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Asia Watch: Close encounters

Asia Watch: Close encounters Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia, Israel    

The moment came and went in seconds. Yet, the chance encounter between Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his Israeli counterpart Binyamin Netanyahu in a corridor at the United Nations building in New York generated a torrent of chatter.

Najib explained that he had bumped into Netanyahu at a doorway at the UN headquarters, and that the handshake was impromptu. He was forced to decry "slander" after a picture of the smiling prime ministers was circulated online, but his explanation of the unplanned incident did little to quell his critics at home...

Asia Watch: In and out of focus

Asia Watch: In and out of focus Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia, China, Terrorism, Turkey    

Despite the saturation coverage and the massive police and intelligence effort, information on the perpetrators of the Bangkok bombing has been slow to emerge, with lines of inquiry centring on possible retaliation for the Thai government's decision to deport more than 100 Uighur refugees to China in late June, an alleged human trafficking ring and the apparent Turkish links among the several arrest warrants issued.

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Asia Watch: Enemies real and imagined Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia, Islamic Extremism, Israel    

Indonesia's historic reputation for religious tolerance took a beating for several years as an unholy coalition of Islamist politicians and self-styled enforcers like the Islamic Defenders Front harassed and sometimes violently attacked minorities, including Christians and Shi'ites, Sufi and Ahmadiyah Muslims.

But there are signs that positive change is at hand. 

The Last Word: The beginning of a new era?

The Last Word: The beginning of a new era? Author: Jeremy Jones Categories: Asia, Australasia, Interfaith Dialogue    

There is a wonderful Indonesian celebration known as Hallal bi Hallal. Shortly after the end of Ramadan, Indonesian Muslims, and their guests, gather to strengthen interpersonal bonds and make peace with each other, just as during Ramadan they had been concentrating on their relationship to, and bonds with, G-d.

Asia Watch: Fear and Loathing Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia    

Such is the mesmerising effect of atrocities perpetrated by ISIS that any act committed in its name appears only to be the tip of the iceberg. Far from its epicentre in Syria and Iraq, the spate of ‘lone-wolf' attacks means that Islamic groups and individuals expressing any identification with ISIS understandably fall under suspicion.

Asia Watch: Breaking Point Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia    

Since the 2013 election, UMNO and particularly Prime Minister Najib Razak has courted PAS by murmuring tacit acquiescence for its plans to institute hudud (Islamic law backed by harsh medieval punishments) in an effort to break up the opposition coalition. Now PAS appears set to align itself with UMNO in the belief that they can take enough of the 60.1% of ethnic Malay votes to continue to dominate politics against the Chinese, Indians and the mainly Christian tribes in Sabah and Sarawak.

However, PM Najib's tactical move may not save either him or his party's dominant position.


Asia Watch: Across the Spectrum Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia, Islamic Extremism, Palestinians    

Support for the Palestinian cause and antipathy towards Israel is a rare point of agreement in the bare-knuckled Malaysian political debate. But there are outliers, like the hardline Muslim NGO Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Malaysian Muslim Solidarity) - known as ISMA.

The move by the Vatican to recognise the Palestinian struggle for statehood was not enough for this group, and ISMA president Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman warned against trusting the gesture.

Israel in the frontline in Nepal

Israel in the frontline in Nepal Author: Anthony Orkin Categories: Asia, Israel, Updates    

In times of humanitarian crises anywhere in the world, Israel has developed a reputation of having unique expertise in offering much-needed assistance - particularly in terms of search and rescue and emergency medicine - more quickly than anyone else. This was exemplified by the fact that, as of Monday, Israel had sent more emergency personnel to earthquake-ravaged Nepal than any other country.

Iran and the North Korea Precedent

Iran and the North Korea Precedent Author: Dan Blumenthal and Edward Linczer Categories: Asia, International Security, Iran    

In his March 3 address to the US Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rightly compared the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran to Washington's past experience with North Korea. But the Obama Administration appears to be willfully ignoring the record with North Korea. It also seems unfocused on the dire implications for Asia of a bad Iran deal.

The Last Word: In the Spirit of Gus Dur

The Last Word: In the Spirit of Gus Dur Author: Jeremy Jones Categories: Asia, Interfaith Dialogue, Israel    

On a sunny mid-winter's afternoon in Jerusalem, a group of travellers stopped a passerby and asked for the direction of Mecca. After a brief, friendly exchange, the men and women began afternoon prayers - in Yad Vashem, Israel's Museum and Monument to the victims of the Nazis' genocide. Later, those same people, most of whom began the day with only a cursory idea about Jews, European history or Nazism, participated in a dignified, emotional wreath laying ceremony in Yad Vashem's Hall of Remembrance.

Ehud Ya'ari: Ten insights in ten minutes

Ehud Ya'ari: Ten insights in ten minutes Author: Ahron Shapiro Categories: Asia, Islamic Extremism, Israel, Middle East, Palestinians, Updates    

Ten insights into the current turmoil in the Middle East in ten minutes - that's what Ehud Ya'ari, one of Israel's top Middle East analysts delivered in his presentation at a public forum held on February 6 by the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, in Bangkok.

