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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.
- Why are businesses and government buildings which are in no way connected to the production of the video targets of the outrage?
- Why do some people feel that it should be acceptable to use violence as part of a protest?
- 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?