US dollar would have soared, because the petrodollar system created consistent international demand for US dollars, which in turn gained in value. A strong US dollar allowed Americans to buy imported goods at a massive discount – the petrodollar system essentially creating a subsidy for US consumers at the expense of the rest of the world. Here, finally, the US hit on a downside: The availability of cheap imports hit the US manufacturing industry hard, and the disappearance of manufacturing jobs remains one of the biggest challenges in resurrecting the US economy today.
So what happens if the petrodollar system collapses?
Well, for one thing the value of the U.S. dollar would plummet big time.
U.S. consumers would suddenly find that all of those "cheap imported goods" would rise in price dramatically as would the price of gasoline.
If you think the price of gas is high now, you just wait until the petrodollar system collapses.
In addition, there would be much less of a demand for U.S. government debt since countries would not have so many excess U.S. dollars lying around.
So needless to say, the U.S. government really needs the petrodollar system to continue.
But in the end, it is Saudi Arabia that is holding the cards.
If Saudi Arabia chooses to sell oil in a currency other than the U.S. dollar, most of the rest of the oil producing countries in the Middle East would surely do the same rather quickly.
And we have already seen countries in other parts of the world start to move away from using the U.S. dollar in global trade.
For example, Russia and China have agreed to now use their own national currencies when trading with each other rather than the U.S. dollar.
That got virtually no attention in the U.S. media, but it really was a big deal when it was announced.
A recent article by Graham Summers summarized some of the other moves away from the U.S. dollar in international trade that we have seen recently....
Indeed, officials from China, India, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa (the latest addition to the BRIC acronym, now to be called BRICS) recently met in southern China to discuss expanding the use of their own currencies in foreign trade (yet another move away from the US Dollar).
To recap:
  • China and Russia have removed the US Dollar from their trade
  • China is rushing its trade agreement with Brazil
  • China, Russia, Brazil, India, and now South Africa are moving to trade more in their own currencies (not the US Dollar)
  • Saudi Arabia is moving to formalize trade with China and Russia
  • Singapore is moving to trade yuan
The trend here is obvious. The US Dollar’s reign as the world’s reserve currency is ending. The process will take time to unfold. But the Dollar will be finished as reserve currency within the next five years.
Yes, the days of the U.S. dollar being the primary reserve currency of the world are definitely numbered.
It will not happen overnight, but as the U.S. economy continues to get weaker it is inevitable that the rest of the world will continue to question why the U.S. dollar should automatically have such a dominant position in international trade.
Over the next few years, keep a close eye on Saudi Arabia.
When Saudi Arabia announces a move away from the petrodollar system, that will be a major trigger event for the global financial system and it will be a really, really bad sign for the U.S. economy.
The level of prosperity that we are enjoying today would not be possible without the petrodollar system.  Once the petrodollar system collapses, a lot of our underlying economic vulnerabilities will be exposed and it will not be pretty.
Tough times are on the horizon.  It is imperative that we all get informed and that we all get prepared.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

10 simple steps to help de-stress

There is no shortage of angst-inducing news these days: natural disasters, economic woes, political unrest. Add to this backdrop stresses in our personal lives, layoffs, illness, money woes, temper tantrums, and traffic jams, and it is clear that stressful situations are constant and inevitable.

Just as serious as the stressors themselves are the adverse effects stress can have on your emotional and physical health. Many well-respected studies link stress to heart disease and stroke — the No. 1 and No. 3 causes of death, respectively, in the United States. Stress is also implicated in a host of other ailments such as depression and anxiety, chronic lower respiratory diseases, asthma flare-ups, rheumatoid arthritis, and gastrointestinal problems.

Stress is not all bad. Your perception of a real or imagined threat can spark the stress response, which prepares the body to fight or flee. That swift reflex was encoded in you for survival. Thanks to the stress response, you might suddenly jump out of the path of a speeding car or flee from a burning house. But when your stress response is evoked repeatedly, your body experiences unnecessary wear and tear — such as high blood pressure — that can lead to poor health.

Even if you only have a few minutes to spare, the stress-busting suggestions described below can make your days calmer, if not easier.

Take the sting out of 10 common stressors
Sometimes just thinking about embarking on a program of stress control can be stressful. Rather than freeze in your tracks, start small and bask in the glow of your successes. Give yourself a week to focus on practical solutions that could help you cope with just one stumbling block or source of stress in your life. Pick a problem, and see if these suggestions work for you.
  1. Frequently late? Apply time management principles. Consider your priorities (be sure to include time for yourself) and delegate or discard unnecessary tasks. Map out your day, segment by segment, setting aside time for different tasks, such as writing or phone calls. If you are overly optimistic about travel time, consistently give yourself an extra 15 minutes or more to get to your destinations. If lateness stems from dragging your heels, consider the underlying issue. Are you anxious about what will happen after you get to work or to a social event, for example? Or maybe you’re trying to jam too many tasks into too little time. 
  2. Often angry or irritated? Consider the weight of cognitive distortions. Are you magnifying a problem, leaping to conclusions, or applying emotional reasoning? Take the time to stop, breathe, reflect, and choose.
  3. Unsure of your ability to do something? Don’t try to go it alone. If the problem is work, talk to a co-worker or supportive boss. Ask a knowledgeable friend or call the local library or an organization that can supply the information you need. Write down other ways that you might get the answers or skills you need. Turn to CDs, books, or classes, for example, if you need a little tutoring. This works equally well when you’re learning relaxation response techniques, too.
  4. Overextended? Clear the deck of at least one time-consuming household task by hiring help. If you can, hire a housecleaning service, shop for groceries through the Internet, convene a family meeting to consider who can take on certain jobs, or barter with or pay teens for work around the house and yard. Consider what is truly essential and important to you and what might take a backseat right now.
  5. Not enough time for stress relief? Try mini-relaxations. Or make a commitment to yourself to pare down your schedule for just one week so you can practice evoking the relaxation response every day. Slowing down to pay attention to just one task or pleasure at hand is an excellent method of stress relief.
  6. Feeling unbearably tense? Try massage, a hot bath, mini-relaxations, a body scan, or a mindful walk. Practically any exercise — a brisk walk, a quick run, a sprint up and down the stairs — will help, too. Done regularly, exercise wards off tension, as do relaxation response techniques.
  7. Frequently feel pessimistic? Remind yourself of the value of learned optimism: a more joyful life and, quite possibly, better health. Practice deflating cognitive distortions. Rent funny movies and read amusing books. Create a mental list of reasons you have to feel grateful. If the list seems too short, consider beefing up your social network and adding creative, productive, and leisure pursuits to your life.
  8. Upset by conflicts with others? State your needs or distress directly, avoiding “you always” or “you never” zingers. Say, “I feel _____ when you _____.” “I would really appreciate it if you could _____.” “I need some help setting priorities. What needs to be done first and what should I tackle later?” If conflicts are a significant source of distress for you, consider taking a class on assertiveness training.
  9. Worn out or burned out? Focus on self-nurturing. Carve out time to practice relaxation response techniques or at least indulge in mini-relaxations. Care for your body by eating good, healthy food and for your heart by seeking out others. Give thought to creative, productive, and leisure activities. Consider your priorities in life: is it worth feeling this way, or is another path open to you? If you want help, consider what kind would be best. Do you want a particular task at work to be taken off your hands? Do you want to do it at a later date? Do you need someone with particular expertise to assist you?
  10. Feeling lonely? Connect with others. Even little connections — a brief conversation in line at the grocery store, an exchange about local goings-on with a neighbor, a question for a colleague — can help melt the ice within you. It may embolden you, too, to seek more opportunities to connect. Be a volunteer. Attend religious or community functions. Suggest coffee with an acquaintance. Call a friend or relative you miss. Take an interesting class. If a social phobia, low self-esteem, or depression is dampening your desire to reach out, seek help. The world is a kinder, more wondrous place when you share its pleasures and burdens.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Representing and Misrepresenting Islam: The Discursive Struggle Between Literal and Liberal Islam in Southeast Asia


Lily Zubaidah Rahim, who teaches in the Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney, writes that in Southeast Asia the “contest between literal and liberal Islam will have a major impact on the direction and outcome of the protracted War on Terror. It is imperative that the discursive advances of the literal Islam are countered by reinforcing democratic structures and institutions and addressing localised socio-political and economic grievances. In the long term, the promotion of liberal Islam’s inclusive and flexible worldview based on ijtihad is likely to prove more effective than the conventional reliance on draconian security-orientated measures in the protracted War on Terror.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Nautilus Institute. Readers should note that Nautilus seeks a diversity of views and opinions on contentious topics in order to identify common ground.

