Obama's Jakarta Speech Makes An Urgent Call For "Respect" & "Tolerance"

Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Share

The Obamas vacation in Indonesia in June wasn't all play and no work. On Saturday at the Fourth Congress of Indonesian Diaspora in Jakarta, President Obama delivered an opening speech that emphasized religious tolerance, the importance of fighting climate change, and the shared values of "pluralism and tolerance and openness and rule of law" between the U.S. and Indonesia.

Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Jakarta after moving there in 1967, is wildly beloved by Indonesians. He credited his growing up in the multicultural South East Asian country for instilling in him a "respect for people's differences."

But he also spoke of rising intolerance around the world. "The world is more prosperous than ever before, but this has also brought significant changes that are dangerous," Obama cautioned, according to the Associated Press. "We start seeing a rise in sectarian politics, we start seeing a rise in an aggressive kind of nationalism, we start seeing both in developed and developing countries an increased resentment about minority groups and the bad treatment of people who don’t look like us or practice the same faith as us. We start seeing discrimination against people based on race or ethnicity or religion."

Touting his administration's brokering of the historic Paris climate agreement, Obama noted that "even with the temporary absence of American leadership, [the accord] can still give our children a fighting chance." He did not mention his successor's name in the speech.

Obama's appearance at the Fourth Congress of Indonesian Diaspora marked the last stop on the former first family's 10-day trip to Indonesia. On Monday, the Obamas were pictured in Bali, where they went rafting on the Ayung River, visited the Jatiluwih rice terraces, a UNESCO world heritage site, as well as the Tirta Empul temple, a Hindu Balinese water temple.

On Friday, he met with President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo at the grand Bogor Palace in West Java, the Associated Press reported.

In his Saturday speech, he spoke of the country's rich culture and values, and stressed tolerance. "The spirit of this country has to be one of tolerance. It's enshrined in Indonesia's constitution, it's symbolized by mosques and temples and churches beside each other," Obama said. "That spirit is one of the defining things about Indonesia. It is one of the most important characteristics to set as an example for other Muslim countries around the world."

He also wooed attendees with his memories of the country and his skill with the local language. "If the rainy season came, the floods were coming and we had to clean out the floors in our house and then chase the chickens because they had gone someplace else," he told the raucous crowd. "Today, Jakarta is a thriving center of commerce marked by highways and high-rises. So much has changed, so much progress has been made."

To an ecstatic audience, Obama declared, "Indonesia bagian dari diri" — "Indonesia is a part of me."