The forum, on the topic "Militant Islam and Middle East Turmoil: Lessons From and Implications For Southeast Asia", featured Ya'ari and two other Israeli Middle East experts on the panel - Dr. Jonathan Spyer and Prof. David Menashri - together with top commentators from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The Last Word: Religion and Conflict

The Last Word: Religion and Conflict Author: Jeremy Jones Categories: Asia, Interfaith Dialogue    

The words were delivered in a matter of fact manner. The speakers were calm, rational, authentic and authoritative.
The information the two men shared was spine-chilling. Both were from the Central African Republic. One Christian, one Muslim, each committed to their faith and to the well-being of their faith communities.

Talking about violence, destruction of religious institutions, mass murder and lawlessness. But talking together.
The venue was the 5th World Peace Forum in Jakarta, an impressive event assembled by the huge Indonesian Muslim group Muhammadiyah, the Malaysian Cheng Ho Multicultural Trust and the Centre for Dialogue and Cooperation among Civilisations (CDCC).

Joint AIJAC-AJC meetings in Jakarta, Canberra

Joint AIJAC-AJC meetings in Jakarta, Canberra Categories: America, Asia, Australasia, Israel, Media Releases    

David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) was recently in Australia, Singapore and Indonesia, in a joint visit with, and coordinated by, the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), a longtime partner of AJC.

AIJAC's Executive Director Dr. Colin Rubenstein, who organised the Jakarta, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra program, was joined by the Harris led AJC delegation in meetings with senior politicians, and prominent decision and opinion makers in each city.

Abu Sayyaf - Jihadists or ordinary thugs?

Abu Sayyaf - Jihadists or ordinary thugs? Author: Zachary Abuza Categories: Asia, Islamic Extremism, Terrorism    

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has returned to the international spotlight following its July pledge of allegiance to ISIS and its 24 September threat to behead a 71-year-old German hostage unless a US$5.6 million ransom was paid and Germany pledged to quit the coalition attacking the Islamic State. Both moves were opportunistic attempts to get back into international media attention following years of decline.

Today, the ASG is a localised kidnap for ransom gang with few if any ties to global terrorism. That's not to write it off: Its resurgence comes at a time when the United States is drawing down its presence in the southern Philippines, and this will give the resilient ASG a new lease on life.

The significance of the Netanyahu-Modi meeting in New York

The significance of the Netanyahu-Modi meeting in New York Author: Sharyn Mittelman Categories: Asia, Israel, Updates    

Israel and India have been gradually developing closer ties since India's formal diplomatic recognition of Israel in 1992. Today Israel is one of the largest military suppliers to India, and Israeli agricultural technologies including drip irrigation are helping feed India's huge population. While trade and investment between Israel and India have flourished, and today is estimated around US$6 billion, (high level political contacts between Israel and India have frequently lagged behind. That is what made Israeli Prime Minister's Benjamin Netanyahu's meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 28 in New York particularly significant.

The Appeal of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia

The Appeal of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia Author: Giora Eliraz Categories: Asia, Islamic Extremism, Middle East, Terrorism    

A pivotal doctrinal slogan proclaimed by the militants of the Islamic State (IS) - formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) - is re-establishment of a Caliphate (Khilafah) that binds together lands inhabited by Muslims under unified political rule, based on Sharia Islamic law. For this purpose, the ISIS declared itself in June 2014 as Islamic Caliphate; its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as Caliph, and changed its name.

Indonesia needs to "follow the money" Author: Zachary Abuza Categories: Asia, Middle East, Terrorism    

On September 11, the Indonesian Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre announced that it had frozen the assets of three terrorist suspects on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) 1267 list. Hambali, who masterminded the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, was a key conduit of al-Qaeda funds to its Southeast Asian affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah. He has been in US custody since August 2003. Umar Patek, also wanted in conjunction with the Bali bombing, was arrested in Abbotabad, Pakistan in January 2011 and extradited to Indonesia. The third individual, Zulkarnaen, is on the run. The three individuals, who are amongst 17 Indonesians on the UNSC 1267 list, held assets under US$100 each. The blogosphere and Twitter-universe were filled with guffaws.

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Israel and Japan sign historic R&D agreement

Israel and Japan sign historic R&D agreement Author: Gabrielle Debinski Categories: Asia, China, India, Israel, Updates    

Japan's Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry, Toshimitsu Motegi, touched down in Israel on Sunday for an official visit, heading a delegation of senior members of his ministry as well as leading Japanese business people. The trip, which came about through an invitation from Prime Minister Netanyahu in the wake of his recent visit to Japan in May, is expected to further strengthen economic cooperation between the two countries. In an historic move, Minister Motegi and his Israeli counterpart, Minister for the Economy, Naftali Bennett, signed a research and development (R&D) collaboration agreement, which will make official a joint commitment to collaborate on R&D projects initiated by Israeli and Japanese businesses and research centres. The agreement will be put into practice by the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) under Israel's Ministry of Economy.

