Saturday, June 07, 2008


More on Bromo soon, but first ...

Last year when I did some stories on Barack Obama, people didn't seem that familiar with his connection to Indonesia. I would tell cab drivers, "He lived here, you know! For four years! When he was a kid!" And all I would get was that bored glance in the rear-view mirror that says what is this bule yammering on about?

Nowadays, it's the taxi drivers themselves who tell me proudly, "Barack Obama grew up in Jakarta!" And if you go into any bookstore, you'll see a bunch of semi-pulpy paperbacks about him, with titles like Obama's Miracle: Inspiration from Jakarta. They remind me, weirdly, of the paperbacks about Soeharto that I became briefly obsessed with last year, which detailed the former dictator's mystical powers and lovingly described his collection of shamanistic objects.

Anyway, I couldn't resist buying a couple of the Obama books yesterday. Here are some first impressions.

Obama's middle name may cause him problems in the US, but as this title indicates, it doesn't hurt him a bit in Indonesia. The bottom right corner identifies him as the "American presidential candidate with a Muslim connection." The list next to that hypes "up-to-date information, Obama's Jakarta days, exclusive photos, political attacks about Obama's connection with Islam, and the complete text of the monumental Audacity of Hope speech." And the red sunburst reads: "Best-seller! Update: Uproar over the anti-Muslim/Obama e-mail from Hillary Clinton's camp."

That being said, on a quick perusal, the book doesn't seem to overplay the Muslim card: it doesn't claim that Obama was or is a Muslim, but it does hold out the hope that he would understand and respect Islam with more of an insider's perspective. It has a somewhat star-struck tone, but the author carves out a little distance for himself by mostly quoting other people saying worshipful things, rather than stating them himself.

The second book is scarier, starting with the title: Don't Kill Obama!

The idea that Obama will be assassinated does seem pretty widespread here. I don't know how much this book spawned that fear, or how much it's simply reacting to it.

The book's first chapter is unintentionally funny. It starts pretty solidly by quoting Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing, but within a few pages it's reduced to citing internet posts from people like "666divine" and "Getdownbilly" to flesh out its arguments about American violence.

Still, it's pretty sobering that people here just expect Obama to be killed. When I first saw this book, I felt hot and cold all over. I felt embarrassed and sad. And I felt a flash of recognition, because of course after JFK, MLK and Malcolm X, the Reagan shooting, the Oklahoma City bombing, etc., I think every American understands the threat. It's something you don't even realize you're thinking until someone else says it: Obama's gonna get shot. Then it stays with you, because it makes a grim kind of sense.


michele said...

thanks for the obama book info, it's really interesting to see some of what's going on with obama-mania outside the US.

it kind of seems like, here, it's been us white folks who've been slow to grasp the reality of the danger he's in. from what i can tell, people of color in the US have been worried for his safety since before he even officially announced his candidacy - a lot of people didnt want him to run because they were sure he'd be killed. let's hope the secret service is on top of their game...
i'm thinking too about the obama kids. must be nerve racking for that family.
but obama and his family are giving us a tremendous example of courage and conviction. it's awesome to see.

johnorford said...

1) he's pretty anti free-trade, that'll mean less USD being spent on Indonesian exports

2) he'll want to strongly underline that he shouldn't be messed with once in office. if he's provoked i'm sure he'll be quite hardline