Sub Rosa Podcast

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Announcing our podcast:

Andrew Zammit have been working on a fun side project over the past few months. As some of you have guessed, it’s a podcast. It’s called Sub Rosa, and it covers a range of security and human rights issues, focusing mostly on Australia and Southeast Asia.

We’ve recorded a bunch of interviews with great guests, on topics like LGBTI refugees, terrorism in Indonesia, media portrayals of Muslim women, gender politics in Indonesia, signals intelligence and counter-terrorism, conflict resolution in Papua, asylum seeker flows through Southeast Asia, and more.

We also have many more planned, on topics such as the South China Sea dispute, social media in the military, rehabilitation efforts for neo-Nazis and jihadists in Europe, human rights in Indonesia, Islamophobia, and the politics of counter-terrorism. We may experiment with the format and such too. Let us know what you think!

It’s currently on SoundCloud and should be on iTunes soon. You can find out all about it and listen to our first episode here: https://subrosapodcast.wordpress.com/

Education Program for Afghan Refugees

www.reddit.com

Since 2007 I’ve been part of a community-run charity that raises money to support schooling and literacy programs for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The organisation provides an education to children who would never be able afford to attend school otherwise. We started a new fundraising drive at http://www.gofundme.com/hopeafar.

For Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the only education options often available are Madrassah’s (religious seminaries), whose credentials are not accepted in either Pakistan or Afghanistan and who often promote sectarian violence through their teachings, further inflaming cycles of violence. For children who miss out on an education, they are often forced onto the streets to beg, steal, engage in hazardous labour or prostitute themselves to survive. This is the sad and harsh reality that these children experience.

Our program is run by Afghans for Afghans. We have won awards from the Balochistan Government and UNICEF and our work is supported by local tribal elders.

A recent UNHCR-funded population census indicates more than three million Afghans still remain in Pakistan, about 1.8 million of them in the North West Frontier Province living both in refugee camps and in urban areas. Despite substantial repatriation in recent years, the impact on refugee camp school enrolments has been relatively negligible. During 2005, UNHCR aims to repatriate 400,000 Afghans, which based on past trends means a reduction of only 3,000 students in camp schools.

The Government of Pakistan and UNHCR also recognise the importance of education to equip Afghan children with knowledge, skills and a sense of self-worth so that they can face the harsh and difficult task of returning home to rebuild their lives and country.

‘Education for All, and ‘Inclusive Education’, both promoted and under implementation by the United Nations, include refugee children, who constitute one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups and who live at the mercy of host countries, humanitarian agencies and donors.

We want to see ‘Education for All’ a reality in Pakistan, which is why we continue support Afghan refugee communities in Pakistan throughout this crisis.

Help us to continue our education and outreach programs with young refugees by supporting us with your donation at our Go Fund Me Campaign.

To learn more about what we do please visit  http://hopeafar.com/education-project-in-balochistan/

You can follow also @HopeAFAR and @DEWA_Pakistan on Twitter to keep up to date with the progress of our projects in Pakistan.

How effective are Australian strategies to counter violent extremism?

Published 20 May, 8:35am 2015 by The Lowy Institute for International Policy 

Gallipoli Mosque, Sydney (image Flickr)

The Australian Government has just announced that more than $22 million will be spent on battling the radicalisation of young Muslims in Australia. But just how effective are these counter-terrorism programs?

