DATE January 19, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Sidney Jones discusses the tsunami's effect on
politically unstable Indonesia
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Before the tsunami struck, most Americans were unfamiliar with Aceh, the
province in Indonesia which is the area hardest hit by the wave. About
115,000 people were killed in the region and 800,000 left homeless. My guest
Sidney Jones is an expert on political conflict in Indonesia, including the
Aceh separatist movement. She's also studied militant Islamic groups
operating in Indonesia. Jones is the South East Asia Project director of the
International Crisis Group, which studies conflicts around the world. Last
June, after writing an in-depth report on Indonesia's chief terrorist group,
she was deported by the government. Since then she's been based in Singapore.
We invited her to talk with us about her work in Indonesia, the impact of the
tsunami on political and militant groups in Indonesia and how US aid efforts
might affect how we are perceived there.
The US is giving more money in aid to tsunami victims than Saudi Arabia or
other Muslim countries. Is that likely to win us goodwill in Indonesia?
Ms. SIDNEY JONES (Director, International Crisis Group's South East Asia
Project): I think it's likely to win some goodwill, but I think it's
important to understand that the bad image of the United States in a place
like Indonesia is based on such a wide range of factors, exacerbated by the
war in Iraq and what's perceived as the one-sided support for Israel in the
Arab-Israeli conflict. There's still a huge amount of suspicion out there, a
lot of discussion that you see, well, both in the Indonesian media and on
Indonesian Web sites about: What's the real agenda of the United States in
helping out? Are they really doing this because they want to help Acehenese,
or are they doing this because they want oil or because they want to
Christianize parts of Indonesia or so on? So the suspicion is there, even
with the extent of the humanitarian effort that's being made. I should say,
though, that the one place that is universally welcoming the United States is
Aceh, where the problem is.
GROSS: Well, let's get to that in one second. You mentioned that one of the
concerns is that we would try to Christianize the people there. I've read
concerns in the newspaper that some Muslim leaders are afraid that people
bringing aid will try to proselytize about Christianity. Why is that a
Ms. JONES: There are two factors here; one is that there's a belief that's
very widespread in Indonesia, more generally, that the United States doesn't
do anything out of pure motives and that because of the fact that the war on
terror since 9/11 has been perceived very strongly in Indonesia as a war on
Islam, it therefore follows for these people that the United States, when it
does something in Indonesia, is doing something that is intrinsically against
Muslim interests. And usually that's related to spreading infidel influence
or Kaffir influence or Christianizing Indonesia.
In fact, this belief is particularly strong in the most militant side of the
Muslim population. It isn't that, you know, universally held. But it was
exacerbated by this incident last week where an organization based in Virginia
called World Help talked about taking 300 Acehenese orphans to the United
States to convert them to Christianity. And it just fueled the paranoia that
exists in some parts of the population.
GROSS: Do a lot of the aid groups proselytize?
Ms. JONES: No. Most of them don't have any interest in proselytizing
whatsoever. And the interesting thing is that Aceh, for so long, had been
closed completely to international agencies and the foreign media. And with
this disaster, it's been a free-for-all. Everybody, anybody, can go in. So
there have been some groups that are not necessarily reputable aid agencies
going in with the mix, and among them, there may be some that are--have some
kind of religious agenda. But for the most part, these agencies are there as
professional humanitarian aid workers.
GROSS: Now you say that although many Indonesians are really suspicious of
America's motives in helping tsunami victims, the one place that Americans
really are being welcomed is Aceh, which is the place that was hardest hit by
the tsunami. Why is that?
Ms. JONES: There are a number of different reasons. First of all, I think
simply because the US military forces, in particular, opened up a major logjam
in the delivery of aid and were able to use their equipment to basically get
supplies to the most devastated part of this province, which was on the west
coast. And I think Acehenese across the board are grateful for that. There
was extensive press coverage, there was extensive television coverage of the
US role. So just by--the sheer gratitude for the humanitarian aid in Aceh is
But the second factor is, in some ways, more interesting. It's that Aceh and
its independence movement, which has been in existence for years but has taken
this particular form of a guerrilla struggle since 1976, is desperate for
United States support. And this is the reason why it's just inconceivable
that this part of Indonesia, which is so deeply, deeply Islamic, would never
think twice about joining an international jihad because they really want
American and, more generally, Western support for their independence struggle.
