President Obama's trip to Indonesia reminds us once again that America's security is dependent on the stability of the world. That means, as the president noted today, we need to build new brides between the U.S. and Muslim nations. The New York Times reports:
JAKARTA, Indonesia — President Obama, renewing his call for better relations between the United States and the Muslim world, used a long-awaited homecoming trip to this island nation to make a symbolic visit on Wednesday morning to the largest mosque in southeast Asia — even as he declared that “much more work needs to be done” to fulfill the promise he made 17 months ago in Cairo of a “new beginning.”
Indonesia is the world’s largest majority Muslim nation, and Mr. Obama, on a 10-day, four-country trip through Asia, used his brief stay here to hold it up as an example of diversity, tolerance and democracy.
He closed his remarks at a news conference on Tuesday evening with the Muslim greeting “salaam aleikum” and said he intended to reshape American relations with Muslim nations so they were not “focused solely on security issues,” but rather on expanded cooperation across a broad range of areas, from science to education.
In a speech on Wednesday morning to an enthusiastic audience of 6,500 people at the University of Indonesia, he also harked back to his Cairo message.
“I said then, and I will repeat now, that no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust,” Mr. Obama said. “But I believed then, and I believe today, that we do have a choice. We can choose to be defined by our differences, and give in to a future of suspicion and mistrust. Or we can choose to do the hard work of forging common ground, and commit ourselves to the steady pursuit of progress.”
Earlier, at the Istiqlal Mosque, Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, followed the Islamic custom of removing their shoes; Mrs. Obama wore a head shawl with beads. They walked along a courtyard on a pale blue carpet escorted by the grand imam, who told Mr. Obama that there was a church next door and that during Christmas parishioners use the mosque’s parking lot because the church does not have enough space.
Mr. Obama turned to reporters and said, “That is an example of the kind of cooperation” between religions in Indonesia.
Click here for a copy of the president's remarks.
The president's trip takes place one week after the conclusion of a gathering in Geneva where leading Christians and Muslims met to discuss ways that people of faith might help "achieve more compassionate and just societies, based on equality, co-citizenship, and mutual respect." Such interfaith meetings are critical in the search for peace. We need more events like the one in Geneva and cultural exchanges where Christians visit predominantly Muslim communities and vica versa. More student exchanges should take place along with cultural exchanges with artists that represent the rich diversity of both the Christian and Islamic faiths. Both Christian and Islamic fundamentalists will attack such efforts but the way toward peace is through relationship building and the search for common ground. We should not allow our faiths to be used as tools for division and war.
Photo credit: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visit the main prayer hall during a tour of the Istiqlal Mosque with Grand Imam Ali Mustafa Yaqub in Jakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 10, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)