Critics of the Federal Government’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) strategy have highlighted problems that have emerged after nine years of CVE community engagement and intervention. One concern is that CVE policies have the potential to divide Muslim communities because they embrace questionable notions of what it means to be ‘moderate’ or a ‘radical’, preferencing and seeking to ‘deputise‘ the former in order to keep the latter in check.
Community critics of the CVE strategy also emphasise that law enforcement leadership of CVE outreach programs is problematic, firstly because it indicates that the Government has ‘securitised’ the Muslim community, and secondly because such outreach strategies have the tendency to be experienced as an extra layer of unwanted scrutiny on a community of predominantly law-abiding citizens. These issues have the potential to erode trustbetween law enforcement and Muslim communities. Because positive relations between communities and law enforcement are so central public safety, the Government has an interest in carefully measuring the impact of its CVE activities on its target communities.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has been at the forefront of proactive community engagement responses to CVE since establishing its Islamic Liaison Team in 2007. The team also assisted in contributing to national policy initiatives as part of the Federal Government’s national CVE strategy. The philosophy behind the AFP’s initiative reflected CVE trends emerging at that time. The terrorist threat, it was argued, could be reduced by building‘positive, trusting and cohesive relationships with the community, (which) over time will help increase (the community’s) resilience to extremist behaviours by creating greater levels of social cohesion.’ Within this strategy, ‘at-risk’ groups could be targeted with engagement programs to ‘promote social inclusion.’

But some members of the community argue that this kind of policy has a tendency to reinforce the notion ‘that the entire Muslim community is to blame for its few bad apples.’ As a result, the current CVE model of engagement has begun to be viewed with suspicion by the community, with some leaders calling on the community to boycottparticipation in AFP initiatives such as the Iftar dinner and Eid festivals. But, in the words of one AFP officer, the AFP are ‘damned if they do, and damned if they don’t’ continue such programs. The AFP executive is convinced that community engagement is central to CVE, and parts of the Muslim community also expect that the Government will help them to provide ‘social support’ to their young people to prevent them from radicalising, despite others in the community criticising such programs.

Beside the potential to alienate the Muslim community, the effectiveness of CVE community engagement measures as a counter-terrorism (CT) strategy has not been properly measured. As Prof Basia Spalek points out, ‘there has been little empirical investigation of community-based approaches within a CT context…As a result, there is little empirical understanding of…whether (these types of policies) may clash and serve to undermine each other.’.

The perception from some in the Muslim community that the Government’s counter-terrorism approach treats Muslim communities not as partners but as ‘suspect’ presents significant challenges, especially because of the potential this uninvited scrutiny has to create another level of alienation in young people. The latest policy announcement, which devotes $22 million to the Muslim community’s presumed social disadvantage by helping new Muslim migrants find education and employment, also ignores the reality that the causal link between socio-economic troubles and radicalisation is tenuous.

There is much international literature detailing the importance of reducing risks of alienation and radicalisation through redressing policies seen as racially or religiously targeting one community. Studies have come from the US,UK as well as Australia. Yet the focus on the Muslim community by CVE strategies helps perpetuate ‘essentialist stereotypes of terrorists as religious Muslims,’ and leave the community feeling over-scrutinised.

The prime directive of CVE policy is ‘first, to do no harm’. To date, there is little evidence that Australian CVE policy has been informed by this directive. Nor is there an indication our policy-makers have assessed the effectiveness of the CVE programs that have been in operation for the past nine years. The Australian Government needs to take onlessons from US and the UK which show that, in order to reduce the terrorist threat, we need counter-terrorism policies that don’t alienate those most vulnerable to radicalisation.

The Interpreter is published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, an independent, nonpartisan think tank based in Sydney, publishing daily commentary and analysis on international events.

Despite uncertainty, Indonesians remain hopeful

One of a series of articles I wrote in the lead-up to Indonesia’s 2014 Presidential Election for The Kashmir Walla Magazine. Published July 18, 2014


Indonesia's Election Commission (KPU). Image sinarharapan.co
Indonesia’s Election Commission (Komisi Pilihan Umum, KPU). Image sinarharapan.co

“We Indonesians believe that no matter what happens and no matter who wins, we could never slip back into something resembling the Suharto era. It could never happen. There are too many people watching, we are all watching. And we all know that Indonesia has come too far for anything like that to happen. Foreign observers should not underestimate us. We would never sit back and watch our country deteriorate” – 1998 Democracy Activist (active in recent campaigning, who decided here to remain unnamed)


Indonesia, the world’s third largest democracy with 187 million voters including 67 million first-time voters, voted last Wednesday July 12 for their next President. By the time the exit-polls had been counted, it felt like the nation exhaled momentarily. But that relief has been short-lived.

