Not Radical Islam but Gold Fever threatens Indonesia’s Stability
Novini, By Marjolein van Pagee, 30 mei 2018 [this is a translation, originally published in Dutch]
Headlines worldwide paid attention to the suicide attacks in Surabaya, Indonesia. In various Dutch media outlets I read about the fear of the Western world that ISIS, after being defeated in the Middle East, was moving to Southeast Asia. The new wave of violence in Java was seen as proof.
This was also the case after the Bali bombings in 2002 that cost the lives of many Australian tourists. In the following years Indonesian authorities got assistance from Australian and American intelligence services to dismantle the terrorist network that was complicit. The same story in the Philippines: to regain control in Marawi, President Duterte also accepted the help of the US: “American and Australian aircraft assist in tracing jihadists while American commando’s help on the ground with giving advice.” This level of interference seems currently not the case in Indonesia. Although, immediately after the attacks in Surabaya, via the American media channel “CNN Indonesia,” the CIA offered to: “dismantle terrorist [networks], including the hunt for the perpetrators and the conspirators behind the terrorist attacks.”
Before we interpret this as heartfelt sympathy, it is crucial to know the real geopolitical interests behind it, including the history.
The point is that ISIS is not the only danger to the national security of Indonesians. The pirates on the Indonesian (gold) coast are not from the Middle East but rather from Phoenix Arizona, the location of the head quarters of mining company “Freeport McMoRan.” An American multinational that made incredibly huge profits from mining gold on West Papua. Indonesian President Joko Widodo (commonly referred to as Jokowi) currently wants to nationalize this company. Freeport is also connected to the British-Australian company “Rio Tinto.” While the Americans occupy 60% of the gold mountain on West Papua, the Australians and British own the remaining 40%.
I get the impression that the real “pirates” only make use of the fear and chaos that ISIS-inspired attacks create. Under the guise of the war against terror Western intelligence services manage to get access to strategic countries as Indonesia.
Muslims versus non-Muslims?
As always, the media play an important role. What is striking from Western media coverage (in the Netherlands, especially the Volkskrant, NOS and NRC) is that they want us to believe that it won’t take long before Indonesia will become an Islamic state. Thus a situation where 87% Muslims overrule the other four religions (including 10% Christians) in a sectarian struggle and change the Republican slogan “Unity in diversity.” However, for most Indonesian this is unthinkable.
Not to deny that fundamentalist Salafist/Wahabism from Saudi Arabia is influencing Indonesia. The Indonesian liberal interpretation of Islam seems indeed under pressure. Nevertheless, the idea circulating in the West that Indonesia is about to nationally implement Sharia law is totally absurd for most of my Indonesian friends.
Take for example one of the NRC headlines from last week: “20 years after the fall of Soeharto it is Muslims versus non-Muslims in Indonesia.” Indeed it was exactly twenty years ago that the authoritarian regime of the Indonesian President Soeharto came to an end. From 1965 to 1998 he ruled the country with an iron hand. However, even though the attacks in Surabaya were partly directed at churches (but also at the police), anyone who frequently visits the city knows that there is not a fierce sectarian struggle going on.
Prabowo’s flirt with Muslim fundamentalism
Nothing is what it seems. There is in fact a power struggle going on that has little to do with religion but everything with dollars and geopolitical interests. This goes beyond domestic religious issues, terrorist threats and the feared caliphate. Crucial are the Indonesian elections from next year. The rivalry between the two main political opponents is about international alliances: from emerging China / Russia to the waning power of the United States. It is well known that China has an increasing influence on the region and it is also clear that Washington is concerned about that.
Jokowi’s opponent Prabowo, (not coincidentally the ex-son-in-law of dictator Soeharto who was supported by Western powers in 1965) is openly anti-China and chooses to defend American interests.
