Holocaust conference in Indonesia gives room for hope

Holocaust-affirming conference opens in Indonesia
Straits Times, 12 June 2007

JIMBARAN – A UNIQUE conference aiming to promote religious tolerance and affirming the reality of the Jewish Holocaust opened on Tuesday in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

The conference on the resort island of Bali attended by rabbis, Holocaust witnesses and Muslim leaders is styling itself as an ‘anti-conference of Teheran”, where a December 2006 meet cast doubt on the genocide of Jews during World War II, triggering worldwide condemnation.

Chairing the discreetly-organised conference is former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur, a moderate Islamic leader known to take courageous positions in Indonesia, where Muslims are known for their tolerance but small hardline groups still hold considerable political sway.

‘Although I am a good friend of Mahmud Ahmadinejad, I have to say he is wrong,’ Gus Dur told the conference, referring to the Iranian president’s dismissal of the Holocaust as a myth.

‘He falsified history … I believe the Holocaust happened,’ he said.

The former president has been a member of the Tel Aviv-based Shimon Peres Peace Institute since 1984 and has drawn fire for his support for direct trade relations between Indonesia and Israel.

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I think it’s great that a conference like this is taking place in the world largest Muslim nation. I had no idea that Gus Dur had been a member of a Jewish peace institute for the last 23 years.

I wonder if the current Indonesian establishment had anything to do with this conference, which is chaired by Gus Dur. Whatever it is, if the conference goes ahead smoothly, it will definitely enhance Indonesia’s reputation as a moderate Muslim-majority country, a reputation that has taken a severe beating since the Bali bombings and 9/11.

Let’s hope that the Islamist extremists in Indonesia don’t start calling up hotels in Bali and threatening guests, and demonstrating and shouting “Allahu Akbar” in front of the conference venue. CNN is bound to jump on that kind of nonsense and broadcast it to the world. In the end, if the conference gets cancelled because of security reasons, it will do more harm to Indonesia and Islam than if it was never planned in the first place.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.