Indonesia ready to give Obama a chance

A gardener tidies up at Cairo University where President Obama is scheduled to make his speech.
As U.S. President Barack Obama makes the final tweeks to his key speech in Egypt to the Muslim world, half a world away the world’s largest Muslim nation will be watching.

At a time of deep mistrust between the West and the Islamic world, Indonesia — where Obama spent time as a child — can play a significant role in helping him reach out to Muslim nations. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country and the world’s third-largest democracy. Political analyst Dewi Fortuna says the U.S. can now look to Indonesia for best practices when it comes to tackling terrorism. Indonesia has faced a number of terrorist strikes and homegrown terrorists with attacks in Bali and Jakarta. But the government did not just deal with its homegrown networks by putting terrorists behind bars. It also tried to tackle what it saw as the root causes of their alienation. Fortuna said: “The Indonesian government has taken a rather controversial approach but it seems to work in trying to engage with the terrorists and with their families. Put them back in school, get them jobs.” He added: “Indonesia has improved its intelligence, it has improved the capacity of the police, but the military has not been at the far front in our war against terror, it’s really very much the police and the intelligence on the security side and also the court system.

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“Also the police and the government have done a very soft approach, which was a bit controversial at the beginning. “We have learned … terrorism, extremism, and radicalism is not really simply a security issue, but it also related to politics, social problem, economic problems.” As far as trust in concerned, Fortuna adds that it won’t be easy for any U.S. leader to deconstruct the image that most Muslims have of the United States. Analysts say that one of the toughest challenges facing the Obama administration is going to be gaining the Muslim world’s trust. At a college campus in Jakarta we asked students how they think that could be accomplished. Afifa Loutfie, a 23-year-old senior who’s written a college paper on the new president believes Obama can alter the dynamics between the U.S. and the Muslim world. “I just think that he needs to say that he really tries hard to rebuild this trust and that Muslim countries should at least trust him more than the previous presidents… he can make this happen because at least there is one person at the head of this country that is willing to do that unlike the previous presidents.”

Loutfie said she thought Obama’s experiences such as growing up partly in Indonesia means her peers think he knows more about life outside the developed world — and that may make him more willing to encourage change. In one of the few countries where Islam and democracy do not collide, people are largely willing to give President Obama a chance at a genuine attempt to make amends.