Some are interpreting sentiments about tolerance from Barack Obama's speech in Jakarta as commentary on not just Indonesia, but on the Trump administration and the division it has sown among the American people. “If you are strong in your own faith then you should not be worried about someone else’s faith,” he said in his Saturday speech, prompting an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience.
On the last leg of the former first family's trip to Indonesia, Obama attended the Indonesian Diaspora Congress to give the opening speech. He touched on the recent increase of nationalism around the world:
If we don’t stand up for tolerance and moderation and respect for others, if we begin to doubt ourselves and all that we have accomplished, then much of the progress that we have made will not continue. What we will see is more and more people arguing against democracy, we will see more and more people who are looking to restrict freedom of the press, and we’ll see more intolerance, more tribal divisions, more ethnic divisions, and religious divisions and more violence [...] Let’s face it, if people do not show respect and tolerance, eventually you have war and conflict. Sooner or later societies break down.
As he has done in nearly all public appearances following Inauguration Day, Obama steered clear of referencing President Trump by name, even when responding to a question regarding his successor's decision to exit the Paris climate deal.
“First of all, I think it’s important that even though the current U.S. administration has signaled it is going to pull out, technically it’s not out yet,” said Obama. “Point two is that many of the changes that we locked in during my administration continue.”
Obama's speech comes days after the Supreme Court partially reinstated Trump's controversial travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries. In January, a spokesman for Obama issued a statement responding to widespread protests to the president's first executive order implementing the ban. The former president, the statement said, “fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion.”
At around the same time, President Trump made an effort to justify his travel ban by saying his predecessor had done the same years prior. “My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months,” he said in a statement.
The comment was soon contradicted by former Obama officials Jon Finer and Eric P. Schwartz, who both claimed that while measures to increase the extensiveness of refugee background checks had slowed down the approval process, there was never an outright ban on refugees.
Some have taken Obama's speech to be a subtle swipe at Trump, even though his name wasn't mentioned. Bradd Jaffy of NBC News tweeted that it "reads like a giant Trump subtweet."
Given how recently Trump celebrated the Supreme Court's travel ban decision and how relevant Obama's comments seem to be to his successor's controversial policies and the subject of religious tolerance, it's not difficult to see why the former president's speech is being interpreted as an indirect message to the president.