Edward Masters, a former U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia and Bangladesh, visited the University of Nevada, Reno, last week. He was keynote speaker at the International Affairs Club’s gala event, which featured a Pacific theme complete with Asian food. Masters is co-chairman of the United States-Indonesia Society and an adjunct instructor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Masters has held senior posts as a diplomat, businessman and nonprofit sector executive. He has lived and worked for 20 years in Asian countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. On Friday, we asked Masters for his thoughts on the political climate of Indonesia and international troubles with terrorists.
Indonesia’s population is 87 percent Muslim; does that make it a possible hotbed of fundamentalism?
I don’t think so. The 87 percent of Indonesians who are Muslim are basically very moderate historically. Islam did not come into Indonesia by military conquest; it came in over several centuries, peacefully. It was brought by traders and by Islamic missionaries who converted the people from animism, actually. The Indonesians are a moderate people by nature; they’re not militants. But we find now that there were a number of Indonesians apparently involved in this terrible bombing in Bali, so there is a small fringe group that is more radical. It’s a group that both Indonesia and the foreign community needs to keep a close watch on.
How will that affect the United States’ relations with Indonesia?
I think we recognize that we have a common threat now, and that is that terrorism doesn’t just affect the United States. It can even affect a strong Muslim majority country like Indonesia. So I think it’s really drawing the two countries closer together, and we’re cooperating quite closely on exchanging intelligence, with our police forces working together in order to combat this threat. For example, the Indonesians arrested a suspected terrorist in June, a Kuwaiti national living in Indonesia. They interrogated him, and found that indeed there were grounds for knowing that this fellow was a terrorist and they turned him over to the United States. … He revealed that he was actually an al Qaeda operative, had known Osama bin Laden, that he had been charged to develop bombing attacks on U.S. embassies and other missions in three countries: Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. When we got that information, our government closed our embassies and lowered our profiles in those areas.
Indonesian President Sukarnoputri has said that Indonesia is a “country terrorized” but not a “terrorist country.”
I agree. They’re suffering from terrorism as we are, and as I fear other countries will in the future. There are a few Indonesians who are terrorists, but there are also a few Americans who are terrorists, as we have found out. We had this [terrorist] cell up in Lakowana, New York, that was broken up, affiliated with al Qaeda. We’ve had a few individuals who were off with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Terrorism doesn’t really have national borders, it affects all of us.
What are your thoughts on President Sukarnoputri?
She’s a good person. She’s a woman, which is rare, a woman president in an Islamic country. She’s the daughter of Indonesia’s first president, President Sukarno. She has limited experience in politics. She has even less experience in management. And by her nature, she’s very laid back. I think she’s missing some great opportunities. She could do in Indonesia in the wake of the Bali attack what George Bush did after Sept. 11. I think whether you agree with Bush or not, he did a wonderful job after Sept. 11. He showed real leadership in helping get us through a very difficult time. She’s not doing that. She visited Bali, she made a statement, that’s kind of been the end.