On New Year's Day I mentioned an Indonesian military policeman's heartening response when he heard that my wife and I were Americans -- not Australians, as he had assumed. I also mentioned the traces of the top-to-bottom corruption of Indonesia in the old Suharto era that can be seen even in its spiffy new airports these days.
From reader Aaron Connelly, of Georgetown U., this amplification and reality check.
It seems the government must have upped the departure tax since I left in late November, when it was a mere 5,000 rupiah. [For me, it was 150,000.] I suspect this is related to the 20% decline in the value of rupiah vis-a-vis the dollar since October. If it is, this might be a land speed record for an Indonesian government policy change.
I also wanted to spoil your excitement, just slightly, with regard to the Indonesian airport official's enthusiasm for the President-elect. It is likely that this gentleman was either "orang sekular," ["secular person'] or a Muslim. While I was in Jakarta and Yogyakarta for the three months leading up to our elections, opinions on Barack Obama were very neatly divided along sectarian lines: Muslims and secular Indonesians [the great majority] were generally enthusiastic; Christians were uniformly pessimistic or wary of Obama.
When asked why, Christian Indonesians would tell me that they believed Obama was a Muslim, or that they were suspicious because their Muslim friends or coworkers were "too excited" about Obama. I was always surprised to turn on TVRI [the national network] week to week and hear another "investigative report" on Obama's Muslim school days. Unlike in the American press, in the Indonesian newsmedia the "Obama was a secret Muslim" accusations were never off-limits, though there they were treated as a much more cheerful sort of intrigue than they were by the Jerome Corsis back in the States. Muslim Indonesians were fascinated by the possibility, even if they ultimately doubted the substance of the argument.
The effect of this sort of coverage, however, in the context of Indonesia's sometimes tense sectarian politics, was to turn off Indonesian Christians to the President-elect. Asking natives of North Sulawesi and Flores about American politics in Jakarta, I learned to settle in for a long diatribe against Obama, our "Muslim Senator," and for a very strangely impassioned, wholly superficial defense of the virtues of John McCain. It was amusing at first, frustrating and tiresome by the end of my time there-- because it says nothing positive about the direction of sectarian politics in Indonesia.
In a followup note, Connelly said he wanted to make clear that when referring to Indonesian Christians he was talking about that country's counterpart to America's "low information voters" -- people who followed US politics hazily if at all. He did not mean the very sophisticated cadre of Christians in think tanks, academia, etc.
In any case it makes you wonder whether the anti-Obama Indonesians found this information on their own, or whether instead Roger Ailes has quietly reached a new target audience.
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