They're not going to get it, but they want it.
GROSS: Why do they think they would get it?
Ms. JONES: There are a number of factors. I think there's--that the head of
this guerrilla movement, which is called GAM, G-A-M, which is an acronym for
the Free Aceh Movement--the head of it believes that the United States has
traditionally supported Aceh ever since it was a sultanate in the 19th
century. And when you meet him, he pulls out this letter from Ulysses S.
Grant to the sultan of Aceh and uses this as proof that the United States,
from the very beginning, has recognized Aceh as a separate territory and as a
separate country. Now it's a long way from that particular historical
incident to support now for independence. It's not going to happen. No
country around the world supports the independence of Aceh. But it doesn't
mean that groups in Aceh in the pro-independence movement doesn't stop trying
to get that support.
GROSS: So what is their fight about? Why do they want independence? What's
their problem with the Indonesian government?
Ms. JONES: There are a couple of factors, and it's changed a bit over time.
For many years, even before Indonesia was independent from the Dutch--this
used to be the Dutch East Indies--and when the Dutch colonized Indonesia, it
was the Acehenese that fought longest and hardest against Dutch rule. And
they developed this very proud sense of resistant to central authority, which
has continued up to this present day. And then they thought they were going
to get some kind of special status in the new republic, which they didn't get,
and that started a struggle from about early 1950s. That particular episode
of independence struggle was defeated by the Indonesian army.
It rose up again in the 1970s with issues of economic exploitation by the
central government in Jakarta of Aceh's very considerable mineral wealth. And
then there was a major counterinsurgency campaign by the Indonesian army,
where major atrocities were committed in the late 1980s, early '90s,
particularly 1991-'91. And then part of the independence struggle came as an
issue of justice: `We want justice for past abuses, and since we're not
getting it from the Indonesian government--therefore, that's an additional
reason for why we should be independent.' So it's changed over time. It's
complex, but it involves economic, historical, cultural and political factors.
GROSS: Well, Aceh, the region in Indonesia hardest hit by the tsunami and the
region with this independence movement, has been closed off. Why was it
closed off until the tsunami?
Ms. JONES: Indonesia and these guerrillas entered into negotiations in May,
2000, and these talks collapsed in May, 2003. And it was at that stage that
the Indonesia government declared martial law, and when they declared martial
law, Aceh was basically closed down. And it was shut off both to
international agencies, international non-governmental organizations,
humanitarian organizations as well as the foreign press. Now it wasn't
completely shut off to the foreign media; there were some newspapers that were
able to get in, but only after an incredibly long bureaucratic struggle. So,
effectively, for the last 18 months, there haven't been any foreigners to
speak of in Aceh. And that's what makes this incredible contrast between the
day before the tsunami, when there was virtual total military operations in
Aceh, save for the capital, and the day after the tsunami when you began to
get the wave of international relief workers coming in.
GROSS: I guess that helps explain why some of the rebels are telling
Westerners, `You're welcome here, and we won't hurt you.'
Ms. JONES: Yes. I think it's both because the rebels are very much
interested in international legitimacy--they want to be recognized; they want
to be seen to be welcoming to the international community that might support
talks that would lead to, if not independence, some far greater degree of
autonomy than Aceh has now--but, also, it's just unthinkable that the
guerrillas would have any interest in harming foreign workers in this kind of
situation because their own people, the Acehenese, would suffer for it.
GROSS: But the rebels did have a reputation for kidnapping outsiders before
Ms. JONES: They had a reputation for kidnapping other Indonesians. They
didn't take foreigners.
GROSS: Oh, I see. OK. So they've never really targeted foreigners?
Ms. JONES: No.
GROSS: My guest is Sidney Jones. She's the head of the International Crisis
Group's South East Asia Project. We'll talk more after a break. This is
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Sidney Jones. She's the
Indonesia project director of the International Crisis Group. This is a group
that analyzes conflicts around the world.
Are the Islamic militant groups participating in the aid efforts at all?