Although the official results of Indonesia’s presidential election yesterday will not be known until July 22, both candidates, Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto, now have claimed victory based on exit polling and quick counts. As a result, political tensions in Jakarta are rising, and Indonesians are growing increasingly anxious as to what this means for Indonesia’s democracy.

Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono today urged the election chief to ensure a transparent vote count following the disputed presidential poll, after both sides raised fears the other may party may tamper with the ballots. And this is not without reason.

Indonesia is one of the world’s most graft-ridden countries, and the country’s political elite is part of a very intertwined network of power and privilidge. Even though Indonesia made the transition from dictatorship to direct presidential elections a decade ago after the fall of dictator Suharto in 1998, Indonesia is still ranked 114th among 177 on a 2013 Transparency International Survey, with the nation’s judiciary, police and parliament ranked among the least trustworthy institutions.

Although the election was violence-free, a result perceived as questionable by either side still risks major public protests. Speaking ahead of the election, the army chief of staff General Budiman had already said the potential for conflict between supporters of Prabowo and Jokowi was “high,” as the Jakarta Post reported on its website July 7. This is a particular risk given the very vast differences between the two candidates and their respective supporters: Jokowi is the “man of the people” candidate, from humble beginnings and without ties to the political elite, whilst Prabowo is a former military general and the former son-in-law of Suharto alleged to have ordered the abduction of democracy activists before the Suharto’s downfall. 

At a rally for Gaza yesterday Prabowo told journalists “there are reports that some election boxes have been stolen, our witnesses are being intimidated”. In making statements like these, it appears the former military man will not go quietly.

The quick counts give Jokowi a lead of around 8 million votes, which is a margin of about 4 percentage points. And it is this slim margin that has given rise to growing tension.

Fears of tension and potential violence by analysts are not just about the close margin, but more about what the some candidate’s supporters are capable of, in particular, Prabowo. Some analysts have expressed concern that with his history, his ties to military, citizen militia groups, and extensive and powerful networks across the country that he might try to bully the election commission or engage in violent protest.

But despite all the public discussion and debate about the potential for unrest, many Indonesians I have spoken to over the past week, from street merchants to members of Indonesia’s parliament, are quietly optimistic. This is in contrast to the many foreign observers.

For ordinary Indonesians, perhaps that comes with the experience of watching the country go through so much turmoil and change over the past 16 years. As one Indonesian who was active in student protests during the Suharto era told me, “we Indonesians believe that, no matter what happens and no matter who wins, we could never slip back into something resembling the Suharto era. It could never happen. There are too many people watching, we are all watching. And we all know that Indonesia has come too far for anything like that to happen. Foreign observers should not underestimate us. We would never sit back and watch our country deteriorate”.

Whilst alert to the all possibilities of what could happen over the next two weeks, it appears many Indonesians hope that the candidates and their supporters will accept and honour the results of the election, and that when the final results are revealed on July 22, the wheels of Indonesian democracy will keep turning.

Ashley Bickerton’s Mitochondrial Eve Series

Published May 4, 2014 by Gajah Gallery

Ashley Bickerton is an American visual artist based in Bali and self-described “dancing poodle for the one per cent”. I spoke to him in Jogjakarta this year whilst he was in the last stages of finishing his’ Mitochondrial Eve/Viral Mother series, which was exhibited by Lehmann Maupin Gallery in New York.

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Ashley Bickerton photographed at his studio in Bali by Bobby Fisher, 2011

From the beginning of his career Bickerton has challenged traditional art forms. In the early 80’s he embarked on what has become a career-long process of experimenting with the hybridization of forms, materials and methods that blur boundaries between painting, sculpture and photography and the artwork as commodity.

