My opinion piece on Jakarta Post
The so called “Alliance of Civilizations” was launched in 2005 by the Prime Minister of Turkey Tayyip Erdogan and Spain Jose Rodriguez Zapatero. The atmosphere of mutual distrust, fear and polarization prevalent in recent years in particular between the Islamic World and the West are the reason for this coalition to start reaching out and foster greater cultural tolerance and understanding. The role of Islam in the study in civilization is quite known. In fact, it was Ibn Khaldun who was established a new science on the study of civilization. This was six centuries ago. Today, the term “civilization” has become one of the most popular units of analysis in social science and media. Later on “Alliance of Civilization” became UNAOC as it was adopted by the secretary general of the United Nations to become a UN initiatives and the Alliance became the forefront in promoting dialogue and also Regional strategy in reducing extremism including interactions with civil society organizations. The recent meeting was held in Bali, Indonesia on August 29-30 with this year theme “Unity in Diversity” which is also the official National motto of Indonesia as celebrating diversities for common and shared values.
In current capacity, Indonesia and Turkey are member of G-20 and both countries are showing a tremendous economic growth for the last 10 years, regional emerging market and rapidly growing private sector plus play an important economic role in their respective region. Indonesia is also the largest Muslim country in the world and fourth most populous nation, and since the era of “reformasi” in 1998 Indonesia has moved smoothly from dictatorship and military rule to democracy, compared to many other Muslim countries in the Arab world, such as Egypt and Syria, that have failed in their post Arab spring democratic development. Today, both Turkey and Indonesia have risen economically and democratically in a similar way although they had started differently. The history of modern Turkey begins with the foundation of the Republic on October 29, 1923 after the fall of Ottoman Empire when the World War I ended. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk introduced a new Turkey as a secular western country through his massive reform movement. Going from changing Ottoman Turkish alphabet to Latin, to adopting women’s rights and the abolition of Islamic law in favor of the European legal system. The process of western secularization had brought Turkey to some extend on a par with her European neighbors.
Indonesia on the other hand, started as a Republic on August 17, 1945 driven by nationalist independence movement and anti-colonial sentiment led by Soekarno who was well known for his determination and struggle against any form of colonization in Asia. He was similar to other great Third World leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, and Gamal Abdel Nasser. His most known work is the establishment of nonaligned movement (since the Bandung Conference in 1955) that stated to promote Afro-Asian economic cooperation to oppose colonialism and neocolonialism by any nation. While Turkey started as a potential “imperial world power”, Indonesia embarked exactly on the opposite as an anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist.
Although both cultures are rooted in Islam they have managed to pass a period of unique secularization and democratization process that is now being known as “Turkish model” or “Indonesian model” of Islam. Albeit Indonesia has not experienced the so called “secularization enforcement” process like Turkey, Indonesia have been always secular and progressive in mobilizing the people towards education. The Islamic school in Indonesia, for example, use Islam as a foundation but mostly combined with nationalism, self-sufficient fund and support for development and progress. Indonesian strength in organizing a moderate Islamic education even before the independence has proven successful in creating many Islamic thinkers that are also accepting western education, values and ethics. Many of those visionary Islamic leaders are also anti-colonial activist and play a significant role in the movement at least in the educational sphere.
Most Turkish intellectuals at the time when new Turkey was established were the product of Ottoman madrasas and interaction with the west, rather than of the Arab world. The Ottoman Empire was the most extensive and most influential state system in the entire Muslim world during at least six centuries and quite possibly for any time since the rise of Islam itself. Therefore Turkey have more experience and education in skills such as law, writing, documenting, arithmetic, art and literature compare to Indonesia. These mountain of knowledge also have positioned Turkey differently in learning and sharing with Islamic Muslim scholars in particular from the Arab world. Turkish Islamic scholars are not eager to study from the Arabs because they consider themselves able to do it better.
