The violence which first erupted last week in response to a contentious anti-Muslim film brings up memories of Indonesia for me. I never saw chaos on the streets of Jakarta or elsewhere in the country, nor did I experience any anti-Western sentiment from those I worked with and lived near to, but I do remember how deeply devout some of my Muslim Indonesian friends and acquaintances were and still are, and how they never made me feel out of place because I was not a Muslim. At shopping malls and all other public places, there are rooms for washing before and after prayers, usually near the restrooms, and rooms for prayer. The daily call for prayer never made me feel uncomfortable; instead I always felt peaceful. I lived in a Muslim country and was not treated like an infidel; I made friends with Muslims and Christians alike, and both groups easily mixed with each other.
When I first heard about the riot outside of the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, I must admit that it made my blood run cold for a moment; when I heard there was no violence or bloodshed (to date, I have not heard of any) I felt better. I visited this location several times, and always found it a calm place each time I was there, even when I was stressed out about my visa or some other matter. I knew of some anti-Western sentiment, but it never touched me directly. Of course, being of Indian descent may have helped me considerably, because in countries like Indonesia, being white equals being Western most of the time. It is only when I open my mouth to speak that my American accent reveals who I really am, which sometimes confused the Indonesian people I met and even my family members from India. Unlike the latter, the former never tried to make me feel uneasy about my unusual accent and Western identity.
I hate stereotypes of all kinds, and I am just happy to have the experiences of living outside of them, in this country and abroad. I would like to hear more moderate and measured voices between the extremist ones from the West and the East. Is that too much to ask for? Perhaps for now, it is.
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