Why moderate Muslims are annoyed with America

Posted by Admin on Wednesday, 10 September 2003 | Opini

The Jakarta Post.com

September 10, 2003

Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo, Former Governor, National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas), Jakarta

It seems that Americans are wondering why more and more Muslims in Indonesia are getting annoyed with America, including the "moderate" Muslims. In The New York Times of Sept. 3, Jane Perlez wrote an article titled Once mild, Islam looks harsher in Indonesia. She said that the moderate strand of Islam in Indonesia is being eroded at a rapid pace and wonders whether the country is becoming the "caliphate" of the 21st century.

The U.S. government is sending experts, led by its former ambassador to Syria, Edward P. Djerejian, to Indonesia to find out what is wrong and how the U.S. could come up with a program that would conquer the hearts and minds of Muslims in Indonesia. Perlez also pointed out, however, that given the U.S. is facing so much trouble in winning the hearts and minds of the people in the Middle East, it may well prove to be no easier in Indonesia.

It is highly debatable whether the moderate strand of Islam in Indonesia is becoming weaker, although more and more Muslims here are getting annoyed with America, including the moderates.

In the past the majority of Muslims in Indonesia did not perceive the U.S. in a negative way. On the contrary, many Muslim scholars and intellectuals who had gained the opportunity to visit the U.S. and study there were very much in favor of America. Also at the Muslim grassroots level, there was scarcely a ripple of anti-Americanism — unlike today. Generally Indonesians were friendly and well-disposed toward America.

However, after the end of the Cold War and the defeat of communism by the West, many Muslims sensed a change in America’s attitude toward Islam. They felt that the cordial relationship between America and Islam, including Islam in Indonesia, was over, because the former American attitude was perceived to be less than genuine, more a strategic move to get Muslim support for the American struggle against the communist bloc.

The most radical change in the U.S. attitude toward Islam began with Sept. 11. Most Muslims in Indonesia condemned these terrorist acts, as much as they condemned the Bali and JW Marriott bombings. However, they felt that after Sept. 11, 2001, America began to stigmatize Islam.

Regardless of many in the U.S denying the notion of a "clash of civilizations" following the terrorist acts, the feeling spread among Muslims that America was treating Islam very differently from before. It was as if Islam was replacing communism as American enemy number one, in spite of repeated denials by the U.S. government.

It was as if terrorism only had an Islamic brand, although there has also been terrorism in Ireland and many other places involving non-Muslims. Muslims here have heard or experienced personally how Muslims are treated in America or upon their arrival in America, for instance, and they do not like it at all.

In the eyes of moderate Muslims here, the U.S. military offensive against Afghanistan was not so much an effort to eliminate Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, but more a move to safeguard U.S. resources interests.

Many of them know very well that the group around President George W. Bush has for a long time planned to build an oil pipeline from Central Asia through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean, but had failed to persuade the Afghan Taliban government to cooperate with the project. To achieve its objectives, the U.S. did not shy away from using aerial bombings which caused many casualties among

ordinary Afghans. The double standards and arrogance of power demonstrated by America were all too obvious, while the U.S. always presses other nations to observe human rights strictly.

The attack on Iraq was a much stronger cause of annoyance. This act of war was a clear violation of international law and a clear rejection of the authority of the United Nations. Hegemonic ambitions were obvious from the statements of U.S. leaders. Many Americans denied that the attack was aimed at controlling Iraqi oil. They said that the objective was to liquidate Saddam Hussein’s regime and to remold Iraq into a model of democracy that could influence the rest Middle East, encouraging it to follow suit. Civilian casualties were worth the price.

But for many Muslims here this was all hypocrisy and arrogance, in particular for those acquainted with strategies related to acquiring oil.

We know many Americans are also frustrated with their own leaders. One of them is Clyde Prestowitz, author of Rogue Nation (Basic Books, New York, 2003), who has also visited Indonesia and Malaysia. He wrote: "Strategically important and traditional practitioners of a liberal Islam, neither (Indonesia nor Malaysia) has significant ties with the Middle East. Yet few conversations could get past the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio.

"Every night on television, they see U.S. leaders holding pep rallies with Israeli leaders and Israelis using American weapons to attack Palestinian targets." The result, he adds, "… is that many old friends of America conclude that the U.S. is attacking Islam itself."

Another American, Chalmers Johnson, in his book Blowback (Time Warner Paperbacks, 2002) writes: "We Americans deeply believe that our role in the world is virtuous — that our actions are almost invariably for the good of others as well as ourselves. Even when our country’s actions have led to disaster, we assume that the motives behind them were honorable.

"But the evidence is building up that in the decade following the end of the Cold War, the U.S. largely abandoned a reliance on diplomacy, economic aid, international law, and multilateral institutions in carrying out its foreign policies and resorted much of the time to bluster, military force and financial manipulations. The world is not a safer place as a result."

If America wants to become a hegemonic power, it is rather difficult for other nations to prevent that. However, if America wants to be a hegemonic power that has the respect and trust of other nations, it must be a benign one and not one that causes a reaction of hates or fears among other nations.

If, therefore, the U.S. wants to gain the trust of Muslims in Indonesia, it must learn to understand and appreciate the thoughts and feelings of others.

This has not been America’s strong point. Its present failure to secure the cooperation of the Iraqi people is one very clear proof of this weakness. But if it cannot overcome its shortcomings, America cannot hope to receive the understanding and sympathy of others, not even by bribing them with its superior material and financial capabilities.

Although Indonesia will not become a caliphate of the 21st century considering that most Muslims are not in favor of replacing the Republic with an Islamic state, it will not be easy for America to have the majority of Indonesians side with it as long as it does not change its attitude vis-a-vis the world, and, in Particular, Islam.

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