From the archives: April 2013
Ami, a 23-year old college grad from Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh, is a 9/11 conspiracy theorist.
“I hear no Jews died in 9/11 because they made the attack. It’s true, yeah?”
Tell him otherwise and he laughs and shakes his head.
“No, I don’t believe.”
Affable with a handsome face and a six-year-old’s frankness, Ami runs the Banda Aceh pickup basketball scene. Though unemployed in the real world, on the court he calls the shots, divvying up players, ruling on contested fouls and settling disputes.
Scott, an American Fulbright high school teacher, befriended Ami at the local university court. Each week before sunset they join with a dozen other young Acehnese men in jerseys and baggy shorts to slash, shoot and drive, careful to avoid the large brown cows that occasionally amble across the court.
Ami didn’t come up with his views about 9/11 on his own. Known as the “Veranda of Mecca” for its close historical ties and fervent religiosity, Aceh is 99% Muslim.
Even though the Quran recognizes Judaism and the Old Testament prophets, because of the Israel-Palestine conflict many Acehnese want Israel wiped off the map. Several also believe that Jews are evil.
At a local magnet high school, a class of 18-year old students – all intelligent and Google-savvy – believe Jews constitute the Illuminati, a Western cabal fronted by celebrities like Rihanna and Tom Cruise, which strives to eradicate morality and usher in a new era of sin and absolute freedom.
A few weeks ago, Scott’s old high school friend Zach was visiting from Shanghai, where he teaches English and studies Mandarin. The Acehnese are welcoming and inclusive, and Zach, outgoing and friendly, fit right in. He played ball three times before going back to China.
Not long after, Scott was at a cafe with Ami when he revealed a startling fact: Zach is Jewish.
Ami almost spat out his coffee. “No, I don’t believe. Really?”
He had liked Zach and after spending time with him on and off the court considered him a friend. Could he really be a monster?
“Yes, Ami, Zach is Jewish. I have many Jewish friends. Do you think he is a good person?”
“Yes, I like…but he is really Jews? I can’t believe.”
“Well, it’s true Ami,” Scott said.
“Huh…”. Ami took another sip.
Two weeks later, as a pickup game wound down — the evening call to prayer ringing out over the city and the northern Sumatra sky bleeding orange and pink — Ami, sweat-drenched, approached Scott and put his arm on Scott’s shoulder.
He told Scott he had recently been out drinking coffee with his friends like usually when one of them had begun talking about the vileness of Jews. Ami had intervened.
“Jews are not bad persons,” he had told his friends, “because I know one and he is good and he is my friend.”
Scott smiled during the story and afterwards said, “Cool, Ami.”
About the author: Gordon LaForge was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Banda Aceh, Aceh and Bontang, East Kalimantan.