Balinese Cultural Tourism

Blog Post by: Danielle Saroyan

Balinese culture is unique and impossible to fully capture in the few days we were in Bali, Indonesia. Balinese society is strongly influenced by Indian Chinese, and Hindu culture. This spiritual combination can be seen in the photo compilation below, is a snapshot of the cultural society that we were able to experience between March 12-14. The photos include a traditional Balinese home, religious diversity, art and design, rice irrigation fields, biodiversity on the island, and ceremonial dance.

Traditional Balinese Home

Our group had the opportunity to visit a traditional Balinese home, with grand entryways and multiple outdoor rooms spread out in one family compound. Buildings cannot be taller than a coconut tree, so rooms were spread out rather than built high. A traditional Balinese home consists of a collection of structures within an enclosed area, including bedrooms, guest rooms, a family shrine, living areas, and a kitchen space. The spaces, design, and purpose of each building directly relates to a spiritual meaning in a feng shui manner. For example, Balinese people follow Tri Hita Karana – the concept of harmony and balance of three elements: human, nature, and gods.

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This particular traditional Balinese home is located in Ubud. The woman in the photo is sitting at the main bedroom situated in the middle of the complex, weaving together small containers to hold prayer offerings.

Religious Harmony

Indonesia is known for its Muslim majority, but that is not the case in Bali. About 85% of the people are Balinese Hindus; 12% are Muslim; and about 3% are Christian. Balinese Hinduism is a combination of local Bali beliefs, Indian Hinduism, and Buddhism. This religion consists of gods and demigods who are worshipped together with Buddhist heroes, the spirits of ancestors, indigenous agricultural deities, and sacred places. Bali has an estimated 20,000 puras (temples) and shrines, and is therefore known as the “Island of Thousand Puras” (“Islands of the Gods”). Balinese Hinduism focuses on the belief that gods and goddesses are present in all things and every element of nature possesses its own power, which reflects the power of the gods. For instance, a rock, tree, or woven cloth is a potential home for spirits whose energy can be directed for good or evil.

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Pictured here is a Hindu Temple located in Ubud. right beside a Christian Church, an Islamic Mosque, and a Catholic Church. This row of spiritual buildings demonstrates the harmony and accord between the various religions in Bali.

Art and Design

Bali is well known for artists who create handicrafts and fashion, including batik and ikat clothing, wooden carvings, stone carvings, painted art, and silverware. Individual villages are also known for each creating a single product, such as wind chimes or wooden furniture, which is exclusively from that area.

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This is an example of Indonesian batik design. Batik is a hand-dyed cotton and silk garment with everyday patterns. As of 2009, UNESCO dedicated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The designs and colors express Indonesian creativity and spirituality. Arabic calligraphy, European bouquets, Chinese phoenixes, Japanese cherry blossoms, and Indian or Persian peacocks influence the wide variety of patterns and designs.

Rice and Paddy Fields 

Agriculture is considered the most common occupation in Bali, specifically with rice cultivation. Subak is the name of the water management or irrigation system for paddy fields in Bali, developed in the 9th century. The system consists of 5 terraced rice fields and water temples with its own rituals. The water temple rituals promote a harmonious relationship between people and their environment. Rice is seen as the gift of god, and the subak system is part of the temple culture in Bali. As of June 2012, subak was enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Monkeys Everywhere

There are two species of monkey in Bali: crab-eating macaque and Javan Langur.

  • The Crab-eating Macaque is known locally as “kera” and quite common around human settlements and temples. They are commonly found in three “monkey forest” temples, and sometimes kept as pets by locals.
  • The Javan langur, known locally as “lutung,” is rarer of the two. They are born an orange color, and as they grow into an adult their color darkens.
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Ubud Monkey Forest and Holy Spirit Temple. We observed and interacted with the kera monkeys, feeding them bananas.

Kecak Dance at Sunset

Balinese Hinduism is deeply interwoven with art and ritual. Balinese performing arts often portray stories from Hindu epics with heavy Balinese influences. Famous Balinese dances include pendet, legong, baris, topeng, barong, gong keybar, and kecak.

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Kecak Dance performed at Uluwatu with a male chorus based on the Indian epic drama, Ramayana. The Kecak Dance, known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, is a music drama performed at sunset.