Ms. JONES: Well, we've seen a number of groups going up, but, again, just as
every relief group under the sun internationally is going to Aceh, likewise
every organizations domestically, from every religious stripe, from every
political stripe, is going up to Aceh. And among the groups that have gone up
are several groups with a militant reputation; these include a group called
the Madjulis Mujahideen Indonesia, or the Indonesian Mujahideen Council,
that's led by Abu Bakr Bashir, who himself is on trial, as we speak, for
terrorism charges. We also have something called the Islamic Defenders Front,
which is known in Indonesian as FPI, which goes around smashing up nightclubs
and going after anything that is not in accordance with Islamic law. And
they're basically thugs with an Islamic veneer. They're up in Aceh, you know,
helping, at one level, evacuate people and bury corpses and so on. But on the
other hand, they're also looking to translate what's going on in Aceh into
grist for their particular mill.
GROSS: So there are Islamic extremist groups who are trying to capitalize on
the tsunami and use it to convert people to their agenda.
Ms. JONES: Yeah, but I don't think it's going to work. And I think Aceh and
the Acehenese are particularly resistant to this kind of proselytizing, partly
because many of these groups have their base in Java. And one of the real
complaints that the Acehenese have toward the rest of Indonesia is that it's
allowed the Javanese, the major ethnic group in Indonesia, to colonize them.
And no Acehenese likes to be told what to do by anybody from outside Aceh.
GROSS: How important is Indonesia as a base for terrorists and for training,
Ms. JONES: Within Southeast Asia, it's played a very important role, but the
interesting thing is that the training has usually taken place outside of
Indonesia. The biggest spurt in growth of this kind of organization was when
Indonesians went to Afghanistan from about 1985 to 1994 and trained there with
the foreign fighters from the rest of the Middle East and Pakistan and a range
of other countries. That gave an indigenous group in Indonesia that was
already opposed to Suharto, the previous president, the lethal skills they
needed to actually turn themselves into a militant group. And now the
leadership of the biggest terrorist organization, Jemaah Islamiyah, is
composed mostly of people who had experience in Afghanistan during that
period. Then from 1994 roughly up until quite recently and probably until
today, there was training going on in Mindanao in the southern Philippines.
There have been small training classes, backyard efforts basically, organized
in Indonesia, but the big training has come outside the country.
GROSS: Are any of the terrorist groups in Indonesia connected to al-Qaeda?
Ms. JONES: Jemaah Islamiyah has had ties to al-Qaeda, and one of its
members, Hambali, who's now in US custody--we don't know where exactly--is
believed to have been on the central leadership structure of al-Qaeda.
Clearly, the Bali bombs in October, 2002, and some of the other major bombing
operations got financing from al-Qaeda, but Jemaah Islamiyah was never just a
spoke in the wheel; it wasn't a franchise of al-Qaeda. It was very much an
independent organization that made its own plans, had its own agenda but did
get some funding.
GROSS: So is the agenda of these groups in Indonesia more about issues in
Indonesia than it is about other Western--you know, about Western countries?
Ms. JONES: It's very much an Indonesia-focused agenda, but since there was a
fatwa from al-Qaeda in February, 1998, urging attacks on the US and its
allies, there's been one group within this Indonesian organization which has
urged the destruction of the enemy of Islam, which it defines as the United
States. This is Jemaah Islamiyah.
GROSS: This is Jemaah Islamiyah.
Ms. JONES: And that particular group has been responsible for all of the
bombings that we've seen. Now I should underscore as well that while...
GROSS: The bombings in Indonesia like in the Bali nightclub?
Ms. JONES: Like in the Bali nightclub, like in the Marriott Hotel in August,
2003, like in front of the Australian Embassy in September of 2004 and a
number of other bombings as well. Also, this same group has been responsible
for a number of extremely serious bombings that took place in Mindanao in the
southern Philippines. It's an organization which is dominated by Indonesians
but which has had a regional reach with cells in Malaysia, Singapore and the
Philippines itself but with people that are overwhelmingly of Indonesian
nationality--some Malaysians and some Singaporeans, although most of the
Singaporeans are now locked up.
GROSS: You've spent a lot of time in Indonesia, although you're not there any
longer because you were basically asked to leave the country, which we'll get
to in a minute. I'd like to talk with you a little bit about how you learned
so much about the terrorist groups there and the militant Islamic groups.