Essay: Representing and Misrepresenting Islam: The Discursive Struggle Between Literal and Liberal Islam in Southeast Asia

Archipelago Southeast Asia’s pre-colonial tradition of moderate and inclusive Islam, coupled with its experience of rapid economic growth in the 1980s and 1990s and chequered democratic advances, particularly since the reformasi campaigns of the late 1990s, have contributed towards paving the economic, intellectual and political foundations of civil Islam [1]. By contrast, the predominantly Muslim states in West Asia have remained chronically deficient in terms of political freedom, gender equality, human capability and knowledge [2]. Similarly, Islamist non-government organisations in these authoritarian West Asian states commonly operate along authoritarian and patriarchal lines, placing emphasis on authority, loyalty and obedience. They are thus not fundamentally dissimilar from the authoritarian states they are embroiled in conflict with and seek to overthrow [3].
The paper examines the impact of the global Islamic revivalism and state Islamisation initiatives on the cultural practices, institutions and laws in Southeast Asia’s Muslim majority states of Malaysia and Indonesia. In particular, the assault on adat and the reconfiguration of legal and political structures established in the post-colonial era with the intrusion of Wahabi-inspired literal Islam from West Asia are investigated.
In this paper, liberal Islam refers to an expression of Islam that values theological flexibility, socio-economic justice, inclusion, gender equality, political pluralism and ijtihad (critical reflection). [4] In particular, liberal and progressive Islamists view ijtihad as pivotal in facilitating Islam’s relevance to the needs of the time, place and history. They do not espouse the establishment of an Islamic state. Champions of liberal Islam, particularly from Indonesia, are inclined to differentiate their liberalism from Western liberalism which is commonly identified with the political right. By contrast, their discourse is more closely associated with progressive movements on the left of the political spectrum.
As the discursive contest between literal and liberal Islam will have a major impact on the direction and outcome of the protracted War on Terror, it is imperative that the discursive advances of the former are countered by reinforcing democratic structures and institutions and addressing localised socio-political and economic grievances. In the long term, the promotion of liberal Islam’s inclusive and flexible worldview based on ijtihad is likely to prove more effective than the conventional reliance on draconian security-orientated measures in the protracted War on Terror.

Tradition of Inclusive Islam

Southeast Asia boasts a tradition of inclusive and moderate Islam that is strongly influenced by Sufi mysticism, religious eclecticism and the ideas of progressive Islamic reformers such as Egyptian Muhammad Abduh. Centuries before the arrival of Islam to Southeast Asian shores, in approximately the thirteenth century, the region had readily assimilated Hindu, Buddhist and other philosophies. In this rich tradition of cultural osmosis and pluralism, the ‘other’ had been readily integrated into the ‘us’ fabric. This cultural syncretism ensured that the penetration of Islam was not characterised by a sharp break with the past but was more akin to a gentle adaptation to the local socio-cultural terrain [5].
Archipelago Southeast Asia’s long tradition of relatively egalitarian gender relations markedly differentiates the region from the Arab world. In contrast to the generally subordinate status of Arab women particularly in pre-Islamic times, Southeast Asian women have traditionally enjoyed relatively high social status and access to public space. Adat (traditional and customary) laws bestowed both sons and daughters equal rights to the family property. Such laws also provided that all property acquired during marriage was divided equally in the event of a divorce [[6].
The region’s tradition of cultural accommodation has been reinforced by the inclusion of most regional Muslims to the Shafie school of Islamic jurisprudence which allows greater space for adjusting the practice of Islam according to historical and cultural contexts. This is based on the rationale that judicious innovation that enriches Islamic belief and ethical behaviour be accorded more value than rituals and outward appearances. Neo-modernist interpretations of Islam, which discourage blind imitation of the past whilst encouraging the practice of ijtihad (combining independent rational inquiry with Islamic scholarship) have been endorsed by prominent Islamic intellectuals in Indonesia. Neo-modernist Islamic intellectuals such as the late Nurcholish Majid, have consistently maintained that there is no Islamic theological imperative to establish an Islamic state as the Quran does not mention must less describe the workings of an Islamic state [7]. Consistent with this worldview, the largest Indonesian Islamist organisations such as Nadlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah have traditionally focused on the spiritual upliftment of Muslims rather than the enforcement of Islamic law. Influenced by their tertiary education in the West, the majority of Islamic scholars in Indonesia are theologically flexible and have incorporated Islam in the push for greater democracy, a vibrant civil society and the respect for human rights.