Asia Watch: Volunteers Abroad Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Antisemitism, Asia, Islamic Extremism    

Indonesian jihadists periodically swarm the streets to noisily proclaim their intention to fight alongside their Muslim brethren in various Middle East hotspots, but these displays seldom result in verifiable action abroad.

Now, there is no doubt that Indonesians are joining the procession of jihadists to Syria and Iraq, sparking fears they will revive sophisticated militant networks when they return and undermine a decade-long crackdown that has crippled the most dangerous cells.

Brunei makes its Hollywood debut - Extreme Sharia spreads in Southeast Asia

Brunei makes its Hollywood debut - Extreme Sharia spreads in Southeast Asia Author: Glen Falkenstein Categories: Asia, Islamic Extremism, Updates    

It takes a lot to get noticed in Hollywood. Most dream of getting their names up there with the likes of Ellen DeGeneres and Jay Leno. Most, but not Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei. In 2013 the Sultan proposed a new penal code in line with strict implementation of Islamic or ‘Sharia' law including harsh penalties such as stoning and amputation for offences including theft and homosexuality.

Indonesian Democracy comes to Tunisia

Indonesian Democracy comes to Tunisia Author: Dr. Giora Eliraz Categories: Asia, Tunisia    

Since 2011, Indonesia - home to the largest Muslim community in the world - has been conducting a dialogue on democracy with Egypt and Tunisia. This has largely been triggered by Indonesia's ambition to advance democracy in the Muslim, and especially Arab, states and to prove in the international arena that Islam is compatible with democracy and modernity.

"Anti-Establishment" French marchers call for “Jews out of France”

"Anti-Establishment" French marchers call for “Jews out of France” Author: Sharyn Mittelman Categories: Asia, Europe, Updates    

On January 26 protesters marched in Paris chanting "Jews out of France".  Many of the protesters can be seen giving the "quenelle", an inverted Nazi salute invented and popularised by the comedian/ political activist Dieudonne M'bala M'bala who has been convicted several times for inciting antisemitism.  The march raises serious concerns about the popularisation of antisemitism in France by Dieudonne.

Naftali Bennett: Israel's pivot to Asia

Naftali Bennett: Israel's pivot to Asia Author: Ahron Shapiro Categories: Asia, Australasia, Israel    

Go East. That's the catchphrase Naftali Bennett, Israel's Economics and Commerce Minister has chosen for his new initiative to shift Israel's strategic and trade focus away from its traditional Western European orientation and towards Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Oceania.

Asia Watch: Rockin' the House

Asia Watch: Rockin' the House Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia    

The race to succeed Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as the next president of Indonesia in 2014 has entered an intriguing phase. While many elements remain in flux, all the talk is of a relatively inexperienced local governor who has not yet declared his intention to run but currently happens to be the most popular politician in the country by some distance.

Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, 52, was only elected to his current office in September 2012, after a seven-year stint as mayor of his hometown of Surakarta... But it is his way of doing things and his public manner that has resonated strongly with the prickly Jakarta populace tired of the same old plutocracy and corrupt, ineffective government.

Israeli field hospital in the Philippines receives high praise

Israeli field hospital in the Philippines receives high praise Author: Sharyn Mittelman Categories: Asia, Israel, Updates    

To date, 12 babies have been born in the Israeli field hospital set up in the city of Bogo at the northern end of Cebu Island on November 14 to provide medical assistance to the Typhoon ravaged region. Typhoon Haiyan struck on November 8 and is estimated to have killed at least 4,000 people and left 600,000 homeless.

Asia Watch: Spoiler Alert Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia    

The Philippines Government and the largest Islamic rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), edge ever closer to finalising a comprehensive peace agreement. Yet, as ever, smaller Islamic forces on the sidelines retain the power to ensure that peace in the southern Philippines remains an elusive dream.

Asia Watch: Race to the Bottom Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia, Israel    

A frequent complaint in Australian political commentary is that the level of debate here is pedestrian at best, especially at election time. Indeed, if hyperbole and distortion is the daily gruel of politics worldwide then it has a special flavour in Malaysia, where Israel is invoked on the slightest pretext to smear political opponents.

Indonesia – The Model?

Indonesia – The Model? Author: Giora Eliraz Categories: Asia, Egypt    

From the very start of the Arab uprisings, more than two-and-a-half years ago, analysts looked to Indonesia, home of the largest Muslim community in the world, to better understand how transitions to democracy could be rendered compatible with Islam and applied to the Middle East. To be sure, Indonesia's democracy is not yet fully fledged. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the considerable distance that has been covered by Indonesia in its democratisation efforts during the past 15 years. Indeed, the Indonesian success appears all the more impressive in light of the latest upheaval in Egypt.

Asia Watch: Temple Bombed in Jakarta Author: Sharyn Mittelman Categories: Asia, NGOs, United Nations    

Jakarta was rocked on August 4 by a bomb exploding at the Ekayana Buddhist Centre - injuring three people among the 300 who had gathered to hear a sermon. A note found at the scene stated: "We respond to the screams of the Rohingya", indicating the attack was in response to violence against Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar (Burma).