First of all, how did you first get to Indonesia and studying the crises
Ms. JONES: Well, I first went to Indonesia, oddly enough, as my first job out
of graduate school. I'd been working on a degree in Middle Eastern studies
and applied to the Ford Foundation for a job, and they gave me a job in
Jakarta. And like all serendipitous things, it turned out to be the best
thing that ever happened to me.
GROSS: So how did you start getting on good enough terms with people in these
groups that they would actually talk with you?
Ms. JONES: Well, this is another interesting aspect. When I was working as
the Indonesia researcher at Amnesty International in London in the mid-1980s,
some of these people that were either in or on the fringes of Jemaah Islamiyah
were then at the forefront of the battle against repression by Suharto. And
Amnesty took up some of these cases, not any of the real terrorists but some
of the people on the fringes, as prisoners of conscience for issuing
newsletters that were highly critical of the Suharto government but--and very
militantly Islamic, but they didn't advocate violence at that stage. And
these people were arrested for subversion, and we championed their cause. And
they knew we championed their cause, and they knew that I was the researcher.
So many years later, in 2002, when I went back to Jakarta to live and decided
to make contact with some of these people, they welcomed me at that stage with
open arms because I had been campaigning for their release in 1985-1986. And
that started the process of getting additional information. They
subsequently, however--these same people--decided that I was a traitor after
publishing information that suggested that they were now up to no good.
GROSS: Well, have you changed your mind about the actions that landed them in
prison when you were working with Amnesty International and considered them
prisoners of conscience?
Ms. JONES: No. And if--one person, for example, was publishing this
newsletter that was full of very strong, anti-Suharto language from an Islamic
perspective, but reading that newsletter today, I would go to bat for this
person again if he were imprisoned on the same charges for publishing that
GROSS: Sidney Jones is the South East Asia Project director of the
International Crisis Group. She'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, getting deported from Indonesia after reporting on the
country's chief terrorist group; also, we talk about the restructuring of US
Airways. And Geoff Nunberg considers the evolution of the word `democrat,'
with a small D.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Sidney Jones, the head
of the International Crisis Group's South East Asia Project. She was based in
Jakarta until the Indonesian government deported her last June following the
release of her report on the country's chief terrorist group. She's
continuing her work from her new home in Singapore. Before joining the
International Crisis Group, she worked with Amnesty International and Human
Well, you traced one of the Islamic extremist groups to a boarding school in
Indonesia that many of the extremists attended from Jemaah Islamiyah. Can you
tell us a little bit about this boarding school and why it became a hub?
Ms. JONES: This is an interesting school. It's in a little town outside
Solo in central Java in a little village called Ngruki, N-G-R-U-K-I. And
Ngruki is the place that produced Mr. Abu Bakir Bakar, this man who's now on
trial. He founded the school in about 1971, and the school became a place
where many people who were interested in really living by Islamic law went to
study. He also had a partner, a man named Abdullah Sungkar, and it was
Sungkar who helped a lot of people get to Afghanistan as mujaheddin in the
1980s. And there was also this long tradition in Indonesia of rural Muslim
boarding schools having very charismatic founders or teachers. And once you
studied there, you don't lose the bond with that teacher, even though you go
on to do other things. So you're always coming back to visit the man that
inspired you in your career as an Islamic teacher or in whatever walk of life
you chose to engage in.
So Ngruki became the hub for a lot of the activities of the people who later
became the core group of Jemaah Islamiyah. And if we looked at the people
involved in the bombings that have taken place across the region, really, from
the year 2000 onwards, many of those people were graduates of Ngruki between
about 1989 and about 1996. So it really did become the key school; we called
it the Ivy League of Jemaah Islamiyah. And there are a number of other
schools, about 18 altogether, that have produced these bombers.
GROSS: Is there a comparison that could be made between this school and the
schools in Pakistan that train so many Afghani refugee boys in extremist
Ms. JONES: There's a major difference, which is interesting. In Pakistan,
there really wasn't an alternative for people who wanted to go to school. You
either went to these extremist schools, or you didn't go to school at all.