The Wahabi Rejection

In contrast to the inclusive tradition of Southeast Asian Islam, rigid interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence from the Wahabi school [8], dominant in conservative Arab societies and widely accepted by Islamic radicals and militants, reject innovation and ijtihad. Adamant that the Quran be read literally, Wahabis advocate the establishment of an Islamic state led by clerics, government by shariah (Islamic) law, regulation of a strict dress-code particularly for women and the replication of seventh-century Medina. Dazzled by prescriptions that are more than a thousand years old, they are prone to ignore the realities of the contemporary world. The non-implementation of shariah law is perceived as tantamount to worshipping the pagan deities of the pre-Islamic era (jahiliyah). This is based on the logic that as secular laws separate religion and politics and are devised by humans, they are inherently flawed [9]. In short, sovereignty of God’s rule must take precedence over democratic concepts such as the sovereignty of the people.
As the world is essentially understood in rigid ‘black and white’ terms, non-Muslims and the Western secular world are projected as the perpetual ‘other’. The obsession with a single truth rationalises the dismissal of others who do not accept their truth. It also rationalises the jihad (holy war) against ‘unbelievers’ and the acceptance of ‘collateral’ civilian deaths when conducting the jihad [10]. The siege mentality of Wahabi-inspired radical and militant Islamists is fuelled by an acute sense of political defeatism, frustration, disempowerment and humiliation in the face of Western domination and oppression by political elites in collusion with the West.
Pre-Islamic traditions and cultures, particularly of non-Arabic Muslims, are to be cleansed and kept in line with conservative aspects of Arab culture. Abaza has noted that the belief in jettisoning local culture (adat) in favour of the supposedly purer and orthodox Arab traits is rooted in the logic that Islam in the periphery is lax, less pure and thus deviant [11]. Ironically, the applauding of Islam’s glorious past and the authenticity of Islam found in Arab lands is incongruously matched by the relatively poor scientific, technological, economic and political progress in these societies.
Southeast Asia’s tradition of moderate and inclusive Islam, reinforced by the presence of economically potent non-Muslim communities, encouraged post-colonial nationalist leaders in Malaysia and Indonesia to formulate constitutions and political systems that recognise the significance of religion whilst retaining the state’s quasi secular orientation. Therefore, while Islam was pronounced the religion of independent Malaya, the framers of the constitution desired a largely ceremonial role for Islam. In keeping with this spirit, then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman declared in parliament shortly after independence in 1957 that “this country is not an Islamic state as it is generally understood, we merely provide that Islam shall be the official religion of the state” [12]. This logic is reinforced in Article 4(1) of the constitution which affirms the constitution as the supreme law of the Federation and that any legislation passed subsequently that is inconsistent with the constitution be nullified [13].
It is worth noting that even the founders of Malaysia’s opposition Islamist political party PAS (Parti Islam Malaysia) such as Burhannuddin El Helmy steered the party towards a moderate Islamist ethno-nationalist course and were preoccupied with issues such as socio-economic justice. Similarly, Muslim based parties and movements in Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore, where Muslims remain a minority, were initially led by secular oriented ethno-nationalists.
In the Chinese-dominated society of Singapore, the newly elected PAP government in 1959 expediently downplayed the Sino-secular character of the island by cloaking the semi-autonomous British colony in Malay-Muslim clothes [14]. As such, the state flag included the Islamic insignia of the crescent and moon which is akin to the Malayan flag. After independence from Malaysia, the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapore (MUIS) was established in 1968 to collect the zakat fitrah (annual obligatory tax), administer wakaf (land endowed to the Muslim community) property and centralize the haj pilgrimages to Mecca. In archipelago Southeast Asia, Islam was thus an important factor in the nation-building calculations of post-colonial political elites even though it was not expected to play a major role in these secular-oriented states.
The attempts by some Indonesian nationalists to adopt the 1945 Jakarta Charter, which would have placed Muslims within the jurisdiction of shariah law, was rebuffed in favour of the Pancasila as the first principle of the country’s national ideology [15]. In particular, the Pancasila affirms the belief in God but does not accord special status to Islam. The pluralist constitution was firmly endorsed by Islamic-oriented nationalists such as Vice-President Mohamad Hatta and Agoes Salim and prominent Christian and secular nationalists, all committed towards unifying the religiously diverse fledgling republic embroiled in the nationalist struggle for independence. The Pancasila’s religious pluralism is reflective of the acceptance of an inclusive and flexible Islam traditionally practised by the majority of Indonesian Muslims who make up nearly 90% of the population.
As the Pancasila’s inclusiveness denied Islam special status in the post-colonial state, a small minority committed to the Islamic state and primacy of shariah law rebelled against the fledgling republic. The Darul Islam (Islamic territory) rebellion (1948-1962), which spread from West Java to South Sulawesi, was led by Kartosuwiryo and Muzakkar and included none other than the alleged latter day JI amir (spiritual head), Abu Bakar Bashir. The campaign for an Islamic state was also pursued in the Indonesian Constituent Assembly by the Islamic party Masjumi in the 1950s. This campaign was finally stalled in 1959 when President Sukarno disbanded the elected Constituent Assembly, banned Masjumi and reverted to the 1949 constitution, paving the way for a stronger executive [16]. In line with the trend towards authoritarian rule, the captured Darul Islam leaders Kartosuwiryo and Muzakkar were eventually executed in 1962 and 1965. As the events in the late Suharto and post-Suharto era demonstrate, repressive and draconian means have failed to suppress radical Islamist demands in the long term.
Having directed Muslim parties to merge into the United Development Party (PPP) in 1973, the Suharto New Order regime (1965-1998) elevated the status of the Pancasila by decreeing in the mid-1980s that all social, religious and political organisations adopt the doctrine as their asas tunggal (sole philosophical basis). This directive was essentially geared towards undermining the legitimacy of radical Islamists by depoliticising Islam. As with the draconian methods of the Sukarno guided democracy era, the New Order’s attempts to depolitise Islam failed to erase the commitment of radical Islamists to realising the vision of the earlier Darul Islam rebels of establishing an Islamic state.
Archipelago Southeast Asia’s pre-colonial tradition of moderate and inclusive Islam, coupled with its experience of rapid economic growth in the 1980s and 1990s and chequered democratic advances, particularly since the reformasi campaigns of the late 1990s, have contributed towards paving the economic, intellectual and political foundations of civil Islam [17]. By contrast, the predominantly Muslim states in West Asia have remained chronically deficient in terms of political freedom, gender equality, human capability and knowledge [18]. Similarly, Islamist non-government organisations in these authoritarian West Asian states commonly operate along authoritarian and patriarchal lines, placing emphasis on authority, loyalty and obedience. They are thus not fundamentally dissimilar from the authoritarian states they are embroiled in conflict with and seek to overthrow [19].
The paper examines the impact of the global Islamic revivalism and state Islamisation initiatives on the cultural practices, institutions and laws in Southeast Asia’s Muslim majority states of Malaysia and Indonesia. In particular, the assault on adat and the reconfiguration of legal and political structures established in the post-colonial era with the intrusion of Wahabi-inspired literal Islam from West Asia are investigated. As the discursive contest between literal and liberal Islam [20] will have a major impact on the direction and outcome of the protracted War on Terror, it is imperative that the discursive advances of the former are countered by reinforcing democratic structures and institutions and addressing localised socio-political and economic grievances. In the long term, the promotion of liberal Islam’s inclusive and flexible worldview based on ijtihad is likely to prove more effective than the conventional reliance on draconian security-orientated measures in the protracted War on Terror.

Intrusion of Literal Islam

The doctrinal intrusion of literal variants of Wahabi Islam into Southeast Asia was strongly facilitated by the oil crisis of the early 1970s. Flushed with petro-dollars, Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia generously channelled financial grants particularly to organisations that advocated fundamentalist Islamic doctrines that emphasised literal interpretations of the Quran and the hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhamad). In particular, the conservative Saudi regime anticipated that its ‘export’ of Wahabi-inspired literal Islam, also referred to as palace fundamentalism or petro-Islam, would help boost its tenuous political legitimacy. Petro-Islam’s financial support of evangelical Wahabi-oriented organisations and clerics to Southeast Asia was considerable [21]. It is worth noting that the Saudi-sponsored Indonesian Islamic Propagation Council (DDII, Dewan Dakwah Islamiyah Indonesia) was established by the Wahabi-inspired Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) founder Andullah Sungkar [22]. So pervasive was this Wahabi theological intrusion into Southeast Asia that its influence was even felt within the minority Cham community in Cambodia.
Literal Islamists advocate the revival of a pristine Islamic society akin to seventh century Medina and the establishment of Islamic states based on shariah law. Importantly, the idealised Islamic state extends beyond the boundaries of post-colonial states which have been denounced as illegitimate relics of Western colonialism. Similarly, the secular-oriented constitutions and political systems of these post-colonial states are dismissed as unIslamic manifestations of Western neo-colonialism. For literal Islamists committed to the Islamic state ideal, Western neo-colonial domination is more effectively countered by promoting a Pan-Muslim identity rather than invoking nationalist sentiments.
The quest for a Pan-Muslim identity is in keeping with JI’s goal of establishing a revitalised Pan-Islamic Southeast Asian Federation (Daulah Islamiyah Nusantara), encompassing S. Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, and S. Philippines [23]. As the Pan-Islamic Southeast Asian Federation is to be realised by violent means if necessary, violence against the secular state, non-Muslims and Muslim civilians caught in the crossfire is justified [24]. Indicative of radical Islam’s tacit support of terrorism, JI alleged amir (spiritual head) Abu Bakar Bashir who has been convicted of conspiracy charges over the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 people, justified the actions of the Bali suicide bombers by pronouncing that,” The consideration is this: if I do this, will Islam benefit or lose? If I must die, and without my dying Islam will not win, then my dying is allowed… to die in jihad is noble” [25].
The commitment of radical Islamists to the regional Islamic Federation goes some way towards explaining their fury at the secession of East Timor from Indonesia in 1999 and their ready acceptance of the view that the dismemberment of the Indonesian state is part of a Western/Christian neo-colonial conspiracy. The paranoid tendency of radical Islamists has spawned conspiracy theories which claim that the intelligence services of Israel and the Christian West have systematically undermined the Muslim World. Theories have abounded about how the September 11 attacks on the United States were engineered by the Israeli secret service to discredit the Muslim World. Similarly, the CIA has been accused of executing the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings.
Islamist parties and movements in Southeast Asia and other regions around the world warmly applauded the Iranian revolution and its elimination of the repressive and secular-oriented Pahlavi regime installed and supported by Washington. At the time, the Iranian revolution was perceived by conservative Muslims as evidence of the ‘second coming of Islam’ and eventual ascendancy of Islam over the secular and Christian West. Inspired by the success of the Iran’s clerical dictatorship, Islamist parties such as Malaysia’s PAS elevated the position of the clerics within the party and pronounced that they would become the guardians of society.
The significance of the 1980s Afghan war in the rise of militant Islamist movements such as al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf has generally been downplayed due in part to Washington’s pivotal role in funding and training thousands of transnational anti-Soviet mujahideen (freedom fighters). The more infamous anti-Soviet mujahideen included al Qaeda, JI and Abu Sayyaf founders such as Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Sungkar and Abdulrajak Janjalani. In particular, Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin (aka Hambali) who, before his arrest in 2004, was JI’s operational head and al Qaeda’s chief operative in Southeast Asia, had fought as an anti-Soviet mujahideen. While in Afghanistan, he was tutored by CIA operatives and leading mujahideen such as Osama bin Laden in the art of assassination, bomb-making and hostage-taking. By the time he returned to Southeast Asia in the early 1990s, he was formidably skilled in the art of warfare [26].
The selective amnesia associated with Washington’s role in the rise of latter day Islamic militants in Southeast Asia has been highlighted by Philippines Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, who has alleged that Abu Sayyaf’s origins can be traced back to the 1980s when Filipino Muslims were recruited by the CIA to battle the Soviets in Afghanistan. Before their deployment to Afghanistan, these jihadis (holy warriors) in training were armed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Mindanao and funded by the CIA [27]. Having forged an international network of Afghan veterans and triumphant in their defeat of the Soviet s, these battled-hardened Wahabi-indoctrinated fighters returned home to wage social and political jihad. The American-financed and instigated Afghan war, much like the latter-day Iraq war, has thus played a major role in franchising the cause of Islamic jihad. Movements primarily fuelled by localised grievances have become inextricably tied to the global Islamist agenda.

