Friday, January 26, 2007

Barack and the terror factory

Students at a Jakarta madrassa
photo: Chad Bouchard

The other day we watched the CNN story debunking the rumor about American presidential candidate Barack Obama attending a madrassa in Jakarta as a child. It's great that CNN, unlike Fox, actually took the trouble to investigate the claim. But parts of the story left us shaking our heads in wonder.

First of all, Wolf Blitzer seemed a little overly impressed that the reporter got "inside Indonesia," as if this involved hiding in the cargo hold of a papaya boat or hacking his way through the jungle. Major airlines fly here. Really, they do.

Then when the reporter got to the school, he noted approvingly that the teachers wore Western clothes. Almost like ... normal people!

Third, and most important, the reporter never bothered to mention that Indonesian madrassas are not terrorist factories. They're just Muslim schools. A small percentage of Islamic boarding schools (pesantren) teach hardline beliefs and are allegedly used for recruitment by militant organizations. There are concerns about the quality of education at some pesantrens and madrassas. Others are highly regarded. But overall, Islamic schools in Indonesia are just schools -- and not the kind that preach hatred or teach students to cook up explosives in their basements.

This raises the question: So what if Obama had gone to a madrassa for a while? Would it kill us to have a president who knows a little about Islam? On the contrary, the evidence suggests we're more likely to get killed by a president who doesn't know much about Islam.


IndCoup said...

The americans have lived in paranoia since 9/11, partly due to absurd media reporting. But also it is true that many fanatics do want to teach the US a lesson or two. The problem with the peasentren is the very low quality of education (from what I have seen). There are a few in East Java that are quite anti western as well, but they are in a small minority (probably). cheers.

Rasyad A. Parinduri said...

The story is rather funny, if not sad.

According to a working paper, it is private madrassahs which are low quality, public madrassahs perform as good as other schools. And that may be because of lack of resources, not because of they are madrassahs.

kopisusu2 said...

Yes, the absurd reporting is one reason I got out of the country for a while. I got tired of yelling at the TV and radio. It's also true that there are some fanatics here. The US is actually working with some madrassas to raise the quality of education, which I think is smart.

Thanks for the paper, Rasyad! I really like your blog -- it does a nice job of translating economics into everyday terms.