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Cablegate: South Sulawesi: Iranian Public Diplomacy, Reaching Out One

VZCZCXRO3394
RR RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHJS #0011 0290157
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 290157Z JAN 08
FM AMCONSUL SURABAYA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0145
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0069
RUEHDT/AMEMBASSY DILI 0008
RUEHJA/AMEMBASSY JAKARTA 0133
RUEHPB/AMEMBASSY PORT MORESBY 0017
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0021
RHHMUNA/USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 0067
RUEHJS/AMCONSUL SURABAYA 0150

UNCLAS SURABAYA 000011

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MTS, EAP/MLS, INR/EAP, DRL, EAP/PD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL KIRF KISL IR ID PGOV KPAO
SUBJECT: SOUTH SULAWESI: IRANIAN PUBLIC DIPLOMACY, REACHING OUT ONE
"IRANIAN CORNER" AT A TIME

REF: 07 JAKARTA 2556

This Message is Sensitive But Unclassified. Please Protect
Accordingly.

This message was coordinated with Embassy Jakarta.

1. (SBU) Summary: The Iranian Embassy in Jakarta increased its
public diplomacy efforts in Indonesia by establishing five
"Iranian Corners" in 2007. The first Iranian Corner outside
West Java was established at Hassanudin University in Makassar,
South Sulawesi, in November, reaching out to students both
though language courses and discussions of Islam. Whether
Iranian Corners will build positive attitudes about Iran more
broadly among university-educated Indonesians remains to be
seen. If Shia theology is to be the cornerstone of their
outreach efforts, Iranian diplomats must somehow overcome the
underlying suspicions and even physical hostility shown by some
of Indonesia's primarily Sunni Muslims toward minority Shiite
communities. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Surabaya's Pol/Econ officer took advantage of a trip to
Sulawesi to visit the Iranian Corner at Makassar's Hassanudin
University, which also houses an American Corner. The
Indonesian Director of the Iranian Corner, Mr. Supratman
provided a short tour and discussed the corner's objectives
during the January 17 visit. The Iranian Ambassador to
Indonesia formally opened the corner on the first floor of the
University Library on November 28, 2007. Primarily a lending
library with books in Farsi, Indonesian, Arabic and English, the
vast majority of the roughly 4000 volume collection is in Farsi,
with multiple copies of books on Islam stocking the shelves.
The Iranian Embassy provides the materials and funds Supratman's
position.

3. (SBU) The overabundance of religious texts at Makassar's
Iranian Corner seems intended to recuperate the reputation of
Shia Islam among a population that -- at least at the local
level -- has proved deeply skeptical and, on occasion, violent.
In 2006 and 2007, local Sunni populations in Madura and East
Java launched violent protests against the presence of
Indonesian Shiites in their community (reftel). When asked
about the potential for Iranian Corners to serve as a resource
for Indonesia's Shia community, Supratman stressed that
Hassanudin's Corner serves the general student population,
whatever their faith. He admitted that there is tension between
the Shia minority and the Sunni majority and said that average
Indonesians are inclined to lump Indonesian Shiites together
with Ahmadiyah and other so-called "heretical" Islamic sects.

4. (SBU) Despite the heavy representation of religious texts
(and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
looking down on the main reading area), Supratman said that
religion is not what the Corner is about; "We avoid talking
about ideology and preaching to the students here. We discuss
science." For the thirty-odd students who reportedly browse the
Corner's collection every day, language classes in English,
French and Farsi are also key attractions, "because language is
the key to understanding the sciences," he explained. Supratman
said he earned an M.A. in Persian literature in Iran and teaches
Farsi language and literature. Many of his students wish to
study in Iran and he works closely with the Cultural Office at
the Iranian Embassy in Jakarta to assist in placing them in
appropriate universities.

MCCLELLAND

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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