The Ekayana Buddhist Centre had been previously hailed as a symbol of Indonesia's tolerance towards ethnic Chinese Buddhists in Jakarta. However, the bombing has led to concern that the violence between Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar may now be spreading to Indonesia.

Editorial: 'Start-up Nation' comes to Asia Author: Colin Rubenstein Categories: Asia, Israel    

The welcome mat put out for Netanyahu in Beijing is part of a growing trend across East, South and Southeast Asia. Israel's reputation as the "start-up nation" - a dynamic economy centred on hi-tech, innovation and entrepreneurship - is causing regional leaders to sit up and take notice. And for their part, Israeli leaders - long heavily focused on the US and Europe - are starting to make the Asian region a new priority.  

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Asia ahead in courting hi-tech Israel

Asia ahead in courting hi-tech Israel Author: Colin Rubenstein Categories: Asia, Israel, Op-eds    

ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent visit to China was revealing. Despite Chinese criticism of alleged Israeli airstrikes on arms shipments in Syria, Beijing arranged a program that strongly hinted it regards Netanyahu as an important visitor.

North Korea and Iran/ The PA's democracy deficit

North Korea and Iran/ The PA's democracy deficit Categories: Asia, International Security, Iran, Palestinians, Updates    

Following the North Korean nuclear bomb test earlier this week, and the failure of the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting with Iran, this Update discusses the potential implications for the ongoing problems of preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons capabilities.

First up is an editorial on the subject from the Jerusalem Post, which notes that at the very least, the North Korean test was a morale-booster for Teheran.

Asia Watch: Sporting colours

Asia Watch: Sporting colours Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia, Holocaust/ War Crimes    

Emerging from nearly two decades of military rule, Myanmar has been a largely closed country known mainly for its iconic figure of democratic resistance Aung San Su Kyyi. Recent visitors have been surprised to find that amidst the transition to democracy, one may encounter young men sporting large swastikas and other Nazi symbols on t-shirts and World War II-style motorcycle helmets on the streets of Yangon.

Asia Watch: Two Tracks

Asia Watch: Two Tracks Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia, Israel    

Indonesia's public stance towards Israel - established by a long precedent - is still characterised by loud, almost ritualistic denunciations and rejections, yet equally established is the precedent of pragmatic, private flirtations, including the constant stream of tourists and visits by influential journalists and powerbrokers.

The Last Word: Racism and Misrepresentations

The Last Word: Racism and Misrepresentations Author: Jeremy Jones Categories: Antisemitism, Asia, Holocaust/ War Crimes, Israel    

The setting was the "Fourth World Peace Forum", an initiative of a major Indonesian Islamic group and a Malaysian NGO whose leader promoted the philosophy of Confucius, in the Indonesian city of Bogor.

The discussion began when I was asked about my recent visit to Poland, and within a few sentences, the topic was how an area which was once the home to tens of thousands of Jewish people now counted precisely one Jewish person in its population.

The group who were listening were all from Asia, were Muslim and Hindu, and had only a cursory knowledge of Nazism and the Shoah.

Malaysia's obsession with Jews, love affair with Hitler

Malaysia's obsession with Jews, love affair with Hitler Author: Or Avi-Guy Categories: Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism, Asia, Updates    

Often, in the aftermath of antisemitic attacks on Jewish communities, hateful and apologetic claims are somtimes made that the victim was in fact the instigator of hatred and provoked the attackers. However, there are cases that undermine this premise - at times it seems that amazingly there can be antisemitism without Jews. Malaysia is a case in point.

10th Anniversary of the Bali Bombings

10th Anniversary of the Bali Bombings Author: Sharyn Mittelman Categories: Asia, Australasia, Terrorism, Updates    

Today marks ten years since the ‘Bali Bombings', which tragically killed 202 people, including 88 Australians and 38 Indonesians, and injured more than 240.

For many Australians, the memory of the Bali bombings are now part of our collective national consciousness, an acute awareness of the evil of terrorism in its ability to destroy innocent lives indiscriminately - both those who were murdered without reason and those who have been grieving for their loved ones ever since.

Essay: Unexplored Possibilities

Essay: Unexplored Possibilities Author: Andrea Nadel Categories: Asia, Israel    

The current growing economic, political and military strength of numerous Asian countries has led observers to refer to the "Asian Century," and the world has taken notice. Indonesia exemplifies Asia's ascendancy: as the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, it has experienced significant economic growth in recent years and has been lauded as a model for successful democratisation in an Islamic context since the end of dictatorship in 1998. Increasing engagement is occurring between Indonesia and Western countries, and enhanced ties between Jerusalem and Jakarta also have the potential to generate mutually beneficial advantages.

Asia Watch: State of Tension Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia    

In Malaysia today, it seems that being sympathetic to the Palestinian cause is not enough - especially if you are Christian and (even worse) have visited the Holy Land, which means entering Israel.