Finding Shared Interests through Democracy

Blog Post by: Nashwah Akhtar


The USC MPD Research Group meets with the Institute for Peace and Democracy at Udayana University in Bali, Indonesia.

Our very last meeting of the trip scheduled in Bali, the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IDP) at Udayana University, was one of our absolute favorites; it was fascinating to hear their story of growth from a small closet-space of an office to what it is today—an institute that intersects academia, government, and the private sector to promote global democracy.

IDP Director Dr. Ketut Erawan and Ayu Wijaya, a staff member of the Institute, conversed with us about what democracy means to them—which was building trust, minimizing inequalities, and protection from capture. The organization’s goals are threefold: to create a space for media, policy, and research to share ideas, acting as a thinktank, and supporting the system of democratic processes.

The last goal was the most relevant to the field of public diplomacy, and to us as aspiring PD practitioners. Our hosts explained the use of Hard Power, Soft Power, and Smart Power was essential to the functioning of IDP. They also emphasized other factors of PD with which we were very familiar, listening and relationship building. They joked about using “dog diplomacy” with colleagues from Laos in helping them to build informal relationships abroad. Additionally, as Public Diplomacy students, we were pleased to see a system of evaluation that the Institute used to reflect and improve on certain academic, cultural, and exchange programs.

Amongst IDP’s many leadership initiatives, the annual Bali Democracy Forum stands out as the most prominent. Held every December in Bali, Indonesia, this forum promotes cooperation between democracies within Asia, and “aims to strengthen the capacity of democracy and democratic institutions through inter-state discussions.” There are 20 participating countries, each represented by its Secretary of State. We are curious to know how such programs, especially region-specific programs such as the Forum, can and has affected relationships between nations. Has the program been fruitful? Are there any areas of improvement? Can it be implemented in a similar fashion for other regions?

For us, the Institute for Peace and Democracy provided a prime example of intersecting fields of Public Diplomacy. It was an example of policymakers, civil societies, and academics collaborating for common interests- in this case, the pursuit of democracy.



Involving Religious Communities in Indonesia’s Public Diplomacy

Blog Post by: Soraya Ahyaudin


The USC MPD Research Group meets with the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs in Jakarta.

Predominantly Muslim Indonesia has played a prominent role in pushing religion into the international public domain in recent years by taking many of the dialogue initiatives at regional and international levels. Although it is the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Islam, however, is not a state religion. The founders of modern Indonesia first proclaimed the philosophical basis of the Indonesian state, the Pancasila, and the religious pluralism that is enshrined in the constitution is a key part of Indonesian identity and constitutional process. This was one of the key points that stood out during our visit at the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Jakarta.

The religionization of politics and the politicization of religion, especially in the current environment on the global war on terror, means that increasingly religion plays a role in diplomacy both as an opportunity for engagement and as a motivation inspiring actors. Religion, which until recently was regarded in much of the secular world in the West as essentially the private affair of individuals, is now intruding into the public arena, including the world of diplomacy. As a country with a pluralistic society and proud of its rich cultural and religious diversity, religious leaders play important roles in their communities in shaping attitudes and people’s understanding of the world around them. Concerns about interfaith relations grew with the polarization of the world along Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilization line, in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. While the tradition of interfaith dialogue has long existed in pluralistic Indonesia for decades, the government has taken the initiative to bring this tradition to the international level and, lo and behold, has found receptive audiences since 2002.

The involvement of religious communities in Indonesian public diplomacy is very dominant in interfaith dialogue program. This program is an integrated part of Indonesia’s Total Diplomacy, under the former Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister, Hassan Wirajuda, which is practiced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Wirajuda’s Total Diplomacy concept involved all components of society and is defined as a diplomacy that is more inclusive and comprehensive on every issue, which involves all nation state components. Engagement with the religious communities in interfaith dialogue is no longer exclusively under the purview of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, but a concerted effort together between both Ministry of Religious Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The interfaith dialogue promotes values of pluralism, multiculturalism and religious harmony in Indonesia. Islam in Indonesia was developed through a process that still upheld the local values and local wisdom, or what is called the “indigenization of Islam”. This particular process makes Islam in Indonesia unique from the practice of it in other regions. Considering the fact that Indonesia is one of the world’s most diverse countries, diversity is the central feature of Indonesian culture with 300 ethnic groups; 750 languages and dialects the importance of diversity is embedded in the nation’s motto: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which translates to Unity in Diversity. Although the country is predominantly Muslim, the government officially recognizes six religions – Islam, Christian Protestants, Roman Catholics, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

