KUTA (Bali): US President George W. Bush praised Indonesia yesterday for its support in the war on terror and said Islamic terrorists defiled one of the great faiths.
But Bush ran afoul of leading moderate ulama during talks on Bali, where militants linked to al-Qaeda blew up two nightclubs just over a year ago, killing 202 people.
Reflecting growing mistrust of the US among ordinary Indonesians, they criticised the US for supporting Israel over the Palestinians and for the occupation of Iraq, and said Bush needed to listen more to the rest of the world.
Bush, speaking against the backdrop of a palm-fringed beach and turquoise sea, expressed his gratitude to Jakarta after meeting President Megawati Sukarnoputri and the clerics.
“We know that Islam is fully compatible with liberty and tolerance and progress because we see the proof in your country and in our own,” Bush told a news conference.
“Terrorists who claim Islam as their inspiration defile one of the world's greatest faiths. Murder has no place in any religious tradition. It must find no home in Indonesia.”
US officials said Bush wanted to correct what he felt was a misconception that the war on terror was a war against Islam.
Bush paid the brief visit to Bali under blanket security before flying to Canberra for talks with key ally Prime Minister John Howard as part of a six-nation tour.
Indonesia took no chances with security, deploying seven warships along with 5,000 heavily armed police and troops backed up by sniffer dogs and bomb squad units.
Bush hoped his visit would help dampen anti-Americanism in Indonesia.
Megawati told the news conference she attached “great importance” to Jakarta's relationship with the US.
But the ulama told Bush that US policies in the Middle East were one of the root causes of terror attacks.
“We told him US foreign policy should seek a new paradigm if the US wants to be respected by the world community and be safe,” said Syafii Maarif, head of Indonesia's second-largest Muslim group, Muhammadiyah.
Maarif said he told Bush his policies towards Israel were “extraordinary” and his fear of terrorists “excessive.”
Asked about the apparent bias towards Israel, the Muslim leaders quoted Bush as saying:
“Our foreign policy is for development of a Palestinian state that lives side by side with Israel in peace. (I was) the first president to ever articulate that position and I still believe it is possible.
“In order to achieve a Palestinian state living side by side in peace there needs to be leadership willing to fight off the terror that is trying to prevent the state from emerging.”
Bush said he would propose to the Congress a six-year programme worth US$157mil (RM597mil) to support basic education in Indonesia to aid efforts to build a system that discourages extremism. – Reuters
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