Asia Watch: Both sides of the coin

Asia Watch: Both sides of the coin Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia    

Over the past decade, Indonesia's counter-terror operations have been undeniably effective, with all of the key Jemaah Islamiah (JI) leaders either dead or behind bars. The successes pile up, yet the extremism and intolerance that provided the basis of the worst acts of terror still finds expression in less violent but perhaps more pervasive form.

The former was illustrated yet again by the seizure of more than US$800,000 in assets belonging to an alleged terrorist group in North Sumatra on June 22, but most notably with the conviction of JI kingpin Umar Patek on the previous day.

The Patek conviction, however, has not been universally greeted as a successful prosecution.

Israel looks to Asia's next generation

Israel looks to Asia's next generation Author: Yehonathan Tommer Categories: Asia, Israel    

In recent years, Israel has been coming to sees its future as increasingly linked with Asia. This fact is underscored by changing strategic realities, the region's influential emergent economies, and American and European woes in an unresolved global financial crisis. Three of the world's largest economies (Japan, India and China) are Asian, and four out of every seven persons on this planet live in Asia.

The Jerusalem-based Israel-Asia Centre (IAC), established in 2009, aims to promote a shared future, "investing in the next generation of leaders in Israel-Asia relations, by building dynamic networks to maximise their continued engagement and cooperation."

Thailand, Israel defence ties highlight Jerusalem's increasing focus on Asia

Thailand, Israel defence ties highlight Jerusalem's increasing focus on Asia Author: Ahron Shapiro Categories: Asia, Australasia, Israel, Updates    

Ties between Israel and Thailand increased last week following a visit to Israel by Thai Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat, which culminated in the signing of an intelligence pact between the two countries.

According to the report in the print edition of Friday's Bangkok Post, Thai and Israeli defence ministries have signed a non-disclosure agreement over classified information on intelligence, military and security.

"The agreement is part of the two countries' cooperation on security issues. We also agreed to exchange information on anti-terrorism operations,'' Sukumpol told the paper.

According to the story, a Thai military source added that Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak offered his mine-clearing and other military technology to the Thai Defence Ministry to help Thailand cope with ongoing violence in the country's south.

The visit came in the wake of a terror explosion in Bangkok on February 14 which wounded five people. The bombers, reportedly linked to Hezbollah, allegedly intended to attack Israeli diplomats in the city.

Israeli defence relationships in Asia... and Australia

Israeli defence relationships in Asia... and Australia Author: Ahron Shapiro Categories: Asia, Australasia, India, International Security, Israel, Updates    

The influential trade publication Defence Review Asia has reported strong growth for Israeli weapons system sales to a number of Asian and Australasian countries, including right here in Australia.

The story, which was published on Sunday, focused on burgeoning trade between Israel and India, but also looked at deals with Singapore and South Korea, among others.

Thailand's slow-burn insurgency heats up

Thailand's slow-burn insurgency heats up Author: Zachary Abuza Categories: Asia, Terrorism    

On March 31, a series of coordinated bombings, the likes that have not been seen since 2007, rocked the Southern Thai cities of Yala and Hat Yai.

These attacks were spectacular and garnered both domestic and international media attention. While a wakeup call to the international community and the Thai political elite, the attacks do not portend the insurgency entering into a new stage, but rather they are a reminder of a conflict that is now in its ninth year; a slow-burn insurgency in the heart of prosperous Southeast Asia, which has claimed the lives of 5,100 people, wounded approximately 9,000 in more than 11,000 incidents of violence.


New Leadership and Old Tricks from Pyongyang

New Leadership and Old Tricks from Pyongyang Author: Nir Reichental Categories: Asia, International Security    

Imagine the following terrifying scenario for the international community - a rogue, impoverished country armed to the teeth with doomsday weaponry, a regime infamous for its belligerence, yet one whose perceptions of reality and decision-making processes are a mystery. Let us further imagine such a ‘hermit kingdom' with the capacity to inflict the gravest catastrophe on the world yet ruled by an unknown and inexperienced young leader in his twenties.

The Last Word: RID-ing against Intolerance

The Last Word: RID-ing against Intolerance Author: Jeremy Jones Categories: Asia, Australasia, Interfaith Dialogue    

A visit to Semarang, the largest city in Central Java, is in many ways an assault on the senses. The humidity, with searing heat and blustery winds, is unavoidable, as are the blinding colours and the food which comes in two varieties - syrupy sweet or hot and spicy.

My recent trip, to participate as an Australian delegate to the 6th Asia/Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue (RID), included assaults, but welcome ones, on two other senses.

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A political storm over Israel in Malaysia

A political storm over Israel in Malaysia Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia, Israel, Palestinians, Updates    

A political storm in Malaysia over controversial remarks by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's on Israel has not yet come to a close.

Back in January, a war of words erupted between Anwar and several top government officials, including his former mentor Dr. Mahathir Mohammed, regarding Malaysia's policy on Israel - a raw nerve among the country's Muslim-majority population...

