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• In Indonesia, a Wary Worldview (Post, April 8)
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War in Iraq
With Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Foreign Service

Thursday, April 10, 2003; 10 a.m. ET

National and global media coverage show U.S. forces in Baghdad and civilian response to the troops. Several media outlets featured the toppling of a 20-foot statue of Saddam Hussein in downtown Baghdad. While U.S. media shows celebration on the streets, Arab and other world media may give a different interpretation. How are the people around the world perceiving the war in Iraq through their local media?

In The Washington Post's "Watching the War" special report, Washington Post foreign correspondent Ellen Nakashima starts the series with In Indonesia, a Wary Worldview: Skeptical of U.S. Media, People Turn to al-Jazeera (Post, April 8, 2003).

Nakashima was online from Indonesia Thursday, April 10, at 10 a.m. ET to talk about world reaction to the events of war and media coverage.

The transcript follows below.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Ellen Nakashima: Hi. This is Ellen Nakashima in Jakarta. Reaction here so far to the dramatic events of the last 24 hours has been rather muted -- a mixture of skepticism, confusion, relief and resentment toward the U.S.' seeming arrogance in starting the war. I look forward to your questions.

Marcus Hook, Pa.: Ms. Nakashima, thank you for taking questions this morning. Indonesia is known to have the largest Muslim population in the world. Has the Indonesian press been full of conspiracy theories regarding the Americans and Israelis and their role in subjugating the Muslims of Iraq? This sort of thing appears to be common place in the Muslim world as was manifested in the claim that the Israelis were behind September 11th. I would be interested in hearing your comments. Thank you.

Ellen Nakashima: Thank you for your question. Though the mainstream press did not reflect such views, a few newspapers that cater to more conservative Muslim readers reflected conspiracy theories behind Sept. 11th -- i.e., that the Israelis and the Mossad were behind the attack. More recently, the Oct. 12 bombing of Bali prompted a new wave of conspiracy theories. One that has been hard to dispel is that the CIA was behind the bombing so as to push the Indonesian government to crack down on Islamic militants. You would see that more in the smaller, more extreme papers. But they reflected views held by a surprising number of people, including university -educated professionals and those who would be described as moderate Muslims.

Jonesboro, Ga.: Indonesia, the world's most populous moslem country is not Arab. When they demonstrate against the US and the West, do they do this to show solidarity in religion or what? It just puzzles me why those who practice Islam tend to profess to the world their unity when in actuality they do not seem able to govern themselves. Nothing but violence is heard from these parts of the world - personally, I hope they join the rest of the world in trying to find cures to the many plagues that confront the world, invent new stuff that will enrich people's lives and educate children in love and humanity and stop with all these violence. Mankind is sick and tired of violence perpetrated in the name of religion.

Ellen Nakashima: You're right. Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country, but its people are not Arab. They are Asians. Yet they feel a strong sense of solidarity with their Muslim brothers and sisters. That is the sentiment behind much of their unease with this war, or what they call "invasion of Iraq" or "aggression against Iraq." There have been demonstrations here. Just a couple of weeks ago, there was one in Jakarta that drew about 100,000 to press for an end to the war. There was a strong feeling of Muslim solidarity, and though there were signs denouncing Pres. Bush as a war criminal, it was quite peaceful. Actually, Indonesians are quite concerned about their daily lives -- the fact that fuel prices are going up, corruption is rampant. They would like to see a change. It has been only 5 years since the downfall of Suharto's authoritarian regime. The country is struggling to become a true democracy.

Mexico: In different world wide media sources, we have seen people crying by the streets of Baghdad after the English-American invasion. Before that, we saw children hurt by explosions in civil areas. American media featured soldiers marching as heroes and soldiers giving candies to happy children. All that enforced our perception (as outsiders), that there is a dark side of the story that americans didn´t want to show. Tell us about it from your point of view as a TWP foreign service person.

Ellen Nakashima: Here in Jakarta, in fact, it was interesting to hear the views of a wide variety of people who were convinced that the western media -- CNN being the most visible -- were propaganda tools of the coalition. Part of the "Psywar," they'd say. But last night, when Al Jazeera began showing the same images as CNN of Iraqis dancing in the streets when Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled, one Indonesian viewer who was skeptical before said he felt the scene was genuine. I heard reporters on CNN tonight pointing out at the same time that we saw people celebrating, there was fierce fighting going on elsewhere in the city. I also heard a Newsweek reporter yesterday note that while there were several hundred people in the streets, there were many more also in their homes, whether out of caution or fear, who knows? I think as journalists, we have to try to be as honest as possible about what we are seeing and hearing. And I think we owe it to our readers and viewers.

