Author: unspun

An eternal student of persuasion, communication and crisis management skills, with a propensity to unspin spins

“Islamic Thugs” III: SBY Speaks

President Susilo Bambang Yudhono has finally broken silence about thugs who perpetrate violence in the name of Islam. But anyone expecting a strong, decisive message on the issue is in for a disappointment.

Amid criticism for failing to take action against groups like the Islam Defenders Front and Betawi Brotherhood for using violence to achieve their end, President SBY has said – wait for this – that he was concerned about the growth of militias who glorify violence in the name of religion or ethnicity.

He did not mention any group by name, reports The Jakarta Post today, but said that nobody in Indonesia has the right to dictate their views to others by means of violence.

"No element or community in this country can force their will on others, or do whatever they want and resort to lawlessness. It's time for each of us to behave responsibly."


Help Jogjakarta quake victims

Whenever there is a disaster it is sometimes difficult to know which NGO you can trust 
to deliver the help. If you're in such a position then consider HOPE worldwide. 
My office and client, Citigroup Indonesia, have been working with HOPE in several projects, 
including the Recovery and Rehabilitation effort in Aceh and have found HOPE reliable, efficient 
and effective. I've included a note from Charles Ham,HOPE's country director below. 
If you can help, please do.  

Charles' note:  
HOPE worldwide is organizing a relief effort to help the victims, which has
come up to 3,000 dead up to tonight. It could grow more. In addition, the
Merapi Volcano nearby is also in very high danger of exploding as well.

The teams will partner and be based at the Condong Catur Hospital in Sleman
distrik. A team from Jakarta is coming tomorrow evening through Solo, two
hour away by land. Another team from Surabaya is also coming tomorrow
evening, joining about 100 volunteers in the area to provide help.

The focus of relief will be health service for the next few days, setting
up soup kitchen & clothings.  Please be praying for the teams that are
leaving in a few hours from now.

For now it is estimated at least $10,000 will be needed to support the
relief efforts. It will be greatly appreciated if any person, church,
agency, or corporation to join us in supporting the effort to help the
victims. Pray that they will be in time to help some people.

For any questions, please call me at 62-816-1834574.


Charles M. Ham
Country Director
HOPE worldwide - Indonesia
Gedung Putera Lt 7, Jl. Gunung Sahari 39
Jakarta 10720 - Indonesia
Telp: 62-21-600-9091, Fax: 62-21-601-0570, Cell: 62-816-183-4574
Email:, Website: Http://

Ultimate Garbage III

The continuing saga of bandung’s rubbish. Today the papers reported that Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar had given the banding Governor three months to clean up the rubbish in Bandung.

Whatever happened to President SBY’s ultimatum to the governor to clean up Bandung in a fgew days or else?

This is typical Jam Karet at work. In the meantime, Bandung continues to fester.

I wonder how Bandung residents make of all of this?

“Islamic” Thugs II

It appears I was wrong about the police and the Islam Defenders Front. Police actually did arrest 21 of them when they ransacked some shops and cafes in Bekasi. The 21 are still in detention and the police have said that they will bring them mto justice.

 For be it for me to question the police's efficacy , except to observe that very often these arrests peter out, the Press loses interest and nobody knows whether justice would be meted out at the end.

The arrest aside, things are hotting up in central Java with members of the Garda Bangsa which belongs to the PKB political party and affiliated to Gus Gur is demanding that the Islam Defenders Front and the Betaqwi Brotherhood apologize.

The question that arises from all these is: what are organizations that are supposedly set up to promote a religion of peace doing with these hoodlums and private armies?

You only have to watch the news on TV to see the exact sort of unwashed masses these religious organizations have recruited or hired to do their bidding. You have thungs carrying big sticks, sharp implements, a bandanna-ed unsavory type with long hair and a thick chain around his neck – obviously not for the Bling! factor – and others whom you'd not like your daughter to go out on a date with for at least the next millenia.

Can someone out there enlighten all of us what is exactly the motivation behind these organizations having their home grown hoodlums and thugs? Whatever happened to Mahatma Ghandi and passive resistance?

Why the inaction over “Islamic” thugs?

It is both heartening and depressing to see Indonesia’s major Muslim organizations asking President Susilo Bambang Yudhono to crack down on thugs who commit violent acts in the name of religion.

It is heartening because these groups that represent almost 90 percent of Indonesia’s Muslims – the Nadlathul Ulama, the Muhammadiyah — are in keeping with the openess, tolerance and rationality that is representative of most Indonesian Muslims.

It is depressing because the fact that they have to come out openly to demand action from the President is a reflection of the inertia, lack of responsiveness, neglect or plain cowardice in the part of the government to act against daylight thuggery, just because the perpetrators veil their acts in the name of Islam.

Those familiar with developments in Indonesia will notice that some of these groups have been getting bolder by the day and going about harassing anyone with a different point of view with impunity.

The Islam Defenders Front, the Betawi Brotherhood Forum are two such groups. Their acts are not only are pure forms of thuggery but they give the world a wrong impression of the tolerant Islam being practiced by the vast majority of Muslims in Indoensia.

Consider the Betwai Brotherhood Forum, for instance. Its members ostensibly support the controversial anti-pornography bill. Nothing wrong with that. But for its chairman Fadloli El Muhir to say during a live TV broadcast that the women who participated in a rally opposing the anti-pornography bill were “evil, wretched women without morals”? It is misogynistic, bigoted and just plain insulting to human intelligence.

The Brotherhood has also been responsible for wrecking bars and nightclubs, especially around the month of Ramadhan.

Likewise the Islamic Front ransacked several cafes in the Bekasi suburb of Jakarta after its members mass rally to support the anti-pornography bill.

Every society has its share of hard heads and red necks but in most countries where law and order prevail, none of these groups can go around acting with impunity and even challenging the police.

There was an incident recently when the police had arrested six of the Betawi Brotherhood’s members. Irritated by the fact that the police dared to arrest its members, the Brotherhood gathered its followers to demonstrate in front of the police station. They quarreled with the police and at some point had a fist fight with the police. The police ended up letting the Brothers free.

Continued inaction will only embolden these thugs to ever more preposterous heights of violence. One wonders what the police and the government are doing to fail so miserably in responding to this blatant challenge to authority.

The government and the police should get tough with these people as it is clear that what they are doing has little to do with Islam, a religion based on tolerance. The call to action by the two largest Muslim organizations in the country will only add to the support and legitimacy of the government taking a firm hand against these thugs.

Failure to act would see the government’s authority eroding further, respect for law and order crumble and elements in society coming to the inevitable conclusion that they may have to take matters in their own hands if they want to see fairness and justice. it would be a disaster for Idonesia then.

So why is the government sitting on its big behind and not acting?

The Irony of Being Mahathir

The Jakarta Post carried this article under the headline “The dramatic irony of Mahathir and the media” on May 31.
What goes around, comes around.

If former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was anyone else but himself, he would be contemplating this saying and savoring its irony this very moment.But Mahathir is Mahathir and incapable of irony. Because of this he will, like the old Greek tragedies, be destined to debase himself further.

What is ironic is how Mahathir, who lobotomized the Malaysian press during his 23 years in power from 1981 till 2003 is now going around whining about the lack of press freedom in Malaysia.

How this came about began some months ago when the government led by his handpicked successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi began to dismantle what many in Malaysia considered to be Mahathir’s mistakes and grandiose plans.

The quarrel began to surface Badawi government got rid of the CEO of Malaysia’s national car company, Proton. Following this Mahathir has since found other reasons to criticize the government: its decision to sell off a Proton subsidiary to foreigners for a token sum of money, its decision to sell sand to Singapore; its decision to let the island state use the airspace of a southern Malaysian state; and its decision to shelf a half-bridge project to Singapore.

Never one to be considered a wall flower, Mahathir lashed out by the government but the mainstream Malaysia Press is not giving him any play. Conditioned by 23 years of Mahathirism to be subservient to the powers-that-be and to muzzle dissent they did what they were trained to do to perfection.

Incensed by this alienating experience, Mahathir became shriller as each day went by and he was ignored by the mainstream media. He has become so desperate recently that he agreed to be interviewed by a news outlated he used to hate: independent Malaysian news portal is a website that was a thorn in Mahathir’s side when he was in power. In Mahathir’s day was frowned upon and not so subtle pressures exerted to get it to tone down. But, bless them, refused to back down and stuck to its believe in the freedom of the press to report and be critical of government.

