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US icon McDonald's embraces Islam in Indonesia

Reuters - October 13, 2001

Tomi Soetjipto, Jakarta – Step inside a McDonald's restaurant in Indonesia's capital, scene of daily anti-American protests over US-led strikes on Afghanistan, and the first thing you see is not a Big Mac but a large Islamic poster. McDonald's crew still scurry about – but the women wear elegant Muslim clothing with matching veils while men sport prayer caps.

"In the name of Allah, the merciful and the gracious, McDonald's Indonesia is owned by an indigenous Muslim Indonesian," says the poster, painted the Islamic colour of green and which also dots other outlets in Jakarta.

Some of the posters are inscribed in Arabic, part of an apparent bid by franchise holder Bambang Rachmadi to project an image that the icon of American fast food is an Islamic-friendly business in a country where many US companies are lying low.

A KFC outlet in the country's east has already been the target of a homemade bomb, while in central Java some protesters have plastered signs on McDonald's outlets symbolically "sealing" them. They have remained open.

"Recently some people actually came up to us asking whether McDonald's was owned by white Americans," Wiwiek, a manager of an outlet near a bustling market in central Jakarta, told Reuters. The questioners did not identify themselves as Islamic radicals.

"We told them McDonald's Indonesia was owned by an Indonesian Muslim. But not many people know that, so we put up the posters," she added, pointing to the large banner next to trademark yellow golden arches McDonald's signs.

She said the poster was put up on Thursday evening as a precaution against anti-American attacks. "But we're not panicking," she said

Fever pitch

Anti-American sentiment has reached fever pitch among radical Muslim groups, who have little popular support but which have staged daily demonstrations in many cities, threatened to expel Americans and called for a boycott on US products.

Police in the city of Makassar in Sulawesi earlier said a small, crude bomb caused minor damage to a KFC outlet overnight and another unexploded device was found outside the office of a non-American foreign insurance company. There were no injuries.

In another busy McDonald's outlet in Jakarta, this one directly opposite the United Nations office where rowdy protests have also taken place, customers enjoy burgers and fries to the soothing religious music in Arabic.

Clad in a traditional white shirt and a prayer cap embroidered with yellow silk, store manager Agung Priantho said the outlet had been playing the Islamic tunes every Friday, the Islamic sabbath. "But recently we have played more music like this," he said.

Outside the restaurant on Jakarta's main thoroughfare, several men dressed in Muslim clothing and prayer caps stand guard, although there have been no reported incidents against the chain in the capital.

As for KFC restaurants in Jakarta, staff appear more worried. "We can only pray to Allah that attacks will not happen on us," Erwin Riswaya, one KFC store manager said. "Why are they doing this to us. We are Indonesians, most of our staff are Muslim and like the rest of you, we are here to earn money," Riswaya said.