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Home � � Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono: “Towards Harmony Among Civilizations”

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono: “Towards Harmony Among Civilizations”

16 October 2009 | Speeches
At the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
BOSTON, 29 September 2009
I am honored to be here today, to address the distinguished faculty and students of Harvard University. I am impressed with the turn-out this evening, and, for the students, I hope you are NOT here today as an excuse to skip class.
I must admit, I have wanted to visit Harvard for a long time. Several of my Ministers, successful businessmen and military generals were fortunate to study here. Don’t take this the wrong way : but I find it interesting that I did not end-up working for people who went to Harvard; it’s actually people who went to Harvard who ended-up working for me !
I am proud that my son, Captain Agus, was able to join this prestigious Harvard program – I think he is somewhere in this room. So now other than being a loyal soldier in the Indonesian army, he is also another Harvard student working for me !
Several months ago, President Barack Obama made a historic speech in Cairo, seeking to redefine relations between America and the Muslim world. As President of the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, I would like today to respond to that speech.
President Obama delivered his speech at Al Azhar University, one of the oldest and best Universities in the Islamic world. I speak today at Harvard, the oldest and most prestigious University in America. (And please do not tell people in Princeton and Yale I said this..) But our objective is the same: to take a hard look at relations between the West and the Islamic worlds, and to chart a new course forward.
It is fitting that I come here after the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh.
For to me, the G-20 is one manifestation of the change taking place in global politics. The G-20 grouping, comprising some 85 per cent of the world’s GNP and 80 per cent of world trade, is not just an economic powerhouse — it is also a civilizational powerhouse.
The G-20 for the first time accommodates all the major civilizations — not just Western countries, but also China, South Korea, India, South Africa, and others, including significantly, three countries with large Muslim populations: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Indonesia. The G-7, the G-8, or even the United Nations Security Council, does not boast this distinction. The G-20 is representative of a multi-civilizational global community.
Perhaps this is why the G-20 has been successful in arresting a global meltdown. The swift and coordinated actions of G-20 economies have started the stabilization of our financial systems and restored confidence, prompting today’s early signs of modest economic recovery.
We are very pleased that at the close of Pittsburgh, the G-20 has been institutionalized, and looks set to be the premier forum for international economic cooperation. This comes not a moment too soon, for the world’s civilizations should be properly represented in one defining forum. Civilizations. They at once define us, and divide us.
Is harmony between our civilizations truly elusive, so out of reach? can we just not get along?
Sixteen years ago, the late Samuel Huntington, a son of this university, published an essay proposing that after the Cold War, civilizations, religions and cultures would become the defining feature of international relations and would constitute the primary cause of conflicts between and within nations.
To me, the term “clash of civilizations” itself is counter-productive. If they hear it often enough, some people may think that the world is such and accept it as reality. I don’t believe that civilizations are inherently incompatible and prone to conflict when they interact. This is what I saw firsthand at the G20, where nations of diverse cultural backgrounds joined hands to address a common challenge. We spoke different languages through our headphones, but we understood one another.
Huntington sought to understand post-Cold-War fault lines and warned us of potential turbulence. This is not a trivial reminder. Civilizational issues are rife in modern politics. As policy-makers, our job is to prevent such prognosis from becoming reality.
Indeed, Huntington’s warning has been relevant to Indonesia’s experience. In the roller coaster years following independence, Indonesia has suffered separatist threats, ethnic and religious conflicts, and Islamic insurgencies.
But we overcame these challenges. We adapted. And instead of failing, we have thrived.
Today we are not a hotbed of communal violence; we are by and large an archipelago of peace.
Today we are not at the brink of ‘Balkanization’; we have instead fortified our national identity through three successful, peaceful national elections.
Today we are not a victim of past authoritarian, centralized governments, but a model of democracy and decentralization. Today we are not paralyzed by financial crisis but forging ahead with sweeping reforms of our financial and industrial structure. And Indonesia today is a dynamic emerging economy, enjoying one of the highest growth rates in Asia after China and India.
