Full disclosure: This was an ARC (Advanced Readers’ Copy) given to me through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers’ program. In exchange, I agreed to give an honest review.
I don’t know how to argue with people who cannot question themselves, who don’t say the words, “I was wrong.” It’s like playing football with someone who says, “Only I can score goals.” There’s no basis for conversation. (p. 210)
Dhume says this to a Muslim woman on a ferry who insists sharia law is good for everyone because she says so.
It’s easy to pick on people who have little to no education, live in abject poverty and whose survival often depends on help from groups whose politics and ideologies don’t match ours. But what then to make of those who have had access to education but are still moored to an extreme ideology like sharia law?
In the case of Indonesia, as I suspect in other countries struggling for identity, those with an education weren’t educated to western standards. They may claim a degree in industrial engineering, most likely from a Muslim school funded by Saudi petrodollars.
In these final pages, Dhume visits Ambon, one of the largest cities in eastern Indonesia. Here, the violence has been rampant. Indonesian against remnants of Dutch and Portuguese colonialism, Muslims against Christians and secularists. Girls in modest uniform skirts killed for being immodest, women against women because the Jilbāb is not also hijab.
Again, poverty is rife. The second best hotel in Ambon, which Dhume and Nurdi stay in is perhaps the worst place they have stayed in during this journey. A bucket stands outside the hotel room door to catch the water dripping from above. Nurdi shows their guide from Ambon packages containing letterhead envelopes and stationery. The guide is very impressed because such things are considered a luxury in Ambon.
Related in these pages is more of the same grim story. Poverty, politics, a search for personal and national identity. Are they laid-back, anything goes Indonesian or secular and democratic? Or are they some version of strict Muslim which takes a dim view of anyone not adhering to their strictures?
Nurdi, and those Dhume interviews, continue to show their lack of education and critical thinking and the shrill anti-Western ideology their version of Islam preaches. Everything is a CIA plot, or a Jewish plot, and/or a combination of both.
This is not an easy question to answer, which is the right way? Each faction believes they know and try to force that on others. The rich get richer and are lax in morals. The poor turn to those who will help, regardless of ideology. The price of that help is learning, accepting, and spreading those ideas.
In his prologue, Dhume returns to Jakarta two years later. He catches up with many of the people from earlier in the book. Then he brings up an important point for discussion: what does moderation look like? Is a moderate Muslim one who accepted the same ideas about human rights as the Korean Christian or a Buddhist from Singapore? Or was a Muslim moderate who was “simply” against flying airplanes into buildings? (p 267)
My Friend the Fanatic cannot answer the question of how Indonesia has become the biggest Muslim country in the world in just one generation. At best it shows us that the issue is complex, as in many other countries. Indonesia’s unique history plays an integral part in trying to find answers. Westerners with centuries of independence and invading colonialist histories may just now beginning to understand what the consequences are for countries whose independence can be counted in decades, not centuries.
It’s too easy to spout something about political “growing pains,” which is true to some extent. But it’s also naive to overlook that as one of the factors which has made Indonesia such a violent incubator for Muslim extremists.
Dhume asks the same questions experts are asking? How did this come about and how do we stop the intolerance?