President Barack Obama is preparing to give a speech in Cairo
addressing the world's Muslims. Expectations for the speech are high
in Indonesia, a predominately Muslim country where Barack Obama spent
part of his childhood.
Indonesia sees Mr. Obama's election as
a chance to raise its international profile: the U.S. president has
ties to the archipelago, having lived here for three years as a child
with his mother and stepfather.
During the past decade, ties
with Washington have warmed significantly, after years of coolness when
strongman President Suharto governed Indonesia. During a recent visit,
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Indonesia's recent
achievements: creating a stable democracy that manages to record
economic growth despite the global financial crisis.
this record, Ir Zuhai, rector of Al-Azhar University in Jakarta, had
hoped a few months ago that President Obama would give his address to
the Muslim community at the school.
"In the sense that they do
not visit Indonesia first, we are of course rather disappointed," said
Zuhai. "We are unique. We are a multicultural community, but we do not
have a culture of violence. Indonesia is unique because it is the
largest democratic [state] based on Islamic values. That is to dismiss
the prototype thinking that Islam is not compatible with democracy. It
Instead, Mr. Obama will give his speech Thursday in Cairo, after visiting Saudi Arabia.
is prayer time, and the students from the Al-Azhar University are
getting ready to worship. It is an illustration of Indonesia's relaxed
version of Islam. Roughly half of the girls here do not wear the Muslim
headscarf, and the dress code here is inspired mostly by U.S
Reva Fardani, a 19-year-old economics student, says he is interested in Mr. Obama's speech, because even though
he has a very good impression of the U.S. president, he still needs
proof that Mr. Obama's open hand policy toward Islam is genuine.
It is an opinion shared by Komarrudin Hidayat, rector of Jakarta State Islamic University.
should prove to the world that they are egalitarian and democratic.
When American society is reluctant to accept the others, actually they
destroy their own foundations when they are promoting democracy to the
world," said Hidayat.
Indonesia is not immune to the militancy
that has risen in some countries. It has been victim of home-grown
terrorism, but managed to uproot it by arresting and prosecuting those
responsible. Even though the majority of Indonesians are moderate
Muslims, there is an increasingly vocal hard-line minority that is
gaining more political sway.
Will speech ease anger?
The president of the Moderate
Muslim Society, Zuhairi Misrawi, hopes Mr. Obama's speech will help
ease the anger that fuels militancy, particularly over Palestine.
I do not care about the Palestine issue, but the radical groups they do
pay attention to the Palestine issue," said Misrawi. "If the Obama
administration doesn't give a good solution for Palestine, I think the
radical groups will still rise in the future because they make the
issue of Palestine as the raison d'être of their movement."
Indonesia is far from the Middle East, the issue of a Palestinian state
is important to Muslims here. Many Indonesians have great hope that Mr.
Obama will be able to help resolve the issue.