Anti-American film protests in Indonesia: Late and limited

Any decent Muslim would have been angered by the portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed in the film Innocence of Muslims. But it took a few days longer in Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, for the rage to translate into violent protests against American interests of the kind that happened elsewhere in ...

ADEK BERRY/AFP/GettyImages
ADEK BERRY/AFP/GettyImages
ADEK BERRY/AFP/GettyImages

Any decent Muslim would have been angered by the portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed in the film Innocence of Muslims. But it took a few days longer in Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, for the rage to translate into violent protests against American interests of the kind that happened elsewhere in the Muslim world.

On Monday, hundreds of protesters from the Front for Islamic Defenders (FPI) and the Islamic People's Forum (predictably) clashed with riot police as they attacked the U.S. embassy in Jakarta. They managed to convey their message loud and clear, including burning the American flag, before calling off their action. Like their Arab brethren, the protesters singled out the United States, where the film was apparently produced and released.

Police said 11 officers had to be treated for injuries, and five protesters were held for questioning.

Any decent Muslim would have been angered by the portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed in the film Innocence of Muslims. But it took a few days longer in Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, for the rage to translate into violent protests against American interests of the kind that happened elsewhere in the Muslim world.

On Monday, hundreds of protesters from the Front for Islamic Defenders (FPI) and the Islamic People’s Forum (predictably) clashed with riot police as they attacked the U.S. embassy in Jakarta. They managed to convey their message loud and clear, including burning the American flag, before calling off their action. Like their Arab brethren, the protesters singled out the United States, where the film was apparently produced and released.

Police said 11 officers had to be treated for injuries, and five protesters were held for questioning.

A lamentable outburst, for sure. Still, many Indonesians expressed relief, knowing that it could have been worse going by the violence that had erupted in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen in the preceding week.

Another protest, smaller and peaceful, was held outside the U.S. embassy in Jakarta last Friday by the Islamic organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir. There were protests elsewhere in Indonesia on Monday, but they were peaceful. It remains to be seen whether Indonesia has experienced the last of anti-American violence in response to this anti-Muslim film.

The relatively peaceful protests do not mean that Indonesian Muslims are not as outraged as other Muslims, even assuming that many of them had access to the movie or the trailer on the Internet. Many turned to Facebook and Twitter — Indonesians today count among the largest users of social media networks in the world — to vent their anger. Naturally many questioned whether free speech in the United States means that everything goes, including insulting Islam, God, and the Prophet.

The Indonesian Ulema Council, an umbrella group for all major Muslim organizations in the country, said that all Muslims should be angry whenever their religion is insulted — but it cautioned against resorting to violence to express such rage.

The day after the fatal attack which killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya in Benghazi on Wednesday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the movie as well as the violence — before the rioters attacked the U.S. embassy in Jakarta. Minister of Communication and Information Tifatul Sembiring also was quick to act, and demanded Google remove the movie trailer from YouTube; now the trailer cannot be accessed from Indonesia.

Many Indonesians heeded the appeal. But for most, the government had already acted on their behalf.

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