And families often were too poor to have any other option. In Indonesia, it
wasn't a case of poverty. Almost everybody who went to these schools at least
had an option of going to secular schools and, in some cases, did go for part
of their educational career to secular schools. We have people in the
leadership of this organization who graduated from expensive, tertiary
institutions, colleges and universities, people who were veterinarians, people
who are technical experts, people who were civil engineers.
So it wasn't a question that poverty was what drew them into these schools.
It was both a deliberate choice that--the model set and provided by people
like the two men who founded this school, Bakar and Sungkar, but also another
factor, which we haven't mentioned, which is that there was a rebellion in
Indonesia in the 1950s in about three parts of the country to establish an
Islamic state, people who weren't happy with the way this new, independent
republic was turning out. And it's often the sons of the people who fought in
that rebellion who have become the core members of Jemaah Islamiyah. The
rebellion was called Darul Islam, and the importance of Darul Islam for the
current terrorist movement is hard to underestimate.
GROSS: Some of the leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah are people who you defended as
prisoners of conscience back in the '80s, when you worked with Amnesty
International. You get to Indonesia in the '90s, you talk to them, you
interview them, they become your sources, and then you write this report
describing how they're connected in this extremist group, a group that's
behind several of the terrorist bombings. You talk about the school that
connects them. And they realized--well, they decide you're not a friend and
you're not--they no longer want you as a source. What kind of personal
interactions did you have with the people who you'd spoken with after the
report was published?
Ms. JONES: Well, they tried to sue me, for one thing. They brought a
criminal defamation complaint against me suggesting that I had slandered the
good name of Abu Bakir Bakar, among other things. In fact, there was one
point in December, 2002, where I had four different threatened lawsuits; none
of them materialized. And the--in this case, the police just didn't pay any
attention to the criminal defamation suit. The funny thing was that when I
was asked to leave Indonesia by the man who was then head of the central
intelligence agency in Indonesia, he became enemy number one in some ways.
But these people in the real hard-core militant groups didn't like him either.
And on the day before I left Indonesia, one of these people called me up--this
is the same person who brought the criminal defamation suit--and said, `We
hear you have things against Hindru Priono(ph).' This is the name of the man
in the intelligence agency. `Do you want to work together?' I thought, `The
last thing I want is to work with you guys.'
GROSS: (Laughs) So the fact that they were enemies was more important than
the fact that the extremists were seeing you as an enemy?
Ms. JONES: Yeah, it's one of the old--`The enemy of my enemy is my friend'
put into practice.
GROSS: Well, I find it interesting that there were lawsuits as opposed to
death threats against you. Were there death threats, too?
Ms. JONES: No, I never got any threats. I mean, we were worried about this
at one stage, that there might be threats or might be some kind of action
taken against us. But, no, it was all perfectly above board and through the
courts, not through any kind of threatened violence. And I think basically
that these people had bigger fish to fry. These are people that through
undertaking spectacular acts of bombings of symbolic targets. That's why they
chose a hotel, for example, called the Marriott that people would associate
with an American company. That's why they went after a nightclub in Bali that
was filled with tourists from all these different countries and well known not
only as a nightclub spot in Bali but, more importantly perhaps, as a place
where Indonesians were not allowed to go. So it had a reputation among the
Indonesians on Bali and not a very good one. So, you know, they're not going
to be interested in going after somebody like me.
GROSS: What were the official reasons you were deported?
Ms. JONES: We never really got a formal list until September, and in
GROSS: And you were deported in June.
Ms. JONES: Was deported in June. When this letter finally came, it was
ludicrous. It was everything under the sun. I had slandered the government
on Aceh and Papua. I had misused my work permit, which said I was based in
Jakarta, and yet I traveled outside the capital. It was--I had given a
lecture in Washington, where I said, according to them, that the Indonesian
army was spreading HIV/AIDS in Papua, which is--I don't know they got that one
from, and a range of other things. They also said that I had exposed an agent
of the intelligence agency in a way that compromised their network, which was
also ridiculous because I did meet this man, but I met him because he'd been
exposed in a major magazine article, and I got his telephone number from the
GROSS: Although you've been deported from Indonesia and are now based in
Singapore, you remain the Indonesia Project director of the International
Crisis Group. What's it like for you to have to operate from a distance now?
Ms. JONES: It's so frustrating, particularly now. I had spent so much of my
time working on Aceh, and I love this place. I've gone back and forth to it.
