Fred Burks Celebrity for a Week in Indonesia

Speaking Truth Makes Website Founder
Fred Burks Celebrity for a Week in Indonesia

Jan. 29, 2005
Dear friends, 

Last week I sent out an email describing both an excellent BBC documentary and my own personal experience as a presidential interpreter which reveal clear manipulations and fear-mongering by groups within the power elite in regards to the war on terror. The message is posted at for those who might have missed it. Here I would like to share with you more of my own experience, and the inspiring story of how this led to my becoming a celebrity for a week after recently giving testimony in the most prominent court case in Indonesia.
First and foremost, I have no doubt that it is my openness to divine guidance which has brought these and so many other unexpected miracles into my life. My deepest commitment for my entire adult life has always been to what’s best for all. I continually ask for divine guidance in choosing what’s best for all as I move through my life. I also surrender to God’s will and fully trust that I am continually guided to what’s best for all. You can read the inspiring story filled with little miracles of how this deep commitment led to my becoming the top Indonesian interpreter at the US Department of State by clicking here.
For a brief background to the story of my week as a celebrity, Indonesia is the fourth largest nation in the world with a population of over 225 million. It is estimated that over 80% of Indonesians are Muslim, yet these warm people are known for their tolerance and respect of other religions. When I lived there for a full year with a wonderful Muslim family back in 1981, on Christmas day I joined the whole family as they jumped into their car  to visit and pay respects to all of their Christian friends on this most important Christian holiday. Almost all Indonesian Muslims follow this tradition, just as Christians in Indonesia pay respects to their Muslim friends on the most important Muslim Holiday Idul Fitri.
Before 9/11, most Indonesians liked and supported both the American government and people. Whenever I visited Indonesia, friends and new acquaintances there almost always spoke very positively of the US. Immediately after 9/11 there was a huge outpouring of sympathy from all of my Indonesian friends, who sent very kind emails expressing support to our grief-stricken nation. When the US invaded Afghanistan, however, a few there began to question US motives behind this attack. But it was during the lead up to the war on Iraq and the following invasion that Indonesian support of the US began to drastically change.
Many of you know that reporting on the war in Iraq in the US was quite one-sided. The New York Times and Washington Post even belatedly published official apologies for not reporting significant news which questioned this war. European countries were more balanced in their reporting, while Muslim countries generally were biased against the US in their reporting on Iraq. Many Muslims felt that through deciding to invade this predominantly Muslim nation without the support of the UN, the US had clearly gone too far, especially when the claimed reason for the attack turned out to be bogus. Indonesian Muslims, like Muslims around the world, increasingly felt that their religion was being targeted, as it was continually linked to terrorism.
Given this background, you can understand why Indonesians were interested in my testimony in the highly publicized case of Abu Bakar Basyir. In court, I testified to personally witnessing heavy pressure by the US government put on Indonesian President Megawati Soekarnoputri to secretly capture and turn Basyir over to US authorities. Though US authorities have repeatedly denied ever putting any pressure on Jakarta to act against Ba’asyir (even after my testimony), many Indonesians have believed all along that Basyir was being scapegoated and falsely made out to be a terrorist in order to further turn public opinion against Muslims.
Basyir is a fundamentalist Muslim who has spoken out harshly against US and international intervention. He advocates incorporating religious law into Indonesian government. He is something like a Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson in the US, fundamentalist Christians who speak out against evil in governments around the world, and who want the US to be run on religious principles. The vast majority of Indonesians do not agree with Basyir’s principles. He does not have a large following there. But they do believe strongly in justice and democracy.
Few in Indonesia believe that Basyir is a terrorist, or that he has advocated violence. The reason his case has become the most highest publicized legal case in Indonesia is that most Indonesians suspect the whole case is being manipulated by the US and powerful, international elite groups. The team of lawyers representing Abu Bakar Basyir numbers close to 100. Yet most of these attorneys are moderate Muslims, with a few even from other religions. They are defending him pro bono–free of charge. They do this not because they agree with his beliefs, but rather because they see how international intervention has resulted in this man being unfairly made out to be an evil terrorist, based on evidence which does not hold up in court.
And so it was that in court on January 13th, in front of hundreds in the audience and dozens of reporters, I described my experience as a US State Department interpreter at a secret meeting in the home of the Indonesian president Megawati Soekarnoputri. In this meeting, I witnessed a personal envoy of President Bush, supported by US ambassador to Indonesia Ralph Boyce and National Security Council expert Karen Brooks, put heavy pressure on Megawati to secretly capture and turn over Basyir. The reasons given were based solely on the testimony of Omar Al-Faruq, a suspected terrorist who had previously been secretly turned over to the US. President Megawati resisted the pressure, even stating, “I hope this does not lead to a severing of the good relations between the our two countries.”