The rise of globalization, multi-track diplomacy and terrorism as a threat for world peace and security has influenced the Indonesian government to engage religious communities in interfaith dialogue program in Indonesian public diplomacy. Every country cannot ignore the globalization phenomenon and its impact on the social, political, and cultural life of its people. In an age of globalization, religion has become an important issue of global politics. The worldwide resurgence of religion has influenced changes in the political life. In this respect, the complex interdependence between religion and globalization is reflected in how the role of religious actors as a non-state actor in diplomacy is more important. This can be seen in Indonesia’s involvement and engagement with religious actors from religious communities in its public diplomacy. In a country where religion is important, the multi-track diplomacy with the focus on peace making through faith in action embodies Indonesian faith diplomacy efforts and at its core is the interfaith dialogue programs.

The interfaith dialogue program in Indonesian faith diplomacy emphasizes the important role of religious communities in diplomacy. In the past, impact of individual and non-governmental organizations in international affairs might not be as impactful as the states, intergovernmental organizations or multinational corporations. This is not true in the present situation. In the context of the Indonesian religious community, the role of Muhammadiyah, Nahdlatul Ulama, Bishop Conference of Indonesia, Communion of Churches in Indonesia in interfaith activities perform the role of (religious) NGO and religious leader, as an individual, has increased their role in international relations.

Indonesia continues to promote inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue to create tolerance, mutual understanding and respect among religious community. As a country with a pluralistic society and proud of its rich cultural and religious diversity, Indonesia continues to promote inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue to create tolerance, mutual understanding and respect among religious community. The role of religion and religious affairs in influencing its foreign policy is becoming more prominent. At the heart of it, the Indonesian government’s effort to include religious communities in its foreign policy strategy, specifically the interfaith dialogue in diplomacy, is a soft power package where it can brand itself as a country practicing moderate Islam while promoting the moderate groups in counter terrorism to action. If anything else, it could be seen as “hip” to befriend Indonesia: A good friend of the West, the East, the Muslims and a country cognizant of the need for cultural harmony, environmental sustainability and social inclusiveness. The world sees Indonesia in a positive light. World leaders like Obama, Cameron, Merkel, Erdogan, Ferdinand de Kirchner, Abe, and Lee perceive Indonesia as a partner. Indonesia’s influence is spreading to the Americas, Europe, Africa and Central Asia. In fact, countries large and small have received the same respect from Indonesia as partners for global stability, peace and prosperity. Hence, it becomes even more critical for Indonesia to take advantage of this positive momentum, standing at the right time in history to play a global role as Indonesia approaches its centenary.

International Organization for Migration Indonesia: Listening is Key

Blog Post by: Caitlin Dobson


The USC MPD Research Group meets with the Counter-Trafficking and Labour Migration Department of the International Organization of Migration Indonesia office in Jakarta.

There is a difference between hearing and listening. Even within the field of public diplomacy there is a difference between listening and active listening. Much of our research experience thus far has been to observe how well each organization with which we meet are hearing partners, communities, publics and other governments. As one of the key components to effective public diplomacy, it seems the International Organization for Migration in Jakarta is a prime example of what it means to truly listen.

IOM is an intergovernmental organization funded by the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose main objective is to promote order in migration. A massive transit country for migrants, IOM Indonesia is one of the overall organization’s top priorities. Our visit with IOM Jakarta was time well-spent learning from the Human Trafficking and Labour Migration department about current projects and programs they have developed. Everything from regions of the world with which they work to digital engagement to education through human trafficking-themed comic books and documentaries, IOM seems at first glance to be practicing effective public diplomacy in most aspects.

