Why, oh why, did he not come here in June ’09, forgoing the sterility of the Arab world for the tolerant, syncretic Islam of Indonesia? Whoever advised him then should be shot, or fed to crocodiles; for it is in places like Indonesia, where Islam is worn lightly, where Islam is not a bludgeon deployed against the rest of the world, that Obama’s repeated references to Islam as a “great world religion” seem plausible. Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, as the president pointed out to his Jakarta audience—an audience that can scarcely have been unaware of the fact, and yet one that resides in a country constantly aware of its second-class status in the Arab-centric Muslim world. Not only that: Indonesia also has the world’s largest population of tolerant, cosmopolitan Muslims, Muslims we can partner with, relate to, and, frankly, not be frightened of.
Indonesia, as the president also recognized, is a democracy—a democracy of Muslims, as opposed to an Islamic democracy. As such, it is not a place where he will have felt at all awkward extolling the virtues of “open markets, a free press, a justice system, an open society, and active citizens,” as he did Tuesday night. Can you imagine him calling out such things so freely in Egypt, or in any other Muslim country bar Turkey, where it is still possible—just—to identify these features?