Malaysiakini began posting its three part story of the Mahathir interview on Tuesday. In the first part of the interview Mahathir remained true to his aggressive style, only now that he is out of power he has lost the menace and sounds like a grumpy old man forced to attend the birthday of a relative he dislikes. Here’s an extract of his interview:

Mahathir: I never liked It was very critical of me before.

Malaysiakini: We’re just doing our job. We’ve also been very critical of the present government as well …

Mahathir: Yes. You are critical of everybody. Wait until you become the government. Then others will have a chance to take potshots at you. Let’s go on.

What is fascinating from this interview, and Mahathir’s words and deeds of late, is that it provides us with a disturbing insight into the mind of someone incapable of perceiving irony.

Irony is a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.

It is clear from his actions and words that he just does not believe that he destroyed whatever press freedom there was in Malaysia during his tenure. Anyone else familiar with Malaysian Press history will tell you that that is simply not true and that Operasi Lallang in 1987, when he closed down several newspapers and locked up many dissenters, was one of the most decisive move to emasculate the Press.

After that operation all mainstream media towed the line, anyone that was perceived as critical or did not tow the line was either forced out or they willingly left as that was the day press freedom in Malaysia took a mortal blow. I know because I was one of those journalists who voted with my feet after my paper’s license was revoked.

We and other have moved on since then to other lives and even the most critical of us would not hesitate to give Mahathir his due for bringing the country forward economically.

In this aspect he has done a great job for the country. He should now gracefully take to the quiet life, plant some orchids and go write his memoirs or visit old friends like Suharto. Persisting in taking on the government in a high profile manner, without a keen appreciation of irony, is only going through the motions of a tragicomedy in the making.

Ultimate garbage II – the sequel

Ultimatums are only good only if you're prepared to go all the way. Otherwise you begin to look like you're spewing only garbage.

So what's happened to President SBY's ultimatum to Bandung Governor Dada Rosada to clean up the city's rubbish problem or have his job of cleaning the rubbish taken away from him, as chronicled in a previous post?

Fans of the President will recall the tough talk on Saturday when, disgusted by the stench and piling mounds of rubbish lining the route of his cereminial exercise, he issued the ultimatum to the governor to clean up his act by Tuesday, yesterday.

Well, the day has come and gone but the only action that the President seems to have taken was to send Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar to Bandung.

The Minister was appropriately disgusted and would have given Dada some blah blah, except that the governor was't in his office when the minister visited. (Double take: a Minister visits a governor and, in this age of handphones, the governor's not there?!?).

So to sum up the Government's action to date on Bandung's garbage situation:

1. SBY talks tough, issues ultimatum but does nothing

2. Rachmat Witeolar talks tough, can't find governor and leaves

Net result: nothing, Bandung is still reeking from grabage.

Of Blogs, PR and Journos

Jeremy Wagstaff has raised an inportant issue in his Loose Wire Blog on worldwide PR firm Edelman’s deal with Technorati. Essentially the deal is to offer localized versions of Technorati’s offering in German, Korean, Italian, French and Chinese.

This deal allows Edelman to get into the analytics of tracking conversations in the blogosphere, but being a typical journalist Jeremy worries whether this means that PR people have taken over the conversation.

It is an understandable suspicion but one founded more on the misperception that PR people are into spin, that they are still stuck in the mode of command-and-control one-to-many communications and that they haven’t realised that they are there to present only a good image of companies, no warts and all.

Just like there are bad journalists, there are bad PR practitioners who do all those awful stuff. They give PR a bad name. To be fair there are lots of awful PR practitioners around, just like the tons of mediocre and horrible journalists.

But where the best PR practitioners are concerned, it has always been and will always be about getting our clients to communicate with credibility — with or without the blogosphere.

Even in traditional PR the best practitioners end up being trusted advisors instead of being mere communications consultants. The end up advising the clients on what are or aren’t acceptable actions and decisions and often guide their clients to better and more responsible actions. Then they help the clients communicate. The communicationis the visible but tail end of the counselling process, that, if done well, very few people would even notice.

This aspect of PR will not change intrinsically with blogs. What will change is the tone and manner of communications, as well as the delivery mechanisms.

