Closing the gap
I recently participated in a briefing on terrorism to the leaders of a major corporate group. Restating the facts and theories on terrorism reminded me that, essentially, it is being fed by a belief in the injustice of the current system, and the equally strong belief that there is a better way to govern human society, which is shariah law.
Terrorism represents a phenomenon that is extremely costly to businesses and an inconvenience to management. It invariably involves dealing with contractors, whose reliability is sometimes questionable. Yet it is impossible to imagine a shopping mall, hotel or office block where there is not at the least a cursory security check.
The chances of being directly affected by a terrorist attack are, of course, extremely small. The cost to business is therefore an annoyance. Yet if the cost of security is neglected, there is the potential that we will end up like Iraq or Pakistan, with bombs exploding weekly.
In the long run, business can make a far more meaningful contribution and play a part in relieving the root cause of terrorism: injustice.
There is concern that, on a global scale, inequity is widening, not shrinking, and where there is inequity there will almost inevitably be injustice.
Inequity is fast becoming a global issue. The Economist, one of the world’s most resilient publications, recently featured it on its cover (22-28 January). It called it “the rich and the rest,” demonstrating that, just as many ordinary Indonesians state, “the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.” In a leader, it cited British Prime Minister David Cameron as adding that “more unequal societies do worse ‘according to almost every quality-of-life indicator’.”
Investor Warren Buffet, says The Economist, pressures for a higher inheritance tax, “arguing that America risks an entrenched plutocracy without it”. Students of Indonesia believe that this country continues to be dominated by an entrenched plutocracy: what is more often called an oligarchy.
Elsewhere in this magazine, the sum of Rp210,000 is mentioned as the amount many millions of Indonesians have to live – or rather exist – on every month. I find it difficult to understand how anyone can survive on that low figure. Yet we also hear of members of the boards of major companies who receive more than Rp200 million in that same period of time.
I find it hard to understand how anyone can use that much money. I could buy a bigger house, it’s true, and even park a helicopter in the grounds if I wanted to get to the airport. All sorts of things become possible.
Coincidentally, in digging out some material for this column, I came across an interview with the owner of this magazine, James Riady, with knowledge@wharton conducted in October 2009.
Without wishing to curry favor with Pak James – he knows me better than that – some of his comments bear repeating. Of Indonesia, he said that despite the wealth being created “it is not sustainable because there are a lot of gaps in our society — between the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, the healthy and malnourished, infrastructure and lack of infrastructure. It is just a matter of time before things fall apart.”
He sees the solution as education. In my eyes, at least, his very strong efforts in that field are far too closely associated with his Christianity. To my eyes, this has the potential to create more gaps, this time between Christians and Muslims in a manner that we saw far too much of at Temanggung in Central Java recently.
Indonesia historically witnessed the creation of a Christian elite which was nurtured by the Dutch. In Maluku, the gap between the privileged and the rest brought us the grisly attempt at ethnic cleansing that occurred at the end of the last millennium.
Access to wealth and power must not be concentrated in specific groups – whether based on religion, class, color or any determining feature. Recognizing the risks, James Riady’s Pelita Harapan Foundation now plans to build 1,000 schools in poor regions across the country to balance his Christian mission.
Education, then, also needs to be provided justly. The growth of the Muslim middle class was recognized in the early 1990s by the formation of the Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association (ICMI). While then President Suharto saw this as a useful political vehicle, the fact that he felt it necessary to address a Muslim elite was recognition that the concentration on education of the religious organization Muhammadiyah had created positive results, and that a new educated Muslim middle class was emerging and keen to take a bigger role in all aspects of life.
Suharto lost control of ICMI, just as he lost control of the forces at work in Indonesia. Prominent among those forces was an educated elite – students, young graduates and people with access to information – who refused to accept that the economy should be managed – and, indeed, mismanaged – by Suharto’s kids and cronies.
The revolution of 1998 did not, however, answer the demands of the Islamist faithful. Many of these, it has to be stated, were also educated people. The Indonesian revolution failed to address the root causes of inequality and injustice in the country. It only perpetuated them, as we see today.
Money, as James Riady noted in that 2009 interview, is both a blessing and a curse. Used well, it is obviously a blessing but used poorly it can become a boomerang that creates shock waves and chaos beyond its immediate environment.
Injustice is something I have touched on regularly in these columns. Injustice will always exist, yet given the challenge to the modern system of government and business from the alternative view of jihad, and the costs associated with combating active terrorism, it is essential for governments and businesses to genuinely work to reduce it.
Then, perhaps, people driven to anger by moral outrage with the system can be shown that the system is not unjust, and that the system can work to reduce injustice. Then the radical jihad movement might eventually accept that the directions are at least positive.
Community social responsibility programs must be meaningful. Communities must be aware that the presence of business in their midst is beneficial in more ways than just through the provision of a handful of jobs or other forms of tokenism. Business has to be a part of life, and not seen to be a parasite that sits on the top and monopolizes the benefit it derives from society.
The vicious killings of three members of the Admadiyah sect in Banten province and the burning of churches at Temanggung in Central Java are symptoms of the gaps that exist in this society, and of the ignorance and bigotry that is corroding the noble values on which Indonesia is based.
These acts have been condemned by the vast majority of the Indonesian people, but regrettably there remains a sizeable minority that tolerates, indeed encourages such violence and barbarity.
Education is indeed critical, but it will take more than the half-hearted efforts of the Ministry of National Education, despite the idealism of many teachers, to create opportunities for the millions of people who remain without work, and largely without hope. Quite clearly, it also needs far more attention than the present collection of business-backed foundations has been able to achieve.
Business can play its part in making this a better society, a more just society, where the appeal of terrorism and the promise of a golden afterlife will have less appeal. The community as a whole needs to work together to produce a better Indonesia, or face a widening gap that will indeed one day swallow up the current form of Indonesian society.