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Foreign Outreach Office

There is an urgent need to establish a centuries-long project to exercise soft power all around the world, both for Indonesia and for Islam.

For the case of Indonesia, the name of Indonesia is rarely heard by the international communities, despite being the fourth most populous nation. Is it because there is a lack of Indonesian living abroad that can provide some degree of interaction to them? Or is it because the lack of any notable achievement by individual Indonesian people? Or is it because the lack of sticky cultural stuffs to transfer to them? Or is it because the seeming irrelevance of some archipelagic country that pose no threat or offer no benefit to them?

If Indonesia want to be a hegemony in the future (and by future, I mean far future — these things take a quite a while to be successful), then the elites should stop being the self-serving parasites that only care about how long they can stay in their offices and start thinking for super long term.

A lot of success stories can serve as lessons for us to widen our foreign outreach. The West (particularly the Anglo-American West) has soft power all over any country. Japan and Korea only culturally successful. China’s culture is not cool, but they have the massive economic firepower to make up for it. So what should Indonesia do? What should be the thing to serve as the ammunition at our soft power’s disposal? We need a dedicated foreign outreach office to draft a grand plan on this

For the case of Islam, I think Indonesia has the unique strategic position to exercise soft power for Islam. Note this: not exercising soft power using Islam, but exercising soft power for Islam. We are a non-Middle East country. We are very peaceful. We have the best shot to be a global economic powerhouse.

Can Islam be the unifying force for a single world government? While that is a long shot, we can still plan for the intermediary steps. Society of humans tend towards disunity, hence unifying anything with any kind of justification proved to be a difficult task. In the past, empire can have a large size because they united different tribes and communities under them. Even empires fell if they overextended, that is, they tend to decline after reaching a certain size. Nowadays, the default format are nation-states. Borders are fixed. Any attempt on empire-building can be deemed as transgressions on national sovereignty.

But only a fool that assume such status quo would last forever. If the current world order should somehow dissolve and anarchy resumes, the ones that will profit the most woule be the nation that do the most preparation during peaceful times. So what to do on peaceful times for Islam?

The ultimate overarching task of this foreign outreach office would be to make the condition to be conducive for Islam all around the world. The foreign outreach can do research and collect data on different communities in this world. Primarily about three things: how they view Islam now (and what is the driving factor for that), how can that view can be made better (the possible interventions) and how can Indonesia and Islam can capitalize on that improved view (such as cashing it for purchasing decisions, voting decisions, diplomatic bargaining chips, etc).

One might be tempted to think that our target are the government of each country. This is incorrect. Our target is the people. Regimes rise and fall, nations may dissolve on the long run, but people and their belief persists over time. According to selectorate theory, what government does depends to their people on some degree. Change the people’s attitude and you change the direction of the government, as their officials (elected or otherwise) do not want to get replaced by their people (peacefully or otherwise). While it’s more expensive and take a significantly longer time (hence most strategies do not do this as it is deemed as ineffective), our time horizon is much, much longer. We can afford for such a demographic alteration methods in foreign countries. This method is harder to reverse as well, only genocide, out-growing rival population, and mass institutionalization can have the stronger effect.

For example, Japan and Korea has a very lax attitude on religion, they readily convert to Islam (or any religion for that matter) if they like it. They are less likely to have entrenched prejudice against Islam (or any religion for that matter). Contrast this with the US and Europe which has a shared history with Islam and currently experiencing cultural assimilation problem because of refugee in their country. Country-specific policies need to be planned. Different country need different treatment.

Even within the same country, there would be significant differenct across different communities. For instance, will the challenge for Islam in interior mainland China be different from that of their coastal counterpart? The interior mainland Chine is poorer than the more prosperous coastal China. Maybe the concern for people in interior China would be familial isolation because if they are interested in Islam, they perceive that they have too change their name to an Islamic name, essentially forfeiting their ancestral name with a long history. For an outsider, it might be a trivial matter. But for them, maybe it is very central for their very existence. As for coastal China, maybe the concern could be more material related. Maybe they enjoy luxury and liquor and will see that Islam might be a hindrance for them at that aspect. Or maybe they don’t need for any religion at all because they feel they are already successful without religion, so why should they suddenly embrace one?

For one country, imagine how many communities should be characterized and be given personalized intervention? Will the resource be enough for all communities in all countries? Of course it will not. Then, how to prioritize the resource? What should the prioritization be based on? How can we capitalize on each project? What kind of expertise should exist within the office? How can we procure such expertize from our nation? How to ensure the office would continue to exist throughout different regime? We can continue with hundreds if not thousands of such questions.

Now it’s become clear why this can be centuries-long. Costly. Lengthy. But the reward?

Reshaping the world order.


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