Thus, no matter how deep and seemingly divisive the civilizational forces facing Indonesia — the ethnic differences and religious conflicts — we overcame them. This is despite the enormous challenges of democracy and development that still confront us.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am aware of the painful realities of our world. I am aware of the 4000 years of painful relations between Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
I am aware of a traumatic collective memory that is not easy to erase.
When dealing with matters of faith, we face basic human emotions that predated modern states. These emotions are complicated, stubborn, and will likely become more problematic as religiosity intensifies worldwide. According to some estimate, Islam will be the world’s largest religion by 2025, accounting for some 30 % of the world population, and indeed Islam is currently the fastest growing religion in the United States.
As religiosity increases, so will the politics of identity. And aided by globalization and technology, extremism and radicalism can only grow. As we transition from G8 to G20 and perhaps beyond, mutual exposure between civilizations will become the most intense humanity has ever seen. Perhaps we will even see the emergence of a “global civilization”.
And democracy has gained immense ground, spreading in the Islamic world, including in Indonesia. There were only a handful of democracies at the turn of the 20th century. At the turn of the 21st century, there are some 89 full democracies. Even the Organization of Islamic Conference has adopted the historic Mecca Charter committing its members to the principles of democracy, human rights and governance. Indeed, more people now live under open pluralist societies, and under religious freedom, than at any other time in history. This trend can have only a positive impact on the global community. It may be naive to expect that the world can be rid of conflict and hatred. But I believe that we can fundamentally change and evolve the way civilizations, religions and cultures interact.
This is NOT utopia. It is a pragmatic vision. I have seen it work in Indonesia. I have seen it work in many countries. The question is : can we make it work globally? As Robert F. Kennedy once said, quoting George Bernard Shaw, ‘I dream of things that never were, and ask, why not?” To highlight how I think this can possibly be achieved, let me outline 9 (nine) imperatives to achieve harmony among civilizations.
If you ask me “why 9 ?”, well, it is a bit personal, because 9 is always my lucky number. Let me now outline these imperatives.
The first imperative is to make the 21st century the century of soft power. Remember : The 20th century was the century of hard power. We saw two World Wars, several major wars and proxy wars, and a long Cold War which risked nuclear holocaust. One estimate suggests that some 180 million people died in the wars and conflicts of the last century. It is no wonder that the 20th century has been called the “age of conflict”. It has been the bloodiest Century in memory.
In contrast, the 21st century should and must be the century of soft power.
But there exists a large of “soft power deficit” that the world’s civilizations must fill. I believe that this ‘clash of civilizations’ is actually a clash of ignorance. We are weakest when we are alone. We are strongest when we join forces with one another.
There are many examples of this power of exchange and connectivity.
In the 13th century, the Islamic civilization was the most sophisticated in the world because it had an enormous and indiscriminate thirst for knowledge and science, learning from all corners of the world. And this body of scientific knowledge from the Muslim world was later utilized by the Western Renaissance. Civilizations have built on each other’s knowledge and become enriched by them.
We have done the same in Indonesia, where we have built on our exposure to Eastern, Islamic, and Western influences, culminating in the open, pluralistic and tolerant society that we are today.
In short : the cross-fertilization of cultures can produce something wonderful, something good.
The more we exchange cultures and share ideas, the more we learn from one another, the more we cooperate and spread goodwill, the more we project soft power and place it right at the heart of international relations, the closer we are to world peace.
Experience has taught me that soft power is an effective weapon against conflict. Just ask the people of Aceh, Indonesia.
For 30 years, Aceh was rife with violence. Successive Indonesian governments opted for a rigid military solution, because a settlement seemed so elusive. When I assumed the Presidency, I pursued a new approach, one defined by goodwill and trust-building. I offered the separatists a win-win formula, promising them peace with dignity. Remarkably, we reached a permanent peace settlement in just 5 short rounds of negotiations. The peace agreement was fully in line with my objective to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity but in a civilized and democratic way. That was when my faith in soft power multiplied, and why I believe it holds the key to resolving many global problems.
