In­done­sian Mus­lim leader risks back­lash at home with Is­rael visit

The Myanmar Times - - Asean Focus -

A LEADER of In­done­sia’s largest Mus­lim or­gan­i­sa­tion is vis­it­ing Is­rael this week, brav­ing an­gry protests at home in or­der to spread what he calls a mes­sage of in­ter­faith com­pas­sion.

Yahya Staquf, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the 60-mil­lion-mem­ber Nahd­latul Ulama, is in Is­rael as a guest of the Amer­i­can Jewish Com­mit­tee, a US ad­vo­cacy group hold­ing a ma­jor con­fer­ence in Jerusalem.

In­done­sia, the world’s largest Mus­lim coun­try, does not have diplo­matic re­la­tions with Is­rael, and sup­port for the Pales­tini­ans there is strong. Staquf’s pres­ence has trig­gered an­gry re­ac­tions, as seen on In­done­sian so­cial me­dia.

But in an in­ter­view, Staquf said he re­mains com­mit­ted to the visit and hopes the con­tro­versy can bring more at­ten­tion to his mes­sage of tol­er­ance.

“Some peo­ple here are amazed by my de­ci­sion to come, be­cause they think it must be dan­ger­ous for this man to come, think­ing that many, many Mus­lims must be threat­en­ing him with death or some­thing,” Staquf told the As­so­ci­ated Press on Mon­day.

Ear­lier this week, Staquf ad­dressed the Amer­i­can Jewish Com­mit­tee’s con­fer­ence, ap­pear­ing along­side a rabbi in his dis­cus­sion. His sched­ule also in­cludes meet­ings at Is­rael’s He­brew Univer­sity, and talks with lo­cal Jewish, Chris­tian and Mus­lim lead­ers as well. There were no meet­ings with Is­raeli politi­cians listed on his sched­ule.

Staquf said the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict is not the sole fo­cus of his trip. In­stead, he looks at in­ter­faith co­op­er­a­tion as a ba­sis for solv­ing many con­flicts, in­clud­ing in Myan­mar, where 700,000 Mus­lims in Rakhine State have fled per­se­cu­tion by the coun­try’s se­cu­rity forces to Bangladesh.

But Staquf re­mains aware of the “mag­ni­tude” of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict.

“We are fac­ing a civ­i­liza­tional prob­lem here, and it is re­lated to re­li­gions,” Staquf said. “As Mus­lims, we want to do our part re­lated to our re­li­gion.”

Staquf says he has iden­ti­fied por­tions of Is­lam that he con­sid­ers prob­lem­atic, in­clud­ing how Mus­lims in­ter­act with non-Mus­lims. He says there needs to be “a new dis­course” to recog­nise that Mus­lims and non-Mus­lims are equal and should be able to co­ex­ist peace­fully.

“These el­e­ments are prob­lem­atic be­cause they are not com­pat­i­ble any­more with the cur­rent re­al­ity of our civil­i­sa­tion,” he said.

In In­done­sia, Twit­ter and Face­book have been filled with neg­a­tive com­ments about the visit. Many are up­set about the sit­u­a­tion in Gaza, where over 120 Pales­tini­ans have been killed dur­ing protests along the Is­raeli bor­der over the past two months. Is­rael ac­cuses Gaza’s mil­i­tant Ha­mas rulers of us­ing demon­stra­tors as hu­man shields while try­ing to carry out at­tacks and says it is de­fend­ing its sovereign bor­der and com­mu­ni­ties nearby.

A mon­tage of Staquf’s photo, and the Is­raeli and NU flags, has gone vi­ral on­line. It is cap­tioned: “When Mus­lims are wounded by an Is­raeli at­tack, the NU rep­re­sen­ta­tive goes to Is­rael. This visit is a form of recog­ni­tion of the state of Is­rael, hurt­ing the hearts of Mus­lims and Pales­tini­ans.”

Tau­fiqul­hadi, a mem­ber of par­lia­ment from the Na­tional Demo­cratic Party, one of the par­ties in the govern­ment coali­tion, said “the ma­jor­ity of In­done­sians” do not want diplo­matic re­la­tions with Is­rael.

In a let­ter to In­done­sia’s for­eign min­is­ter that was pub­lished on­line, Staquf said the govern­ment could “deny” his ac­tions if deemed harm­ful to state in­ter­ests. “But if there is a ‘ben­e­fit,’ let’s fol­low it up to be a real ad­van­tage.”

Photo: AP

Yahya Staquf, sec­re­tary gen­eral of In­done­sia’s Nahd­latul Ulama, poses for a photo in Jerusalem on Mon­day.

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