“People in the United States often ask me about Islam because they’re curious,” said Salsabila Diar, an Indonesian exchange student who is studying in Virginia, when asked about her interactions with Americans. Diar shared her experience abroad through Skype in a discussion entitled “Islam in America: Youth Perspectives” at the @america center in the Pacific Place Mall in Jakarta in late February.
An innovative high-tech US cultural center, @america officially launched in December 2010 and is the first of its kind in the world. The center routinely hosts discussions that visitors can join for free. In addition to interactive dialogues on various topics — from Islam in America to grunge music — @america frequently organizes workshops and concerts, and assists Indonesian students who want to study in the United States. These efforts are providing opportunities to further strengthen bilateral relations and reduce prejudices of the “other” held by people in both countries.
While American films, songs and other pop culture products have long been popular in this country, the image of the United States is not always positive among Indonesians. Sometimes Indonesians are upset by US political, social and economic policies considered detrimental to Indonesia and other Muslim-majority countries, like the US government’s intervention in counter-terrorism in Indonesia and decision to abstain in the UN Palestine vote last November. These policies lead to perceptions among Indonesians that the United States is controlling and hostile toward Muslims.
Events at @america have changed some Indonesians’ perceptions about the United States. For example, Suci Sekarwati, a journalist for Koran Jakarta, a national newspaper, shared her thoughts on the recent talk: “The ‘Islam in America’ discussion I attended showed me that Muslims in the US enjoy the same rights as other citizens.”
Similarly, Aprillia Ramadhina, an art aficionado who participated in a number of arts-related events at @america, was happily surprised to see how receptive the Unite