The second imperative is to intensify the process of dialogue and outreach that now seems to be proliferating.
We have seen many good initiatives. In 2001, the United Nations began the Dialogue among Civilizations. Spain and Turkey later launched the Alliance of Civilizations. The Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) also took-up Inter-faith Dialogue. Recently, Saudi Arabia convened the Interfaith Conference at the UN. Indonesia and Norway also launched, since 2006, the Global Inter-Media Dialogue in the aftermath of the cartoon crisis. All this represents a fresh approach to link civilizations and religions.
We must deepen the quality of these dialogues, so that they produce specific actions that, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon points out, (and I quote) “change what people see, what they say and ultimately how they act” (end of quote). These initiatives should not always be a meeting of like-minded moderates, although surely this is also important. They should also include disbelievers, for a dialogue should not be a reaffirmation, but an honest attempt to understand the concerns of the other side. The point is to listen, and not just talk.
A true dialogue must address age-old grievances and confront false stereotypes, without presumptions and preconditions. Indeed, the best dialogues are often respectful and honest, open-ended and constructive, intense, and solution-oriented. These were the quality of dialogues held in Indonesia between Muslims and Christians in conflict-zones in Poso and Maluku, which culminated in a commitment to peaceful reconciliation. The third imperative is the need to find a solution to burning political conflicts that have driven a wide wedge, specifically between the western and Muslim worlds.
Today, some two out of three Muslim countries are in conflict or face a significant threat of conflict. In contrast, only one out of four non-Muslim countries face similar challenges. But despite these very complex conflict situations, Muslims must be able to differentiate between a conflict involving Muslims, and a “war against Islam”. I do not believe that any of the civilizations – Western, Hindu, Sinic, Buddhist, Japanese – are systematically and simplistically engaged in a “war against Islam”.
Of all the world’s conflicts, none has captured the passion of Muslims more than the plight of the Palestinians. But this is not a religious issue – there are Christians and Jews in Palestine, and Muslims and Christians in Israel. Nonetheless, the establishment of the much-awaited Palestinian state, in the framework of a two-state solution where Palestine and Israel live side by side in peace, would be widely hailed by Muslims worldwide. It would remove a major mental barrier in their perception of the West, especially of the United States. Currently, many Muslims fail to notice the constructive role of the West in producing peace in Bosnia, and in Kosovo, but they would sure notice, and rejoice in, the resolution of the Palestine dilemma.
But the Palestinians too have a moral and political responsibility. It is difficult to attain and sustain statehood unless there is unity among the Palestinian factions. In my meeting with Palestinian leaders, I always told them very clearly that Indonesian freedom fighters would have never won the war for independence, if they had not united in spirit.
The bottom line is : we desperately need to end the vicious cycle of conflict and violence.
The timely withdrawal of Western forces from Iraq and Afghanistan would also alleviate Muslim fears of a Western hegemony. And all these political solutions would help reduce terrorism, as a crime that deviates from the true teaching of Islam as a religion of peace. It would also turn the feelings of fear and humiliation among some Muslims into hope and self-esteem.
The fourth imperative is to strengthen the voice of moderation in our communities.
By nature, moderates are open-minded, flexible and prone to an inclusive approach through outreach and partnership. In contrast, extremists are driven by xenophobic fear, and bent on confrontation and exclusion.
Because both moderation and extremism will grow in the 21st century, we must make sure the moderates are empowered, and take center stage in society. The moderates should no longer be a silent majority. They must speak up and defend their mainstream values in the face of opposition from the louder and more media-genic extremists. In this vein, I find it very encouraging that Western media have unanimously refused to show the very offensive film Fitna by provocative Dutch politician Geert Wilders. This shows the media’s improved sensitivity towards Islam.
