29 October 2003

Bush in Bali: Hello, you must be going

Indonesia is the nation with the world's largest Muslim population, more than 80 percent of its estimated 220 million people classify themselves as followers of Islam. It also exemplifies that rhyming mantra from the Bush presidential campaign: 'I'm a uniter, not a divider.' Thanks to policies put forth by the Bush administration, 85 percent of Indonesians hold unfavorable views of the United States, according to a US-sponsored survey.

In early 2002, 61 percent of Indonesians polled expressed favorable views of the US. Then came the attack on Iraq, which undermined sympathy for the US that had followed the attacks of September 11, 2001, and fueled the belief that the US 'war on terrorism' was really a war on Islam.

Western media presume that Bush's visit was staged to boost Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri's standing in next year's election. The poll numbers, however, suggest Bush's that visit will be anything but helpful to Megawati. Besides, Bush and Megawati were just in Bangkok at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, where they could have talked and created photo ops with far less trouble.

This gives the lie to the 'who we are not what we do' cacomeme. Similar declines in US standing throughout the Muslim world suggest that Muslims may have roughly the same ability to judge political issues as say, Americans or Australians. They may actually care about policy. About what we do, rather than who we are.

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