He oscillates between abstraction and figuration, but always with a conceptual base, and is increasingly exploring the differences between representation in western and non-western cultures.

Bickerton worked with Yogya Art Lab (YAL) for a period of over 12 months to develop his’ Mitochondrial Eve/Viral Mother works, derived from models he created from organic materials and a series which one colleague described as “some of the more important contemporary sculpture produced in the next 10 years”.

When the lab first saw the prototypes for the pieces, it appeared as some of the most liveliest art they had ever seen. As art Technition Hungerford explained: “touching these works in the process of creating them, has also been part of a process of realising how important they are in the world of contemporary visual sculpture. I believed when I first saw the prototypes for the works, that if we could even get close to what they looked like in their conceptual state, then the sculpture community will be in awe”.

In the beginning, the intention for these sculptures was not for the creation of individual artworks per se as Bickerton explains, “they things had been sitting in my studio. They were part of a process where I’ve attempted to find some perfect triangulation between painting, sculpture and photography. These heads were the sculptural part, and were really built just as part of a process towards another end, pieces you might get in a performance, props in a sense”.

The “Heads”, as he called them, were composed with organic materials and were in a state of decay, but everyone including respected friends and colleagues who passed by his studio continuously attempted to convince him to preserve the decaying works:

“The lemons were rotting, the flowers were wilted, butterflies with broken wings. But still everyone was like ‘you’ve got to make these things’. And I kept hearing it again and again from all sorts of people. But I didn’t really know how to build them. I knew how to make the parts I made but all the little bits were made of so many things that were temporal and going to die or rot away”.

Bickerton’s art is known for its’ cynical representations of life on the Island of Bali, from the excesses expats suffering midlife crises, to an island losing it’s traditional beauty to the perils of capitalism and rapid development. But these works  are somewhat of a departure from the harshness of the themes of previous works, representing what he described as “the mitochondrial eve, the mitochondrion DNA passed from mother to child. But not literally. It’s a figure more felt than reasoned”.

In light of matters felt, Bickerton was surprised throughout the process of creating the Mitochondrial Eve figures by the many emotional responses he received, with several friends and colleagues commenting on the emotions and spiritual intensity coming out of “the heads”. He understands where these responses were coming from, but he analogises the spirit or “spiritualisms” coming from the works as probably closer to the reflection of an experience much more intimate, “a spiritualism that comes from the turmultuousness of a life lived outside the well trodden paths of crass, consumerist spiritualisms”, which made sense looking at the works close up.  As he explained:

“You could analogise it to a path that could come out of something closer to Lou Reed floating around on his way to harlem to buy his next hit, rather than something of the Eat Pray Love position. It comes from more of an anti-spiritualist position, in the sense of the way that spiritualism is crunched in popular culture today. Some of the sculptures could look like what they might have ben at the moment of inception where our direct ancestor was born. At that direct point, that one moment. But, I don’t want to put the weight of too much meaning onto them. Just leave the thoughts round it sort of free flowing. not too hard and fast”.

This reminded me of an explanation he shared with Kisa Lala at The Huffington Post about the suffocation of meaning that occurs once the weight of interpretation is applied too heavily to art, when it becomes too much of a science:

“It’s like an Edith Piaf song – and she’s wailing away and it’s beautiful and mysterious and evocative, and suddenly you go online and try to translate it into English, and it’s like, ooh baby yeah … and you go, oh god… I don’t want to know what things mean. I don’t want to know what my own work means. If it gets nailed down in fluourescent lights on a white formica slab in the lab, it’s no longer art, it’s science. Art has to somehow flitter in the half-light, in a sort of phantasm, just out of reach.”

Born in Barbados, Bickerton was raised in Hawaii and grew up in several locales as a child through his father’s professional travels as a linguist. He made a name for himself in Manhattan in the 1980s as one of the Neo-Geo group of artists and now calls Bali home, where he has been living for the past 18 years. 