On the opposite side, Indonesia struggle to search for knowledge, wisdom and spiritual influence from the Arabian Peninsula and yet still find it difficult to be part of their Arabs peer and seek recognition for their work in the Islamic world. The element of knowledge in Indonesian religiosity is always been the spiritual center as the core of the teaching. When many of religious scholars from Indonesia travel to Mecca for the first time they return home and start correcting Islam and reform them towards an “Arabization” of the Islamic belief and practice in accordance to what they witnessed in the Middle east. As many Indonesian Islamic scholars are eager to be at the same level with the Arabs, many of their teaching were also contested at home and give rise to various forms of cultural resistance. Indonesia is known for the tradition of syncretic esoteric in Islam after a long tradition of Hindu in Java, for example until today we can still see a very strong Hindu elements mixing with Islamic practices and rituals.
In the political arena, being the largest Muslim country in the world Indonesia hardly play any role in the Arab world. The answer lies not only on the geographical distance and so no direct impact is possible from Indonesia or Southeast Asia in general, but is due to the mere fact of Western intervention in the Middle East, therefore non-Arab Muslim countries have no room to pursue their interest and many of them are only becoming spectators. According to PEW Research Center in 2010 62% of world’s Muslim population lived in South and Southeast Asia. Indonesia holds the largest moderate Sunni Muslim around 205 million people and the second largest non-Arab Muslim are in India, followed by Turkey and Iran. The growing understanding in the west that Islam is identical with the Arabs has created confusion among many countries which are operating based on multi civilization such as Asia. Nevertheless, Asians in part also contributed in misunderstanding of the West about Islam. Why such reflection never appear before? Asians Islamic scholar because of their limitation in knowledge and also lack of legitimacy are not seen relevant to be involved in solving conflict in the Middle East for example, and this power notion also is nurtured by the West to maintain their strength in the region. The lack of legitimacy of Islam in Asia also shows in the exchange of learning in major universities in the West that are mostly dominated by Arab scholars. Many books from the Arab Islamic scholars are studied in France and the US and even translated into various languages such as Urdu, Malay, Hindi and Chinese. Many great Asian Islamic scholars and thinkers have not written any book that can be used as reference to understand Islam in Asia. The Indian Islamic scholars for example have a unique relation with the Arabs through trade, especially in Kerala or Tamil Nadu, who owes much to the Indian Ocean trade with merchants from Arabia, Persia and China. Islam and expansion of Islamic studies were introduced through trade, mix marriages and cultural exchanges. Many of these stories were documented by Western scholars during their travels across the Indian Ocean and until today we could find traces of this marvelous exchange. Another valid reason why there is less written Islamic studies such as books and literature in Asia is due to the nature of the scholars. They are mostly “travelers’ scholars” unlike in the Arab world where many of them are great writers, in established University, library and developed a volume of Islamic and political thought. Many of the Arab Islamic scholars found themselves as an Icon and references in Islamic teaching or movement throughout the world.
Looking back at Indonesia, it inability to play a meaningful role in the global Islamic world indeed raise a question mark, considering relevancy of education and unique cultural of tolerance in this country. Martin Van Bruinessen (Indonesia Rising, 2011) an anthropologist from the University of Utrecht wrote that the Arab world has shown a remarkable lack of interest in Asia in general, let alone in the social and cultural forms of Islam in Southeast Asia. Though more outward looking, other Muslim regions of Asia have not taken a serious interest in their Southeast Asian co-religionist either. Bruinnesen also said that the reluctance of Indonesian Muslim to seek the international limelight, their modesty (or lack of confidence?) and their conviction that they have more to learn from, than to teach to, others. Indonesia has produced many remarkable Muslim thinker such as Tan Malaka, Tjokroaminoto, Agus Salim, Nurcholis Majid and even the late former president of Indonesia Abdurrahman Wahid. But we haven’t seen any of their books and teachings are being translated into Arabic, French or even English. Indonesians Islamic scholars only talks among themselves and with less interest from the Arab world due to lack of international impact when it comes to Islamic thoughts, because many of the Muslim thinkers in Indonesia are activists. They have not been writing a great sensitizing work but rather numerous shorter pieces and it seems to be inherently local not something that the International Muslim scholars can learn. Therefore this lack of confidence of Muslim in Southeast Asia, in particular in Indonesia, to share their ideas and values, has also resulted in a huge impact in Western understanding about Islam.
