Passing of an Indonesian Giant

Walter Lohman /


Most Americans do not know Abdurrahman Wahid (more affectionately known as Gus Dur) – Indonesia’s fourth President. To American eyes, his appearance alone could be a bit disorienting and difficult to rationalize with his towering influence.

Even as President of one of the world’s largest, most consequential countries, Gus Dur dressed in casual clothes and often slipped his sandals off in conversations with visiting dignitaries. At the time, 1999-2001, his informality was slightly absurd – a symbol for what seemed like a chaotic presidential administration. Certainly President Wahid made some questionable judgments as President, but in retrospect, the informality looks less like chaos and more like profound comfort, a tranquil confidence in himself, his nation and his faith. Wahid made no apologies for who he was. He was a truly fearless defender of Indonesia’s traditions of decency, tolerance, pluralism and constitutionalism – matters of not only national legacy, but personal legacy. And even as serious a man as he was, the young man who routinely skipped his classes at Al-Azhar to watch American movies and soccer was always just below the surface. (more…)