February 7, 2007 / 9:48 AM / 13 years ago

Indonesian school still smarts from Obama link

JAKARTA (Reuters) - The school that U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama attended in a posh, leafy district of Jakarta was founded by Indonesia’s former colonial rulers as a school for Europeans and the Indonesian nobility.

Indonesian students chat outside their classroom on February 2, 2007 at Jakarta's State Elementary School Menteng 01 where United States Senator Barack Obama studied for less than three years in the late 1960s. The school that U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama attended in a posh, leafy district of Jakarta was founded by Indonesia's former colonial rulers as a school for Europeans and the Indonesian nobility. REUTERS/Enny Nuraheni

A spire, common in Dutch-made churches in Indonesia, still tops its roof.

Parents whose children study at Menteng 01 today include ministers, lawyers and tycoons. Grandchildren of former president Suharto, who still lives in Menteng, attended.

So the school was surprised — and not a little put out — to find itself painted as a hotbed of Islamic radicalism during the time Obama attended as a young child.

The school’s woes started after Insight, a conservative magazine, reported on its Web site last month that Obama had attended what it called a radical madrasa, or Islamic school, a report cited by Fox News and other media.

They did not name the school, but in four years in Indonesia the only schools Obama were known to have attended were a Catholic school and State Elementary School Menteng 01.

The story has since died a natural death but the school and its patrons are still smarting.

“I feel this school has become a victim of irresponsible American politics. These innocent children are now linked to a negative image,” said lawyer Andri Ismangun, whose two children sit in the first and fifth grades.

The U.S. senator from Illinois, who seeks his Democrat Party’s 2008 nomination, studied for less than three years in the late 1960s at the school, formerly known as the Besuki school.

Obama’s American mother, Ann Dunham, married Muslim Indonesian Lolo Soetoro after her marriage to the senator’s Kenyan father ended. Soetoro brought his new family to Jakarta in 1967 when Obama was six.

He left Jakarta in 1971 to live with grandparents in Hawaii.

“WHY THE BIG FUSS?”

The Indonesian government, which took over the school in 1962, recognizes several religions and public schools make time for students to practice their faith during school hours. Religious studies are compulsory.

So while Christian students were belting out hymns and reading Bible verses in a classroom on a recent midday break, Muslim students were praying in a mosque.

“This is a public school that is open for everyone regardless of his religion and ethnicity. We have a mosque, a Bible class and a partnership with the local Hindu temple,” said vice principal Akhmad Solikhin, who learned only four months ago that Obama had studied in his school.

“This place is where you can see the harmony between Muslims and Christians. In any case, why are Americans so afraid of Islam?” Solikhin said.

Before Bible class, 12-year-old Fenya offered her view.

“Why the big fuss anyway? He was only here for three years. Take it easy,” she said, turning her phone to silent mode.

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