Trouble in Indonesia
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JIM LEHRER: Now we look at the world’s most populous Islamic nation, Indonesia. Ray Suarez talked this afternoon with the New York Times correspondent there, Seth Mydans.
RAY SUAREZ: And Seth Mydans, welcome to the program. What form has the reaction in Indonesia taken to the growing hostility toward the Afghan regime and the hunt for Osama bin Laden?
SETH MYDANS: Well, the most visible form is anti-American demonstrations at the United States Embassy and in several towns elsewhere in the country. Small, radical groups are making a lot of noise — the banners, the flags, chants, portraits of Osama bin Laden that they’re holding up. Today a small group of about 500– in fact, that’s the largest group that there’s been lately– made such a fuss in front of the U.S. Embassy that the police reacted with teargas, high-powered hoses, warning shots in the air. Broadly, this is a moderate Muslim country, and it’s often repeated that these radical fringes don’t represent the majority of Indonesians. However, they do tap into a broad sense of discontent with the United States, not only on the terms of Islam, but generally because of the power that the United States wields, and the effect that that has on other nations around the world.
RAY SUAREZ: Have these demonstrations mostly been targeted at the embassy rather than American corporate interests or American citizens themselves?
SETH MYDANS: Mostly at the embassy, although in another town, Maqatar, today, there was a demonstration outside of McDonald’s, I guess because that was the best symbol of the United States in that remote city. There have been threats against American citizens, and that’s making a lot of people here nervous, but nothing has happened to anybody yet. The American embassy is taking the threats seriously, giving warnings of very high alert, offering its non-essential personnel the option of leaving the country; advising other Americans to stay indoors. But nobody knows yet how serious the threats are, how bad it could get.
RAY SUAREZ: The last several years of government in Indonesia, I think it’s fair to say, has been more nationalist than Islamist. How has the government been reacting to this unrest against the United States’ interest?
SETH MYDANS: Rather tentatively, because there is this tension between moderate nationalism in Indonesia and Islamic politics. That’s one of the great tensions in politics in Indonesia. The government is moderate. President Megawati Sukarnoputri made a statement to George Bush when she was in Washington recently, that Indonesia supports the United States, but she hasn’t said very much since. She has mildly suggested to her countrymen that foreigners are guests here; they should treat their guests well. Apart from that, the government has made statements mildly critical of the United States not to push its warfare too far to avoid hurting citizens — civilians in Afghanistan, and this reflects the political delicacy here of the situation because there are strong Islamic tendencies in politics, which are getting a boost from the anger here against what the United States is doing.
RAY SUAREZ: When the bombing campaign ban, the Taliban leadership said that this should be seen by Muslims all over the world as an attack on fellow Muslims. Is there that kind of solidarity feeling in Indonesia, or does Afghanistan, for most Indonesians, seem very far away?
SETH MYDANS: Afghanistan is far away, but there’s a surprising degree of sense of solidarity here. Indonesia is quite far from most other Islamic countries in the Middle East, and yet there has emerged a broad sense of solidarity here. People who… there are people who are signing up to go fight in a Jihad in Afghanistan, perhaps most of them not really serious about it but carried it’s not sure anybody would away by emotion. It’s not clear anybody would ultimately go. But the sense of solidarity, Islamic solidarity, is quite broad and widespread in Indonesia.
RAY SUAREZ: Seth Mydans, thanks for joining us.
SETH MYDANS: My pleasure. Thank you.