9/11 came and went yesterday, here in Indonesia. Even on this side of the world, it is impossible to ignore the impact that this date has had on the world. It has been so important, in fact, that I think it is one of the forces that is shaping my generation. This scares me, because this event has not made the world a better place; both the trend that produced it and the reaction to it have caused a dramatic backslide in the achievement of the kind of world that I would like to live in.
I had a long lunch with a group of friends today, some of the girls wearing the jilbab, the Islamic head cover, all of them Muslims. Someone was brave enough to bring up the issue of 9/11, of religion and global politics; there is no shortage of tense issues here, especially for the lone orang putih, the American (there are a few other Americans studying at Universitas Indonesia, but they are for the most part Christian missionaries, learning the local language to better carry out their prescribed tasks, and as far as I can tell they avoid interaction whenever possible, retreating to their air conditioned apartments after class). We all agreed that the attacks in New York five years ago were awful and wrong. They are furious with the people that acted in such a way in the name of religion. They are just as furious, however, with the reaction of the United States and other countries.
One thing that I have realized during my short time here in Indonesia is that the horrible and fear mongering prophecy of a clash of civilizations is indeed a frightening possibility. I have also learned that it is definitely a self-fulfilling prophecy. Letting 9/11 define the relationship of the United States with the rest of the world is a mistake, as long as that relationship is one where everyone is a possible enemy.
Sitting around the table with our gado-gado, picking out the chili peppers and wiping the sweat off our brows, my friends assured me that they understood the difference between a governmentâ€™s policy and the citizens of a country. Their irrepressible good nature does not cover up their fear however, and it is the same fear that I have. There are what they see as extremists on one side, those who mistakenly interpret their religion to justify killing; and on the other side, there is what they see as a â€œwar on Islamâ€ masked as a â€œwar on terror.â€ And we are caught in the middle, with our gado-gado.