By Terry Lacey
Sep 15, 2009
A provincial decision on adultery doesn’t characterize the whole country
It´s front page news in Indonesia that the Aceh provincial parliament has just introduced a shariah by-law on stoning for adultery. (Jakarta Post 15.09.09). Is Indonesia entering a new stone age? No its not. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, backed by modern Islamic coalition allies, will lead Indonesia into the space age, becoming one of the ten largest economies in the world.
Indonesia will be the 7th largest economy in the world by 2045, bigger than Japan, the UK or Germany, says a Standard Charter Bank Report, September 2nd entitled Indonesia: Asia´s Emerging Powerhouse. And Indonesia will probably have to be a nuclear power by then to meet high volume demand for clean energy.
It is perhaps a good thing that an outgoing defeated provincial parliament of yesterday´s men in Aceh have made such a stupid decision. They clearly don’t care or are not aware of the impact this will have on the reputation of Indonesia or Islam.
But they will create a political backlash to help sweep away the creeping advances of a politicized and backward version of shariah law that does not belong in Indonesia.
In the UK, Middle East and Indonesia modern interpretations of shariah rules are helping to expand the economic and social vision of Islamic banking. Islamic bonds have been successfully introduced into Indonesian financial markets with resounding success. And in Malaysia many non-Muslims use modern shariah banking services.
But Islamic banking must stay true to its ideals and avoid the high-leverage high-risk instruments that led the Western banking system down the path to greed and self-destruction.
A recent report in the UK Sunday Times (26.07.09) confirmed that voluntary use of shariah law to resolve family and commercial disputes is increasingly common, with non-Muslims starting to use it to solve business problems in the Muslim community.
And earlier reports in the US press indicated that an unexpected by-product of introducing shariah family law in the UK has been to deal equitably with a backlog of divorces demanded by Muslim women previously trapped in bad relationships.
Certainly shariah law is not always perfect and its reputation is terrible in the West, but its achievements are not all by any means bad, and it seems best administered on a voluntary basis, and in a modern or positive social context. Contextualization is everything.
And in Aceh as a reaction to the Tsunami disaster, civil land registration law is apparently more progressive than in most of Indonesia, giving clearer rights to women.
The underlying reality of what just happened in Aceh is the complete reverse of the flurry of negative press that will follow, because the wrong kind of sharia law, and the conservatives who introduced it, will be seriously weakened by this move. What has happened is a sign of weakness, and that they have lost the political battle.
The provincial governor, a modernizer, and the new modernizing Aceh party, elected by a landslide, backed by the cadres of the previous GAM liberation movement, now reconciled with a reforming Jakarta, will form a new administration in Aceh, and one of their first priorities will have to be to dispense with this awful legacy.
The Standard Charter Bank Report extrapolates from Indonesia´s population of about 235 million and its 2009 growth rate of over 4 percent, expected to rise to 5 percent in 2010 and 6 percent by 2011 and shows the size of the Indonesian economy is likely to overtake South Korea by 2016, Japan by 2024, the UK by 2031 and Germany by 2040.
The British Economist special review on Indonesia, entitled “A Golden Chance” on the country (published September 12th) highlights the economic successes and potential of the world’s third largest democracy and fourth most populous country.
The World Bank has also upgraded Indonesia growth predictions.
Indonesia needs at least $100 billion of investment in much cleaner energy and energy efficiency to more than double grid capacity to reach 55,000 Megawatts by 2015.
It is almost a mathematical certainty that Indonesia will eventually have to invest in a civil nuclear power program by 2030 to obtain high volume low emissions renewable energy. This would also force the pace of political and regulatory reform.
I interviewed participants last year at the end of the annual conference of the Indonesian Renewable Energy Society in Jakarta and there was a smart young Muslim women, all in white with her hijab, looking orthodox, if not conservative.
But she was no conservative. She was bright and enthusiastic about the future of clean energy in Indonesia and one of the hundred-plus trained nuclear technologists in Indonesia, waiting for the future to catch up with them.
She represents the Islam of tomorrow in Indonesia, and not the old-generation politicians of Aceh. Their legacy will be blown away, not by the bombs of terrorists, but by the wind of change.
Terry Lacey is a development economist who writes from Jakarta on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking.
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