Obama urges end to division in childhood home Indonesia

Former President Obama, center, waves while walking with his daughter Malia during a visit June 28, 2017, to the ninth-century Borobudur Temple in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia. Photo by Pius Erlangga/Reuters

JAKARTA, Indonesia (Reuters) Former U.S. President Obama urged Indonesians on Saturday (July 1) to resist divisive politics based on race and religion, saying the world’s most populous Muslim nation has a long history of tolerance that should be preserved.

Indonesia’s reputation for pluralism has come under scrutiny since Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic-Chinese Christian, was sentenced in May to two years in prison for blasphemy in a trial that came after Islamist-led rallies.

Obama, who was on a personal visit to the country where he spent some of his childhood, said the Muslim community in Indonesia had historically protected Hindu and Buddhist temples.

Former U.S. President Obama visits Prambanan Temple in Sleman, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on June 29, 2017, in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Andreas Fitri Atmoko/ via Reuters

“Indonesia is made of thousands of islands, hundreds of languages, scores of regions and ethnic groups. So my time here made me cherish and respect for people’s differences,” he told a packed audience in Jakarta.

Obama stopped short of mentioning any specific cases of racial or religious intolerance.

“It is very important here in Indonesia, the United States, Europe, everywhere, to fight against the politics of ‘us and them,'” he said to cheers from thousands of mostly Indonesians who have worked or studied abroad.

He arrived in Jakarta after visiting the cultural city of Yogyakarta and whitewater rafting on the tourist island of Bali. He also met Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Bogor, south of the capital.

Indonesia, a country of 250 million people, has experienced rising intolerance against non-Muslims and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

A leader of Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organization this week called for a boycott of Starbucks, saying that the international coffee chain’s pro-gay stand risks ruining the “religious and cultured” core of the country.

(Writing by Eveline Danubrata)

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  • Fair comment. Blasphemy has become an art in many western countries, but an art that has the potential to be devisive and is in fact a major cause, with the help of the media, of many of the world’s problems today.

  • It will get worse before it gets better. Indonesia is struggling, as are many Muslim-majority countries, with rising Islamism.

  • Another Starbucks boycott? Man, those guys just can’t win (except for that whole biggest coffeehouse chain in the world thing).