But clerics in the world’s most populous Muslim nation do not expect the leader of the globe’s sole superpower to listen when he meets them in the capital Jakarta on Wednesday.
“I will tell it like it is. In Indonesia, the majority is not happy with the US stance in the Middle East conflict,” Hasyim Muzadi, leader of the country’s largest Muslim group, the 40-million-strong Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said on Tuesday.
“But I will not pretend that the president will listen to me. I mean, who am I anyway? Just a representative of some group, when even the UN is being ignored,” he said by telephone from the East Java capital, Surabaya.
Bush’s four-hour visit comes at a time when anti-United States sentiment in Indonesia is at its highest level in decades over the US-led invasion of Iraq and Washington’s support for Israel, academics say.
“But I will not pretend that the president will listen to me. I mean, who am I anyway?”
About 250 students rallied outside the heavily fortified US embassy in Jakarta on Tuesday afternoon chanting “Bush is a terrorist” and throwing tomatoes at the complex.
More than 100 extra unarmed police could be seen lined up outside the embassy, which is permanently fronted with huge barbed wire coils and secured by armed officers.
Bush’s visit to the resort island of Bali comes just over a year after the bomb attack on two night clubs there killed 202 people.
Syafii Maarif, head of the second-largest Muslim group in Indonesia, Muhammadiyah, speaking by telephone from Bali, said Washington’s policies in the Middle East were unjust and had become a contributor to “terror”.
“The foreign policy of the United States is very pro-Israel… The sufferings of the Palestinians are growing more acute by the day and desperation or disappointment can lead to irrational actions,” Maarif said.
Bush’s visit has sparked off angry
NU and Muhammadiyah run an extensive network of religious boarding schools and charitable institutions across the vast Indonesian archipelago.
Bush is scheduled to meet several moderate clerics, as well as President Megawati Sukarnoputri during his stopover in Bali, a mostly Hindu island about 1000km east of Jakarta.
Jakarta has said it would use the meeting to urge Washington to fight “terrorism” within the law and by respecting human rights.
“As for the terrorism issue, we will tell the US that we are all in the same boat. We are here to fight terrorism because terrorism, whoever does it, is against civilisation,” said Maarif, who once called Bush a “madman” for launching military operations in Iraq.
Maarif’s largely moderate Muhammadiyah claims a membership of about 30 million, including some key government figures.