Indonesian companies and financial institutions are poised to help Iran sidestep international sanctions by setting up a joint bank to facilitate billions of dollars of annual trade between the two countries. In addition, the Indonesian government is allowing its national satellite company to broadcast one of the world’s most vitriolic television stations, al-Manar, which is owned by Hizballah, a recognized terrorist organization sponsored financially and operationally by Iran. While the Indonesian government clearly feels it is in its interest to expand business relations with Iran, this would facilitate Iran’s march toward nuclearization. Furthermore, by failing to take a strong stance against Iran and Hizballah, and in particular, al-Manar, Indonesia is allowing a rogue regime and its proxy to proliferate terrorism and radicalize Muslims around the world, including in Indonesia.
According to the international press, Jakarta and Tehran have been trying to find a way to conduct business for some time, as sanctions levied by the United States, Europe, and the United Nations have made it difficult for Iran to move its funds internationally.
On September 19, Indonesia’s chargé d’affaires in Tehran, Aji Setiawan, announced plans by both countries to establish a private bank to facilitate trade and commerce. “The trade exchange between Iran and Indonesia can [be] enhance[d] by removing the impediments,” Setiawan stated.
A number of Indonesian officials have also called for an increase in the USD 1.29 billion in trade between the two countries, which revolves mostly around the energy sector. In recent years, Iran and Indonesia have increased their bilateral trade in products including butane, propane, oil waxes, ethylene, petrochemical products, ammonium nitrate, paper and cardboard, pipes, synthetic yarn, and steel wire.
Indonesia, which has numerous choices of trading partners, should seriously reconsider its relationship with Iran for several reasons. As its name suggests, the Islamic Republic of Iran endorses a radical form of religion that is at odds with the more moderate form of Islam prevalent in Indonesia. Iran was founded upon a strict interpretation of shari’a, and it provides financial support to terrorist organizations around the globe. The ideology driving Iran and its proxies is not dissimilar to the belief system of the al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists who perpetrated the heinous attacks in Jakarta in 2003 and 2009, killing hundreds of Muslims.
In addition, Iran’s human rights record is unspeakable. Iranian citizens, international organizations, activists, NGOs, and the UN have all criticized the Iranian regime, which regularly engages in torture, rape, and killing of civilians, dissidents, and political prisoners. According to Human Rights Watch, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s human rights record has “deteriorated markedly.”
This reconsideration of relations with Iran should also focus on al-Manar. In April 2008, Indonesia allowed its national satellite company, Palapa, to start broadcasting the Hizballah TV station, which is reportedly viewed by an estimated 10-15 million people a day across the globe, and is largely funded by Iran. Its mission was explained to me with chilling clarity by one al-Manar official: It is meant to “help people on the way to committing what you call in the West a suicide mission. [Its programs] are meant to be the first step in the process of a freedom fighter operation.”
Put differently, a good portion of its programming unabashedly aims to recruit terrorists and brainwash young children. Viewers are told that “the path to becoming a priest in Islam is through jihad,” and they are implored to focus on the rewards of martyrdom–in the afterlife and on judgment day. Mothers are encouraged to give up their sons, to prepare them “for battle knowing that their blood will mix with the soil.”
For their part, the United States and European Union have banned the station from operating on their soil and do not allow companies in their jurisdiction to do business with al-Manar. Twelve satellite providers in Australia, Brazil, Barbados, France, Holland, Spain, and the United States, decided – in some cases even before the ban itself – that it was contrary to laws or basic decency to broadcast al-Manar, and they pulled the plug.
The only countries that still broadcast the station via satellite are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia. By failing to take a stand against al-Manar, the Indonesian government is allowing the next generation of Indonesians and other Muslims throughout Asia to be brainwashed.
It is time that Indonesia stopped facilitating Iran’s nuclearization and the dissemination of its terrorist ideology via al-Manar. The government and people of Indonesia should take a strong stand against Iran as long as it continues its efforts to obtain a nuclear bomb, oppress its people, proliferate terrorism, and sponsor TV programming that incites violence. Not to do so is a betrayal of the Indonesian interpretation of Islam, along with the values and ideals that all free nations everywhere hold dear.
Avi Jorisch is a former US Treasury official and founder of the Red Cell Intelligence Group, a Washington DC-based national security firm. He is also the author of Beacon of Hatred: Inside Hizballah’s al-Manar Television