The moderates also have to be more proactive and less reactive. And they must show, with reason and results, that being a moderate brings real success, peace and progress. Extremists will always capitalize on hopelessness and desperation. We must present a better alternative. The fifth imperative is multiculturalism and tolerance. The most welcome trend in the 21st century is multiculturalism and tolerance. You can not say this of America and many Western nations several decades ago. But today, racism is in serious decline, apartheid is gone, inter-racial marriages are common, and the market place picks talents without regard for color, religion or ethnicity. Even the family portrait of President Barack Obama reflects this healthy multiculturalism, with his Kenyan and Indonesian roots.
We must all work together to ensure that multiculturalism and tolerance become a truly global norm. And when we speak tolerance, it should be more than just to “tolerate” others. Tolerance implies a deeper meaning. Tolerance means a full respect for others, sincerely accepting their differences, and thriving on our mutual diversity. Only this type of tolerance can heal deeply seated hatred and resentment. The sixth imperative is to make globalization work for all.
I do not accept the precept that, as a rule, globalization produces winners and losers. Like peace, like development, globalization can be harnessed to make winners for all. Let us be clear on this. There can be no genuine harmony among civilizations as long as the majority of the world’s 1,3 billion Muslims feel left out, marginalized and insecure about their place in the world. They are part of the 2.7 billion people worldwide who live under two dollars a day.
These are the sad, hard facts. Out of 57 Muslim populated countries, 25 are classified as low-income countries, 18 lower middle-income, and 14 as upper middle income or high income. And even though 1 out of every 4 people in the world are Muslims, their economies constitute one tenth of the world economy. One in four people in Muslim countries live in extreme poverty. Almost 300 million Muslims aged 15 and above are illiterate. These statistics are, of course, unacceptable.
Muslims must take ownership in their destiny. Many Muslims reminisce too much about the glory days of centuries past, when Islam was on top of the world: politically, militarily, scientifically, economically. Muslims today must be convinced that Islam’s best years are ahead of us, not behind us.
The 21st Century CAN be the era of the second Islamic renaissance. A confident, empowered and resurgent Muslim world can partner with the West and other civilizations in building sustainable peace and prosperity. But to do this, Muslims must change their mind-set. Like the remarkable 13th century Muslims before them, they must be open-minded, innovative, and take risks. There are inspirational Muslims everywhere: Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, Orhan Pamuk, Muhammad Ali, Zidane, Hakeem Olajuwon, Fareed Zakaria and rapper: Akon. Countries like United Arab Emirates and Qatar have shown that with good governance, self esteem and a progressive worldview, they can change their nation’s fortune in one generation. And Indonesia has shown that Islam, modernity and democracy – plus economic growth and national unity – can be a powerful partnership.
In short, the world’s citizens, and children of all civilizations, must be equal partners and benefactors of globalization.
A recent survey in The Economist found that, for the first time, more than half of the world population can be loosely considered middle-class. If this is true, then we have a reasonable chance to reach “zero poverty” worldwide by the end of this century. With the emerging economic order that is now unfolding, getting from here to there would require intense inter-cultural and inter-religious harmony. This should be the shared goal of all our nations.
The seventh imperative is to reform global governance.
Earlier, I talked about how the G20 Summit is more representative of today’s global dynamics. Unfortunately, this is the exception rather than the rule.
For example, the UN Security Council today still reflects the power balance of 1945 rather than 2009, with exclusive veto powers reserved for four Western nations and China. It is unfortunate that recent efforts to reform the UN Security Council have not been successful. This situation is unsustainable. The UN Security Council will need to be restructured to keep up with 21st century geopolitical realities.
Imperative number eight is education.
Politicians often overlook educational opportunities in both our homes and our classrooms. But the answers to the world’s problems are there, for it is also there that hatred and prejudice breeds. These are the real battlegrounds for the hearts and minds of future generations.
It is at these places that we must turn ignorance into compassion, and intolerance into respect. The foot soldiers here are parents, teachers and community leaders. We must inculcate in our school curriculum the culture of moderation, tolerance, and peace. We must help our children and our students develop a sense of common humanity which allows them to see a world of amity, not a world of enmity.
