Wednesday, September 19, 2012

To My Indonesian Friends...

In light of the recent events involving protests within Muslim majority countries, including my recent host of Indonesia, I wanted to present some of my thoughts.

If you reply, I ask that you do so in the comments section on this blog entry rather than through Facebook, twitter, or other platform on which you have found this entry linked. I'd like all comments to remain in one place.

In July 2012 I had the amazing opportunity to visit Jakarta and Bandung and to meet some wonderful friends, especially friends with the teachers, administrators, and students I meet at Krida Nusantara High School; I am still in contact with many of them through Facebook and twitter.  Ever since I learned that I would be heading to Indonesia as part of the Teachers for Global Classrooms program I relished every opportunity to learn about the history, culture, political structure, economics, and society of this diverse land.  And the experiences I had in person will always hold a special place in my heart.

And yet, despite all of these wonderful things, over the past couple of days my heart has been sad due to some of the news that I've heard.  Due to protest rallies which have already turned violent the U.S. consulate in Bandung and the U.S. embassy in Jakarta have each closed (only temporarily I hope).  Additionally, U.S. owned businesses, such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and KFC, have also been targets of the protests.

I do understand that there is much offense taken over a video which was made in the United States and has been placed on the Internet.  I understand that this video mocks your faith, its teachings, and especially your prophet.  When something mocks my faith I too find great offense.  I am in no way suggesting that you should not be outraged at this video.  I also understand the vast overwhelming majority of Muslims in Indonesia and other parts of the world are not participating in the current violent expressions of outrage.

My concern is 1) the form of the expression of the outrage and 2) the targets of the outrage.  While, yes, it was an American who produced the video in question, this video is not something that was created by or endorsed by our government.  Further, the American based businesses that are targets of protest were also not involved with the video project.  In fact, the news here in the United States even suggests that the actors who portrayed characters in the video were not aware that the video even had a connection to Islam when they were filming; a lawsuit filed today claims is that the actors thought they were acting in a desert themed video and that it was after the filming was complete when the producer edited their words to present the message that is found to be so offensive.  I have attempted to watch the online trailer to this video (because I want to be educated about this issue) and the editing was so poor that I had to stop watching.

I know that from many of the protests around the world, one of the demands have been that the U.S. government require Google and YouTube and other online video hosts to remove the video.  Please understand that in our country our history has such a strong link to the concept of a near 100% respect for the freedom of speech and freedom of the press (Internet would fall under both), that our government has such strong legal restrictions in trying to censor information and images...even those which some people or LOTS of people might find to be offensive.  This history goes back even into the historic legacy of the development of civil liberties within British history.  I remember having conversations within Miss Betty's political science class about imagery which might offend people (Mr. Daniel, my fellow U.S. teacher at Krida, showed Internet pictures of each President Obama and President Bush being depicted as Hitler...each image would offend many Americans) and that while such images might be censored in Indonesia the government cannot legally censor such images  in the United States.

I do have some questions I would like to ask of my Indonesian friends, even though you are not involved with the violent protests.
  1. Why are businesses and government buildings which are in no way connected to the production of the video targets of the outrage?
  2. Why do some people feel that it should be acceptable to use violence as part of a protest?
  3. What are some other methods to express frustration and discontent with this situation or other situations which offend you which might be more constructive or appropriate to communicate the legitimate claims of offense?
My ultimate goal in this blog entry is to increase our mutual exercises in learning to understand people throughout the world who come from backgrounds dissimilar to our own.  To help read more about my quest to promote understanding on this topic I invite you to read my message these same events titled "To My American Friends..."

To My American Friends...

In light of the recent events involving protests within Muslim majority countries, including my recent host of Indonesia, I wanted to present some of my thoughts.

If you reply, I ask that you do so in the comments section on this blog entry rather than through Facebook, twitter, or other platform on which you have found this entry linked.  I'd like all comments to remain in one place.

Allow this phrase of St. Francis' famed prayer to be a guide: "Grant that I might not so much seek to be ... understood as to understand."

We as Americans, especially those who claim to be Christians, should be slow to rush into judgement of the events that have been occurring.  We often make judgements based upon our own cultural, historic, political, and religious biases without first seeking to understand.
Many Americans are so quick to rush to judgment and ranting about the "uncivilized" members of the "alleged peaceful" Islamic faith rioting in the streets of their homelands, threatening American (and other Western nations') embassies, consulates, and businesses.  Yet these Americans are so quick to forget such expressions of discontent, often conducted by Christians, within our country's history: Bacon's Rebellion, Paxton Boys Riot, Shays' Rebellion, Whiskey Rebellion, a Civil War, Homestead Riot, etc. "But those were in our past" some might scoff...and the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention, the 1992 riots in the wake of the "Rodney King" trial in Los Angeles, allegations of violent outbreaks at each Tea Party and "Occupy" rallies of the last couple of years.  Have we Christians forgotten the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:3?

Please don't misunderstand me.  I'm not providing a justification for the current streak of violence or saying that it is acceptable.  I am just asking for some perspective and for an attempt at understanding.

Additionally, while we as Christians in the United States may express our indignation in other ways, we too are apt to become highly offended when we experience an affront to our faith.  Waves of online protest and church sermons flooded out in response to Dan Brown's best selling novel, The Da Vinci Code, especially after it was turned in a movie starring Tom Hanks.  My own Senior Pastor felt the need to have a special sermon series on "blasphemous" topics raised within the book.  There is also wide spread outrage regarding issues pertaining to homosexuality and the church, especially regarding marriage and ordination of clergy; and this isn't even an issue upon which the entirety of Christianity can agree in that some denominations are ordaining homosexual clergy members and performing "gay" marriages.

Finally, don't lump all Muslims into the category of "terrorist" because of the actions of a few (in comparison to the total Islamic population, those performing such radical acts of violence are, indeed, a few).  Just as there are so many variations within the larger Christian umbrella, there are also wide-spread variations within Islam.  I had wonderful experiences and made some special friends with the Muslim teachers, administrators, and students who I meet in Indonesia this past July.  I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.

Having presented my thoughts, I invite you to respond in a respectful manner (even if you disagree).  Also, please visit my similar post titled "To My Indonesian Friends...".