Gaithersburg, Md.: How much longer do you think Arabs are going to believe that "bagdad is under Republican guard control" when they can see all the chaos on CNN. Do you think Arabs are going to start questioning the honesty of there media? Do there networks show people that claim to have been beaten under Iraqi rule or just those suffering from the U.S lead war?

Ellen Nakashima: One of the most common questions I heard today on the street was, "Where are the Republican guards?" Many Indonesians, who have been conditioned by their media to expect a fierce Iraqi resistance, were rather surprised when that resistance failed to materialize. Some think that it still might. But others think that over time, if the coalition consolidates its control, Indonesians will have to accept that the Iraqi forces have been beaten. There has been little coverage here of Saddam's brutal treatment of the Kurds or his own people. So many Indonesians do not really know much about him, or really care, frankly. They identify mainly with Iraqi civilians.

Washington, D.C.: Although Muslim, my impression of Indonesians is that they are quite moderate Muslims. You had mentioned 10,000 people protesting in Jakarta. Is that a significant number for Indonesians? I understand that demonstrations for one reason or another are quite common, especially in the capital city. How would you gauge the true sentiment of run-of-the-mill Indonesians...somewhat concerned or truly outraged?

washingtonpost.com: In Indonesia, a Wary Worldview: Skeptical of U.S. Media, People Turn to al-Jazeera (Post, April 8, 2003)

Ellen Nakashima: Actually, that figure was 100,000. Thank you for catching that. And no, that's not a significant number given that some 85 percent or more of Indonesian's 220 million people are Muslim. What's significant is that that demo --and a number of other smaller ones -- was quite peaceful. And that most Indonesians haven't bothered to turn out at all. They're more concerned about rising electricity prices, jobs, etc. By contrast, during the last days of Suharto, one million people marched in the streets of Jogyakarta, a university town in central Java, to call for his ouster. I'd say people here are somewhat concerned about the war, but not outraged.

Washington, D.C.: The reaction in the Arab world remains that the human suffering caused by the war out weighs any gains to US security. Do you think that US networks should focus more on suffering caused by the bombs and the lawlessness? Doing so will help the disconnect between how Arab's view the war and how American's view it. Instead of the endless hours spent on watching a statue fall down perhaps American media should follow Al-Jazeera lead and spend equal time to the suffering of Iraq people.

Ellen Nakashima: You're right about the endless statue loop. Frankly, I think that the media should cover both the human suffering as well as the military story and show how the two are linked. They should put the rapacious looting in perspective, and I think viewers -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- want to know how committed the coalition is to helping Iraq become a strong, self-governing country with respect for human rights. A country with dignity.

Maryland: The Indonesia government under President Suharto expelled all Americans in 1967 or 1968? IS this true? Are Indonesians anti-U.S.?

Ellen Nakashima: I don't believe that first statement is true. As to the second, no, Indonesians are not anti-American. They do not support the war which was launched by the U.S.-led coalition. They resent the Bush administration for going ahead without U.N. support. But they have admiration for American culture, technology, education, and on and on. Those who can afford it send their kids to American universities. There are malls, all the latest movies, Starbucks. You'll see anti-war protesters wearing NY Yankees baseball caps. Or Mets.

Virginia: Do Indonesians feel their president is like Saddam Hussein or more freedom is given?

Ellen Nakashima: Indonesia's President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, may lack charisma and political savvy, but she is a far cry from a dictator. She derives her popularity from her status as the daughter of Indonesia's founding father, Sukarno. But most Indonesians wish she would be more outspoken, forceful, show more leadership. In a way, they want her to be a daddy, and show discipline -- over the economy and security issues, as well as a mommy, and be nurturing and reassuring. Perhaps a bit more than she can deliver.

To Maryland: Indonesians in general don't hate Americans- I am an American who grew up in Jakarta and have nothing but the most positive memories of the country and its people.

Ellen Nakashima: Here you go, Maryland!

Ellen Nakashima: Thank you for joining me for a chat. I enjoyed your questions. Good night.


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company