I have a lot of Acehenese friends. And when this tsunami hit and you saw the
images of the city that I know like the back of my hand just destroyed, it was
heartrending. And, you know, I want to be anywhere in the world, but where I
am now, I want to be particularly back in Indonesia doing something that--if I
could, for Aceh.
GROSS: But they won't let you in.
Ms. JONES: I can't go in.
GROSS: You know, I've kept this conversation, really, not about the victims
of the tsunami but more about the larger, you know, political and extremist
repercussions. And I want to get back to the victims of the tsunami. I'm
sure many of your friends are among the people who have either been killed or
displaced by it. Can you talk a little bit about more--a little more of your
personal understanding of how the tsunami has affected the people of Aceh?
Ms. JONES: Well, just this afternoon, for example, I talked to a friend of
mine, who is a human rights activist in Aceh, who was in Jakarta when the
tsunami hit. His wife and child, however, were in Banda Aceh. And he got
word that they were safe about the second day, so he had about 48 hours not
knowing whether they were safe or not. But he lost both his parents and 15
other relatives in Meulaboh, in the town in West Aceh. So--and yet you talk
to him on the phone and he's matter-of-fact about it now. But I can't imagine
what it must be like just to have your family devastated in one blow. And,
you know, you're grateful for the fact that your immediately family survived,
but with your parents gone just like that, it's got to be something you can't
imagine--and other people as well.
There's a lot of concern in among my friends for the journalists who worked
for the local newspaper in Aceh. There was a paper called Serembi, and
Serembi had its office right on the coast. And they were having their
end-of-year meeting when the wave hit, and the building was largely destroyed.
Apparently the force of the wave just pushed the printing presses out of the
building, virtually. And there's a large number of both journalists and
employees to the paper who went missing; among them, one of the people that I
knew very well, who was one of the best, most fearless editors you could
possibly imagine, a guy named Muharrim Nor(ph), lovely, lovely guy. And he's
one of the people who's still missing but presumed dead. And there's so many
people in those circumstances. You know, how are their families going to get
closure when you don't know for absolute sure what happened to them?
GROSS: Sidney Jones, thank you very much for talking with us.
Ms. JONES: Thank you.
GROSS: Sidney Jones is the South East Asia Project director of the
International Crisis Group. Our interview was recorded yesterday.
This morning the foreign minister of Indonesia said he hoped to begin talks
later this month with GAM, the separatist rebel group in Aceh. Sidney Jones
told us this morning she thinks that this is the best opportunity for the
Acehenese--best opportunities they've had in some time, and it's to the credit
of all those concerned that they are giving this chance. In the meantime,
Aceh remains in a state of civil emergency.
Coming up, what's ahead for US Airways. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Chris Chiames discusses the near future of US Airways
TERRY GROSS, host:
Last week we spoke with Scott McCartney. He writes The Wall Street Journal
column on air travel called The Middle Seat. He recommended that fliers avoid
buying tickets on US Airways for summer travel because the airline, which is
in bankruptcy, might not be around if they don't get through the financial
hurdles they face in the next few weeks. But the airline's vice president of
corporate affairs, Chris Chiames, told us he's confident that US Airways will
make it over those hurdles.
Mr. CHRIS CHIAMES (Vice President, Corporate Affairs, US Airways): Well,
actually, we've cleared some in the last few days. We have reached agreement
with the federal loan guarantee board, the ATSB, to allow us to use cash
through June 30th, which is our target date for emergence from Chapter 11. So
for the customer, that says we have approval and adequate cash to operate
through the summer. The late spring and summer is our most, traditionally,
profitable period, so we're going to be building cash during this period and
making money, hopefully. So we're optimistic about the future.
The second hurdle we've cleared is we have an agreement with General Electric,
which is our largest creditor, to finance airplanes and provide some other
cash resources to us. We had to meet some other tests, which we did, and it
was announced on Friday. So both of those are significant hurdles that we've
cleared, and it provides some very positive momentum going forward.
GROSS: And I think you're asking for concessions from the Association of
Machinists and Aerospace Workers, who vote on January 21st?