What stood out most was how in tune they are with local communities and current issues with which they are dealing, especially partnerships formed with grassroots organizations and local NGOs. Through these partnerships they mentioned a number of ways in which they are utilizing their relationships to gain even more expertise and understanding on the ground. As an organization as big and multi-faceted as IOM, with more than 480 field locations worldwide, the importance of partnerships becomes even more vital in order to listen from the bottom up, to obtain and maintain the diverse wealth of knowledge for an organization such as IOM, and thus be more engaged and uphold effective public diplomacy.

Human trafficking within and outside of Indonesia is a convoluted and complex issue in and of itself, and IOM appears to be doing an incredible job in terms of its structure and individualized programs, with a multi-faceted approach. We look forward to implementing IOM Indonesia as a case study demonstrating effective strategies in partnership development within our final research report. Through this meeting we saw just how important and effective strengthened relationships between like-minded organizations really can be. Thanks to organizations like IOM, victims of human trafficking throughout the world really are being helped and heard.

Digital Diplomacy: Indonesia Uncensored?

Blog Post by: Maria Camila Portela


The USC MPD Research Group meets with the Indonesian Ministry of Information and Communication Technology in Jakarta.

free·dom   ˈfrēdəm   noun

The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.

Freedom is often regarded as an absolute concept. There is no compromise of addendum to freedom. It is a core principle to democracy and defended around the world.

During our time in Indonesia we have been introduced to an incredibly diverse country were the principles of tolerance, prosperity, and freedom permeate every aspect of its foreign policy. As the world continues to become more globalized individuals’ rights to freedom of expression extend to the digital realm.

Internet Freedom, defined by The U.S. Department of State, is the “access to the global Internet as an open platform on which to innovate, learn, organize and express [oneself] freely from undue interference or censorship.” [1] Indonesian Cyberlaw No. 11/2008 concerning electronic transactions gives Indonesians the right to access information on the Internet, and freedom of expression online. These rights should and will be upheld, but not at the cost of someone else’s freedoms. This nuanced but important distinction is indicative of the diversity present in the Indonesian population and its collectivistic society. Individual rights are important and defended by the Indonesian constitution, but not to the detriment of someone else’s rights.

During our meeting with the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology we learned about a recent effort to block all pornographic content online. Although at first glance it seemingly does not fit with the absolute meaning of freedom it is indicative of the ethnic and religious diversity present in Indonesia.

As the United States continues to advance Internet Freedom as a foreign policy priority it will be interesting to see how it deals with the cultural sensitivities present within Indonesia.

Down to Earth Diplomacy

Blog Post by: Rebecca Heyliger


The USC MPD Research Group meets with the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jakarta.

After some well-deserved and much needed rest we headed out for the first appointment of our second day of meetings at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Upon our arrival, we were joined by Ambassador Esti Andayani, Directorate General of Information and Public Diplomacy Al Busyra Basnur and their staff.

The Ambassador began our meeting by emphasizing the importance of their relationship with the US. With 1 embassy, 6 consulate generals and a mission to the UN in New York, Indonesia seeks to continue having positive relations with the US. Indonesia sees the US as a strategic partner in many areas, specifically education.  With 7,600 Indonesia students studying in the US (1,600 in Los Angeles and 172 at the University of Southern California) and 500 US students in Indonesia, the emerging nation wishes to continue its partnership with the US by encouraging more students to come study in Indonesia through exchange programs.

The main focus of our meeting was a presentation in Indonesian foreign policy and diplomacy. Part history lesson, part strategy explanation, we were guided through the 4 post-independence presidential eras.  President Soekarno – father of the nation and defender of the developing world, President Soeharto – father of development and promoter of modern Indonesia and unity in diversity, President Yudhayano – advocate of total diplomacy and regional cooperation, and President Jokowi – believer of Trisakti, which encompasses maritime, economic and down to earth diplomacy.

The concept of down to earth diplomacy is an interesting term that came up during our discussion, highlighting the idea that instead of public diplomacy being abstract and unattainable, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is attempting to bring diplomacy down to a relatable, grassroots, people-to-people level. Structurally, it was described as Track Three Diplomacy, meaning it is conducted on an individual level.

It is interesting to consider both the domestic and international context in which each presidency took place. Moving forward as Indonesia stands as a leader of the developing world, the new president will have to balance the desire for domestic well-being and prosperity within the international economy through his foreign policy and diplomacy agenda.

