Obama pushes for tol­er­ance

He urges re­spect for peo­ple’s dif­fer­ences on In­done­sia visit

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - MARGIE MA­SON

JAKARTA, In­done­sia — For­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama shared a bit of wis­dom Satur­day from the other side of the world about tol­er­ance and tak­ing the daily news cy­cle in stride.

“I wasn’t wor­ried about what was in the news­pa­pers to­day,” Obama said dur­ing a nos­tal­gic visit to In­done­sia’s cap­i­tal, his child­hood home. “What I was wor­ried about was, ‘What are they go­ing to write about me 20 years from now when I look back?’”

Obama was greeted by a crowd of thou­sands, in­clud­ing lead­ers, stu­dents and busi­ness­men, in Jakarta, where he opened the Fourth Congress of In­done­sian Di­as­pora. He is wildly pop­u­lar in In­done­sia, where many view him as an adopted son. A statue of the boy still re­mem­bered as “Barry” stands out­side his old ele­men­tary school.

He rem­i­nisced about mov­ing to Jakarta in 1967 when he was just 6 years old, shout­ing, “In­done­sia bagian dari diri saya!” or “In­done­sia is part of me!”

Obama said he had been gorg­ing on the lo­cal food since ar­riv­ing.

“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 said to roar­ing laugh­ter. “To­day, Jakarta is a thriv­ing cen­ter of com­merce marked by high­ways and high-rises. So much has changed, so much progress has been made.”

Obama lived in the coun­try with his mother, an an­thro­pol­o­gist, and his In­done­sian step­fa­ther. The cou­ple split up af­ter hav­ing his half-sis­ter, and Obama moved back to Hawaii when he was 10 to live with his grand­par­ents. But he said he has never for­got­ten the years he spent in In­done­sia.

“My time here made me cher­ish re­spect for peo­ple’s dif­fer­ences,” he said, not­ing how he and his fam­ily had just vis­ited two of the most trea­sured an­cient tem­ples — Borobudur, a Bud­dhist com­plex, and the Hindu com­pound of Pram­banan — in the world’s most pop­u­lous Mus­lim coun­try.

Obama’s speech came on the fi­nal leg of his 10-day va­ca­tion in In­done­sia. In ad­di­tion to vis­it­ing the tem­ples in the city of Yo­gyakarta on the is­land of Java, he and his wife, Michelle, and daugh­ters, Sasha and Malia, also went raft­ing and toured the re­sort is­land of Bali. On Fri­day, he met In­done­sian Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo at the grand Bo­gor Palace in West Java, just out­side Jakarta.

Obama largely stayed away from the sub­jects of U.S. pol­i­tics and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, but he did tout one of his ac­com­plish­ments while in of­fice.

“In Paris, we came to­gether around the most am­bi­tious agree­ment in his­tory about cli­mate change, an agree­ment that even with the tem­po­rary ab­sence of Amer­i­can lead­er­ship can still give our chil­dren a fight­ing chance,” he said.

Trump shocked many coun­tries last month by an­nounc­ing he was pulling out of the ac­cord. He has also had a dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship with mem­bers of the press and was re­cently con­demned by Democrats and Repub­li­cans for a tweet that at­tacked a fe­male MSNBC host.

Obama stressed the im­por­tance of step­ping away from news sites where only like-minded views are shared, and warned about so­cial me­dia giv­ing rise to re­sent­ment of mi­nor­ity-group mem­bers and bad treat­ment of peo­ple.

The In­done­sian visit marked Obama’s first trip to Asia since leav­ing of­fice. He urged the coun­try to be a light of democ­racy and to never stop em­brac­ing dif­fer­ences. In­done­sia has faced a rise in Is­lamic rad­i­cal­ism and anti-gay at­tacks, and was re­cently con­demned by rights groups for jail­ing Jakarta’s for­mer gover­nor, an eth­nic Chi­nese Chris­tian, for blas­phemy.

“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.”


For­mer U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said Satur­day in Jakarta that his time spent as a boy in In­done­sia “made me cher­ish re­spect for peo­ple’s dif­fer­ences.”

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