Mr. CHIAMES: That's right. The IAM represents our mechanics and our baggage
handlers and some other workers. They are in the process of ratifying new
labor agreements that--the results will be announced on Friday, the 21st. We
can't prejudge the outcome, but we're very hopeful that those will be--both
agreements will be ratified. And that'll be the final labor concessions and
labor agreements that we had to get done.
GROSS: Now I know you say you're confident that USAir won't go under. But
for any consumers who are less sure than you are, say hypothetically you
didn't clear all these hurdles and, you know, USAir did go under. What would
happen to fliers holding USAir tickets?
Mr. CHIAMES: Well, I'm going to back up a second, and we all need to
recognize that the airline business is a very competitive industry. It's in
the interest of our competitors that we go away, and so some of the whispering
about our prospects, you know, clearly has some competitive slant to it. And
my guess is there were lots of disappointed people around the industry over
the past couple of weeks as we have met the various milestones we have
achieved. Moving forward, we have the cash to operate through the rest of our
restructuring, the June 30th target being when we hope to emerge from Chapter
If, in fact, the world unravels and customers are concerned about the tickets
they hold on US Airways or any other airline with financial problems, Congress
has extended a law that provides protection for customers, so that other
airlines must honor the tickets of an airline that liquidates. So customers
have protection. They're--if they purchase on a credit card, which, you know,
95 percent of all customers do, they also have protection through their credit
card companies. So there are various ways that the consumer has some
confidence in their purchase, and they really shouldn't, you know, dwell on
GROSS: Now some consumer experts are suggesting that if you have
frequent-flier USAir miles, this would be a good time to transfer them to
another airline. What do you say to that?
Mr. CHIAMES: Well, yeah, there's something about frequent-flier miles that I
don't fully understand in that people, in general, hoard them for some unknown
purpose. You know, my advice to any customer, whether it be a US Airways
frequent-flier or Delta or American or anyone else, is, you know, these
frequent-fliers aren't like a mutual fund that increase in value in the
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CHIAMES: And so spend them. You know, surprise your family with a
weekend trip. Give your parents, you know, a trip to someplace they, you
know, have always wanted to go. But to sit on hundreds of thousands of miles,
like they're going to increase in value and you're going to live off them in
retirement, isn't really a smart thing. And I think customers, in general,
need to kind of get over that and use them rather than hoard them.
GROSS: Is there a point where, like, the all-clear has sounded and US Airways
can say for certain that it's going to survive?
Mr. CHIAMES: Well, you know, frankly, I don't think there's a point right now
for any airline to say with certainty, `All's clear.' I mean, every airline
is negotiating with their labor groups for cost reductions at some level or
the other. Every major airline continues to lose money. And so, you know,
for US Airways, clearly when a plan of reorganization is confirmed by the
bankruptcy court--is a very positive thing. We're working towards that. But,
you know, the industry is in turmoil, and every airline is grappling with, you
know, losing hundreds of million of dollars respectively since 9/11. You
know, the industry's changing, and where airlines will be three or five years
from now isn't something that I or anyone else can predict right now with
So the industry's going to continue to change. You know, 15 years ago we
probably couldn't have envisioned the world without TWA and Pan Am and
Eastern, and those airlines are gone. And the airlines that are going to
remain relevant are the ones that are relevant to the customer, and that's
what we're trying to do here. So, yeah, it's a good time to be an airline
customer, in that there are lots of bargains out there. It's not a great time
to be an airline manager because you're struggling with pretty difficult
issues as far as financial losses and changes to the business.
GROSS: Well, Chris Chiames, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. CHIAMES: Thanks, Terry.
GROSS: Chris Chiames is the senior vice president of corporate affairs at US
Coming up, linguist Geoff Nunberg considers the use of the word `democrat,'
with a small D. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Commentary: Political language and the small-D democrat
TERRY GROSS, host:
President Bush described himself last week as a Republican democrat; that's
democrat with a small D. When we talk about small-D democrats, it's almost
always in reference to people in places like Russia or Iraq, not to Americans.
Our linguist Geoff Nunberg says the president's comment signaled a revival of
the word in American politics.