The Power of Non-State Actors in an Emerging Nation

Blog Post by: Michele Johnsen


The USC MPD Research Group visits Human Rights NGO Kontras in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Human rights NGOs, as non-state actors, work to protect and support the world’s most vulnerable populations.  They give a voice to those that are oppressed and not being sufficiently heard among local and global audiences. When NGOs increase their use of public diplomacy, they amplify the voices of communities that have experienced human rights violations so they reach the ears of those who have the power to create change. In the end, this holds governments more accountable for respecting human lives and dignity when making political and economic decisions.

A visit to the NGO KontraS gave our team a look at how Indonesian non-state actors use public diplomacy in an era of internet connectivity and globalization.  Founded 17 years ago at the end of the Suharto regime, KontraS, originally “addressed issues of state-sponsored abductions and enforced disappearances.”  Today the organization is a leader in “dismantling the use of violence and defending human rights” in Indonesia, as well as in other nations around the world.

KontraS’s staff gave us a first-hand look into how the NGO both speaks as an independent entity monitoring government actions, as well as an ally to governments that count on them for human rights expertise. This delicate balancing act is one that is shared by human rights monitoring groups all over the world.  So, KontraS exchanges knowledge and resources with international human rights groups. This strengthens KontraS and gives global NGOs promoting human rights an opportunity to learn from one another and enhance the impact of their important work throughout the globe.

For example, Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo, “an Argentine association of mothers whose children were ‘disappeared’ during the Dirty War of Argentina’s military dictatorship,” has traveled to Indonesia to meet with KontraS.  KontraS works with Indonesian families whose loved ones “disappeared” prior to the fall of the Suharto regime.  While the histories and cultures of Indonesia and Argentina are vastly different, these NGOs find that there is overlap where they find common experience and goals. Ultimately, when they exchange best practices and expertise, they can learn from each other and better protect human rights in both countries.

KontraS boosts its international engagement, resource development and policy change opportunities through its presence on social media.  They have more than 54,000 followers on Twitter, where they communicate with international publics about abolishing the death penalty, stopping land grabs and protecting rights to free expression. Still, it appears that KontraS’s social media efforts have much room to grow before they truly maximize results for the organization.  The question is: What keeps KontraS from fully utilizing social media, and what can be done to enable them to take more advantage of the benefits of new technologies?”  Our team’s upcoming report will address these issues and provide recommendations that KontraS and other NGOs and non-state actors can consider to make the most of what social media engagement can accomplish.

Nelson Mandela said, “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”  Public diplomacy practitioners now have more opportunity than ever before to uphold that humanity via NGOs and other non-state actors.

A U.S. Welcome to Indonesia

Blog Post by: Nashwah Akhtar


The USC MPD Research Group visits with U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Robert O. Blake, Jr. at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.

Our second day in Jakarta was also our first day of meetings. We had a packed schedule filled with visits to the U.S. Embassy at Jakarta, high-tech culture center @America, and human rights NGO KontraS. We all had some breakfast and eagerly headed out for a day of stimulating information-filled meetings.

Ambassador Robert O. Blake was our first scheduled appointment. Upon entering the highly secured Embassy, fortunately only a few minutes drive and a corner turn from our hotel, we were greeted by Cultural Affairs Officer Deborah Lynn, who then introduced us to the Ambassador. In the brief time we had together, we discussed social media engagement between the U.S. Embassy and Indonesian people, challenges of his work, and the priorities of the office in general.

1) strengthening people to people ties

2) Increasing investments between the countries

3) addressing climate change

4) improving governance.

After a quick photo and a few tweets, we were off to our next destination: @America. On the third floor of Pacific Place, a luxury mall in the city, @America cultural center is a high-tech digital initiative by the State Department, the only one of its kind located solely in Jakarta. We were guided through a tour of the office, which featured American cultural icons from Bon Jovi to Katy Perry, a performing center, and even a Google Earth interactive booth. Our hosts, @American staff as well as Deborah and Press Officer John Johnson explained to us their goal of increasing Indonesian youth applying for and attending American school as international students. Their messaging strategy was clear and precise: painting American education as the “Gold Standard,” offering high quality learning and a promising future. Additionally, we discussed current programming of @America, much of which revolved around the pluralistic Indonesian motto of unity and diversity.