Since the time of independence, Turkey and Indonesia faces many challenges upon their journey towards democracy and development, from secessionist movement to economic crisis but they have been showing gradual improvement by also actively solving their own internal conflict through peace dialogue, economic development through decentralization and free and fair elections. Mediation and inter-cultural, inter-faith dialogue are the most important agenda besides showing legitimacy and existence through trade in their region by also asserting and increasing their diplomatic capacity through softer approach such as cultural power, historical appreciation and education. In the realm of religion, though Indonesia face a difficult journey to rise and play a role in the global Islamic world, now it seems changing, opportunities are coming, more possibility are clear, there are crucial demands from Muslim across the globe and also Western countries for Indonesia to mediate in conflict areas especially when the conflict relats to ethnic and religious tensions. The United States for example sees Indonesia as a true partner in countering extremism and bridging the differences between Islam and the West.
Indonesian Islam is characterized by a vibrant intellectual discourse, a remarkable openness to alternative views and broad acceptance of religious pluralism. On the other side liberal and progressive trends, like the Indonesia’s Muslim feminist movement, are the most dynamics and diverse. It is also been admired elsewhere in the Muslim world for its work on building a loose coalition of women’s groups and individual activist taking up various gender related and women’s issues from grass roots to the legislative level. Unlike than in most Muslim majority countries where the Muslim feminist movement are “elite” oriented.
Turkey on the other side, seems to reduce its ties with the West as it is no longer concentrating too much to be included in the European Union, instead spreading her wings towards Asia. Some political analyst might see this as a result of a “look east” policy of Recep Tayyip Erdogan but many also believe that Turkey will never be accepted to be part of the European Union. As Angela Merkel stated Turkey is “unfit” to join the EU for many reasons. Some of the debated issues are Turkey’s failure to recognized Armenian genocide, repression of the Kurdish minority, invasion and occupation in North Cyprus back in 1974 and in general Turkey’s poor human rights record. Turkish also admitted that Turkey will never be part of the European Union because of stiff opinion and “prejudices” among the EU member states. There are many arguments over the inclusion of Turkey in the European Union including the most controversial one that came from the Dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Kishore Mahbubani. He stated that EU can’t be a role model of regional integration. The first fundamental weakness of EU is a mono-civilization entity that it has failed to extend the region to a single non-Christian country like Turkey. Mahbubani noted that model of regional cooperation within one civilization creates a huge defect in the multi civilization world. Compare to Asia for example, a regional body such as ASEAN is consisting of 10 diverse countries with different cultural, ethnic and religious background. Despite many weaknesses in Asia, its capacity to cooperate across civilization boundaries is a huge strength. Looking at this development Turkey realized her role in Asia would be more relevant rather than being part of EU. Economically while many European countries are struggling with financial crisis, Turkey is experiencing a tremendous growth of almost 8% since 2011 with unemployment rate in 2014 around 10.15%. If she keeps growing like this Turkey soon will be no longer known as a “sick man of Europe” but instead a “China of Europe”.
The idea of creation the Alliance of Civilization is again to form a path of modern Islamic civilization, embracing development and technology, increase in economic middle class among Muslim countries in Asia to be actively play a meaningful role in the global world. Turkey and Indonesia are not only counting at the measurement of economic growth and prosperity but also seeking to play role in the region as one of the most dynamic and active country. Few of many that has been pioneered through the member states of the Alliance of Civilization are the promotion of inter-cultural dialogue, peace and mediation, defusing tension between the west and the Islamic world and counter extremism and radicalization.
Hopes are high, as both countries will see a better future through emerging economics but also will face many great challenges ahead in democracy and Islam as a whole. Turkey and Indonesia realized that to develop their role in their regions they need strong alliance, unity and more cooperation with the Western world, also by creating and showing a different face of Islam. Both acknowledge that this effort is not to compete with the West but instead will create a fair balance between Islam and the West for a better future.