Domestic Dynamics in the Ascendency of Literal Islam – Hostage to Parti Islam Malaysia’s Literal Discourse

Capitalising on Muslim exuberance in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution and its installation of a theocratic state, the influx of university-educated activists and intellectuals into the conservative Islamist party PAS, rising alienation felt by a significant segment of the Malay community and leadership splits within UMNO, the PAS leadership forged a closer relationship between Islamist intellectuals and the ulama [28]. They no longer discussed whether an Islamic state was necessary for Malaysia but focused on the type of Islamic state to be established. Dismissing Malaysia’s parliamentary democracy as a relic of Western colonialism and secularism, the PAS leadership pronounced that in their proposed Islamic state, the elected Parliament would have limited authority and the assembly of clerics would supersede the legislature [29].
Alarmed by the influx of educated and middle-class Muslims into PAS and the erosion of its traditional electoral base, the dominant Malay and Muslim-based party UMNO (United Malay National Organisation), led by Prime Ministers Mahathir Mohamed, set out to enhance the party’s Islamic credentials and legitimacy by out-Islamising PAS. Instead of marginalising dissenting clerics, Islamic NGOs and activists, they were expediently co-opted into UMNO and the state and federal bureaucracies. At the time, the co-optation of charismatic Islamic activist and future Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was perceived as a brilliant manoeuvre guaranteed to appease the Islamic revivalist movements and an electoral bonanza for UMNO. UMNO’s concerted bid to out-Islamise PAS contributed in no small measure to the Islamisation of Malaysia, as manifested by the introduction of numerous shariah laws, the rise in moral surveillance and enforcement of severe punishments on Muslims deemed to behave in an unIslamic manner.
Of particular concern to women and social justice advocates is the amendment of Islamic Family Law, making divorce and polygamy easier for men whilst reducing their financial responsibilities. This is consistent with the general trend in Muslim societies of adopting patriarchal interpretations of shariah law which have effectively undermined the legal rights of Muslim women relative to their counterparts under the jurisdiction of civil law. The penetration of patriarchal interpretations of Wahabi Islam on Malaysian society was evidenced by a 2003 Berita Harian poll. Inter alia, the poll suggested that a majority of those surveyed did not look favourably at the appointment of women judges in the shariah courts even after a successful but protracted campaign by Sisters In Islam (SIS) and the Ministry for Women and Family Affairs to appoint women judges [[30].
The Administration of Islamic Law has ensured that fatwas (religious rulings) issued by appointed state muftis (highest Islamic authority) can be enforced without having to be tabled for debate in the state legislature or Malaysian Parliament. Furthermore, only the mufti can revoke or amend a fatwa, which if challenged or violated constitutes a criminal offence [31]. Commenting on the undemocratic nature of the law, Noriani Othman noted that “The situation may be likened to handing a ‘blank cheque’ to the bureaucratic division of government to make laws as it deems fit without any public debate” [32]. Even though the Quran is explicit in the recognition of religious freedom and non-Muslim Malaysians have long been encouraged to embrace Islam, the Federal government has instituted stringent penalties on Muslims who have renounced Islam. After serving a one year compulsory rehabilitation for apostasy, the unrepentant ex-Muslim is declared a non-Muslim and where applicable, their marriage dissolved [33].
By the 1990s the intense discursive competition between PAS and UMNO resulted in mainstream national politics being dominated by issues such as shariah law, hudud punishments, religious education, ‘correct’ versus ‘incorrect’ Islam, and the promotion of the Islamic economy and state [34]. Politicians and supporters from both parties were embroiled in the kafir-mengafir discourse, accusing one another of being kafir (unbelievers) and munafikin (hypocrites). Indicative of the heightened animosity between both camps, PAS supporters refused to pray with UMNO members in mosques while the PAS leadership denounced UMNO’s gradualist approach towards Islamising Malaysian society as insincere [35].
PAS’s impressive electoral gains in the 1999 elections elevated its status to that of the strongest opposition party in the country. It boasted the largest number of opposition seats in Parliament and control of the states of Kelantan and Trengganu [36]. However, instead of focusing on addressing the root causes for the Muslim electoral backlash against UMNO, the party defensively gravitated further into PAS’s Islamic discourse. Acknowledgement by the UMNO leadership that the electoral backlash was strongly fuelled by the widespread public indignation over the precipitous expulsion and subsequent degrading treatment of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim would have certainly further discredited the political judgement and credibility of Mahathir Mohamad and the senior UMNO leadership [37].
Amidst speculation that PAS was in a position to rupture UMNO’s hegemonic hold over the Muslim community and assume the reigns of Federal government in the next elections, the Federal government cracked down on ‘militant Islamist networks’ in the country. When placed within an historical context, there is a clear pattern of suppressing political activists and members of the political opposition when the UMNO-dominated Barisan Nasional government is under severe electoral or economic pressure. Islamists and other Muslim political activists have been periodically detained without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Since September 11, 2001, ISA detentions have been used more frequently with scant objections or tacit support from Washington and other Western governments.
Confronted by PAS’s discursive gains and threatened by the outflow of thousands of UMNO members into the PAS camp, Prime Minister Mahathir boldly declared Malaysia an Islamic state in late 2001. To the dismay of non-Muslims, liberal Muslims and indignation of PAS supporters, Mahathir purported that the Malaysian state had already fulfilled the obligations of an Islamic state. To be sure, Mahathir’s calculated declaration left his critics and supporters momentarily fazed as there is no consensus among Muslims about what constitutes an Islamic state. Importantly, the status of non-Muslims in an Islamic state has not been clearly elaborated particularly by conservative Islamist parties and organisations. This attempt to out-Islamise PAS and compete in a discourse which is inherently in PAS’s favour, has only served to legitimise the latter’s demands for an Islamic state. As Zainah Anwar insightfully observed, the UMNO leadership’s attempts to out-Islamise PAS has rendered them “hostage to PAS’s agenda and framework on Islam” [38].
Integral to the Malaysian government’s attempts to enhance its Islamic credentials, a pro-Islamic foreign policy characterised by overt support for Muslim minority communities seeking autonomy and the leadership of international Muslim organisations such as the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) was set in motion. Close links were forged with the Saudi government and the conservative bastions of Islamic learning, such as the al Azhar University in Egypt where a significant number of Malaysian Islamic scholars were educated. These links contributed further to the promotion of literal and Wahabi-orientated theology by conservative Islamist bureaucrats in the Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM) [39].
In Malaysia’s increasingly conservative Islamised environment, the country became a popular destination for political refugees from Aceh and Southern Philippines. Malaysia became the base of radical Indonesian Islamists such as Abdullah Sungkar, Abu Bakar Bashir and Hambali in the mid-1980s. During their sojourn in Malaysia, they freely disseminated radical Islamist perspectives and established a regional network of radical activists committed towards establishing an Islamic state. Reflective of the advances made by Wahabi theology within the Muslim community and bureaucratic establishment, the radical jihadi (militant) postulations and covert activities of these non-Malaysian Islamists did not arouse the attention of Malaysian security agencies [40].

