Obama arrives in Indonesia to fanfare, but Mount Merapi ash will cut visit short
President Obama's visit to Indonesia, the world’s fourth-largest democracy and the country with more Muslims than any other, is expected to cover a broader range of issues than his trip to India.
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Hardline groups call the US an anti-Islamic oppressor, and they criticize US involvement in Afghanistan and its tight relationship with Israel. Laksmana said if the US intends to deepen its friendship with the world’s largest Muslim country Obama needs to undo the damage from the Bush years.Skip to next paragraph
Many expect Obama to deliver a speech that expands on one he gave last year in Cairo and had at its heart outreach to the Muslim world. Some analysts warn, however, that playing the Muslim card too strongly could backfire on the US president.
“We’re not comfortable inserting religion into our foreign policy, and we haven’t done this traditionally,” said Laksmana, who explained that despite its large Muslim population, Indonesia carries little influence in the Arab world.
Anies Baswedan, the dean of Paramadina University in Jakarta, agrees. But, he says, “one of the important variables in defining Indonesia is religion, like it or not.”
In India Obama fielded questions about his administration’s relationship with Pakistan, and there are worries his visit to Jakarta could draw similarly challenging confrontations. Analysts say he should tread carefully, since many see this as a fence-mending visit.
Indonesians felt slighted after Obama cancelled three visits planned for earlier in the year, and Laksmana says bringing up tough topics such as military reform and human rights abuses could prove disastrous.
Indonesia on human rights
Human rights activists still hope Obama will draw attention to a spate of attacks against religious minorities in Indonesia in recent months. Otherwise, Obama’s speech would contradict the approach his administration took toward religious freedom by defending the plan to build a mosque at Ground Zero, says Andreas Harsono from Human Rights Watch.
“The relationship should be grounded in reality, not rhetoric,” he says, noting that abuses by the police and military continue, particularly in far-flung regions like Papua.
Mr. Baswedan says a message of trust and everlasting friendship is what needs to resonate from Obama’s visit. But he can also draw attention to a country that many believe has been given short shrift.
“Obama can be a spokesperson for the success of Indonesian democracy,” said Baswedan, “if he can address to the world that this is a country with extreme diversity and various religious groups, yet it has been able to maintain its unity and is moving forward.”