I had known that my testimony might make the news, but I was stunned at the extensive coverage given. It was simply miraculous! Walking out of the court room, I was surrounded by a sea of reporters who wanted to know more. Most Indonesians had thought that Americans did not like Muslims and supported the war on terror. One reporter asked: “As an American, why are you supporting an Indonesian targeted by the US government?” I responded, “Many Americans do not support the recent wars and targeting of Muslims. As an American citizen, I am one of many who highly value respect and cooperation among all peoples and countries.”
Another reporter asked if I wasn’t betraying my country in revealing state secrets. I told them about the important role of whistleblowers, people who reveal government manipulations which clearly are not in the interests of the country or world. I explained how whistleblowers are seen as heroes, to be commended for their bravery in exposing corruption in high places. I also told this eager audience about my work as manager of the successful website, which provides reliable, verifiable information on major cover-ups of which few people are aware.
They wanted to know what else I knew. I told them about my deep commitment to what’s best for all people, and how this is what guides my life and all that I do. Asked about concern for my own safety in revealing these sensitive secrets, I told them “I have very little fear, because I trust that I am always guided by God to whatever is best. I’m prepared even to die whenever it is my time, though I trust that I am here to do some important work.” It was miraculous to me to be able to share how my own deep faith and commitment brought me to this place.
News of my testimony was broadcast on all of Indonesia’s major TV stations. National newspapers (and many international papers) the next day carried articles on the American who exposed secrets manipulations of his government. These articles generated even more interest in both my testimony and what caused me to be willing to testify. And so my remaining four days in Jakarta were filled with press interviews and invitations to speak at important institutions. I ended up on prime-time TV with one of the most respected news hosts in the country sharing my commitment to help all peoples work together for the good of all. Another miracle!
I was invited to give a talk at one of the country’s most prestigious research institutions and several other respected venues. The deputy chairman of the Indonesia’s parliament stood up at one of my talks to inform everyone that he had cleared his busy schedule to come hear me speak, because he had heard that here was someone who was speaking deep truths. Another miracle! He even half-seriously offered me political asylum should I need it.
I helped this prominent politician and many other influential Indonesians (and even a few foreigners) to see that it is not that the American people and government are targeting Islam. It is corrupt individuals within government and among the power elite who are using fear to forward their own selfish agendas, and who are manipulating public perception of Islam. These elite groups are profiting handsomely from the wars waged.
Bringing the message even deeper, I invited everyone to whom I talked to examine where each of us is pointing the finger of blame at other groups or individuals without examining our own involvement. I invited all to see how we are allowing ourselves to become polarized. Christians and Jews are increasing led to be suspicious of our Muslim brothers and sisters, while Muslims, in turn, are led to be angry and suspicious of the US and its allies. I encouraged everyone to remember that we are all doing our best, that we are all one human family, and that we have the opportunity now to work together to break this vicious cycle of fear and blame, and to build a brighter future for all of us.
My father was a preacher, so you might notice that some of his character rubbed off on me. I don’t mean to preach to anyone, but with all the national press attention, I was thrilled to have this powerful opportunity to remind the people of an entire nation that we are all beautiful people worthy of love, honor, and respect, and that we can choose to work together for the good of all. I clearly felt God’s presence in providing me this miraculous opportunity to invite us all to join together in working for the greater good.
And the response was tremendous! Numerous articles were published daily on both my testimony and my talks. Calls poured in for interviews and invitations to talk. In addition to the prime time TV appearance, I was interviewed for an hour on one of the nation’s most popular radio programs. I had reporters with me almost everywhere I went. I was truly a celebrity for a week. What a miracle! On my way home in the Jakarta airport, several people recognized me and thanked me for all I had done. As I stepped up to the currency exchange window to transfer my remaining rupiah into dollars, the clerk took one look at me and said, “You’re Fred Burks! Thank you!”
It was very strange and completely unexpected to become famous for one week. Given the choice, I would definitely rather not be famous, because you can’t go anywhere without people wanting to talk with you. However, it was truly a lot of fun to have fame for just one week in Indonesia. Now I’m glad to be back home, leading a much more anonymous life again.
