Open Letter to Mike Pence: Stop Saudis From Steamrolling Indonesian Islam

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US Vice-President Mike Pence with Indonesian High Priest Nasaruddin Umar. (Photo: ADI WEDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Dear Vice-President Pence,

In your trip to Indonesia on Thursday April 20, you praised that country’s tradition of “modern Islam.”

You praised Indonesia’s indigenous form of Islam as an “inspiration to the world.”

You are quite right that Indonesia has a long track record of propagating a moderate and inclusive form of Islam. In 2003, former Indonesian President Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid co-founded the LibForAll Foundation, which promotes peaceful Islamic values around the world.

Then deputy national security advisor for combating terrorism, Juan Zarate, called LibForAll “the loadstar in efforts to defeat the ideology of radical Islam.”

However, Indonesia has also seen increasing examples of religious intolerance, especially since 2005, when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared he would take strict measures against “deviant beliefs.”

In February, Human Rights Watch stated “Indonesia’s legal system perpetuates discrimination against religious minorities.” The hardline Islamic Defenders Front staged rallies demanding the death of the former governor of Jakarta following a dubious accusation on blasphemy – an accusation which is thought to have cost the man’s reelection.

In Aceh province, where sharia law is implemented as state law, young couples are caned for activities as innocuous as spending time together. In 2015 in Aceh 11 churches were torched by angry Islamist mobs.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the most brutally oppressive theocracy on earth, has donated vast funds to Indonesia to schools, especially to teach Arabic and religion. In March, King Salman of Saudi Arabia visited Indonesia with a 1,000 person entourage, signing ten memoranda of understanding and investing an additional billion dollars in the kingdom.

Since 1980, Saudi Arabia reportedly built at least 150 mosques, founded a university in Jakarta, built several Arabic-language institutes, paid for books and teachers for over 100 boarding schools and funded thousands of scholarships.

All of this is part of the Gulf kingdom’s project of funding its radical Islamic doctrine worldwide.

Saudi Arabia’s austere form of Islam mandates that women not travel without a male guardian, that blasphemers, adulterers and gay people are executed and that thieves have their hands amputated and these laws are ruthlessly enforced within the kingdom’s borders.

Yet at the same time, Vice-President, as you praise Indonesia’s modernism, Saudia Arabia is eroding Indonesia’s tolerant Islam in favor of its ultra-puritanical alternative.

If you are serious about supporting Indonesia in standing up against radical Islam, please act to prevent Saudi imperialism from wiping out the more tolerant branches of the Islamic faith and replacing them with Wahhabi puritanism.



Elliot Friedland

Clarion Project Dialogue Coordinator



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Elliot Friedland

Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.

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