Kinanti Pinta Karana
Barack Obama is an inspiring pop culture icon like Che Guevara and the statue of the US President erected in a Central Jakarta park should stay despite public opposition, a historian from the University of Indonesia said on Monday.
Historian JJ Rizal said Obama’s rise to power was a phenomenon that had inspired people the world over, including in Indonesia.
“Obama’s rise to the White House was really moving. [His rise] is not only the reflection of American democracy, but he’s become a pop culture icon like Che Guevara,” Rizal said.
Guevara was a major figure in the Cuban Revolution and now his image embelishes items from t-shirts to bikinis as a symbol of youthful rebellion.
Rizal said that people who are opposed to the Obama statue, erected in Taman Menteng and officially unvelied last Thursday, should read the history books first.
“Our first president, Sukarno, once said that Indonesian’s nationalism was an ideology which grew in the midst of internationalism. I doubt if they [the people opposing the Obama statue] know that. Little Obama is a symbol of our pride and hope that someday we will have an inspiring figure like Obama in our country,” he said.
Rizal acknowledged that Obama had not yet done any good for Indonesia, but he asked Indonesians to remember that the American president always referred to Indonesia as the place where he first learned about pluralism.
“Obama always says his experience of living in Indonesia taught him a lot about pluralism. He is proud that he had spent part of his life here and he never forgets his childhood including his favorite foods like nasi goreng (fried rice) or bakso (meatballs),” he added.
Rizal labeled those who opposed the Obama statue as chauvinistic. He said he believed Obama’s statue should stay because it showed the international side of Indonesia and strengthened Jakarta’s image as a global melting pot.
However, Rizal admitted that Indonesia had national figures who have done bigger things for the country than the US president.
“But do they inspire people? Obama inspires us. The strength of an icon lies on how much he can give inspiration to other people,” he said.