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Australia's Counter-Terrorism Initiative Wins Indonesians' Hearts

Australia has gone from the second most hated country among Indonesians to the second most loved

Source : IslamToday | Jakarta | 12 Jun 2012

Australia has gone from the second most hated country among Indonesians to the second most loved, according to annual surveys by the State Islamic University in Jakarta.

In 2006 Australia was behind only the US as the nation most hated by Indonesians, mainly because of its troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and perceived hypocrisy over its support for Israel, said Dr Makruf Jamhari, the university's deputy rector.

But the 2011 survey showed that Australia was behind only Saudi Arabia as the most loved foreign nation. Dr Jamhari said a perceived change in Australian attitudes to Muslims had helped, but the most important factor was an AusAid program which built and funded 2075 new schools for more than 330,000 students in poor areas, with promises to build 2000 more. The program also helps existing Islamic and secular schools teach the official curriculum rather than the radical Islamist agenda taught in hundreds of pesantren.

Speaking after a conference on state and religion last week hosted by the State Islamic and La Trobe universities at Bogor, near Jakarta, Dr Jamhari said the AusAid program had attracted far more attention in Indonesia than most aid projects, while increased scholarships and other education assistance were also appreciated.

An Indonesia expert at Monash University, Greg Barton, said the AusAid program began as a counter-terrorism initiative - along with helping Indonesia's counter-terrorist force Detachment 88 - after the October 2002 Bali bombing.

''Indonesia has long been our biggest aid recipient … After Bali, we needed to put more into counter-terrorism but realised we should do it more holistically,'' he said.

Professor Barton said Indonesia had 25,000 pesantren, which educated about a quarter of its primary school students. The vast majority of schools were moderate, but hundreds were sympathetic to extremists such as Jemaah Islamiah.

Australia is also realizing it is wrong to paint a whole country, people, or religion with the same brush due to the behavior of a few. Ever since the Bali bombings, Australia had imposed a broad level-three travel warning on Indonesia: "reconsider your need to travel''. The warning hurt Indonesia, especially the tourism sector. since it made travel for school groups more difficult and dissuaded many potential visitors, said Dr Ali Munhanif, director of the State Islamic University's Centre for the Study of Islam and Society.

Last month the Department of Foreign Affairs reduced the warning to level two, ''exercise a high degree of caution.''


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