Gajah Gallery in Singapore will hold a solo exhibition of new works from 26 April to 25 May 2014 as the artist returns to the medium of painting to create provocative works that comment on his two-decade’s experience of life in Bali.

Imaji Cinta Halima

Published May 3, 2014
A chat with Indonesian academic, writer & activist Novriantoni Kahar about his book ‘The Imagined Romance of Halima: Five Acts of Love in Religious Struggle’ – a collection of poetic essays which seeks to highlight the spiritual and emotional effects of discriminatory practices against Muslim Women

Novriantoni Kahar : Cinta Dalam Lima Tangkai Sastra AdvokasiNovri, author of Imaji Cinta Halima – image inspirasi.co 

Within Indonesia there are a number number of people, both male and female, working hard to reform misogynous discourse to make Islamic practices more woman-friendly. With many voices also in contradiction to such trends, never has the issue of women in Islam been so widely debated in Indonesian public life. Contradictions within the movements of contemporary Indonesian Islam indeed reflect the ferment of democratic transformations occurring in Indonesia.  From movements calling for the reinstatement of the Khilifa to genuine progressive reflections on problems within doctrinal approaches to Islam, these movements reflect the diversity that has unfolded since the collapse of since the New Order regime.

Novriantoni Kahar is writer and activist who explores problems of discrimination. In his book “The Imagined Romance of Halima: Five Acts of Love in Religious Struggle” (Imaji Cinta Halima: Lima Kisah Kasih dalam Pergumulan Agama), he hopes to highlight the spiritual and emotional effect of discriminatory practices against women in the Muslim world.

Novri is a santri Muslim who gained his primary Islamic education at Pondok Modern Gontor Ponorogo (one of the most well-respected Islamic boarding schools in Indonesia). He is also a graduate of al-Azhar University in Egypt. His’ academic approach to Islam is one of co-mingling Islamic knowledge with social sciences like sociology and political science. In this way, Novri “does not accept Islam as a das solen as such, but tries to study it as as a das sein, as a factual phenomenon”.

Novri was inspired to write The Imagined Romance of Halima by his work in anti-discrimination campaigning in Indonesia as well as by his experiences gained whilst living abroad in the Middle-East and Europe.. The stories are set in Indonesia as well as other Muslim-majority countries. All express different facets of the impact of religion on the major life choices of women.

The book’s title story, “Imaji Cinta Halima” tells of a love affair between an Indonesian driver and a Saudi woman. Their illicit engagement ironically being facilitated by the policy of gender segregation practiced in the Holy Land of Saudi Arabia. Another tale also set outside Indonesia tells of a love story between a Coptic Christian and a Muslim. Set in Egypt, the story comes to a sad end, with traditions and bigotries within the two communities deciding the young couple’s fate.

As a Muslim, Novri wonders how people can be “so incredibly sensitive in protecting ‘Islam’s reputation”, yet so completely desensitised to some of the discriminatory acts committed in the name of religion. In the post September 11 political landscape, we have become accustomed to seeing the image of  a middle-class Muslim woman, dressed in fashionable Islamic attire talking adamantly about how Islam has “liberated” her and how acts of violence and bigotry towards women could never happen in Islam’s true name, putting the causes down to being a product of “culture”. Simultaneously, there are Muslim women who are experiencing acts of abuse at the hands of men acting within their own religious rights through interpretations of particular Islamic discourses. The experience of both women is real.

Islam can indeed  ‘liberate’ a woman if she is empowered to interpret the practice of Islamic teachings through the works of progressive scholars. On the other hand, doctrinal interpretations within Islam can justify acts which destroy, even end, a woman’s life. This is the reason Muslim’s like Novri call for a “genuine recognition of the problems within Islam” when it comes to discrimination against women and other minorities.

As Novri explains, “if we really pay close attention to the issue of discrimination toward women in Islamic or Muslim-dominated countries, the fact is, it is happening. We must not be frightened to hold issues within the Muslim community to the light where they can be examined and aired. Denial only compounds these problems”.