There are many other little miracles to this led up to this story. Though my testimony was strong, it was made even stronger by the testimony of two of Indonesia’s most respected leaders. This was Basyir’s second trial. Two years earlier, he had been found innocent of any terrorism charges, yet he was jailed for a year and a half (largely in response to intense international pressure) on immigration violations. When Basyir was due to be released, US Ambassador Ralph Boyce separately approached two of the top religious leaders in the nation. He privately pressured them use their influence to convince the Supreme Court and police to keep Basyir in jail or rearrest him.
Basyir was, in fact, rearrested immediately upon release, but one of these religious leaders testified on the same day as my testimony to being pressured by Boyce. After our testimony, the other well-known leader acknowledged that he, too, had been pressured by Ambassador Boyce. So the continued denial by US authorities of any pressure in this case was in direct contradiction not only to my testimony, but also to that of prominent public leaders known and respected throughout Indonesia. Another little miracle.
Then there is the story of how I ended up coming to testify. When I first started talking openly about this secret meeting two months ago, I didn’t even know that Basyir was on trial for a second time. The reason I revealed this information is that I had recently resigned from the State Department largely because of excessive new requirements for secrecy. As I had never taken a secrecy oath, I felt no obligation to keep this information secret after my resignation, particularly as what was being requested in this meeting was a violation of international law. I mentioned the secret meeting to a reporter who was interested in writing an article on my resignation. His article in the Washington Post included one paragraph about the Basyir meeting.
One of the main lawyers on Basyir’s team, a wonderful man named A.W. Wirawan, contacted me by email as a result of this article. When Mr. Wirawan asked if I would come to Indonesia to testify to what I had witnessed, I was surprised, but eventually agreed.  As I knew Basyir’s attorneys were all working for free and would have to pay for my visit out of their own pockets, I told Mr. Wirawan that I would be willing to stay in someone’s home to save them money. I should mention that the lead lawyer on Basyir’s team is one of the most famous and respected lawyers in all of Indonesia, Adnan Buyung Nasution. He founded Indonesia’s Legal Aid Society and has defended a number of the most important court cases in Indonesia’s history.
The day after I sent the email offering to stay in someone’s home, I received an email from Mr. Wirawan informing me that I would be staying in the home of the famous Mr. Nasution! Another miracle! In my time there, Mr. Nasution, his wonderful wife, several members of the legal team, and I had a wonderful time getting to know each other and sharing inspiring stories and important information. They were so happy with my testimony and all the press attention it drew that they threw a special going away celebration for me on my last evening at Mr. Nasution’s beautiful home.
Besides inviting the legal team and several prominent Indonesians to this celebration, Mr. Nasution decided to invite Megawati. It was a long shot, but the legal team had thought getting me to come testify was a long shot, too. Sure enough, (now former) President Megawati gave us the great honor of coming to my going away celebration! Another miracle!!! She had appreciated my interpreting and warm manner in the several times I had worked with her. She also clearly supported my court testimony, though she was reluctant to say so publicly.
Megawati and I ended up having a great talk at this celebration. She even gave me the phone number of one of the Americans at that secret meeting, her long-time personal friend Karen Brooks of the National Security Council. Though I was never sworn to secrecy as an interpreter, and therefore was not breaking any laws in revealing these secrets, I had made a personal promise to Ms. Brooks over that phone not to reveal the contents of this meeting. I wanted to apologize to her and explain my reasoning for revealing this important information (she hasn’t yet responded to my calls and messages). So to have Ms. Megawati, the former president of Indonesia, give me Ms. Brooks phone number helped me to clear the only regret I had about the whole amazing week in Indonesia. What a wonderful way to end a trip full of miracles!
I am extremely thankful to God and to all of the people who helped to make my trip and testimony such a miraculous journey. I know that every one of us is incredibly blessed. I know that the more any of us open to divine guidance and to doing what’s best for all, the more likely blessings and miracles will flow in our lives. I invite us all to open our hearts and work together to build a brighter future for all good people on our beautiful planet.
With much love and warm wishes for what’s best for you and for all,
Fred Burks 

P.S. For those who would like more, below are a number of interesting links:

Here are of few of the articles in English about my recent testimony:

For a front page article on my Indonesian visit and lots more in the Wall Street Journal:
For those wanting more on the incredible BBC documentary Power of Nightmares: – BBC webpage devoted to documentary – comments of those who’ve watched it

For an update on the most incredible, inspiring work of Bill Francis in helping to heal in Thailand after the tsunami, see
For a collection of videos of the devastating tsunami: