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Indonesian Muslims React to NYC Mosque Debate with Moderation

  • Brian Padden

There is concern that protests in the United States against the construction of a mosque near the site of the 2001 terrorist attacks could bolster anti-American extremists in the Muslim world.

Some of the people attending prayer service in Jakarta did not know of the controversy in the United States over the construction of a mosque in New York. The proposed mosque and Islamic center are very near the location of the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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The project's sponsors say their aim is to increase interfaith understanding and tolerance. Supporters say allowing the mosque to be built is a question of freedom of religion. Critics say building a mosque two blocks from where Muslim terrorists killed 3,000 people is insensitive and disrespectful to the victims.

Here, some who have followed the debate, like Agus Sutiadi, support building the mosque, but can sympathize to a degree with the opponents' strong emotional response.

He says he can understand if there is some rejection there in the U.S. but he believes that America is big, strong country with mature people and over time, they will permit the mosque.

In Indonesia there have recently been protests organized by Muslim fundamentalist organizations against building new Christian churches.

The sect Ahmadiyah has also come under pressure from Muslim groups and the government for, they say, teachings deviate from basic Islamic tenets.

This man, Zulfachri, says these fundamentalist groups do not represent the vast majority of Muslims in Indonesia. He says while some protesters in New York may shout anti-Islamic slogans, they also do not represent the majority in America.

He says it is the same as in Muslim countries. They also have hardliners, he says, and he thinks the hardliners are only the minority in America.

Some, like Ali Amin, see the whole controversy as less about Christians versus Muslims and more about political parties looking for advantage in the U.S. elections in November.

He says America is a pure democratic country, so if there is a Democratic Party and Republican Party involved, it is all about politics.

While the dispute is big news in the United States, it has drawn little attention in Indonesia. There have been no media campaigns or political speeches, and for most people, like those at this service, it does not seem to affect their image of Americans.