Indonesia Rising, The Repositioning of Asia’s Third Giant (Reid, Anthony)
Imperial Legacy, The Ottoman Imprint on the Balkans and the Middle East (Brown, Carl.L)
The Great Convergence, Asia, the West and the logic of one world (Mahbubani, Kishore)
Indonesian and Indian most populated democracies, Russian and Chinese widest autocracies, European and American oldest democracies: is the ‘shadow of the future’ making them more similar in terms of duration of government?
I have been working as researcher at the Carter Center in Atlanta for almost two months now, during my summer program, on issues regarding democracy in Latin America, and in specific about the electoral reforms in 11 Latin American countries. But besides Latin America other continents new experiments with democracy are also worth to be analyzed, in particular in the Asian continent. In Asia there are the two biggest democracies of the world, India and Indonesia, but also two of the three biggest countries of the planet, Russia and China. So it worth to have some periodic reflections on democracy looking not only to the so called “Western” hemisphere but also to the “Eastern” one (even if as I wrote in the page “Geographical and mental maps” all is relative and we should start to call the “emerged land surface” with different words to overcome our ethnocentrism, so let’s call them “American hemisphere” and “Asian hemisphere”).
To briefly analyze some recent news about the two biggest world democracies we have to say first of all that there have been elections recently in both of them. India voted between April and May this year with the largest-ever election (more than 800 million people eligible to vote with a turnout of 2/3). The first party was the Bharatiya Janata Party, the right-wing and Hindu nationalist party, social conservative and economic neoliberal, with Narendra Modi nominated as the new Prime Minister (after ten years of Manmohan Singh with the Indian National Congress, the other traditional big party in India). Indonesia few days ago, the 9th of July, went to vote for its third presidential election since the birth of democracy with the fall of Suharto in 1998. Joko Widodo, the ‘young’ ex-mayor of Jakarta, seems to have won, even if his opponent, the ex-general Prabowo Subianto, declared also victory. If the results will be confirmed in few weeks (the count is long for such a big population living in 17 thousand islands!) the Indonesian Democratic Party, the party of the ex-Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri, will go back to power after ten years of government of the Democratic Party of Indonesia (with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono). So the democratic need for the turnover will be guaranteed.
But here more than the turnover I want to take a look at the duration of the governments in these two democracies and in general in the democracies around the world. Democratic governments have always had the problem of not enough long policies, because of short duration of governments, or not enough efficient policies, because of the need of being reelected. But taking these two countries and many others as example it seems that all over the planet big or old democracies and big or old autocracies appear to get closer to each other with respect to the duration of their leaders (and may be not only in that). In fact if in China the president, that is also the secretary of the communist party, last 10 years, in democratic countries like India, Indonesia, but also the US and in many European countries(1), more and more in the last decades the Presidents or Prime Ministers managed to win two or three mandates, lasting also at least a decade (or 8 year in the case of the US). And after that usually there is the alternation of power with the opposite party. This might be a contingency but it could also mean that democracies and autocracies likewise might see the importance of political stability, in particular in the continuous changing world of our globalization era, knowing that to have effective policies with lasting outcomes we need more than just 4 or 5 years. Differently from each other obviously the democracies have after a period the change of the party in power while the autocracies change the person but not the party (like in China) or just shift the leadership between presidency and head of government (like in Russia). But still the similarity in a ‘stability need’ could be a real presence. Obviously in democracies you still have to respond to your constituencies but the people seem to understand this need of longer governments and seem to give a second support and chance to their leaders. The biggest risk for the democracies though, in the case when the governments manage to remain in power around a decade, is if the leaders push for indefinite reelections and so indefinite governments. In this case, in particular if there is not an efficient system of check and balances that guarantee a real democratic competition, the risk is to get closer to autocracies than remain real democracies. This is what seems to happen actually in countries like Venezuela or Nicaragua for example, that created recently the possibility of infinite reelection and don’t have a system that guarantee free and fair elections and an inclusive democratic system.
