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interview with Ali Alatas

The IndonesiaCIA The World Factbook

YI: There have been significant changes since you retired from office: decentralization, direct elections, intensive crackdowns on corruption. What is you prediction on Indonesia?

Alatas: I fully agree with you that tremendous changes have taken place. And despite the difficulties that we still have I think looking back sometimes its remarkable the way we have changed in a few years time. And perhaps it also deserves a better recognition from the outside world. But economically and financially, we are still having difficulties, probably because it takes longer to climb out of the economic and financial rut in which we have fallen. Perhaps economically speaking, governing a country in a democratic way, in an open and transparent way, governing a country with having as priorities, fighting corruption, fighting inefficiency and so on. At the same time trying to move forward economically are very difficult tasks because I feel that although there is now a better prospect that economically we will gain again. I don't think it will be fast and I don't believe it can be fast. So we will have for several years of good growth, at maybe between 5 or 6 (percent) but that's not enough. We may have to have between 6 and 7 in order to meet another big problem we have, and that is our labor problem, unemployment and underemployment.

YI: What about the problem of terrorism? How to fight it?

Alatas: We have to do two things. One is to fight the symptoms of terrorism or the expressions of terrorism. For that you need cooperation, you need expertise, capacity building, and you need cooperation with other countries: techniques of fighting, of terrorism, of preventing terrorism through the intelligence by cutting their supply of financial lifeline, etc. But you have also to fight the root causes of terrorism. And the root causes of terrorism are agreed -- in the final analysis it is poverty and backwardness. But, sometimes it is an indirect root cause because the immediate root cause sometimes is the sense of injustice, the sense of being alienated, of being left out. And then there are other root causes which are more ideological. There are still people who think that Indonesia, and other parts of Southeast Asia ought to be an Islamic State forever example. But these are very small minorities. The main causes of terrorism, regional as well as international terrorism, I think are the root causes that I have mentioned. And we should not try to diminish the importance of looking into them. There is also a big problem of misunderstanding between societies, between civilizations, and I think this is another root cause which needs to be addressed very, very thoroughly through cooperation. But there 's also a misunderstanding about the Islamic societies and civilizations by the western societies and civilizations, particularly Christian civilizations. So we need to do a lot. I am now a member of the Alliance of Civilizations, a new movement that was initiated by the prime ministers of Spain and Turkey and taken up by the United Nations. We're trying in a concrete way not only to panelize, not only to do interfaith, or inter civilization of dialogues because those are many. But in a concrete way to propose things that brings civilizations together in greater mutual understanding of each other and concretely, to bring them to do certain things that could, among others, address the question of alienation, a sense of injustice, a misperception of each other that has spawned this terrible phenomenon of terrorism, of people prepared to kill themselves just to kill innocent people, just to make a political statement. This is a big problem that we face, not only as Indonesians, but as humanity, as an international society.

YI: Can you tell us more about this Alliance on Civilizations that you mentioned?

Alatas: I feel a bit guilty that I did not give publicity that this alliance of civilization has been launched by the secretary-general a few weeks ago. They had their first meeting in Palma de Mallorca in Spain and they will have meetings in different places. It consists of about 15-16 personalities from all regions of the world, from all faiths and beliefs, but it is a group that is initiated by two prime ministers Sabatero of Spain and Erduga of Turkey. But then they presented it to the secretary general for him to launch it. So the Sec-Gen launched it as a UN thing, supported by a UN secretariat but consisting of these 15-16 people. All will be asked to come up with proposals, recommendations how in a concrete way, to bring civilizations together, rather than having them misunderstanding each other, rather than having suspicion all around about each other's ways of life, motives and so on. And in a concrete way, propose programs that could bring this about, these civilizations together. That's why it is called an alliance of civilization. It is not supposed to be purely Muslim, I mean the Islamic world versus the Western world, although it's the major part. But we should also -- I pointed out to them, for example -- that East Asia, for instance, has more than an Islamic world. It has a large Buddhist world. It has a large Hindu world. So, lets bring this together so we can understand each other better, and see what we can learn from each other. So this is what this alliance of civilization is going to do. This high-level panel of people will meet throughout the year and will report back to the secretary-general just before the General Assembly in 2006.

YI: The degree of intolerance everywhere seems to be on the rise. In Indonesia there is increasing ethnic strife. How can this be ended?

Alatas: Intolerance can be ignited by various causes, sometimes it is caused by misperception, by misunderstanding of the other's religion, the others' way of life. But sometimes it is also jealousies: economic jealousy, political jealousy. And many parts of Indonesia, it has been the main driving force, and then it caught religious overtones. In Ambon for example, it started as economic rivalry and jealousy and then it became political and then religious. This kind of things we must indeed analyze very carefully because you have put your finger on the major causes of all the troubles that we have had - and that is intolerance. But it has various causes, it's not as simple as saying 'Oh, you just misunderstand me.' No, it's not. Sometimes, it's a combination of all these causes that I mentioned.

YI: Are you optimistic about these conflicts?

Alatas: I am optimistic in the sense that the world has woken up to it. And more and more people are being convinced that they must do something and not only talk about it.

YI:And on that encouraging note, we'd like end the interview. Thank you for being with us.

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