It’s rare that I have had the opportunity to have a real discussion with a local resident, the fault being my own because I lack the language skills. It happened once in Croatia when I met and socialized with a young couple who spoke excellent English. That discussion centered on American foreign policy (How could we be so stupid with such things as invading Iraq? for example). Those Croats had a high regard for the U.S., but just couldn’t understand the Bush policies.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with an Indonesian, a taxi driver, who had volunteered to assist me with some translation with a local food vendor who spoke no English. I didn’t catch his name but he decided to sit down with me and my visiting friend from America while we waited for our dinner in the park across from my apartment.
We talked mainly about two subjects: Why were Americans afraid to visit Indonesia? And why didn’t America just annihilate the ISIS terrorists? Very deep.
On the second question, he saw no reason the U.S. military shouldn’t just invade Syria and Iraq (again?) and destroy ISIS. Keep in mind that this man is a Muslim, in a country of Muslims. He knows ISIS is evil, even though it preaches Islam.
I tried to explain that Americans are tired of losing our people in wars not our own. He countered that the world needed the U.S as the world’s police. Why doesn’t Indonesia help in the fight, I asked? We are a poor country, he countered.
It seemed that he thought the U.S. could just carpet bomb the two countries and that would solve the problem, not even considering the innocent civilians who would be killed with such a tactic. Finally,I suggested that the Arab countries in the region, the Muslim countries, needed to be the on-the-field participants if they wanted to protect their own lands, and that the U.S. role should be to support that effort. That seemed to register.
On his first question, however, answers were a little more difficult. Why are Americans afraid to come to Indonesia? It’s not the distance, as many Americans travel to Japan, China, Thailand at a similar distance.
Our first response was the lack of marketing Indonesia does. The country spends far, far more on supporting the Muslim faith than it does promoting itself to the outside world, the former draining government coffers, while the latter brings in foreign revenues.
It’s not as if the country has nothing to market. My daughter will attest to the wonderful experiences available in Yogyakarta. The country has world-class surfing available, and scuba diving, and superb beaches, unique and wonderful food sensations, volcanoes, ancient temples, pristine jungles – you know, all the stuff that makes for a great tourist experience. It has Bali, for example.
Why, then, don’t Americans come? my new friend asked.
I wasn’t quite sure how to explain America’s irrational fear of Muslims.