Barney Zwartz June 11, 2012
Australia's involvement in Afghanistan contributed to its ranking as Indonesia's second most-hated country, an expert says.
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 under which more than 2000 pesantren (Islamic schools) had been built.
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.
The program has funded 2075 new schools for more than 330,000 students in poor areas, and the government has promised to build 2000 more. It also helps existing Islamic and secular schools teach the official curriculum rather than the radical Islamist agenda taught in hundreds of pesantren.
An Indonesia expert at Monash University, Greg Barton, said the AusAid program had begun 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.
The conference was told that Australia's travel warnings on Indonesia were too broad. Last month the Department of Foreign Affairs reduced the warning to level two, ''exercise a high degree of caution'', from level three, ''reconsider your need to travel''.
The warnings 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.
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