(Commentary) -- President Barack Obama on Wednesday visited the massive Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, and then gave a speech on the “pluralism and tolerance” of his host country at the University of Indonesia.
It is both ironic and instructive that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad not only made the same stops on a trip to Indonesia four years ago, but was greeted, according to press reports, as a “rock star.”
At the university, Ahmadinejad gave a speech that cast doubt on the holocaust, predicted the destruction of Israel and yearned aloud for a day when the entire world would submit to Shariah law.
Later, he told a group of Indonesia’s top clerics that every young Muslim man was an “atomic bomb.” When Ahmadinejad attended the Friday prayer service at the Istiqlal Mosque, the congregation greeted him with a chant of “God is great” and a crowd gathered outside sent him off with a lusty cheer of “Fight America, fight Israel.”
In an Oct. 28 White House briefing, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes set the stage for Obama’s Indonesian trip by announcing that the president would first visit the Istiqlal Mosque and follow that visit with a speech to the Indonesian people that would “talk about some of the themes of democracy and development and our outreach to Muslim communities around the world, while also speaking of Indonesia’s pluralism and tolerance, as well.”
Pluralism and tolerance, to put it mildly, were not the themes Ahmadinejad developed in Indonesia. What Ahmadinejad did say—and the wildly enthusiastic reception he received from at least some Indonesians—ought to give prudential pause to those who believe the ultimate answer to Islamist terrorism is the sort Wilsonian foreign policy vision that has been embraced by both Obama and George W. Bush.
Ahamdinejad spent three days in and around Jakarta in May 2006. He first met with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and then went on what amounted to an Islamist publicity tour in the capital environs of a country that with 240 million people -- 86 percent of whom are Muslims—is the world’s largest Islamic nation.
Ahmadinejad spoke not only at the University of Indonesia, but also at the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, with a group of local editors and with some of the nation’s leading Muslim clerics. On his third day in town, he attended Friday prayers at Indonesia’s largest mosque.
At the University of Indonesia, according to The Associated Press, Ahmadinejad called Israel a “regime based on evil” and declared that it “cannot continue and one day will vanish.”
An Australian newspaper, the Melbourne Age, noted that Ahmadinejad “predicted liberal democracies would crumble and be replaced by Islamic law.”
“Some superpower countries think they are better than other countries, they try to eradicate other countries’ culture, economies and opinions,” Ahmadinejad told the “cheering” audience of Indonesian college students, according to the Age. “How can they protect human rights when they violate human rights? Therefore, liberalism and democracy will disappear and the justice of the prophet Mohammad will be revived.”
In his speech at the University of Indonesia, Ahmadinejad also questioned the historical fact of the Holocaust. “The West claims that more than 6 million Jews were killed in World War II and to compensate for that they established and support Israel,” he said, according to UPI. “If it is true that the Jews were killed in Europe, why should Israel be established in the East, in Palestine?”
As reported by The Associated Press, one of student told Ahmadinejad, “I think you are the man of the year.” Another said, “We will always be with you.”
Two days later, when Ahmadinejad met with Indonesian clerics, The Associated Press reported that one person in the audience urged the Iranian president to move forward with building nuclear weapons because the “enemies of Islam” already have them.
Ahmadinejad responded that “every young man in the Islamic world is an atomic bomb because they have faith, God and love the character of the Prophet Mohammad.”
Ahamadinejad then proceeded to the Istaqlal Mosque, where, according to Agence France Presse, “he was mobbed by a crowd of thousands eager to catch a glimpse of him and shake his hand. The congregation chanted ‘God is great!’ when he was introduced by Indonesia’s religious affairs minister.”
“’Fight America, fight Israel!’ a crowd shouted after the Iranian leader offered prayers Friday at the main mosque in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta,” The Associated Press reported.
Good things have certainly happened in Indonesia in the past decade. It has held a series of successful elections and established a democratic government.
The Congressional Research Service sees signs for optimism in what it deemed a small turnout for the Islamic parties in last year’s Indonesian elections. “The Islamic vote,” CRS reported, “declined from 38.1 percent of the vote in the 2004 election to 27.8 percent of the vote in 2009.”
But last year in Jakarta, Islamist terrorists simultaneously bombed the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels.
Indonesians may now have the right to vote, but their country remains a place where an Ahmadinejad can be cheered and an Islamist terrorist can find sanctuary.