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I had an ominoius discussion at a history conference with Dwight King, one of the nation’s top academic experts on Indonesia who also has on the ground experience there with post-Suharto political reform. While lauding the current moderate, tolerant and pro-reform stance of Indonesia’s often syncretic Muslim associations, in response to a question from me he dropped the bombshell that Saudi Arabia has established and financed 14,000 Islamist boarding schools in Indonesia of the kind now infamous in Pakistan for generating the footsoldiers of the Taliban. What will be the outcome for Indonesia should this effort go unchallenged for twenty years ?

I often advocate the stick in international politics because at root, most of the world’s dictatorships are run by barbarians but this case is one that clearly calls for more in the way of carrots. We can open the door wider for Indonesian students to study here, particularly the children of the middle-class and business elite; the Peace Corps can make Indonesia a priority; we can build up the power and professionalism of Indonesia’s police forces to be a democratic counterweight to their corrupt and human-rights abusing Army and improve trade relations with Jakarta.

The War on Terror is a war but it is also a battle of ideas. We musn’t vacate that field to the enemy.

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