Ideas in the News: Big Bird goes to Indonesia


(April 11, 2006) U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Indonesia on March 14, where she “praised its government for setting an example of ‘moderation, tolerance and inclusiveness,’” reports the Washington Post. Amnesty International, on the other hand, says that Indonesian police in 2005 “resorted to excessive force in responding to protests and when carrying out arrests. Dozens of people were arrested, detained and tried under ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation. Justice for past human rights violations remained elusive…”

While Ms. Rice was there, she announced that the U.S. will provide $8 million to fund an Indonesian version of Sesame Street, complete with puppets wearing Islamic veils. A spokesman for the Islamic Council of Indonesia, according to The Australian of March 15, “said the U.S. donations for education in Indonesia were obviously an attempt at propaganda, and an attempt to bend the curriculum to suit U.S. ideas.” No news report mentioned that the 2007 budget proposed by the Bush administration would cut the budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) by more than $53 million. CBP provides “major funding” for Sesame Street in this country, as you might know if you watch the show.

The secretary of state, according to the Post, “suggested that the United States is sometimes misunderstood…” She went on to tell the Indonesians that “I understand that the United States has had to do things in the world that have not been popular.”

Understatement? A spokesman for the Islamic Council of Indonesia was quoted saying that Dr. Rice’s visit was a “disaster for Indonesia.”