Islamism, conspiracy theories tied up in Maldives coup

Islamism, conspiracy theories tied up in Maldives coup Author: Tzvi Fleischer Categories: Antisemitism, Asia, Islamic Extremism, Updates    

The Maldives is an island paradise in the Indian Ocean with an overwhelmingly Muslim population. Last week, the country experienced a coup, where, reportedly with a gun to his head, the democratically-elected President Mohamed Nasheed resigned, paving the way for his replacement by Vice-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik.

The politics of the coup are complex and unclear, and part of the story appears to be that many of the coup plotters are associated with former President / Dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who Nasheed succeeded following elections in 2008. However it does seem clear that caught up in the mix is the growing influence of very extreme Salafist Islamist influences and factions in the Maldives. Moreover, these factions have been promoting bizarre anti-Israel conspiracy theories as part of their efforts to undermine Nasheed...

Editorial: The Asian Connection Author: Colin Rubenstein Categories: Asia, Israel    

As Netanyahu attempted to point out, the assumption that Israel is becoming more isolated in recent years makes sense only if one's focus is mainly on a segment of opinion in Western Europe - ignoring the US, Eastern Europe and Israel's renewal of old ties in Sub-Saharan African. But a most important part of the real world, and an area of major opportunity for Israel, is in South, Southeast and East Asia.

Enhancing Israel-Asia relations

Enhancing Israel-Asia relations Author: Colin Rubenstein Categories: Asia, Israel, Op-eds    

Israeli President Shimon Peres's groundbreaking visit to Vietnam in November with a delegation of more than 60 prominent Israelis, including two government ministers and leading figures in finance, industry, agriculture and defense was a landmark event. The delegation was given a rousing welcome, including a dinner with all the members of the Vietnamese government in which Peres's hosts surprised him with a group of Vietnamese singers who had prepared renditions of Israeli songs in excellent Hebrew.


Asia Watch: The Elephant in the Room Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia, Islamic Extremism, Terrorism    

Concerns about growing religious intolerance in Indonesia have been heightened in recent weeks in the wake of violent attacks and restrictive local laws, but legislative moves appear unlikely to address the core problem.

Some recent scene-setting events demonstrate the scope of the problem.
More than a decade after Christian-Muslim clashes killed thousands across Indonesia's Maluku Islands, violence erupted in Ambon on September 11 after a fatal traffic accident in which an ojek (motorcycle-taxi) driven by a Muslim teenager was struck by an automobile driven by a Christian.

The Last Word: Malays' Malaise

The Last Word: Malays' Malaise Author: Jeremy Jones Categories: Antisemitism, Asia, Libya    

On a different scale, but in some ways belonging to the same brand of journalism, was a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald: "A sex guide from Malaysia's Obedient Wives".
The article delivered, as one expert on Malaysia put it, "some richly deserved ridicule" - reporting the "Obedient Wives Club's sex guide" (which it did not name but simply termed "the book") was about "ways a Muslim man can have sex with all of his wives at the same time. Under strict Islamic tradition a man can have up to four wives if he can provide for them all."

Malaysian Insider Online, however, had no hesitation in publishing the book's full title: "Islamic Sex - Fighting Jews to Return Islamic Sex to the World".


Russia and China veto Syria sanctions

Russia and China veto Syria sanctions Author: Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz Categories: America, Asia, China, Russia, Syria, United Nations, Updates    

After weeks of controversy over a Palestinian statehood bid of little real consequence, some in the UN have been attempting to shift their focus onto one of the many situations in the world in which innocent people are being killed on a daily basis. To this end, the UN Security Council attempted to pass a motion to prevent Syria's ongoing crackdown on dissenting citizens. Initially, the European countries were attempting to sanction Syria through imposing an arms embargo. As Foreign Policy's UN correspondent Colum Lynch reports, even a watered-down version of this that merely condemned Syria and did not call for any tangible sanctions was vetoed by Russia and China...

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Indonesia's backlash against Saudi-style Islam

Indonesia's backlash against Saudi-style Islam Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia, Saudi Arabia, Updates    

The beheading of Ruyati binti Satubi - an Indonesian maid executed by Saudi authorities in June for the killing of an allegedly abusive Saudi employer - has stirred such revulsion in Indonesia that Islamic leaders there are openly challenging the harsh, Wahhabist creed of Islam that has gained a footing in Indonesia via the funding of religious schools.

A story by the Washington Post's Indonesia correspondent illustrates the depth of this backlash.

"Some Indonesians began to think that Wahhabism is the true teaching of Islam, but thanks to God, there has been a change of thinking," said Siraj, who heads Nahdlatul Ulama, an organization with about 50 million members and 28,000 Islamic boarding schools.

The Twilight Zone at the UN

The Twilight Zone at the UN Author: Allon Lee Categories: Asia, International Security, Iran, United Nations, Updates    

"There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man" may have kicked off each new episode of the Twilight Zone but it can equally be applied to the alternate reality that is the United Nations.

