Condoleezza Rice is in Jakarta, she arrived here yesterday and she’s staying through today and perhaps tomorrow. She’s here to meet with SBY and some ministers. Funny story–I didn’t know she was going to be here until I watched BBC last night and they discussed it. She arrived at 1:00. At 11:30 I was meeting with a current Minister in SBY’s Cabinet, and he had to cut short our discussion at 12:15 because he had an appointment at 1:00 ("ada janji pada jam satu"). Later on BBC I saw this same Minister welcoming Ms. Rice to Jakarta.
Anyway, Ms. Rice is here playing up America’s cooperation with Indonesia in anti-terrorism and anti-piracy measures. (Right now the American and Indonesian navies are conducting joint exercises.) She also went on at length about the natural kinship between Indonesia and America, two multi-cultural democracies with long histories of tolerance and acceptance of diversity. I couldn’t agree with her more on this. She also visited an Islamic day school (madrasah) here, and related to reporters how wonderful she thought the students were and how positive the atmosphere was. I certainly did enjoy seeing pictures of little girls in jilbabs waving both the Indonesian and American flag as Ms. Rice walked into their school. In Indonesia, a madrasah is a state-run Islamic day school that follows the government’s curriculum. A pesantren is a private Islamic boarding school that does not necessarily follow the government’s curriculum. This may be a bit confusing, for a madrasah in Pakistan is what corresponds to a pesantren here.
It turns out that the American government gives funding for these madrasahs. What a great policy! JM and I have been advocating this since we arrived in Indonesia in 2004–to create strong moderate Islamic societies, you must start with the kids. I also think that the US should help to fund the construction of mosques in poor neighborhoods. Now, I’ve had very liberal Indonesian Muslim friends tell me that these policies are counterproductive because they run the risk of "shaming" Muslims, but I disagree.
In other news, the American government has a plan to start an Indonesian version of Sesame Street. I am not making this up. They have allocated a bunch of money towards this, and they are looking for employees. So if you or someone you know has experience with mass media, Bahasa Indonesia, and English, I know who to contact to hook you up.