Leaders from Muslim countries largely responded positively to US President Barack Obama’s recent outreach speech in Cairo.
In Indonesia, Muhammadiyah’s Din Samsudin praised Obama for his speech.
Of the opposite opinion were a number of Indonesian radical groups: the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the Indonesian Mujahideen Council (MMI), Indonesian Hizbut Tahrir (HTI), Jemaah Islamiyah, Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid and Jamaah As-Shunnah. They regarded the speech with prejudice and distrust.
FPI members like Habib Muhammad Mahdi Al Habsyi, head of the group’s Surabaya branch, felt the speech was nothing but empty talk. These members said that American leaders had a history of speaking sweetly to Muslims while acting harshly against them.
Members of the MMI, including Irfan S. Awwas, suggested that Indonesian Muslims be critical of Obama’s speech. They see Obama’s promises to increase scholarships and to provide funding for economic and technological development in Muslim countries as an attempt to lure Muslims to support America in fighting their Muslim brothers, namely the Taliban and Al Qaeda. They also view Obama as nothing more than a representative of greedy American businesspeople, not the American people.
Interestingly, for HTI members, Obama’s speech simply reinforced their belief that Obama is opposed to Islam. They now clearly see Obama as more dangerous than George W. Bush for his encouragement of Muslims around the world to “isolate” extremists. Furthermore, they consider Obama’s ideas about the world’s need for peace and security hypocritical, saying he is continuing to order the massacre of innocent women and children in Afghanistan and on the Pakistani border through US airstrikes.
The allied members of Jemaah Islamiyah, Jemaah Asharut Tauhid and Jamaah As-Shunnah similarly saw Obama’s speech as confirming their ideas of who the US president really is — another American infidel. In his speech, Obama spoke about the need for the establishment of Palestine as an independent state, which seems in accord with Muslim desires. However, in another part of the speech, he affirmed the truth of the Holocaust and his sympathy for Jews. This strengthened their belief that Obama is a friend of the Jews and therefore an enemy of the Muslims.
Furthermore, these members see Obama’s advocacy of democracy as evil. To them, Obama’s encouragement for the implementation of democracy is no different from propagating an evil American religion in the Muslim world.
They also think that by encouraging gender equality in his speech, Obama was encouraging Muslims to deny Koranic teachings that men are to be the leaders of women. They thus consider Obama’s speech as so much American blasphemy.
Obama did mention that he had ordered the closure of Guantanamo prison by early next year, but unfortunately this means little to these radicals, who point out that the United States continues to encourage American troops to kill Muslim fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
These negative responses are not purely a reaction to the text of Obama’s speech, but reveal more fundamental beliefs. First of all, these radicals have great distrust of any non-Islamic political leader. If they cannot trust Muslim Indonesian leaders, they certainly do not believe in Obama, an American and a Christian. If they see President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as an infidel, they view Obama as the infidel of all infidels.
They also fear that the speech will induce Indonesian Muslims to hold a positive perception of America. This would potentially eliminate the common enemy that radicals have been selling to Indonesian Muslims.
Finally, the radicals fear that Obama’s ideas of tolerance may weaken their recruitment projects. They fear mainstream Muslims will find truth in Obama’s words that violence caused by extremism is not Islamic. It is a valid fear, as even some radicals have begun to entertain such thoughts.
Despite these negative responses, as long as Obama keeps saying the right things and living up to his promises, his words and actions will speak louder than any radical voice in Indonesia.
Muh Taufiqurrohman holds a master’s degree in international relations from Parahyangan Catholic University (UNPAR).