Jakarta. The whirlwind tour is over. Long-awaited but only 18 ½ hours on the ground, US President Barack Obama ended his state visit to Indonesia with a brief tour of Istiqlal Mosque and a 30-minute speech praising Indonesia’s diversity and, as had been widely expected, calling for better relations with the Muslim world.
Speaking before a cheering crowd of mostly young people at the University of Indonesia, Obama referred to his experience as a child here and to Indonesia’s tradition of tolerance and renewed democracy in praising his hosts.
“Indonesia is a part of me,” he said, referring to the four years he spent in Jakarta after his mother married an Indonesian.
“Thank you to the people of Indonesia, to the people of Jakarta, pulang kampung nih [I’m coming home],” he added in his halting Indonesian to a sprinkle of laughter.
Referring to his visit to Istiqlal, a mosque famously designed by a Christian architect, Obama used the experience to praise Indonesia’s pluralism.
“As a Christian visiting a mosque on this visit,” he said, “I found it in the words of a leader who was asked about my visit and said: ‘Muslims are also allowed in churches. We are all God’s followers.’ ”
He was referring to the words of Masdar Masudi, the deputy chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, in an interview with the Jakarta Globe last week.
When a trip to Indonesia was first on Obama’s agenda, it was thought to be an ideal venue for a speech addressing the Muslim world and the widespread anger at US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan and the intractable bitterness of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.
But his trip was twice delayed, and with Obama’s presidency beset by political troubles at home and his popularity declining, the speech probably carried nowhere near the potency it might have had Obama managed to come here a year ago.
Still, he did follow up on themes he first aired in June 2009 in a speech in Cairo.
“I said then, and I will repeat now, that no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust,” Obama said.
“But I believed then, and I believe today, that we do have a choice. We can choose to be defined by our differences, and give in to a future of suspicion and mistrust. Or we can choose to do the hard work of forging common ground, and commit ourselves to the steady pursuit of progress.
“Innocent civilians in America, Indonesia and across the world are still targeted by violent extremists,” he said. “I have made it clear that America is not, and never will be, at war with Islam.”
He also linked the United States and Indonesia through their mottoes. “I believe that the history of both America and Indonesia gives us hope,” he said. “ E Pluribus Unum — out of many, one. Bhinneka Tunggal Ika — unity in diversity.”
Analysts, scholars and fans were predictably glued to the speech, offering instant, generally positive, reviews on Facebook and Twitter.
“The speech touches our sense of nationality because Obama talked about Bhinneka Tunggal Ika and the spirit of religious tolerance, which has been forgotten by many Indonesians,” said Dimas Novriandi, an office worker in Jakarta.
“Simply by mentioning religious tolerance and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, Obama made a very smart political move; he’s the first foreign president to have overshadowed the Indonesian president,” said Yuventius Nicky Nurman, a political adviser from the Center for Good Governance in Yogyakarta, who chided Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for not speaking out powerfully enough on current issues of religious tolerance in the country.
Immediately after the speech Obama flew to South Korea to attend a G-20 summit.
From there he will go to Japan, the fourth stop on his 10-day tour of Asia.