If we’re looking for good news from the Islamic world, as most of us are, can I suggest that the best place to look just now is right next door in Indonesia. The Indonesian government has just signed a peace agreement with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). There’s plenty more to be done, and such agreements have failed before, but the chances this time look better than ever, as GAM has finally abandoned its demand for independence and the central government seems willing, for the first time, to concede real autonomy.
Regardless of whether this agreement holds, Indonesia’s successes since Suharto resigned have been simply amazing. At that time the economy was in a mess, there had been decades of brutal dictatorship, the army was involved mainly in domestic repression and deeply entangled in both politics and business, East Timor was still resisting occupation, Muslims and Christians were engaged in communal fighting, encouraged by sinister interests within the state and terrorist groups like JI and Laskar Jihad operated more or less openly. The odds of coming through this without some sort of crisis, or worse, seemed slim.
In the subsequent seven years, there have been four peaceful changes of government, each of them (in my view) an improvement. The army is out of parliament, and increasingly confined to its appropriate role in national defense, Timor is an independent, and friendly, neighbour, Laskar Jihad has disbanded, and JI has been largely broken up, with many of those involved in terror crimes now facing death or lengthy terms of imprisonment. Communal fighting in places like Ambon has stopped almost completely, and even long-running struggles like that in Aceh seem to be on the brink of peaceful resolution. The economy is still problematic, but it seems to be on the mend.
Things aren’t perfect of course, and in a democratic society that fact can’t be concealed behind a mask of official propaganda as it was in the Suharto years. But if everything in the world was going as well things have gone in Indonesia lately, we wouldn’t have too much to worry about.
fn1. Mark Bahnisch points to more good news here