In order for democracy to really take hold in the wake of the recent Arab Revolutions, the people of the region should be careful not to conform to Western ideas of democracy and instead develop their own model, one relevant to their own cultural norms and in tune with their own rich history of democracy.
The Arab Revolutions themselves give us insight into what this model might look like. Indeed, recent events are to be admired for the extent to which divergent voices have been heard, legitimate grievances have been aired, and women and minorities have been involved.
They are also to be admired because a balance has often been struck between the pragmatic and the ideal, between the secular and the religious, between the desire not just to oust failing tyrants but to replace them with something new, something that could respond to the varying needs of the citizens.
In Indonesian political culture, there was a view that inconvenient or challenging truths should be suppressed in order to retain harmony. This view had largely disappeared from Indonesian political life in the 1950s, but was re-invented by former President Suharto in order to remove challenges to his personalised authoritarian rule between the mid-1960s and the end of the 1990s.
The death yesterday of South-east Asia’s most wanted criminal, the terrorist Noordin Mohamad Top, came as a happy surprise to Indonesian authorities, given they did not know he was in the Solo, Central Java house they were raiding. However, given the closing security net around Top, it was always possible that he would meet his end in such an unplanned way.
The real question that comes with the death of Malaysian-born Top is whether this will spell an end to Islamist terrorism in Indonesia or, indeed, South-East Asia. The answer is twofold, the first part depending on how one defines ‘terrorism’, and the second part depending on how one defines ‘Islamism’.