Gravitating Towards a Santri [41] State?

The overthrow of the Sukarno’s guided democracy regime in 1965 was facilitated by the unleashing of Muslim paramilitaries who played a major role in crushing the Communist Party of Indonesia and its supporters. More than a hundred thousand people are believed to have been massacred in this anti-communist hysteria. In particular, during Suharto’s New Order military regime, Islamists regained centre-stage as Islam became one of the few refuges for Indonesians frustrated with the increasingly corrupt system of patrimonial kleptocracy. Despite attempts to clip the wings of political Islam, the authoritarian regime’s intelligence services covertly encouraged former Darul Islam activists to undermine the Islamic-based United Development Party (PPP, Partai Persatuan Pembangunan) in the lead up to the 1977 general elections.
The Indonesia military and intelligence services had purportedly encouraged the formation of the militant Islamist organisation Komando Jihad which eventually evolved into Ji [42]. Similarly, Laskar Jihad (LJ) was allegedly funded by elements within the Indonesian army such as the Special Operations Command (KOSTRAD). Established in the late 1990s, Front Pembela Islam (FPI) is thought to have close links to senior elements within the Indonesian army [43]. It is worth nothing that LJ and FPI are led by Arab Indonesians Jaafar Umar Talib and Habib Rizieq. Both were educated in conservative Wahabi-based Saudi religious institutions.
As Suharto’s support within the armed forces and the larger community began to wane in the 1980s, amidst widespread concerns over the pervasiveness of corruption, nepotism and rising socio-economic disparities, he began to accede to the aspirations of the increasingly religious Muslim community. Mirroring Malaysia’s state-sponsored Islamisation initiatives, Islamic banks, insurance and credit union institutions were established amidst the proliferation of mosques. By the end of the 1990s, 33 state Islamic colleges were opened, a State Islamic University was set up in 2002 and more pesantrens (religious schools) were opened in urban areas [44]. Not surprisingly, Islamic activism has proliferated in university campuses. Reflective of this increasingly conservative Islamised environment, more women are wearing the jilbab (head scarf) while men commonly sported the beard and baju koko or Arabic robes. Paralleling the conservative interpretation and implementation of shariah laws in Malaysia, local governments in provinces such as Aceh have implemented shariah laws relating to alcohol, consumption, gambling, pornography and prostitution.
In Indonesia’s increasingly Islamised social environment, the longstanding theological tensions between traditionalist (Nahdatul Ulama) and modernist (Muhammadiyah) Islamists have been attenuated and replaced by the mounting liberal-literal Islamic divide. Capitalising on the broadening of democratic space with Suharto’s ouster, many Islamist groups were transformed into political parties. Islamist parties that professed the goal of establishing an Islamic state included the revived Masjumi, established PPP and newly formed Partai Bulan Bintang (Crescent and Star Party). Consistent with the goal of establishing an Islamic state, these Islamist parties campaigned vigorously, albeit unsuccessfully, to revive the Jakarta Charter during the 2002 constitutional reforms [45].
Despite their relatively weak performance in the 1999 and 2004 elections, Islamist parties have played an influential role in determining the political dynamics and outcome of the Presidency. For example, Islamists placed considerable pressure on Habibie’s presidency and successfully blocked Megawati Sukarnoputri’s nomination for the Presidency even though her party won the largest number of votes in the 1999 elections. Consistent with the patriarchal orientation of Wahabi theology, they were hell-bent on blocking Megawati becoming the leader of a Muslim nation. Yet, when Abdul Rahman Wahid was impeached in mid-2001, these conservative Islamists expediently rallied behind Megawati’s bid for the Presidency, claiming that their about-turn was done for the common good (maslaha). Indeed, right up to the 2002 Bali bombings, the political alliances between nationalist and Islamist parties contributed to the toleration of radical Islamists groups and individuals such as Abu Bakar Bashir.

