From NBC's Ian Williams
As mentioned here earlier this morning, a number of hacks have descended on Jakarta to try and find more about what Sen. Barack Obama (D) did and where he studied during his five years as a child in Indonesia. This follows suggestions in conservative circles that Obama attended a radical madrassa and was less than truthful about this in his book.
CNN's "Situation Room" last night visited Basuki School in Jakarta, where Obama studied for two of his years in Indonesia (1969-1971). It turned out to be a mixed public school -- girls and boys, Muslim and Christian -- where religion was taught as one subject among many. It certainly was not a madrassa. CNN presented the report as a debunking of FOX News and others, and it may well take the sting out of the story, but it doesn't answer all the questions.
Obama spent four years in Indonesia between 1967 and 1971, when he was aged 6 to 10. In his book, "Dreams from my Father," he says: "In Indonesia, I'd spent two years at a Muslim school and two years at a Catholic school," which suggests the Muslim school was the first he attended and Basuki may be the one he describes as "Catholic." CNN did not clarfiy this, so the search is continuing for the other school -- the "Muslim school" where he supposedly spent the first two years.
One thing to keep in mind, though: If the first does turn out to be a religious school -- or pesentran, as they are called in Indonesia -- the overwhelming majority are anything but sinister. Back then, large-scale Saudi funding of Wahabi religious schools had yet to begin in earnest. Indonesian pesentran have always been far different from Pakistani madrassas. Today, most are still moderate, attended to a large extent by poor kids whose families can't afford a more secular education. More recently, they have been tainted by the Bali bombings and other terrorist attacks, where most of the bombers attended such schools.