Let’s see what the future will bring us but for the time being this is the reflection we can do regarding the length of governments around the world. Besides the fact that Asian democracies may be new but appear already quite strong, if we consider that they seems to overcome two of the major risks of other fledgling democracies: sectarianism and totalitarianism. The first is related with the desire of mixing religion and politics, as happened in some of the Arab countries after revolutions. In this sense both India and Indonesia give some example of more maturity: India, even if has the Hindu nationalist party in power now, has no state religion and has in the constitution the division between state and religion. And Indonesia, even if is the biggest Muslim country in the world, never had the idea of Islamic parties in the government, as the constitution guarantee the freedom of religion (with six official faiths) and also the division between state and religion. The second risk, totalitarianism, starts often with the desire to mix the need for strong and stable governments with the craving for despotic or political-military leadership (like the desire of caudillismo in some Latin American countries is showing). And also here India and Indonesia have better scores, even if Indonesia still struggle on this, being Subianto an ex general. But if Jokowi will bring home the victory Indonesia will have given a good record of a quite healthy system, just 15 years since the beginning of his democratization process.
So for now we can say W India and Indonesia. At least their example is giving us hope for the future of democracy in the world. And may be could also help old democracies to renew their identity with new perspectives, in particular on how to deal and manage campaigns, money and media (but we will talk about this in future posts).
(1) Just to cite few examples: Angela Merkel is German chancellor since 2005, Silvio Berlusconi has been Italian Prime Minister since 2001 to 2011 (with an interruption between 2006 and 2008), Jacques Chirac was president of France since 1995 to 2007 and Mitterand since 1981 to 1995, Gonzalez was Spanish Prime Minister between 1982 and 1996 and Jean-Claude Juncker has been the longest-serving head of government of any European Union country, being Prime Minister of Luxembourg since 1995 to 2013.
What is leadership? If you look up in a dictionary, you will find that the first meaning is simply “the action of leading a group of people or an organization”. Then you will have explanation of different styles, synonyms, derivatives, etc. But this is the core meaning according to the common knowledge. In reality leadership is much more than that. There are many forms, shades and styles of leadership: from the most evil to the most noble. The differences often depend on who is making the measurement and when the measurement is made. There was a time when the vast majority of the German people believed Hitler was their great leader and there was a time when the Western world shunned Mandela. So the identification of leaders, both in autocracies and democracies, is relative to time and space. But in the general terms of today, leadership is often measured by its success in ‘improving the condition of its adherents’. This is what leadership can be considered nowadays. However, to go deeper in the analysis of what leadership entails, I will take into account the definition of two types of leadership given by Dr. Dean Williams, Professor at Harvard University: “real Leadership” and “counterfeit Leadership”(1) . The ‘real leadership’ is the leadership that is based on facing the challenges lived by a group of people, be it a family, a club, a company, a village or a nation, in an efficient and effective manner. The “counterfeit leadership” is when the leader just try to sidestep the sometimes harsh truth of reality to make his success easier. So a ‘real leader’ is not one who says “follow me and all shall be well”, but one who first of all inform the members of the group that they are facing a certain ‘challenge’ that needs to be addressed. The challenge of maintaining the sustainability of the success achieved or the challenge of find the success that the group is not able to achieve yet; the challenge of facing a critical condition that risks destroying the group or the challenge that has already destroyed or weakened the group who now needs now to revive; the challenge of facing disturbances from internal or external elements or the challenge to rebuild the group after a manmade or natural disaster. Adopting this “reality challenges” is the first step that the leader can help to do. After that it is easier to determine who to follow and how to lead when an occasion calls on to do so.