In Indonesia, elementary students are taught about respecting religious traditions. Exam questions ask Muslim students what they should do if their Christian neighbors invite them to celebrate Christmas. We are probably the only country in the world where each religious holidays – Islamic, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist – are designated as national holidays, even though Hindus and Buddhists account only 2.4 per cent of our population. Through education, we have sought to ensure that tolerance and respect for religious freedom becomes part of our trans-generational DNA.
Finally, the ninth imperative : global conscience.
It is not easy to describe this, but this is what I saw in Aceh during the tsunami tragedy. On 26 December 2004, giant tsunami waves crashed Aceh and Nias, and 200,000 people perished in half an hour. The whole nation was in grief. But in this tragedy, we also found humanity. The whole world wept, and offered helping hands. Americans, Australians, Singaporeans, Chinese, Mexicans, Indians, Turks and other international volunteers worked hand in hand to help the Acehnese. I realized then … there exists a “powerful global conscience”.
One would think, that the enormous pain of World War 2 would usher in a new dawn of world peace. That is why the United Nations was formed. But the human race ended up with many more wars.
One would think the threat of the nuclear holocaust was enough to trigger nuclear disarmament, but the world saw more countries developing nuclear weapons. The question now is whether climate change would be able to foster a new global conscience. We are still not sure that it will.
But a “global conscience” could well help transcend whatever civilization, religious and cultural divides that has faced humanity.
So these are my NINE imperatives for harmony among civilizations that I offer to you today.
They will require a great deal of hard work. It will take the work of generations and decades. And it will require patience, perseverance, partnership and lots of thinking outside the box.
Eighteen years after the end of the Cold War ended, ten years into the 21st Century, we find ourselves at a crucial crossroads. In front of us may be the most progressive century mankind has ever known, a century where, as Fareed Zakaria says, more things will change in the next 10 years than in the past 100 years.
It can be the century of possibility and opportunity.
President Barack Obama spoke in Cairo of a “new beginning” between America and the Muslim world. Today, I say that we can “REINVENT A NEW WORLD”.
It will be a world not of conquest, but of connectivity. It will be a world defined not by a clash of civilizations, but by the confluence of civilizations. It will be a world marked by plenty, not by poverty. And it will be a vast empire of global minds breaking down centuries of civilizational collisions and hostilities.
America, with all the economic, social and technological resources at her disposal, has much to contribute to this new world. America’s role in helping to reform the international system, spread prosperity, empower the world’s poor, resolve conflicts, and share knowledge is a critical asset to a transforming world. Now is a golden opportunity for America to inundate the world with her soft power, not hard power. America should not worry about retaining its superpower status. America can help make the world anew — what could be more powerful and definitive than that?
Indonesia too has a significant role to play. We can bridge between the Islamic and the western worlds. We can project the virtue of moderate Islam throughout the Muslim world. We can be the bastion of freedom, tolerance and harmony. We can be a powerful example that Islam, democracy and modernity can go hand in hand. And we will continue to advance Indonesia’s transformation through democracy, development and harmony.
This is why Indonesia and America are now evolving a strategic partnership. The world’s second and the third largest democracies. The most powerful Western country and the country with the largest Muslim population. Calibrated for the challenges of the 21st century, this partnership can strengthen regional stability, inter-civilizational unity and world peace.
In the final analysis, vast oceans separate our countries but our common search unites. We are both trying to redefine our place in the world. President Obama insists the 21st century can still be the American Century. I am convinced that this could well be Asia’s Century.
Then I thought, why can’t it be everybody’s century? It can be the American Century. It can be the Asian Century. It can be the European Century. It can be the African Century. And it can be the Islamic Century.
This can be an amazing century where hope prevails over fear, where brotherhood of man reigns supreme, where human progress conquers ignorance.
It can be a Century that not only brings us into a new millennium, but also elevates the bonds of humanity to greater heights.
In this Century, no one loses. And everybody wins.
Insya Allah!
I thank you.
Source: Presidential Palace


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