Political language is a matter of artful reinterpretation, neutralizing the
words your opponents have used against you and making slogans out of the ones
that everyone takes for granted. Take President Bush's use of the word
democrat in his remarks on the recent Palestinian elections and the Iraqi
elections on January 30th. `As a democrat,' he said, `as a person who
believes in democracy, a Republican democrat, I might add, as someone who
believes that everybody has a right to live in a free society, January, 2005,
is an extraordinary month.'
Of course, small-D democrat isn't exactly a rare word, but nowadays we tend to
reserve it for people in places like Russia, Iraq or Ukraine, where the system
of government is up for grabs. When we describe Americans as small-D
democrats, it's generally in a purely social sense, when we want to praise
some aristocrat for a seeming indifference to class distinction. A couple of
weeks ago The New York Times reviewer of a posthumous collection of George
Plimpton's essays described the writer as a `democrat of the first order.' It
struck me you could have said the same thing about Rodney Dangerfield, except
who would have bothered? That's pretty much the reason why Americans rarely
bother to describe themselves as small-D democrats in the political sense of
the word, to mean somebody who advocates democracy. That's supposed to go
But until the 20th century, democrat was a charged term in political life. In
the age of Jefferson and Jackson, Americans were still aware that the word had
been borrowed from French at the time of the French Revolution, when the idea
of `rule of the people' could evoke the alarming echoes of tumbrels in the
streets. And at the end of the 19th century, William Jennings Bryan still saw
a clear connection between the small-D and big-D senses of democrat and
democratic, both of them opposed to words like plutocrat and aristocrat. In
fact, Bryan often used the word democracy as a synonym for the Democratic
It wasn't until the 20th century that the word democracy became part of the
American rhetorical wallpaper, stripped of most of its connotations of social
and economic quality; this around the same time the phrase `the people' ceased
to evoke the common man. In fact, nowadays the phrase `economic democracy' is
only about a tenth as common in the press as it was in the Roosevelt years,
and nobody uses it in political discussions for fear of calling up phrases
like `income redistribution' and `class warfare.'
And once democracy was safely disconnected from its more egalitarian
implications, it no longer conjured up the specters of mod rule and despotism
that made writers like Kant and Burke so wary of the word. It's simply a
symbol that creates a sense of unity without connoting much of anything
specific. As Walter Lippmann put it, `It's one of those words that assemble
emotions after they've been detached from their ideas.'
The bleaching of democracy made small-D democrat irrelevant as a political
label. When an idea is universally accepted, you don't need a name for its
adherence. Of course, the big-D sense of Democrat persisted but only as the
name of a political affiliation that had no more independent meaning than old
party names, like Whig and Tory. That's what allowed the Republicans of
Hoover's era to start referring to their opponents as the Democrat Party. The
point of that was to suggest that there was nothing particularly democratic
about a party whose support was based in urban political machines.
But Republicans couldn't have gotten away with the maneuver if the earlier
meaning of small-D democrat hadn't already faded from the public mind. By the
mid-20th century, Democrat Party had become a routine partisan jab for
Republicans, though nowadays it probably has less to do with undermining the
Democrats than simply irritating them. Bush uses the phrase in campaign
speeches, though he'd doubtless avoid it in a State of the Union address. In
fact, it's such a partisan tick that I'm always a little surprised when I hear
Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity talk about the Democrat Party on FOX News. I'd
have figured they'd be more circumspect about tipping their hands.
But now it's as if Bush himself is trying to redefine the phrase `Democrat
Party' in a more meaningful way, as a name for his own political affiliation,
`Republican democrats,' as he puts it. What he actually means to suggest is
that the true democrats are the ones who see the elections in Iraq as
justifying the administration's policies. Of course, some people might argue
that Bush is using `democrat' in a rather selective way, particularly in light
of the other regimes that the administration has supported. Democracy may be
on the march, but it seems to have a pretty restricted parade route.
But there's this to be said for the way Bush uses small-D democrat: It pulls
democracy itself down off the mantelpiece and puts it back on the table for
chewing over. Once a word becomes a partisan rallying cry, it can't continue
to function as an object of uncritical, universal veneration. It's as the
19th century historian Walter Bagehot once said about the notion of royalty:
`Once you begin to poke about it, you can't reverence it anymore.'
GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is the Stanford linguist and author of "Going Nuclear:
Language, Politics and Culture in Confrontational Times."
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.