Bizarrely, this week, North Korea assumed the presidency of the UN's Conference on Disarmament despite being under a sanctions regime for its nuclear weapons program.


Asia Watch: The Old Bogeyman

Asia Watch: The Old Bogeyman Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Antisemitism, Asia    

One of the most reliable indices of political heat in Malaysia is when the spectre of Jews or Israel is invoked to discredit domestic political enemies. That no instance seems too far-fetched is an interesting indicator of how Jews are perceived in a country with no Jewish population of its own - a fantasy notion of Jewish omnipotence, antisemitism or probably a combination of both.

More Foxes Guarding Henhouses at the UN Author: Tzvi Fleischer Categories: Asia, Iran, Terrorism, United Nations, Updates    

The United Nations, in its infinite wisdom, has just allowed North Korea to become the chair of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament....

This UN decision follows the election last week of Iran as one of the Vice-Presidents of the upcoming session of the UN General Assembly (with Qatar as President). Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon controversially made a statement appearing to endorse an Iranian conference on “Terrorism” where not only were the US, Britain and Israel accused of fomenting terrorism, but  Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly alleged that Washington manufactured the Holocaust and the 9/11 attacks as pretexts to put down Muslims.

Asia Watch: New Broom Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia, Terrorism    

With Malaysian Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim still detained by a farcical trial and Prime Minister Najib Razak's sclerotic UMNO-led coalition firmly in control, the entrenched political stalemate could yet be upset from a surprising direction. Long viewed as a promoter of fundamentalist Islam in politics, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) is undergoing something of a renovation that could turn the fortunes of the struggling opposition coalition.

From Pyongyang with love

From Pyongyang with love Author: Allon Lee Categories: Asia, International Security, Iran, Middle East, Syria    

North Korean cooperation is a linchpin in Iran's development of ballistic missiles, without which progress would be retarded a very great deal. On Iran's nuclear push, the evidence is less conclusive, but North Korean assistance seems likely to be very significant to Iran’s nuclear progress to date.

Fall of the Teflon Terrorist? Author: Zachary Abuza Categories: Asia, Islamic Extremism, Terrorism    

On Aug. 9, 2010, members of Indonesia's elite counter-terrorist police force arrested the militant cleric Abu Bakar Bashir as part of their ongoing investigations into a terrorist training camp discovered in February 2010 in Aceh, plots to kill President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and scheme to launch Mumbai-style attacks in Jakarta. While the government had previously alleged that Bashir was a financier of the cell and training camp, the arrest and his role in terrorist operations took many by surprise. The ongoing counter-terrorist operations, including Bashir's arrest, says much about the state and metastasisation of Jemaah Islamiah.

Print edition

Asia Watch: Stormy Seas Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia, Israel, Palestinians    

As elsewhere, the Israeli military confrontation of activists aboard the Freedom Flotilla's MV Mavi Marmara on May 31 put Israel at the centre of fiery rhetoric in Southeast Asia over recent weeks. In Indonesia, demonstrations were staged in Jakarta and regional cities over several days.

The Great Leap Forward Author: Zachary Abuza Categories: Asia, Terrorism    

No country deserves more credit for improving its counter-terrorism operations and capabilities than Indonesia. While terrorism will never be eliminated, Indonesia has developed a strong and effective counter-terrorist force, while at the same time consolidating its democratic transition.

Wahid's Way Author: Theodore Friend Categories: Asia    

The genial complexity of Wahid's character, which drew millions to him, was not adequate to the pressures of the presidency. But his life, career, and elements of caprice contain abundant clues for anyone who would understand modern Sufism, global Islam, and the Republic of Indonesia.

The legacy of a true friend Author: Colin Rubenstein Categories: Asia, Israel, Op-eds    

Almost uniquely among Muslim leaders and the heads of Muslim states, Wahid was not reticent about his friendship for Israel and his close ties and desire for even closer ones with the Jewish people.


Asia Watch: Business Interests Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia, Israel    

While there is no imminent prospect of Indonesia establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, Jakarta's longstanding political stance is no impediment to a burgeoning commercial relationship with the Jewish state.

Indonesia - The Model for Muslim Democracy Author: Paul Wolfowitz Categories: Asia    

Indonesia's success in building democratic institutions in just 10 years is equally remarkable. It is yet another demonstration of the appeal of free institutions, in this case to people with East Asian value systems and in a country with the largest Muslim population in the world.

The Jakarta Bombings/ Understanding the Taliban Author: AIJAC staff Categories: Afghanistan/ Pakistan, Asia, Islamic Extremism, Middle East, Terrorism, Updates    

Today, we offer an interpretation of the most recent Jakarta hotel bombings from one of the world's top experts on extremist terrorism in Southeast Asia, Dr. Zachary Abuza of Simmons College in the US. Abuza agrees with the dominant view that Malaysian-born terrorist Noordin Mohammed Top was likely behind the latest bombings but takes issue with arguments, particularly in the Australian media, that Top is operating largely independently of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

Essay: The Rebound Author: Zachary Abuza Categories: Asia, Egypt, Islamic Extremism, Lebanon, Terrorism    

Jemaah Islamiah has for more than 15 years fought to transform Indonesia into an Islamist state. In recent years, its terrorist campaign has suffered setbacks. As Jemaah Islamiah regroups, it builds upon the experience of Middle East terrorist groups.

