Obama's Indonesian Homecoming Charms Residents

Barack Hussein Obama at University of Indonesia, November 10th 2010. Photo from @FadylWiraadiPutra via Plixi

Barack Obama thrilled the crowd of over 6,500 excited Indonesians who came to hear the U.S. President address their nation at the University of Indonesia on Wednesday morning.  Peppering his speech with the Bahasa Indonesia language he learned while living in Jakarta as a child, Obama made the crowd roar with excitement as he kicked off his landmark speech with the statement:

Indonesia bagian dari didi saya. [Indonesia is a part of me].

First thanking the people of Indonesia for their hospitality, the U.S. President then gave a special nod to Jakartans:

… to the people of Jakarta, pulang kampong nih [I’m coming home!].

Cultural references to food, such as sate and besok [satay and meatball soup], charmed the millions of listeners tuning in via television across the country and became instant soundbites with mainstream media.

Reactions from Indonesia’s Twittersphere—recognized as one of the largest in the world–were equally as complimentary, as many claimed Obama’s speech bolstered feelings of national confidence and pride in a way that their own leaders do not:

pritya:do you think #ObamadiRI speech at UI would be able to remind SBY of his homework as president? repair relationships, make us 1 country again

I hope our leaders cld learn how to deliver a speech like @BarackObama – connected, inspiring, riveting

dila_tri: Obama shows his leadership, humbleness, smartness … Truly inspiring for us, Indonesia next leaders .. #obamadiRI

AlandaKariza: I admired how he convinced that combatting corruption is the key to make Indonesians feel they have a stake in the country.#ObamadiRI

ardansyahreza: Yes, It's true that Indonesia is a potential key player in the global market due to its growing market. #ObamadiRI

cellacea: It isnt coz he's d prsdnt of d US.I dont care if Bush come here.But Obama's stories always inspiring me that nothing's impossible #obamadiRI

desianwar: Pres @BarackObama greeted like a star … We love you Barry!

DanielZiv: Obama today looks like a rock star who happens to be politician rather than a politician who happens to be a rock star.

rayafahreza: Geezus this guy is winning hearts. Goddamn he good at this.

The President's speech focused on development, democracy and religious tolerance–three factors that are written into Indonesia's secular constitution and, according to Obama, can be used as the foundation on which to forge ties between the two democratic states.

The speech lauded Indonesia for its recent democratic reforms that have propelled the country forward on the global stage:

…that spirit of tolerance that is written into your Constitution; symbolized in mosques and churches and temples standing alongside each other; that spirit that’s embodied in your people — that still lives on. Bhinneka Tunggal Ika — unity in diversity.  This is the foundation of Indonesia’s example to the world, and this is why Indonesia will play such an important part in the 21st century.

Focused on repairing and cultivating U.S.-Muslim ties, Obama acknowledged that much more work must be done to overcome the “years of mistrust” between the United States and Islam.  In addressing the world's most populous Muslim majority country, Obama's speech has been labelled the President's second largest attempt to engage the Muslim world since his address in Cairo of last year.

Dubbing the speech “Cairo II,” some American mainstream media outlets have argued that the speech was lacking, and was merely an addendum to Obama's first engagement with the Muslim world.

But, CogitAsia, the blog for the think-tank Southeast Asia Program (SEAP) , points out that religion was just one factor of the President's 3-pronged speech. Addressing Indonesia–a country with over 17,000 islands and other dominant religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity–can not be labelled as addressing the whole of the Muslim community. The article states:

Nor should the President have given a Cairo II in Jakarta– because Cairo is not in Indonesia. Though Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, it is not a center of the Islamic world. Its national leadership has often declined to take a leadership role in the Islamic world, and has regularly refused earlier American suggestions that it trumpet the coexistence of Indonesian Islam and Indonesian democracy in its conversations with Middle Eastern countries. President Obama understood this sensitivity and addressed it carefully in his speech.

Despite the small media criticism, Barack's short visit to Indonesia was generally hailed as a great success, with Indonesians receiving the U.S. President with the fanfare usually set aside for rock stars or celebrities. Local blog Dances in My Mind remarks that despite religious lines or political affiliations, most Indonesians were merely giddy to play host to the one they call their adoptive son.

But Indonesians, mostly Jakartans, went giddily gaga like teenagers watching [a] concert of Glee casts featuring both Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. Former school friends appeared on talk-shows, while students of his former elementary school rehearsed an especially-penned song just in case President Obama managed to swing by.

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