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10 Years Later: Remembering 9/11 in Indonesia

She saw me as soon as I boarded the bus. I stick out here with my pale white skin. “I am glad to see you,” she said. The woman with a lavender colored jilbab secured with a sparkly white crystal pin sat down next to me and my friend. “Are you from Germany?” she asked. “No, we are from America,” we replied. I asked: “Why did you think we were from Germany?” She replied: “You are just so white.” All I could do was smile.  She asked us why we are in Indonesia and if we like it. Everyone always asks those two questions. People are really curious and genuinely wonder why a young American would move to Jakarta. I always tell them that I like Indonesia. Then she said, “Islam in Indonesia is not terrorism.” She went on to tell us that Islam is peaceful but that Indonesian men can be very chauvinistic. Yet, she still suggested that we date Indonesian men. We reached our bus stop and said our good-byes.

One night I went to get some street food. I ordered bakso – a meatball soup – one of President Obama’s favorite Indonesian dishes. The woman across the table from me asked me where I was from and what I ordered. I said, “Bakso. I’ve been wanting to try it because Obama likes it so much.” She smiled, “Oh, Obama.” Indonesians are proud of the fact Obama spent several of his childhood years in Jakarta. She told me she was studying law and named some of her favorite American bands. After chatting a little bit she said, “You know, I am not a terrorist. You know that, right?” I told her I knew that all Indonesians aren’t terrorists and that in every society there is a minuscule segment that is very radical.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these conversations in the past few days. At work we’ve been running 9/11 remembrance coverage for the past week and I’ve discussed the event with some Indonesian colleagues who all remember the day just as well as I do.

The phone rang early in the morning of 9/11 at my house. Whenever that happens on the West coast, I know something is amiss. My aunt was calling from the East coast. My mom said something about a plane and the World Trade Center. Then we turned on the TV and listened to reporters who were unsure of what was happening. I was in seventh grade. It was to my generation what the Kennedy assassination was to my parent’s generation. And like my parents on that day in the 1960s, I was sad and confused. As we drove to school, we listened to NPR. The rest of the day at school TVs were on in all classrooms and the image of the burning, falling towers was etched into my mind.

I’ve had a my fair share of taxi drivers and random people here in Jakarta tell me that they love America and Obama and that they want me to know that they are not terrorists. The Bali bombings left hundreds of people dead and the hotel bombings in Jakarta weren’t all that long ago. There is a radical segment of Islam in Indonesia. But, the vast majority of the world’s largest Muslim country is moderate. I knew very little about Islam before moving here and I still have much to learn. So on this day of remembrance, I hope we all remember to take a step back and try to educate ourselves before making overarching conclusions.

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