Prabowo plays a very suspicious role and has shown himself opportunistic, eager for power and not wary to use violence. Among others, he is been accused of human rights violations in East Timor and West Papua. At the height of the (initially pro-Western) Soeharto-regime, Prabowo joined the army, became general, and after marrying the daughter of Soeharto in 1983 he was part of the centre of power. During the student uprisings in 1998, however, he incited his troops in such a way that this resulted in mass violence in which students were kidnapped and even killed. Besides that many Chinese were victimized. Prabowo’s complicity to the unleashing of violence during the ’98-protests, which led to the resignation of his father-in-law, caused the break-up between the two men. They never reconciled afterwards. Prabowo’s marriage with the daughter also ended in a divorce in that same year. Subsequently Prabowo was fired and forced to leave the army. Interesting detail: Even the US refuses him entrance since then. After that he resided in Jordan for some years, settled as a businessman and returned to the Indonesian political arena from 2004 onwards.
It is an understatement that the US is usually very selective when it comes to human rights in their foreign policy. Historically the spreading of freedom and democracy has proved to be a hollow phrase. If Prabowo has something in common with the leadership of this Western world power, it is opportunism: the lack of principles when self-interest needs to be served. Whether it is democracy or Islam, ideologies are only useful as a way to influence the masses. This is expressed, among others, in Prabowo’s support for fundamentalist Muslim groups. The originally Christian Prabowo (he converted to Islam on a later age) apparently has no problem with the most militant group of all: the FPI (Islamic Defenders Front). The leader of this group is Habib Rizieq and like Prabowo he has no problem with using violence. He fled a year ago to Saudi Arabia out of fear for persecution. In the 1990’s Habib graduated cum laude at King Saud University. The FPI openly supports IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other al-Qaida branches. Last year followers also went on the street to demand the conviction of the Indonesian-Chinese and Christian Jakarta-governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly known as Ahok.
Illustrative for the Dutch view is that when Ahok was eventually convicted with two years of prison, many interpreted that as proof that radical Islam is posing the main threat to the former colony. In reality, however, this all has little to do with religion, but everything with politics.
For his part, the current president Jokowi chooses a very different course, and it is too easy to frame his foreign policy simply as “nationalism.” Western companies have repeatedly complained about the increasing protectionist legislation that was implemented under his rule. Yet at the same time this legislation did not prevent a series of non-Western business deals. For example, last year Indonesia and Russia agreed upon a purchase of nineteen Sukhoi fighter jets. Russia allows Indonesia to pay 50% with natural products (coffee, tobacco, palm oil, etc.), something that Western multinationals would never agree upon with their World Bank. The Russians are also willing to share their knowledge and expertise so that Indonesia can manufacture the parts themselves. How did the US respond to this news? Yes, they donated twenty-four fighter jets to Indonesia. Just like the generous offer to help with the war on terror, this ‘gift’ is seen in a different light when we apply the principle of ‘follow the money’.
The Dutch history of gold on Papua
Central theme in this story is the largest gold mine in the world that does not quite coincidentally carry the Dutch name ‘Grasberg’ and is located in the remote province West Papua. Indeed, exactly the area that the Netherlands did not want to give up until 1963, even though the Dutch had previously accepted Indonesian independence in 1949.
The dominant narrative is that we, Dutch people were maybe paternalistically colonial, not wanting to give up the last colonial stronghold, but that we were nevertheless sincerely concerned with the fate of the locals who did not want to be ruled by Jakarta. Even now, on those rare moments when West Papua receives attention in Western media, it is always about the peoples right to independence versus Indonesian human rights violations. In the Dutch version of this history Indonesia is presented as the new colonizer, in which the United States played the role of neutral mediator that taught us a lesson.
This is not true. In reality, the Netherlands with its ‘old style’ colonialism was eliminated by the American ‘new style’ of colonization. Both were eager to exploit the ‘El Dorado,’ the Grasberg, as well as the Ertsberg that has already been excavated to the bottom. In short: the motive for the Dutch claim to West Papua was not humanitarian but primarily gold and oil.