Proliferation, North Korea and Iran/The Haaretz allegations revisited Categories: Afghanistan/ Pakistan, Asia, International Security, Iran, Israel, Updates    

Israeli commentators have watched with interest the reaction to North Korea's illegal ballistic missile launch - under cover of a "civilian satellite" launch - on Sunday. They see the reaction of the US administration and international community as important signposts for their treatment of the Iranian nuclear and missile proliferation threat.

Asia Watch: Witness Protection Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia, Iraq, Islamic Extremism, Lebanon, Middle East    

What was a small news item back in November blew-up in a big way at the height of the Israeli military offensive in Gaza. The Indonesian internet was abuzz for several weeks as Islamist-oriented websites like, and attacked Muhammadiyah for its supposed ties with Israel.

Essay: India's Forgotten Jihadist Categories: Asia, India, Islamic Extremism, Lebanon, Terrorism    

Until his death in 1979, Mawdudi was the critical link between the various theatres of transnational activism, between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian Revolution, between Kashmir and Western Europe. Mawdudi's thinking was South Asian in origin and character, as was the international Islamist movement he inspired – a movement whose flowering we are still watching today.

Asia Watch: Signing On Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia, Israel, Palestinians, Terrorism    

Indonesia continues to play an intriguing role in Israeli-Palestinian matters, issuing the time-honoured declarations of support for Palestinian self-determination and condemnations of Israeli conduct, while at the same time developing further unofficial links with the Jewish state.

The JI Files Author: Allon Lee Categories: Asia, Islamic Extremism, Lebanon, Terrorism    

In the six years since Jemaah Islamiah (JI) carried out the deadly October 12 bombing of a Bali nightclub that claimed 202 lives, Indonesia has made great strides in tackling terror. But according to some of the world's top terrorism experts, the job will remain incomplete until Indonesia proscribes JI as an official terror group.

Print edition

Asia Watch: Mixed Messages Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism, Asia, Israel, Palestinians    

There were, as usual, some mixed signals from Indonesia as Israelis and Palestinians alike paused to consider 60 years of the Jewish state. The lead negative item was an international anti-Zionist conference at the University of Indonesia in Depok, West Java, held to coincide with the anniversary celebrations in Jerusalem.

Asia Watch: "Out, Damned Spot!" Author: Michael Shannon Categories: Asia    

It's a sad commentary on much of the Islamic world that anyone seen to have a connection, however tenuous, with Israel or Jews is tainted and obliged to furiously deny any such link. So it was when Anwar Ibrahim, de facto leader of Malaysia's People's Justice Party (PKR), felt compelled to refute a statement by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad that only Israelis would vote for him if he were to compete for the prime minister's post.

From Tokyo to Tel Aviv Author: Yehonathan Tommer Categories: Asia, Israel    

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's four-day visit to Japan in late February re-emphasised the increasingly warm and intimate ties developing between Israel and Japan in recent years. The growing warmth reflects interlocking economic synergies reinforced by more than a decade of practical Japanese support for the US-led Middle East peacemaking process.


Editorial: Australia's Next Three Years Author: Colin Rubenstein Categories: Asia, Australasia, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Palestinians    

This month's issue of AIR goes to press as Australians head to the polls. Whichever party has won government, John Howard's and Kevin Rudd's answers to the AIR's policy questionnaire in the October issue allow us to say with confidence that Australia will be in good hands on the key issues important to the Australian Jewish community.

Thai-ed Down Author: Zachary Abuza Categories: Asia, Islamic Extremism, Terrorism    

On 4 January 2004, a group of armed men raided a Thai Army camp. They were equipped with acetylene torches and bolt cutters; in all they made off with more than 300 M-16s, ammunition and other weaponry. It is the date most commonly used to mark the current manifestation of the insurgency in Thailand's restive south, dominated by Muslim Malays.

Saying No to Jihad Author: Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury Categories: Antisemitism, Asia, Islamic Extremism, Lebanon    

People are punished for crime, for creating anarchy and for subjecting humanity to horrifying terror. But, could we ever believe that someone would be arrested, tortured and imprisoned for 17 long months just for being in favour of global peace, inter-faith dialogue and ending religious hatred?

Beyond Bali Author: External author Categories: Asia, Australasia, Islamic Extremism, Lebanon, Terrorism    

On September 27, Gareth Evans -? president of the respected International Crisis Group (ICG) and former Australian foreign minister -? gave a keynote address in Australia in which he proclaimed, "JI no longer poses a serious threat in Indonesia or elsewhere". Four days later, three suicide bombers walked into crowded restaurants in the Indonesian resort island of Bali and detonated their devices.