With an introduction to how the U.S. government is operating within Indonesia, the stage was set for our week of exploring the public diplomacy landscape of Indonesia.


The USC MPD Research Group visits @America Cultural Center in Jakarta.


Assalamualaikum (Peace Be Upon You)

Blog Post by: Soraya Ahyaudin


First day exploring Jakarta. Here in front of the Jakarta’s mascot and the Monument Nasional, a symbol of the fight for Indonesia’s independence.


Our first full day in Indonesia was as information-packed as a Jakarta traffic jam. After a 7-hour plane from Seoul we arrived at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport at 2am Sunday night, a considerably quiet time to arrive. With not much to be seen from the window of our moving van, we were unsure of what to expect the next day except for humidity, jet lag and of course, traffic jams. The day dawned surprisingly bright and cool – as it rained earlier that morning and this helped cool the day down, making the humidity bearable. The light, occasional breeze was pleasantly welcomed as we ventured out to explore and experience Jakarta for ourselves alongside our knowledgeable guide.

Throughout the day we visited a number of cultural sites, from the Museum Nasional to Monument Nasional. Museum Nasional is an archaeological, historical, ethnological and geographical museum, known among the locals as the “Elephant Building” or “Elephant Museum.” This is because located at the front of the museum is a bronze elephant statue gift from Thai King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) who visited the museum in 1871. The Museum itself is under purview of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism with the vision of it being the center of culture and tourism information and also “to increase the pride of civilization and national culture, and to strengthen unity and friendship among nations.” To facilitate the tourism aspect of its function, the Indonesian Heritage Society organizes not only free English tours, it also offers them in French, Japanese and Korean. The museum allowed for tourists to dig deeper into understanding the diverse Indonesian history, culture, ethnicities and languages, with a fascinating ethnology section that includes Dayak puppets and wooden statues from Nias, as well as beautiful textiles.

The Monument Nasional, also known as Monas, is a 132m tower in the center of Merdeka Square, or Freedom Square, symbolizing the fight for Indonesia. The national monument was built as a commemoration of the struggle for independence. The Freedom Square boasted a number of street performers, as well as locals selling different items, ranging from inexpensive knockoff sunglasses to flowing, patterned pants for sale at very inexpensive prices.

Of all the sites we visited, one stood out more than the rest. The Istiqlal Mosque is the largest mosque in Southeast Asia and third largest in the world. The word “istiqlal” is an Arabic word, meaning “independence.” This word can also be associated with “freedom” as the mosque was built to commemorate Indonesian independence.

The Istiqlal Mosque is located next to the Catholic Jakarta Cathedral and the Freedom Square, as part of the then-President Sukarno’s grand vision of a strong, multi-faith state with the government at its center. This was an attempt to show to the world that religions could harmoniously co-exist. To further strengthen this point to the world, the designer of the mosque was a Christian architect from Sumatera named Frederik Silaban, who won the design competition held. The mosque is open to the general public, where tourists can take a tour with a Mosque employee. Though non-Muslims are not allowed in the main prayer hall, they are taken to the upper part of the mosque where they can view the main praying hall, and roam the hallways and terraces flanking the main building.

Opening up the mosque to non-muslims allowed for the mysterious space to be viewed and understood by tourists from other faiths, ethnicities and nations. On February 16, 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry visited the mosque where he was taken on a 20-minute tour of the building accompanied by the Grand Imam Kyai al-Hajj Ali Mustafa Yaqub. President Obama himself visited the mosque in 2010 when he traveled to the archipelago. The Obama administration has worked hard to try and repair relations with the Muslim world, which were badly frayed under the previous administration with the invasion of Iraq in 2003. While walking down the streets of Jakarta, the locals were quick to call out “Obama,” when they found out we were traveling from the US. Our guide informed us the public sees Obama as “the Son of Indonesia” – someone who once lived there and would understand their heritage and culture.