Religious Disempowerment and the Entrenchment of Literal Islam

As discussed above, Wahabi-inspired literal Islam has increasingly defined the practice of Islam in Southeast Asia, particularly since the 1980s. The unstable political dynamics in West Asia and politicisation of Islam by authoritarian elites flushed with petro-dollars have strongly facilitated this theological intrusion. A clear manifestation of the Arabisation of Southeast Asian Islam is the onslaught against adat. Associated with this cultural cleansing is the docile acceptance of theological leadership by conservative religious establishments in West Asia. This form of ‘infantalized religiousity’ [46] has arguably strengthened the discursive power of literal Islamists. The location of the Islamic core in West Asia has relegated Southeast Asian Muslims to the Islamic periphery [47].
As the scholarship of literal Islam emphasizes the primacy of the Arabic language and culture in embodying the core of Islam, the tradition of adat and sufi-influenced Islam practised in Southeast Asia is believed to have rendered Islam impure and in need of cleansing. Cultural cleansing is expected to strip Islam to its pristine essentials, leaving the Quran and hadith as the only source of shariah Law [48]. Only with the establishment of the Islamic (Arabised) state can Southeast Asian Muslim societies hope to be purified, their socio-economic and political problems solved and Islamic culture revitalised.
Deference to conservative West Asian educated religious clerics has also contributed to a climate of religious authoritarianism [49]. Indicative of this climate, most Malaysian Islamic groups failed to comment on the 1998 Apostasy Bill when it was tabled in the Malaysian parliament. The only organisations courageous enough to publicly challenge the propriety of the Bill were the Muslim women’s organisation Sisters in Islam (SIS) and human rights body SUARAM (Suara Rakyat Malaysia, Voice of Malaysia) [50].
The limited Arabic language literacy of most Southeast Asian Muslims has contributed significantly towards a sense of religious disempowerment. Notwithstanding their linguistic inability to fully comprehend Quranic verses in Arab, this deficiency is seemingly compensated by the pride in blindly reciting in rote fashion Quranic verses in Arab. Psychologically disempowered by their inability to understand Arabic many Southeast Asian Muslims have increasing relied on the Wahabi-inspired local clerics and religious authorities from West Asia for theological guidance. This religious disempowerment, coupled with a deep-seated theological insecurity and inferiority, has contributed to their general reluctance to openly debate Islamic issues with clerics, state religious authorities or Islamist politicians. Owing to this acute form of religious disempowerment the religiosity of Arabised Southeast Asians is largely restricted to an adherence to rituals, outward appearances and behaviour.
Most Muslim politicians from the ruling UMNO party are loath to challenge the propriety of fatwas, legislation or policies mooted in the name of Islam. Thus when the hudud law was passed by the PAS-dominated state assembly in Trengganu, the four UMNO state assemblymen, chose not to vote against the bill even though they were directed to do so by their Federal colleagues [51]. Other than former UMNO leaders Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim and current Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, senior UMNO politicians tend to avoid articulating their position on religious matters or question the proposals of Islamic authorities [52]. Muslims knowledgeable about Islam are also inclined not to challenge the views of conservative Islamists to avoid being denounced as anti-Islam [53].
Yet when non-Muslim politicians and Muslim public intellectuals raise questions about Islamic matters, they risk being denounced by clerics and conservative Islamists for being unqualified to discuss these issues. For example, SIS activists, five Muslim intellectuals and a non-Muslim scholar of Islam were condemned by PAS politicians and some clerics for being murtad (apostates) and munafiq (hypocrites) when they spoke out against various bills mooted by PAS and expressed their views on religion. In an attempt at silencing these individuals, the Ulama Association of Malaysia accused them of ‘insulting Islam’ and in 2005 lodged a complaint to the highest authority for Islamic matters, the Conference of Rulers [54]. Zainah Anwar has characterised these heavy-handed tactics as a form of theocratic dictatorship that is “….nothing more than an attempt to monopolize the meaning and content of Islam to serve the political agenda of those who use Islam to mobilize popular support” [55].
In this environment of religious self-censorship and harassment, many Islamic laws have been passed without genuine consultation or rigorous debate even though these laws have a significant impact on the lives of Malaysians. As such, most Malaysians are not fully aware of the import of laws such as the Islamic Criminal Enactments until the religious authorities enforce them, often in a draconian fashion and in a blaze of publicity. They include the arrest and handcuffing of three Muslim women participants of a 1997 beauty pagent and the overnight detention in 2004 of several Muslim women accused of dressing in an unIslamic fashion at a nightclub.
Liberal Islam appears to be more entrenched in Indonesia compared to Malaysia. This is demonstrated by the broader spectrum of Islamic discourse in Indonesia. Literal and Wahabi-inspired theology has been systematically criticised by moderate mainstream Islamic organisations such as NU, Muhammadiyah, Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI, Ikatan Cendikiawan Muslim Indonesia) that are open to a wide spectrum of theological perspectives. In contrast to Malaysia, public debate on sensitive issues such as the hadith (narratives of the utterances and deeds of Prophet Muhammad) and shariah law are integral to the ongoing theological landscape in Indonesia. In the late 1990s, the robust theological debates in Indonesia were buttressed further by the Jakarta based Liberal Islam movement led by NU activist Ulil Abshar Abdalla. By 2003, the Liberal Islam Network (Jaringan Islam Liberal) was formally established. Their active website ( has systematically exposed the contradictions associated with literal Islam and debated issues pertaining to shariah law, jihad, democratisation, secularisation, pluralism, gender and human rights. Members of JIL run talk-shows, write regular columns in national and regional papers such as Jakarta Post, Kompas and Riau Post and publish booklets and pamphlets [56]. JIL’s credibility within the wider Muslim community has been enhanced by the support of Muslim intellectuals and scholars such as the late Nurcholis Majid, Hasyym Muzadi and Azyumardi Azra.
Notwithstanding, Indonesia’s tradition of religious pluralism, conservative Islamists have not felt inhibited from attempting to emulate the heavy-handed tactics of their theological counterparts in Malaysia. For example, the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI, Majlis Ulama Indonesia) has attempted to silence liberal Muslim organisations by calling on the government to act against them. Chairman of the Fatwa Commission, Ma’aruf Amin, justified the fatwa issued against liberal Muslims on the grounds that they have wrongly interpreted Islamic texts by relying purely on rational logic, selectively accepting particular theological doctrines and rejecting literal interpretations. Moreover, MUI’s Deputy Chairman, Umar Shihab has accused liberal Muslim organisations such as the Liberal Islam Network (JIL, Jaringan Islam Liberal) of being overly influenced by Western thought, spreading confusion and corrupting Islam [57]. Typical of the strong-arm tactics of the literalists, JIL’s Ulil Abshar Abdalla has been issued a death threat for his views on Islam [[58].
What has particularly rankled conservative Islamists is the importance liberal Muslim organisations attach to revitalising the concept of ijtihad and promoting non-literal interpretations of the Quran and hadith to ensure that Islam remains relevant in the contemporary era. Organisations such as JIL also reject the Arabisation of Indonesian Islam. In contrast to literal Islamists, they have unreservedly denounced the terrorist actions of militant Islamist organisations such as al Qaeda and JI and referred to those who commit acts of terrorism as criminals rather than shahids (martyrs) [59].

Washington’s (Mis)Management of the War on Terror: Reinforcing the Intrusion of Literal Islam

