JAKARTA, INDONESIA — Declaring that “Indonesia is a part of me,” President Obama today offered personal reflections of the place that “shaped his childhood” and the place that he, as president, hopes will now help shape the Muslim world with their example of democracy, development and pluralism.
Drawing up images of his youth spent living in Jakarta – from “flying kites, running along paddy fields, catching dragonflies and buying satay and baso from street vendors” – the President stuck a nostalgic tone, remembering the spirit of the people he said helped him learn to love the country.
“As a young boy, I was coming to a different world. But the people of Indonesia quickly made me feel at home,” Obama said from the University of Indonesia this morning, “The old men and women who welcomed us with smiles; the children who made a foreigner feel like a neighbor; and the teachers who helped me learn about the wider world:
The president moved to Jakarta in 1967 then only 6 years-old from Hawaii when his mother married an Indonesian man name Lolo Soetoro. He spent for years in Jakarta living in a small house with a mango tree out front, before ultimately moving back to Hawaii.
“So much has changed in the four decades since I boarded a plane to move back to Hawaii. If you asked me – or any of my schoolmates who knew me back then – I don’t think any of us could have anticipated that I would one day come back to Jakarta as President of the United States.”
As president, Mr. Obama came today to Indonesia to highlight the country’s embrace of democracy and pluralism meant to reach far beyond just the 6,000 who filled the audience today. The White House live-streamed the speech on their website and translated it into languages ranging from Arbaic to Urdu.
Embracing those these values, he was saying to other Muslim countries, and you too can prosper
“Development is strengthened by an emerging democracy. Ancient traditions endure, even as a rising power is on the move.”
Gone, he said, are the fields he and friends used to run though with water buffalo and goats.
“A new generation of Indonesians is among the most wired in the world – connected through cell phones and social networks. And while Indonesia as a young nation focused inward, a growing Indonesia now plays a key role in the Asia Pacific and the global economy.”
Similarly he held Indonesia up as an emerging democracy charting its own course, “from the rule of an iron fist to the rule of the people.”
That was not to say, the president acknowledged — perhaps with a nod towards last week's elections in the United States — that he always likes what democracy delivers.
“Of course, democracy is messy. Not everyone likes the results of every election. You go through ups and downs. But the journey is worthwhile, and it goes beyond casting a ballot.”
Earlier in the day Mr. Obama visited the Istiqlal mosque a house of worship for Muslims that he noted was designed by a Christian architect. His stepfather was “raised a Muslim,” yet President Obama said that he believes that all religions were worthy of respect, similar to Indonesia being defined by more than its Muslim population.
“Such is Indonesia’s spirit,” Obama said, “an archipelago that contains some of God’s most beautiful creations, islands rising above an ocean named for peace, people choose to worship God as they please. Islam flourishes, but so do other faiths.”
Echoing themes to the Muslim world in his Cairo address last year, the president said that his priority since becoming president has been the frayed relations between the Muslim community and the United States.
“In the 17 months that have passed we have made some progress, but much more work remains to be done. Innocent civilians in America, Indonesia, and across the world are still targeted by violent extremists. I have made it clear that America is not, and never will be, at war with Islam. Instead, all of us must defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates, who have no claim to be leaders of any religion – certainly not a great, world religion like Islam. But those who want to build must not cede ground to terrorists who seek to destroy.”
The president has twice planned to visit Jakarta, both trips postponed due to pressing domestic issue back home. Additionally the president had to cut this visit short too.
“We had a couple of false starts this year, but I was determined to visit a country that has meant so much to me. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly quick visit, but I look forward to coming back a year from now, when Indonesia hosts the East Asia Summit.”
-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller