U.S. Exaggerated Indonesias Terror Problem? - September 4, 2003

Times Watch for September 4, 2003

U.S. Exaggerated Indonesias Terror Problem?

Wednesdays front-page story by Raymond Bonner from Indonesia, Islamic Cleric Gets Mixed Verdict In Indonesian Trial for Terrorism, paints the relatively soft sentence given to a bin Laden-supporting cleric on trial for plotting terrorist attacks in Indonesia as a serious setback for the Bush administration: Today's verdict will reinforce the view of many Indonesians, including senior political leaders, that the United States has exaggerated the terrorism problem here. The majority of Indonesians, who are moderate Muslims, view the campaign against terrorism as a war on Islam, and the war in Iraq has fueled those views.

In the wake of the October bombing of a nightclub in Bali that took 200 lives, it may be more accurate to say Indonesia continues to underestimate the problem of terrorism. It wasnt until this August, 10 months after the Bali bombing, that Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri admitted her country harbored terrorists.

Bonner states at the end of his dispatch: Indonesia is the world's largest Islamic country. But it is a secular state, and the overwhelming majority of Muslims are moderate. Political leaders had been reluctant to criticize Mr. Bashir, fearing that it would appear to be a broad attack on faithful Muslims.

Considering the Indonesian governments reluctance to even acknowledge terrorists in their midst (and her vice presidents claim that the U.S. is the terrorist king), a less flattering explanation comes to mind: The government is trying to appease a new strain of radical Islam in Indonesia by going easy on the cleric. Bonner himself says: Courts here are not known for being independent, and several Indonesians-analysts, and ordinary citizens- voiced the opinion that the judges had acted in accordance with what the Indonesian government wanted.

Jane Perlez, reporting from Jakarta on the same page, gives credence to the idea of increasing radicalism among Indonesian Muslims: The moderate strand of Islam that absorbed touches of Buddhism and Hinduism, and some mysticism, along its journey over the centuries here, is being eroded, some fear at a rapid pace. The battle for the soul of Islam in Indonesia is under way. Some have begun to ask whether the Islamists who want to create a caliphate across the Muslim areas of Southeast Asia will at the very least eventually succeed in Indonesia. Perhaps the U.S. is more right about the threat of Indonesian terrorism than Bonner is willing to acknowledge.

For the rest of Raymond Bonners story on the trial of the Indonesian cleric, click here.

For the rest of Jane Perlezs story on Indonesian Muslims, click here.

Architecture Critic Cracks Up Over Twin Towers Idea

In Sundays Arts & Leisure section, Herbert Muschamp, architecture critic for the Times, discusses a businessmans campaign to build a Museum of Freedom at the World Trade Center site. At first he talks in arcane fashion about the architecture of the proposed museum. But by the end of the increasingly strange piece, Muschamp has left behind architecture for radical politics, suggesting some saw the Twin Towers as representing both Kafkaeque mental enslavement and Americas bizarre need for oil, and suggests wartime America has no business talking about the lack of freedom in other countries.

In A Dubious Idea of Freedom, (note the dismissive quotes around the word freedom) Muschamp writes that the museum idea exposes, more explicitly than we critics have, the degree to which the ground zero design process has become saturated with political ideology.

Muschamp describes the layout of the prospective museum: The content is programmed in four educational modules that recount, in concentric rings, mankind's struggle for emancipation from mental and physical enslavement. Ground zero, the site of the terrorists' assault, is the subject of the first module. As we proceed outward through the rings, the narrative encompasses more and more territory, like an advancing army: New York (the world's second home). America (the story of its ever-widening circle of freedom). Last, but not least, the World (will shine a spotlight on places that lack basic human freedoms).

Muschamp has what he considers a better idea: Consistent with the values of historic preservation, not to mention the theme of freedom, I propose reconstructing a project that stood not far from ground zero for a brief time in the summer of 1984. He notes that that previous monument consisted of a large red megaphone mounted atop a flight of stairs and pointed toward the twin towers. Visitors were invited to climb the stairs and, in effect, talk back to those massive symbols of state authority and economic power.

Muschamp sees the towers as representing a bleak Metropolis land of zombified wage slaves: Should I have a turn at such a mouthpiece, this is what I would say: Not everyone saw the twin towers as symbols of freedom. For some, they represented the Kafkaesque mental enslavement of government bureaucracy and dull office routine. For others, they stood for Rockefeller power: for oil, that is to say, and the bizarre things we do to satisfy our need for it.

After comparing office routine to slavery, Muschamp suggests America has no standing to criticize lack of freedom in other countries: Not everyone thinks that the United States is ideally poised at this moment to point fingers at places that lack basic human freedoms. I note, with approval, that the Freedom Museum will be linked to the International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience. But I see scant evidence of conscience in the brochure. Us good, others bad: where's the conscience in that?

Muschamp realizes hes treading on controversial ground but presses on, suggesting the museum of freedom would lead to territorial expansion and the squelching of dissent: Ideally, I would like to voice such opinions without being branded a traitor, a pro-terrorist, or a person opposed to freedom. But I see no indication that your museum will be much help in this regard.At what point does a cultural use like your educational modules become indistinguishable from a strategy room for territorial expansion? Will your museum encourage honest debate on issues like this? Martial rhetoric is seldom a sure-fire sign of tolerance for dissent.

For the rest of Herbert Muschamps piece on the World Trade Center museum, click here.

UPDATE: Maureen Dowd Quote Mystery Solved

On Tuesday, Times Watch questioned where columnist Maureen Dowd got the following quote for her Sunday column: There is no order! There is no government! We'd rather have Saddam than this!

The source of the quote has been found: Times reporter Neil MacFarquhar, appearing on NBC Nightly News last Friday as an eyewitness to the aftermath of the Najaf bombing that killed a popular cleric. Over videotape of protesting Iraqis, MacFarquhar said: People were screaming outside the mosque, There is no order. There is no government. We'd rather have Saddam than this. MacFarquhar used the first two sentences of that quote in his Saturday Times story on the bombing, but not the last sentence about rather having Saddam.