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Watching the Middle East burn

Publication Date : 17-06-2014


The rising tension in Iraq not only has strong repercussions for the region but also the world. The situation is deteriorating as insurgents are already in control of the important northern town of Mosul, and edging ever closer to Baghdad.

The Middle East may soon be burning. The conflict is certainly expanding and could rapidly drag more countries into the fray. For now, it involves Syria and Iraq, and foreign mercenaries, including some, apparently, from Indonesia.

Iran is getting so nervous that it is contemplating collaboration with the United States, its sworn enemy. Saudi Arabia and Israel are watching the developments closely, as are other smaller countries in the region. But we should move beyond blaming the United States for the mess left after more than a decade of military occupation, in its futile attempt to impose democracy. Instead, we should look at containing the violence.

The current conflict in Iraq, which sees the Shiite and Sunni Islamic sects pitted against one another, will have ramifications for Indonesia’s own precarious interfaith relations. The fight for control over Iraq’s massive oil reserves will send world oil prices up, hurting the global economy.

Where should Indonesia stand? President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa ought to be open about their position. The government should take anticipating measures so that whatever develops in the Middle East will not hurt our domestic political and economic interests.

Indonesia, through the United Nations, should demand immediate action to stop the fighting or at least to prevent it escalating further. It should ask the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to use whatever little influence it has in the region.

Geographical distance limits Indonesia’s ability to play a bigger role, so Jakarta would be better off working through those two multilateral organisations.

But Indonesia must be thoroughly prepared for the domestic ramifications of this conflict, most particularly, the impact on the relations between the majority Muslim Sunni and the minority Shiite community in the country.

The small Shiite community has already become a target of wrath and persecution from the radical elements of the Sunni majority in the country, as Indonesia is dragged into the global conflict between the Shiite and Sunni.

The government cannot stand idly and watch as the Middle East fire spreads this way.


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