The Dutch geologist Jean Jacques Dozy climbed the mountain in 1936, just before the Second World War. The exceptionally high concentration of gold and other valuable oil findings were deliberately kept secret, afraid as they were of Nazi Germany and Japan, two powers that were already posing a threat in the late 1930s. In 1945 the Indonesian declaration of independence became another ‘obstacle’ to access the mountain of gold. The Dutch colonizers could notignore the United States because the Dutch New Guinea Petroleum Company (NNPGM) was for 60% in American hands, directly linked to the famous Rockefellers who set up Freeport later. As a result of the secrecy, only a few Dutch and American government officials were aware of the ‘El Dorado’ still to be exploited. Even Soekarno and John F. Kennedy had no idea. Both leaders had sympathy for each other. It was not until Soeharto (with some help from Washington) came to power, side-lining Sukarno, that Freeport openly started the activities on Papua.
In the recent publication ‘The Incubus of Intervention‘ (2015), the Australian historian Greg Poulgrain elaborates on the wicked way this intervention was set up and how crucial the role of CIA director Allen Dulles was in this power game.
According to Poulgrain, ‘mastermind’ Dulles reasoned that it was impossible for American companies to get access to Papua if it was an independent country separate from Indonesia. Because the latter would interpret it as a hostile act and Soekarno would immediately see the neo-colonial agenda behind it. The Dutch already disqualified themselves with ‘old style’ colonialism, and in case Papua would become part of Indonesia, the US would still not get access as long as anti-imperialist Sukarno was president. That is why Dulles insisted on the incorporation of Papua but with a regime change.
“L’Histoire se répète”
What is the connection to the tensions of today? Paradoxically, Western media frame Jokowi much more positively than Soekarno at that time. Nevertheless, from a historical perspective both presidents play a somewhat similar role. Interestingly, Suharto has currently fallen out of grace in the West. Despite the initial support for him he is now remembered as the dictator who was responsible for the massacre of Communists. Prabowo for his part is currently playing an almost identical role as his equally opportunistic ex-father in law. In the second half of the 1950s, Soekarno’s orientation, like Jokowi now, was focused on China, Russia and other non-Western alliances. Just before the 1965 coup, some British and American companies were forced to nationalize.
That the American pirates on the Indonesian (gold) coast cannot appreciate Jokowi’s decision to do the same thing is not surprising, as the profit of Freeport McMoRan for the year 2017 was 16 billion dollars. In the top 500 most influential American multinationals, the company lists at number 175.
It is precisely this cash cow that is threatened with nationalization. Last year Indonesia announced that they want a 51% share in addition of the original 9%. Freeport McMoRan, as well as Rio Tinto, do not accept this and want to see money. The American Vice President Mike Pence even flew to Jakarta to have a word with Jokowi. One of the largest shareholders in Freeport and also adviser of Trump, billionaire Carl Icahn, accused Indonesia of “cheating” and said to be insulted that the Indonesians wanted to change the contract, which officially expires in 2021.
And what was the reaction of Prabowo? He shamelessly stressed that the United States has helped Indonesia in the past: “We must respect those who helped us before. Hopefully there is a solution that is beneficial for everyone, the interests of the Republic should be set off against the interests of the investors.”
On a global level this situation is not unique. In South America, where Freeport McMoRan is active as well, governments also try to resist American capitalist greed, which particularly benefits the 1% in the US. It is therefore exemplary that the New York Times frames this development as a simplistic nationalistic reflex that will harm the countries in question.
The world power of the US may be waning but that does not mean that they are not dangerous, they can still make crazy moves. In case you are little bit familiar with the tricks of the US foreign policy, you know that if they do not get what they want they use any means necessary. Aligning with Prabowo seems the most obvious. In short: in the exceptional case that Indonesia will become a Muslim state in the future, it will not be the 87% Indonesian Muslims that radicalized, but mainly militant groups such as the FPI that are politically used for opportunistic purposes. Thus let us reflect on what it means when the CIA offers countries like Indonesia assistance in fighting the war on terror.