Arguably, if corporations get into the conversation then they do not need much of the command-and-control PR tactics being used today. The reason why they use it in the first place is to protect themselves against aggressive and hostile journalists who have wheat Sally Stewart, author of Media Training 101 and a former journalist, calls a Kindergarten Justice mindset.  To these journalists things are either black or white; you’re either guilty or your not; you succeeded or you’ve failed.

They can, in naked conversations in the blogosphere, have the luxury of talking in shades of grey rather than in stark black and white terms. They now can affort to be more open, responsible and transparent in their communications. 

But this is an uphill task for many suits as they lack the interpersonal communications skills to do this. I suspect a large chunk of the PR practitioner’s role in the future will be to help coach these executives, just as we do during media training, only that we have to get more savvy about the interperosnal communications aspects such as active listening, assertive speaking and self-disclosure instead of messaging.

The other big change that blogging will have on PR is the delivery mechanism. This is where I think Edelman ihas a leg up on the other PR firms, many of whom have not even woken up to the fact that blogging will change our industry. Its deal with Technorati will give it some very powerful tools but how it actually ends up using them remains to be seen. My personal experience is that while large outfits like Edelman have the resources the problem lies in the caliber of the people on the ground. Liek most persuasive tools and techniques, it can be used or abused. Ensuring a uniformly high quality of people who can counsel rather than resport to spin is a constant challenge.

Blogs will also potentially change the landscape of issues management, even in markets such as Indonesia with a relatively small penetration of internet usage. This is because the influencers such as NGOs and activists, are all plugged in on the Net and man of them have started blogging.

In the end, blogs change some things but the fundamentals remain the same.  One of those fundamentals, unfortunately, is the difficulty of convincing successful businessmen and professionals that they need to make anything complex sound simple; anything simple sound important — and credible because they have made the right decisions and taken the right actions.

That is a  skill that Blogs will not replace and no technology can make easier. So are PR people trying to take over the conversation? Well, if they are really good they would not have to: their clients will be speaking up for themselves, with greater skill, courtesy of their trusted advisors.

What to do with Suharto?

Justice, said Nietzsche, is the spirit of revenge. So it is that there are lots of people queing and clamouring for justice where Suharto, now apprently on his deathbed, is concerned.

Should Suharto be pardoned, as the Government is wont to gdo, or Should justice be served and Suharto be punished? I think there is a case for granting amnesty to despots who willingly step down.

The reason is simple: if we seek revenge for past deeds it becomes a precedent. Any despot of the future will not step down because he knows that he will have revenge visited upon him and his family. So he hangs on to power for dear life. In the process hundreds, maybe thousands of lives may be lost, as others try to pry him from office.

 But if amnesty is extended to despots like Suharto who willingly stepped down when the time came, then it encourages other despots to step down without having to shed blood.

This aside, the shrill cries for action against Suharto are interesting and very Indonesian in nature. If you read the newspapers, you rquickly realise that what Suharto's detractors want him to stand trial for is corruption.

It is intellectual shortcut-ism. By branding him as a corrupto, he is automatically guilty and this removes the onus from his critics to substantiate what he has actually done that is illegal or wrong.

The same mindset is present whenever the Indonesian media and pundits talk about the tycoons who were left owing the state huge debts during the Asian Economic Crisis of 1997-98. Most referrences to them were as "corruptors". There is very little reference to what they actually did that was wrong.

This mindset contributes to the opaqueness of events and developments in Indonesia.  

SBY can take only so much rubbish

President SBY's ultimatum to the Bandung Governor to virtually clean up his act by 23rd of May or have his job of cleaning up the mounting piles of rubbish in the city taken away from him is a breath of fresh air.

For too long, the Governors and other petty officials have acted like powers onto themselves, ruling over their fiefdoms with impunity. The results are dysfunctional cities. Most Indonesian cities are unnecesarily unkempt. There is no proper spatial planning, enforcement of building and land use bylaws are non existent, maintenance is abhorrently absent, even in the better districts of town.

All of this makes the majority of us live in a context where the environment, already unattractive, gets progressively degraded. What is needed is for the government, antional or local, to get tough and change the context whereby people relate to their environment.

If the context changes (refer to the Power of Context in Malcom Gladwell's Tipping Point) then there is hope for change.

But it is a sad day when, as admitted by SBY himself, the President of a country has to handle the rubbish. He needs to get rid of the trash sitting behind officious desks, then the President would not have to lower himself to the tqask of a garbologist.