Obama 'must build bridges with Muslims'
Published 15/03/2010 | 05:00
Barack Obama must pull American troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq if he wants to fulfil his dream of reconciling the Muslim world and the West, according to his Indonesian cousin.
Haryo Soetendro (55) grew up with Mr Obama -- whom he knew as 'Barry' -- when the future American president lived in Indonesia for four years from the late 1960s.
The US president is planning to return to his childhood home next weekend. Speaking ahead of the visit, Mr Soetendro said his cousin must start delivering on his promise to build bridges with the Islamic world.
"The Iraq and Afghanistan problems should be solved peacefully and that is what Barry is trying to do," he said. "But there is a common opinion that one country should not occupy another. You cannot force other countries to accept your idea of what is right just because you are stronger."
Mr Obama postponed the visit to help hammer out a healthcare reform bill. After criticism he was taking a "vacation" timed to coincide with his daughters' school holidays, the White House announced that Mr Obama's wife, Michelle, and the girls would not be accompanying him.
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said that Mr Obama planned to attend a democracy conference in Indonesia. The president is also scheduled to visit Guam and Australia on the six-day tour.
Mr Obama won plaudits for his speech in Cairo last year in which he sought common cause with the Muslim world and will be hoping to build on that in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation. But Mr Soetendro said: "I think he is being held back by having to please conservatives in the United States."
Mr Obama is expected to return to his childhood home during his visit. Mr Soetendro took 'Barry' under his wing when the six-year-old moved to Jakarta with his Indonesian stepfather Lolo Soetoro and mother Ann Dunham in 1967.
The Javanese Muslim helped explain local customs and culture to his cousin. The future president fitted happily into a large Javanese clan, who once fed him on tiger meat and kept a pet crocodile.
"My uncle, Lolo, regarded Barry as his real son," Mr Soetendro said. "Lolo showed him everything -- all the weird and wonderful things in Indonesia."
However, many Muslims in Indonesia are not rolling out the red carpet. Thousands protested against Mr Obama's visit across five cities yesterday and the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir is planning a demonstration in Jakarta on Friday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)