Perhaps the most salient consequences of the US-Indonesia relationship might have little to do with static considerations. The generally positive relationship between the United States and Indonesia starkly contrasts to common perceptions of Muslim countries and their relationships with the United States. Taking this into consideration, what implications for US relations with other Muslim majority countries can be understood? The relationship between the United States and Indonesia could provide one certain conclusion in regards to US relations with other Muslim majority counties: that no accurate generalizations can be made concerning countries with Muslim majority populations and their relationships with the United States. In a more globalized context where terrorist groups such as ISIS continue to dominate global dialogue concerning Islam, it becomes increasingly important to realize and keep in mind the diversity amongst Muslims themselves and Muslim majority countries.

Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago nation, made up of more than 17,000 islands and foreign visitor arrivals to Indonesia rose to 8.8 million in 2013, according to official figures by Statistics Indonesia. The United States and other Western powers have often referred to Indonesia – the world’s third-biggest democracy – as a bridge to the Muslim world. Ninety percent of Indonesia’s 250 million people identify themselves as Muslims, and most practice a moderate form of Islam. Having originated on the Arabian Peninsula during the seventh century, Islam has long been associated with the Middle East. More recently, this association has been strengthened by media coverage after the September 11th 2001 tragedies, which based public discourse concerning Islam upon terrorists’ characterizations of it, so much so that Islam became strongly associated with terrorism. Part of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” contributed to the association between terrorism and the Middle East. With Islam and the Middle East continually broadcasted in the news in this manner, many people continue to believe that most Muslims are Middle Eastern, a belief that does not hold up to the facts, as reported by the Pew Research Center in 2013.

As the global order is changing, emerging powers are being scrutinized as certain countries are developing into powerful, influential global players, and Indonesia is one of them. It has joined the club of Southeast Asia’s rising “tiger economies” alongside Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand and is now constituted an economic steam engine in the Asia-Pacific. Located strategically, with large Muslim populations, and transforming into a young democracy, Indonesia has a lot to offer for our research with regards to the evolution of public diplomacy, the narrative of Islam within the context of globalization, modernity and democracy, and its ongoing democratization of foreign policy processes. The US-Indonesia relationship demonstrates the futility of attempting to generalize nations with a single trait in common, in this case Islam, while overlooking their innumerable political, social, economic, and cultural differences. It is time these factors are taken seriously into international dialogue instead of skimming over them. Once this is taken seriously, only then can the complex issues involving Islam and the West can be resolved.


Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia

Cultured Seoul

Blog Post by: Fatana Temory

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Bibimbap breakfast at Incheon Airport in Seoul, South Korea

Greetings from Seoul!

After a 12-hour flight we arrived in Seoul, South Korea for our extended layover between Los Angeles and Jakarta and a short introduction to Korean culture.

Our first group meal set the stage for a great 13-hour layover with a breakfast of bibimbap, a traditional “mixed rice” Korean meal consisting of eggs, meat, rice, kimchi (pickled cabbage), namul (spinach salad), and gochujang (hot pepper paste). (To see more of our gastrodiplomacy journey, be sure to follow us on Instragram @gastrompd where we will share our culinary experience throughout Southeast Asia.)

As an airport known for extended layovers, Incheon Airport offers free transit and transfer tours as a glimpse of Korean culture for travelers. Our 5-hour Seoul Culture Transit Tour was a great way to spend our day in the capital city. Our first stop was the Gyeongbokgung (Prospering Virtue) Palace, the second largest palace in South Korea, originating in the Joseon Dynasty.

Following our palace visit the group headed towards the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and shopping center on Insadong Street. While walking around Insadong Street, Danielle noticed the juxtaposition of Korean street vendors, new modern buildings, and well-known American businesses. She described this as a first-hand look at the effects of globalization, how South Korea can manage to combine tradition and modernity for an international audience, all within one city.

We wish we had more time to experience even more of the city, but we were glad we had the opportunity for such a small glimpse. Once we returned to the airport for our onward flight to Jakarta, we noticed the Korea Traditional Cultural Center, providing live music, authentic crafts and entertainment for travelers. We walked by just in time for a live traditional Korean performance of Chamber Music, including Sanjo (free-style solo) and Gagok (lyric song cycles). It was interesting to see such a presentation of culture within one international airport. It seems there is an effort to present Korean culture to travelers by any means possible, even if only for a few hours.


Gyeongbokgung (Prospering Virtue) Palace in Seoul, South Korea

Next stop, Indonesia!