Novri sees some of the reasons for such hypersensitivity at criticism in Muslim communities as being driven by certain political and psychological factors: “Politically, Islamic ideology affects many aspects of Muslim thoughts and practices, in every aspect of life, whilst psychologically, Muslim-majority societies find it difficult to accept the gulf between their imaginary ideal Islam and the actual manifestation of it in their daily life. Perhaps if we began to see the effects of the harsh treatment of women for how they are, we can begin to address some of the problems within our communities”.

Through the stories in Imaji Cinta Halima, Novri hopes to help promote an awareness of the ways in which religion and tradition is used to discriminate against women in both subtle and overt ways, and the ways in which this affects their daily lives. “Denial is a common defence mechanism in Muslim societies everywhere however we Muslims need genuine recognition that many of the problems rampant in our societies are coming from within. There are real problems within Muslim societies and we need to stop attributing our them to some outside force or conspiracy. Islam should not be exempt from being be examined and criticised honestly from within. It is as simple as that”.

‘Imaji Cinta Halima’ is published by Renebook, Novri tweets at @novri75

Indonesia’s Aspirationals

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Jakarta’s slums and the place of residence of many of Jakarta’s poor working class. Photo Businessweek.com

Those that live in Jakarta will have noticed the occasional snobbery and anti-egalitarianism of some of the middle class and orang kaya baru crowd (the new rich, who aren’t actually “rich” at all). As Indonesia’s middle class emerged in the 1990s, some hoped that the issues of the redistribution of wealth in society would become a point of interest for the class. It clearly hasn’t. In fact the markers of inequality are ironically more distinct than ever.

I sometimes chat with the pembantu (housemaids) of the apartment complex where I live in Jakarta as I get breakfast on my way out into Jakarta’s mind boggling traffic in the morning (made worse daily by the increasing numbers of sedans on the raod). They gather in the sun to nurse the babies of their middle-class employees downstairs while their boss sits idly nearby playing with their smartphone, probably tweeting about politics, poverty, environmentalism or democracy.

I asked one of the young pembantu what she thought about the upcoming last week, to which she replied “I voted for the party my boss asked me to vote for because I don’t undestand”, at which I choked a little on my gorengan and replied with a polite but loaded “good”. Another said her boss said it wasn’t important for her to vote and that they needed her to stay at home to look after their (overpampered brat of a) child.

People pay their pembantu between $50 and $200 a month here. They are a symbol of status and as having made it as a middle-class Indonesian. They are live in maids, who usually live a converted laundry-like room at the back of the house or on the floor of the ‘loungeroom’ of the box-like apartments Jakarta’s middle class increasingly favour.

The apartment complex where I live is chock full of middle class Indonesians who perceive themselves to have made it, simply because they live in an ‘apartment’ which is actually more like a broom closet. But hey., they can say they live in an apartment with a pembantu to trail behind the while they wander aimlessly around the mall downstairs.

Meet Indonesia’s aspirational middle class. Indonesia is big, but it’s growing economy is bigger. Indonesia is the world’s 16th largest economy (Australia is 12th), and the transition of millions of Indonesians out of poverty into a middle or ‘consuming class’ is a big part of that growth story.

But, the reality is, this emerging middle class is actually still very poor. But this class cherish the class markers that distinguish them from their “lower class” fellow Indonesians.

The so-called consuming class commentators are getting so excited about is comprised of households with earnings of just US$7500 per year at purchasing power parity rates. But that’s still enough to afford a broom closet apartment and a live in maid (God knows where these poor girls sleep. Sometimes they go home to the slum areas of Jakarta each night by the rivers or under the highway toll bridges).

The world is cheering on Indonesia’s emerging middle class as the potential flagbearers of Indonesia’s democracy, but this society still has a long way to go with it’s dated notions of elitism and the illusions of prosperity propped up by an atrocious lack of economic equality and a class of working poor living on less than $2 a day.

Kate Grealy-Riadi @kategrealyriadi