JAKARTA, INDONESIA -- On Wednesday morning, President Obama will deliver a speech before an estimated crowd of six thousand at the University of Indonesia in which he will discuss his personal experience living in Indonesia as a young boy as part of a larger conversation about his hopes for the Muslim world.
“It is a county that is very important to the president, it is a country he spent several years as a child growing up,” Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes said to reporters previewing the speech. “That’s one way he was approaching the speech.”
The president lived in Indonesia from ages six through 10, after his mother remarried an Indonesian and uprooted a young Barack “Barry” Obama, then living in Hawaii.
The speech will be his first in a majority Muslim country since his June 2009 address to the Muslim world at Cairo University, and it will build on several of the themes from that speech, heralding how Indonesia is a model for the values of democracy and diversity.
“Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance,” President Obama said in the Cairo speech. “I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today.”
Rhodes said that this speech will include “personal reflection from the president on his time in Indonesia -- what that was like for him, why it was important to him and what he learned from Indonesia as well as of course the tremendous transformation that has taken place since the time the president has lived in Indonesia.”
The president’s address in the world’s largest Muslim majority country will highlight Indonesia’s successes, promoting Indonesia’s efforts to grow its economy and play a larger role in the world stage, as seen in its membership and work in the G20; and praising Indonesia’s role as an emerging democracy (President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono won Indonesia's first direct presidential election in 2004).
As a press conference with President Yudhoyono on Tuesday, President Obama was asked about what he called “earnest, sustained” efforts to reach out to the Muslim world.
“We don’t expect that we are going to completely eliminate some of the misunderstandings and mistrust that have developed over a long period of time,” he said, “but we do think that we are on the right path.”
Citing “active communications” to media in Muslim countries, exchange programs for scientists and educators, and an entrepreneur summit for young business leaders from Muslim countries, the president said “what we’re trying to do is make sure that we are building bridges and expanding our interactions with Muslim countries so they are not solely focused on security interests.”
In Indonesia, he said, “people here have a lot of other interests, other than security.”
The president eflected on being back in Indonesia for the first time since 1992.
“When you visit a place that you spend time in as a child, as president, it’s a little disorienting,” the president said, noting that “the landscape has changed completely.”
In 1967 when the president first came here, “people were on becaks, which for people who aren’t familiar it is sort of a bicycle/rickshaw thing. And if they’re not on becaks they are on bemos which were, they’re sort of like little taxis but you stood in the back. And it was very crowded; and now as president I can’t even see any traffic because they block off all the streets. Although my understanding is that Jakarta traffic is pretty tough.”
“I feel great affection for the people,” the president said, “and obviously, you know, I have a sister who is half Indonesian. My mother lived and worked here for a long time and so the sights and the sounds and the memories all feel very familiar. And its wonderful to be able to come back as president and hopefully contribute to further understanding between the United States and Indonesia.”
The crowd for the speech will range from university students to others representing a “cross section” of Indonesians. The site had to be moved indoors due to “concerns” from the Indonesian government ranging from “crowd control to weather.”
-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller