When U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Indonesia on the night of April 19 for his first state visit abroad, he clearly did not intend for his positive gestures and kind words to be construed as controversial by the very people at whom they were aimed.
“In your nation, as in mine, religion unifies, it doesn’t divide,” Pence said to Indonesian President Joko Widodo the following morning at the Jakarta Palace. Pence lauded Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country, for “its tradition of moderate Islam,” which he called “an inspiration to the world.”
He also toured the Istiqlal Mosque, designed by North Sumatran Christian architect Frederich Silaban for Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, who insisted it be built near the Jakarta Cathedral and Immanuel Church as a symbol of religious harmony.
Ironically, Pence was delivering his message of harmony — to allay concerns in Indonesia over what was perceived as the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and stress strategic, political and economic ties — on the day that the Christian governor of Jakarta was ousted in a heated election marked by violent Islamist demonstrations. While millions of supporters of Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, familiarly known as Ahok, were mourning the defeat of their candidate — tried for blasphemy against Islam and found guilty on May 10 — Pence was pointing to the “common values [of] freedom, rule of law, human rights and religious diversity” shared by the United States and Indonesia.
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