There is a of course a flow in considering the success of a leadership often merely in term of achieving economic development for a community. Take Singapore for example, the pet case of Dean Williams. He points out that Lee Kuan Yew, long time Prime Minister of Singapore, has brought his country from a “third world” status into one of the most prosperous “first world” nations. Therefore this is his main success and he had to be a great visionary to do so, someone who had been thinking of the future of his people long before he got into power. But is it really so? Is it just about economic development the real leadership? Or in reality was Lee Kuan Yew able to shift the values, habits and practices of his people? We have to analyze history and geography to understand better. Most countries in Southeast Asia gained their independence after World War II and of course their memory, their ‘geography of pain’, was about colonization, oppression and deprivation. Autocratic leaders in this region were the product of post colonization: Soekarno, General Aung San, Ho Chi Minh and many others of their contemporaries. So the leaders during that era had been shaped by their vision of independence, the pride of nationhood for their people and their strong ideology. Most of these leaders were great achievers, even if often they were not equipped to maintain their achievements, but became great leaders because all of them had given back the pride to their countries. So in the case of Singapore we can say that Lee Kuan Yew attained the title “father of the nation”, not only because he had achieved great economic benefits for his people, but also for building the overseas pride of Chinese in Singapore, who were once regarded as second class migrant citizens no matter how rich they had become. But besides this, leaders, as every human being, have phases and times: to stay great they have to know how long they should stay in power and when to step down. Williams names this capacity as ‘adaptive leadership’, that is a required quality for a ‘real leader’ as he plays the role of providing checks and balances in maintaining power. Lee Kuan Yew for example stepped down at the right time and this also made him a real leader. All the real leaders with such clear view in the “driving seat”, like him or Deng Xiaoping (Lee Kuan Yew had been a mentor to Deng, who later modernized China and turned it into what is today not by chance) can only lead in a particular phase and time frame: they are not supermen who can stay in power forever. Other younger leaders who are more in tune with the current reality and the conditions of the new situation have to be allowed to take over and leaders who failed to do this are not ‘real leaders’, and will definitely succumb to failure, being relegated from “hero” to “villain”, like Mugabe and Soeharto, or Mubarak and Gheddafi.
So to conclude the point to make in understanding “Real” and “Counterfeit” leadership, in the terms of Dr. Williams, is the need to have a guidance, when one is called to make a crucial decision, based on informed challenges. And this happens in both autocracies and democracies. Take the example of Berlusconi and Renzi in Italy. The first ruled the country for many years saying that there were no problems, he didn’t see any economic crisis, never, and he just kept selling the dream of the “Neverland” to dumb Italians that didn’t want to hear about any problem. The second, a mayor of a town in constant troubles like Florence, said on the opposite: “either we change Italy and we go out of the crisis or is our end”. He pushed for the institutional reforms and the change of mentality of Italians, saying that they had to start to pay taxes and stop corruption, fight for meritocracy and not for keeping the positions of power by the elders, and work on their values and faith for their future and not playing ‘poor me’ in front of the challenges. This is a clear example of real versus counterfeit leadership. Or take the current presidential candidates for next week elections in Indonesia, one of the largest democracy in the world. The two contestants are excellent example of opposite leadership styles too: one, Prabowo Subianto, has born in a family of traditional leaders and was raised to be a leader; the other, Joko Widodo, is a grassroots leader. The first says on every occasion: “follow me, I will save this country and lead it to prosperity”, without specifying what is the danger that the country is facing and how he wants to save it. His sale pitch is: “trust me, I know how to do this”. The other instead tells the people what exactly is wrong with the country, what the problems are and how serious they are, and the need for the people to work hard to solve them.
So applying the ‘Real’ and ‘Counterfeit’ guidance of Dr Williams it becomes easy to determine, which one is the real leader and which is the fake one. And this guidance is applicable also in everyday life, whether one is a leader or a follower. One faces leadership challenges constantly as an ordinary person: how to lead one’s family without resorting to threat and force that makes everyone unhappy, how to make a rebellious son or daughter sees the logic of learning from older people who has faced similar situation etc. Leadership is always about facing challenges to achieve progress. And the first thing to do in order to face them is to know them. This is one of the most powerful truisms to behold.
(1) Dean Williams, Real Leadership: Helping People and Organizations Face Their Toughest Challenges (Berrett-Koehler, 2005)