The War on Terror has had a double-edged effect both on literal and liberal Islam in Southeast Asia. Washington’s failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after its invasion in early 2004, blatant human rights abuses in Abu Graib and Guantanamo Bay and the practice of rendition [60], have lent some credibility to the anti-Western rhetoric of radical and militant Islamists. Their critique of the diplomatic double-standards of the United States and the contradictions in its human rights record has to some extent enhanced their profile as the defenders of the ummah (Muslim community). The claim that the military attacks on Afghanistan and the invasion and occupation of Iraq are tantamount to an attack on Islam has considerable resonance within the Muslim community. The estimated deaths of more than fifty thousand civilians since the invasion of Iraq has reinforced the notion that Islam and the Muslim community are under siege. Not surprisingly, shortly after a May 2005 issue of Newsweek alleged that US personnel in Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Quran down a toilet, obscenities had been written inside the cover of a Quran and urine splashed on a detainee’s Quran, violent riots erupted in several Muslim countries. These allegations were confirmed by the findings of a US military investigation, released by the Pentagon in June 2005, that US personnel had mishandled and kicked and sprayed urine on the Quran during interrogations [61].
Washington’s human rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq have allowed radical Islamists to readily dismiss the credibility of President George Bush’s democracy and human rights rhetoric in his second term in the White House. In particular, Bush’s ostensible promotion of democracy in West Asia has been contradicted by Washington’s long-term practise of supporting corrupt and pro-Western dictatorships in the region. For example, the US helped overthrow the popularly elected Iranian leader Mossadegh in 1953 and supported Suharto’s elevation to the Presidency after the bloody 1965 coup. Right up to the invasion of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime was supported while Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian government continues to maintain close links with Washington. A pariah state before September 11 because of its illegal nuclear program, Pakistan’s military government is now in Washington’s ‘good books’ and has become a prized ally whose cooperation was critical in ousting the Taliban in Afghanistan and deemed valuable in the larger War on Terror. Highlighting the contradiction in Washington’s democracy and human rights rhetoric, Julie Mertus notes, “…this human rights talk has not been supported by a human rights walk. Policy makers consistently apply a double standard to human rights norms: one that the rest of the world must observe but which the US can safely ignore” [62]. Not surprisingly, the perception of the US in predominantly Muslim nations has remained negative [63]. Paralleling perceptions in the Muslim World, anti-Americanism in much of Europe and Asia has surged since the US invasion and continued occupation of Iraq. The 2005 Pew Global Attitudes Project Report has acknowledged that the ‘image problem’ of the US is so pervasive that even popular US policies have done little to improve it [64]. Indeed, China supposedly has a better image than the US in most of the European countries surveyed [65].
On the other hand, the War on Terror has afforded liberal and other progressive Muslims greater discursive space within the wider community to challenge the theological contradictions of Wahabism and the agenda of literal and militant Islamists in a sustained manner. Religious schools (madrasahs) in Southeast, South and West Asia, traditional bastions of literal thought and breeding ground of Islamic militants, have been under pressure to reform and modernise their curriculum. Moreover, conservative Islamist parties such as Malaysia’s PAS have attempted to downplay their conservative Islamic agenda after performing poorly in the 2004 elections. At the June 2005 annual assembly, PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang called on the party members to “boost their knowledge of other cultures and religions required to handle a multiracial society”. He also assured party members that PAS would adopt a “realistic plan of action that could overcome the challenges of current political realities” [66]. Instructively, during his speech, Hadi avoided the term Islamic state and made no reference to the implementation of hudud laws. In an attempt to convince Muslims and non-Muslims that PAS is a viable alternative political force and to counter Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s promotion of moderate Islam (Islam Hadhari), issues pertaining to corruption, freedom of speech, assembly and the press have become their focus of attention [67].
Since the War on Terror, Washington has keenly promoted the Muslim majority countries in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, as moderate and quasi-secular states worthy of emulation by other Muslim countries. In particular, Indonesia has been projected as a Muslim country that has evolved into a fledgling democracy. This has served to validate Bush’s ostensible goal of promoting democracy in the Muslim World. With the election of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to the Presidency in 2004, relations between Washington and Jakarta have moved from strength to strength. Susilo’s official visits to the United States in 2005 were hugely successful due in part to the perception in Washington that he evolved from a military strongman to a democrat. Capitalising on this perception, Susilo was able to convince Washington to reactivate the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. The program was suspended after the Indonesian military’s involvement in human rights violations following East Timor’s 1999 referendum. Additionally, the sale of non-lethal military equipment to Indonesia has resumed [68]. By November 2005, the US government announced that it was restoring military ties with Indonesia. This policy shift effectively means that no senior Indonesian military officer will be held accountable for the human rights violations in East Timor.
Relations with Kuala Lumpur also markedly improved when Mahathir Mohamad distinguished himself as the first leader of a Muslim nation to denounced suicide bombers at the 2002 Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in Kuala Lumpur. Thereafter his stature as a moderate Muslim leader was enhanced. During a visit to Washington in 2002, Mahathir was given red-carpet treatment. Later that year, the Malaysian government agreed to establish a regional anti-terrorism centre in Kuala Lumpur. Previous concerns about Malaysia’s detention without trial of alleged militant Islamist, opposition politicians and human rights activists appeared to have dissipated. Indeed, then US attorney general John Ashcroft declared his understanding for the necessity of detention-without-trial legislation such as Malaysia and Singapore’s International Security Acts [69].


Southeast Asia’s tradition of inclusive, flexible and moderate Islam has served as a buffer against radical and militant Islamic movements achieving a stronger foothold and mass following. However, the theological intrusion of literal and Wahabi-oriented Islam and politicisation of Islam by governments in Malaysia and Indonesia, particularly since the 1980s, have eroded traditional cultural and religious practices.
The reluctance and/or inability of governments to effectively address the long-standing socio-economic and political grievances of the Muslim masses have rendered Wahabi Islam an attractive vehicle for change. Addressing the localised sources of Muslim grievance without relying on draconian legislation that erode civil liberties can effectively undermine support for radical and militant Islamists. As the experience in West Asia demonstrates, radical Islamists are likely to become more reactionary and prone to violence when democratic space is restricted, social justice denied and dissenting political views suppressed. In other words, the promotion of social justice and democracy through undemocratic means is not only contradictory but also counterproductive.
Washington’s management of the War on Terror and strong reliance on security means to resolve deep-seated socio-economic and political problems, paradoxically mirrors the domino theory of the Cold War. Much like the strong nationalist support for the communists in the Vietnam War, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has enhanced the flow of recruits into radical and militant Islamist organisations. As with Afghanistan in the 1980s, foreign militant Islamists have used Iraq as a combat training ground to build a global Islamist network. The perceived partiality of the United States and the West in Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has become more of an effective clarion call for militant Islamists than their jihadist drumbeat ever was in Southeast Asia and the larger Muslim world.
A major challenge confronting most Muslim societies in the twenty-first century is the construction of institutions and societies based on democracy, social justice and universal humanism. Towards these ends, the agendas of Muslim-based states, political parties and non-government organisations need to be democratised in order to promote an Islam that is qualitatively different from that advocated by literal and Wahabi-oriented political parties and organisations such as al Qaeda and JI. Guided by Islamic notions of pluralism and universal humanism, these reforms are best initiated and sustained from within Muslim society rather than imposed by policy-makers from foreign capitals who are influenced by their own geo-strategic calculations. As the struggle in representing the ummah (global Muslim community) began long before the War on Terror, it is expected to continue well beyond the current theological cross-road. More than any other group of Muslim countries, Indonesia and Malaysia possess many of the pre-requisites to succeed in establishing modernised Muslim based states based on democratic principles. Paradoxically, the potential beacons of the Muslim World are found in the Islamic periphery.


