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Survey: Indonesia Remains Only Muslim Country Where US is Popular

Barack Obama (R) during his childhood living in Indonesia
Barack Obama (R) during his childhood living in Indonesia

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Brian Padden

A recent Pew survey shows that a majority of people in most Muslim countries hold overwhelmingly negative views of the United States. The one exception is Indonesia, where President Barack Obama lived as a boy. Despite the fact that President Obama has twice canceled state visits there, he and the U.S. remain popular.

A new movie entitled Obama Anak Mentang, about President Barack Obama's teen years living in Indonesia, will soon debut in Jakarta.

The film's director, Damien Dematra, says his movie reinforces the strong personal connection most Indonesians feel with the U.S. president.

"We just love the idea of having the most powerful man on Earth, you know, raised in a country like us," said Dematra.  "So we produce a world leader anyway and we should be proud of that."

According to a recent Pew survey Indonesia is virtually the only Muslim majority country where the United States is popular.

Anis Baswedan, a political analyst and president of Paramadina University in Jakarta, says most people understood the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf and other domestic concerns that have forced Mr. Obama to cancel two planned state visits to Indonesia. For Indonesians, he says the U.S. President remains a symbol of America's promise of inclusion and equality.

"The U.S. is a melting pot of any nations you can name on Earth," said Baswedan.  "It's there. Same like Indonesia we have hundreds of languages and we live under the same principle unity in diversity."

On the other hand, Indonesian views of the U.S. have been tempered by, what many say, has been the lack of change in U.S. foreign policy, particularly in ending the ongoing U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And President Obama's refusal to strongly condemn Israel, after it attacked a flotilla carrying activists and aid to the Palestinian city of Gaza, angered demonstrators like university student Sahid Sundana.

"President Obama has to prevent Israel from doing this kind of thing, and not to protect or cover up for them," said Sundana.

Baswedan says there is growing concern that President Obama cannot live up to the high expectations his supporters have set for him.

"We are seeing the same one who has legitimacy on both sides of the world and able to capitalize those, but the progress we have seen is rather minimal," said Baswedan.

Baswedan says the personal affection Indonesians hold for President Obama and the United States will not last if Mr. Obama does not deliver on his promise of change.

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