So many Indonesians have for generations filled theirs lives and time with all things American. They watch their movies, sing their songs, wear their blue jeans and use many other attributes labeled here as originally American.
Simply put, a broad swathe of American concepts are deeply rooted in most Indonesians’ minds.
Even for me, especially in my university years and afterwards, there
are more things related to America.
Some of my favorite lecturers, seniors, friends, even my boss are deeply indebted to American intellectuals.
They studied there and enjoyed the facilities. We read books, journals and other forms of publications produced in America.
As to what might have been experienced by many other Indonesian children in the 1980s, my childhood days were also filled with many American things.
I liked to watch Flash Gordon, the carton movie which appeared on TVRI (the Indonesian state-owned TV station) in my early primary school years. When Mike Tyson was glorious, I never went back to my classes every time he entertained the viewers with his fighting talent (since it was in the morning in Indonesia).
I also much enjoyed the translated story books taken home by my teacher mother. America represented all things joyful, albeit I did not speak a word of English but “thank you”.
In my pesantren (Islamic boarding school) years, between 1988 and 1994, I started to learn about America from the other side.
I began to hear my young teachers enthusiastically talking about America and Soviet Union, that both were involved in the Cold War and the Middle East conflicts.
Although the classes became more like debat kusir (silly talks), I started to conceive of ideas about religious wars, the way many Muslims understood the West and how the Crusaders of the middle-ages were arbitrarily accused of being the main cause of Muslim backwardness.
But there were some Americans who changed a part of my life in this period. One of them was Laura, in 1992, an American tourist whose father was a businessman in a big city in America.
We talked much about the differences between my town and her big city along the Sianok Canyon heading to my pesantren.
Our conversation, conducted with my broken and inadequate English, shaped my early understanding about kind Americans, that they are humanly similar with us, that they feel and think about many things the same way we do.
Since then, as long as there was a flowing conversation with the
intention to understand each other, I
have never found any obstacles to work together with my American friends.
Last year, there was another American girl working in the same small office with me on a day-to-day basis.
We conversed about almost everything, even about faith and the stupid prejudices about our superiors. She asks me many things about Islam, from how to do prayers to some specific and technical Arabic terms of my religion.
I ask her about American politics and congratulated her on the success of her country in many things.
There were no problems at all.
I also read, hear and see a lot about many Americans who painstakingly help us, Indonesians (while most of us are Muslims), without having to look at religious backgrounds.
I believe that many Americans provide their Indonesian fellows with what they need in America. I see with my own eyes how many Americans care much more than their Indonesian friends about the continuation of endangered species in Borneo or Papua, despite their material interests at home. So many great Americans stand out in a lively way in my mind.
The only thing that I do not understand well about America is its political or peace policies, especially when it is dealing with other countries with less outstanding economies and politics.
Perhaps, it is my prejudice because I am a Muslim and an Indonesian. But I am honestly conveying this. What makes the US as a country seems to appear differently from my very kind American friends?
For instance, why does it happen that America as a country seems not to care about the millions of Palestinians when on the contrary many of its citizens contribute wholeheartedly to help war victims there?
Do my kind American friends actually experience the almost similar things we experience here in Indonesia politically and economically, that their contributions to policies are much less than they should be, or that political and opportunistic lobbyists play greater roles in policy than these friendly citizens?
I do hope, however, what I am thinking about my American fellows is right and the negative things about their country are only my illusion.
That’s why, when the September 11th anniversary is approaching, I would like to honestly say that the tragedy was not only a tragedy for Americans but also a tragedy for all the people of the world.
Many other countries and people suffered the direct and indirect impacts of it. America has been so vital and dependable that if for a second it is indecisive, then billions of people may be affected.
And as for my kind Americans friends I would like to say “Hail
America!” Let’s get on with the good work and let me find the answers to
my unanswered questions on my own.
The writer is a researcher at Paramadina Foundation, Jakarta.