Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Thoughts on My First Visit to the Muslim World

Most Americans imagine the planet as infested with angry snipers whose rifles are equipped with US-citizen-seeking radars so it’s rare to meet any of my countrymen abroad. Not sure where the “ugly American” stereotype comes from considering that most rarely step outside the 50 states.

During my business trip this week in Indonesia I never sang the US national anthem or slipped an image of George W. Bush into my power point presentations, but I came damn close. At right is a picture of the 150 Muslims we spoke to on Tuesday, promoting a product from the US of A and informing them that we were bona fide Americans. We announced Capitalism loudly and were received most warmly. Meetings often ended with tens of people insisting that we take pictures with them. The women would pose with us --- often several at once --- and the men would wrap their arms around our necks for each pose. Can you imagine that happening if a delegation of Muslims came to Iowa?

There are more Muslims in Indonesia than any other country. And I never forgot it, because every town emits a tone deaf cacophony of Muslim prayers five times daily, broadcast from multiple 16-inch subwoofers.

One positive thing about the status of women here is that Islam has prevented an embarrassing percentage of the female population from becoming prostitutes like many other parts of southeast Asia I’ve visited. The drawback, of course, is that most of them are relegated to the periphery --- always in the background, cooking, doing household drudgery, and never playing a part in the business at hand.

And Islam was healthy for me. Since few people drink, I got to bed early and felt good when I woke up. And despite this lack of social lubricant, these people chit-chat for hours like no one I’ve met.

But I haven’t changed my mind about the tenants of Islamic scripture being violent and backwards --- more so than other major religions. Every other page of the Koran is clear on disdain for non-believers and martyrdom is a powerful theme; infidels should be subjugated to an Islamic empire, converted to Islam, or killed according to the “perfect word of god”, the Koran. But the kindness I experienced from people in Indonesia and the brutal properties of their religious texts are hard to reconcile.
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