Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Exclusive Interview: Asia Foundation's Robin Bush

No offense to politicians, but when you need a real State of the Union, you don't go to political hacks. You go to people like Robin Bush. As Indonesia's country rep for the Asia Foundation, she's steeped in local culture, with her heart and soul dedicated to making the country a better place.

Today we have the first of a two-part series, chatting with Robin about issues like development, politics, Islam - and what every American needs to know about Indonesia.

EI: What led you to be Asia Foundation's country rep in Indonesia , and what does your work entail?

RB: Indonesia is really home – I grew up here, and then lived in Indonesia off and on during the '90s doing my Masters and PhD research, then joined the Foundation in 1998. Prior to being Deputy Rep and then Country Rep, I was the Director for the Foundation’s Islam and Development programs. As a political scientist with a focus on Islamic politics, The Asia Foundation is a place I really wanted to work because the Foundation is known for its political economy approach to reform and development. It engages with both state and non-state political institutions, and since the 1970s, the Foundation has partnered with Islamic organizations on a wide range of reform initiatives - from women’s literacy, to pro-poor budgeting. Currently, I provide overall management and direction for the Foundation’s work in Indonesia, which includes economic policy reform, election monitoring and education, women’s political participation, anti-trafficking, legal reform, security sector reform, and pro-poor and gender budgeting.

EI: Is your sense that Islam in Indonesia is being pulled in a more militant direction, or is it returning to its tolerant roots?

RB: There are always fluctuations and exceptional incidents, but overall, my sense is that Islam in Indonesia is returning to its mainstream center. Though one could argue that it never actually left that center, but was hijacked for awhile by more stringent voices that had political momentum for a time due to international factors which tended to polarize societies and left no room for a mainstream center. Either way, it does seem that the Muslim mainstream majority in Indonesia has regained dominance of the public discourse, and has effectively marginalized militant and extremist elements. That is not to say that Indonesian society is less Islamic – it is more Islamic in the sense of being more pious, more spiritual, but that is a different phenomenon, one that is actually taking place in many part of both the Muslim and non-Muslim world.

EI: What's been the local response to Barack Obama's victory, since he has such strong roots there?

RB: The euphoria in Indonesia around Obama’s victory and inauguration has been palpable and strong. There is certainly an element of Indonesians taking pride and even a kind of ‘ownership’ of Obama. There is also just the hope that Obama will understand the complexities of Indonesia a bit better than the previous administration. There is certainly a desire on the part of political elites for Indonesia to play a bigger role on the international stage, and they hope Obama will encourage that. But for the most part, the average Indonesian is just amazed that a black man that lived part of his life in Indonesia could be president of the US, and they hope that this very very different figure of a US president will bring about change at many levels.

Tomorrow: Robin Bush on Aceh reconstruction, the 2009 elections, and what everyone needs to know about Indonesia

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schmerly said...

Maybe St Valentine was Jewish?? LOL.
The clueless morons strike again.

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VICKYFF said...

The Asia Foundation which group members, their responsibilities, what is it?
Scarf Scarf