* Paper Presented at the Japan-Australia Symposium, ‘Japan, Australia and the Changing Asia-Pacific Region’ December 3-4 2005, University of Tokyo (Komaba)
[1] Robert Hefner, Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia, (Princeton: Princeton Uni. Press, 2000).
[2] Refer to the UNDP’s first Arab Human Development Report 2002.
[3] Patricia Martinez, ‘Is it Always Islam Versus Civil Society’, in (ed), K.S. Nathan and Hashim Kamali, Islam in Southeast Asia: Political, Social and Strategic Challenges for the 21st Century, (Singapore: ISEAS, 2005), p.141.
[4] See Virginia Hooker, ‘Developing Islamic Arguments for Change Through Liberal Islam’, in Virginia Hooker and Amin Saikal (ed), Islamic Perspectives on the New Millenium, (Singapore: ISEAS,2004), p.236-237.
[5] Lily Zubaidah Rahim, ‘The Road Less Travelled: Islamic Militancy in Southeast Asia’, Critical Asian Studies, 35(2), 2003, p.209.
[6] Marie-Andree Couillard,’A Brief Exploration into the Nature of Men-Women Relations Among Pre-Colonial Malayan People’, in (ed) B. Matthews and J. Nagata, Religion, Values and Development in Southeast Asia, (Singapore: ISEAS, 1986), p.84.
[7] Lily Z. Rahim, 2003, p.210.
[8] Wahabi Islam emerged in the Arabian peninsula in the late 18th century when the ruler of Najd colluded with the conservative scholar Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab to strengthen his political base. Inter alia, al-Wahhad rejected all aspects of sufism and attempted to purge Arabia of ‘heretical’ innovations.
[9] Lily Z. Rahim, 2003, p.210.
[10] Faid Esack, ‘In Search of Progressive Islam Beyond 9/9′, in Omid Safi (ed), Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism, (Oxford: Oneworld,2003), p.89.
[11] Mona Abaza, ‘The Discourse on Islamic Fundamentalism in the Middle East and Southeast Asia: A Critical Perspective’, Sojourn, 16(2), 1991, p.219.
[12] Quoted in Ahmad Ibrahim, ‘The Position of Islam in the Constitution of Malaysia’, in Readings on Islam in Southeast Asia, in (ed) Ahmad Ibrahim, Sharon Siddique and Yasmin Hussin, Readings on Islam in Southeast Asia, (Singapore: ISEAS, 1985), p.217.
[13] Judith Nagata, ‘How to be Islamic Without Being an Islamic State: Contested Models of Development in Malaysia’, in (ed) Akbar Ahmed and Hastings Donnan, Islam, Globalization and Postmodernity, (London: Routledge, 1994), p.67.
[14] This was in keeping with the British and PAP leadership’s ‘grand design’ which included Singapore’s eventual merger into the larger Malayan federation.
[15] Pancasila’s five principles include belief in God, national unity, social justice, popular sovereignty and just humanitarianism.
[16] W.F. Wertheim, Moslems in Indonesia: Majority with a Minority Mentality (Townsville: James Cook University of North Queensland, 1980), p.6.
[17] Robert Hefner, Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia, (Princeton: Princeton Uni. Press, 2000).
[18] Refer to the UNDP’s first Arab Human Development Report 2002.
[19] Patricia Martinez, ‘Is it Always Islam Versus Civil Society’, in (ed), K.S. Nathan and Hashim Kamali, Islam in Southeast Asia: Political, Social and Strategic Challenges for the 21st Century, (Singapore: ISEAS, 2005), p.141.
[20] In this paper, liberal Islam refers to an expression of Islam that values theological flexibility, socio-economic justice, inclusion, gender equality, political pluralism and ijtihad (critical reflection). In particular, liberal and progressive Islamists view ijtihad as pivotal in facilitating Islam’s relevance to the needs of the time, place and history. They do not espouse the establishment of an Islamic state. Champions of liberal Islam, particularly from Indonesia, are inclined to differentiate their liberalism from Western liberalism which is commonly identified with the political right. By contrast, their discourse is more closely associated with progressive movements on the left of the political spectrum. See Virginia Hooker, ‘Developing Islamic Arguments for Change Through Liberal Islam’, in Virginia Hooker and Amin Saikal (ed), Islamic Perspectives on the New Millenium‘, (Singapore: ISEAS,2004), p.236-237.
[21] Barry Desker, ‘Islam in Southeast Asia: The Challenge of Radical Interpretations’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 16(3), October, 2003, p.420.
[22] International Crisis Group, Jakarta/Brussels (2002), Indonesia Backgrounder: How the Jemaah Islamiyah Terrorist Network Operates.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Al Qaeda has a similar vision for the Arab states in West Asia, Central Asia and North Africa. See Leonard Sebastian, ‘Indonesian State Responses to Sept. 11′, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 16(3), October, 2003, p.438.
[25] The interview with Bashir was conducted by US terrorism expert Scott Atran. Bashir was serving a 30 month sentence for conspiracy in the 2002 Bali bombings. Marian Wilkinson, ‘Indonesia’s Terrorist Underground Mutates’, Sydney Morning Herald, 8-9 October, 2005.
[26] Lily Zubaidah Rahim, 2003, p.219.
[27] Edmundo Santuario, ‘Abu Sayyaf: The CIA’s Monster Gone Berserk’, 24 October 2002, at
[28] Farish Noor, ‘Blood, Sweat and Jihad: The Radicalization of the Political Discourse of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) from 1982 Onwards’, Contemporary Southeast Asia, 2003, p.208-211.
[29] Farish Noor, 2003, p.215.
[30] Patricia Martinez,, 2005, p.138.
[31] Zainah Anwar, ‘Law-Making in the Name of Islam: Implications for Democratic Governance’ in (ed) K.S. Nathan and Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Islam in Southeast Asia: Political, Social and Strategic Challenges for the 21st Century, (Singapore: ISEAS,2005), p.123.
[32] Noriani Othman, ‘Islamization and Democratization in Malaysia in Regional and Global Contexts’, in (ed) Ariel Heryanto and Sumit K. Mandal, Challenging Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia, (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), p.132.
[33] Zainah Anwar, 2005, p.130.
[34] Farish Noor, 2003, p.222.
[35] Farish Noor, 2003, p.214-215.
[36] Significant electoral gains were also made in the states of Kedah, Perak and Selangor.
[37] In 1990, PAS captured the state of Kelantan with the assistance of UMNO splinter party Semangat 46 led by ex-UMNO Cabinet Minister Tengku Razaleigh, a Prince from Kelantan.
[38] Zainah Anwar, 2005, p.131.
[39] Refer to P.G. Riddell, Islam and the Malay World: Transmission and Responses, (Honolulu: Uni. of Hawaii Press, 2001).
[40] Barry Desker, 2003, p.417.
[41] Observers such as Sebastian have referred to Indonesia’s santri state as one where political Islam is dominant, the society increasingly Islamised but remains a non-Islamic state. Refer to Leonard Sebastian, ‘Indonesian State Responses to Sept. 11, the Bali Bombings and the War in Iraq: Sowing the Seeds for an Accomodationist Islamic Framework’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 16(3), October 2003, p.429-446.
[42] International Crisis Group, 2002.
[43] Barry Desker, ‘Islam and Society in Southeast Asia After 11 September’, Australia‘n Journal of International Affairs, 56(3), 2002, p.388.
[44] See A. Azra, ‘Southeast Asian Islam in the Post-Bali Bombing: Debunking the Myth’, in K. Ramakrishna and Tan See Seng (ed), After Bali: The Threat of Terrorism in Southeast Asia, (Singapore: ISEAS: 2005).
[45] Michael Laffan, ‘The Tangled Roots of Islamist Activism in Southeast Asia’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 16(3), October, 2003, p.409.
[46] Patricia Martinez, 2005, p.138.
[47] Patricia Martinez, 2005, p.137.
[48] Michael Laffan, ‘The Tangled Roots of Islamist Activism in Southeast Asia’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 16(3), October, 2003, p.400.
[49] Noraini Othman, 2004, p.130.
[50] Noraini Othaman, 2004, p.129.
[51] Zainah Anwar, 2005, 125
[52] Noraini Othman, 2004, p.130.
[53] Zainah Anwar, 2005, p.126.
[54] Patricia martinez, 2005, p.139.
[55] Zainah Anwar, 2005, p.126-127.
[56] Barry Desker, 2002, p.386-387.
[57] Julia Malone, Islamic Scholars Push Fatwa Against Terrorist Violence’, Sydney Morning Herald, 30-31 July, 2005.
[58] Virginia Hooker, 2004, p.244.
[59]The progressive oriented Islamic Council of North America issued a fatwa in 2005 that violence against civilians is unIslamic and urged Muslims to abide by the laws of the country. See Julia Malone, ‘Islamic Scholars Push Fatwa Against Terrorist Violence’, Sydney Morning Herald, 30-31 July, 2005.
[60] Rendition is the practise of transferring those suspected of involvement in terrorist groups to countries where torture, cruel or degrading treatment are used. Countries that engage in rendition are flouting international law. In 2005, the US House of Representatives and Senate introduced a bill, Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act, to end US involvement in such practises. See ‘Getting Away With Torture’, The Human Rights Defender ‘(Amnesty International), 24(5), October/November, 2005, p.4.
[61] Josh White and Dan Eggen, ‘Pentagon Details Abuse of Quran’, Washington Post, 4 June, 2005.
[62] Julie A. Mertus, ‘Human Rights and US Foreign Policy’, Foreign Policy in Focus, March 4, 2004, p.4.
[63] Indonesian perceptions of the US have supposedly improved from a low 15% in 2003 to 38% in 2005. This has been attributed to the US tsunami efforts in North Sumatra in early 2005. See Pew Global Attitudes Project 2005, ‘US Image Up Slightly, But Still Negative’, Released 23 June 2005.
[64] Ibid.
[65] Ibid.
[66] Reme Ahmad, ‘PAS Pledges Reforms to Try and Win Back Votes’, Straits Times Interactive‘, 4 June, 2005.
[67] Ibid.
[68] Derwin Pereira, ‘Yudhoyono Returns With Mission Accomplished’, Straits Times Interactive, 4 June, 2005.
[69] Lily Zubaidah Rahim, 2003, p.221-222.

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