Mixed response in Indonesia to Obama speech | Connect Asia

Mixed response in Indonesia to Obama speech

Mixed response in Indonesia to Obama speech

Updated 18 January 2012, 19:55 AEDT

President Obama's outreach drew mixed responses in Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population.

Mr Obama already enjoys enormous popularity in Indonesia, where he lived as a child for several years and many praised his delivery and intentions. But in a country that has confidently emerged from its own struggles with authoritarianism and to a lesser extent, extremism, many felt his message was directed more towards the Arab world than Indonesia.

Presenter: Katie Hamann

Abdillah Toha, Muslim scholar and member of Indonesia's parliament; Jourdan Hussein, student; Meditama Suryadinigrat, a historian and senior editor at the Jakarta Post

HAMANN: President Obama was still delivering his speech when the sunset call to prayer rang out across the Indonesian capital Jakarta. But Islamic leaders who hosted a screening of the address at the Centre for Dialogue and Cooperation among Civilisations, respectfully remained seated until he finished before dashing upstairs for their evening devotional. Among the observers there was no denying that Obama once again delivered an elegantly crafted speech, employing to full affect his noted oratory skills.

ABDILLA TOHA: If the speech was made by Mr Bush the Muslim community will not believe, but because this is made by Mr Obama we believe him. Theres a lot of good intention towards Mr Obama. Theres a lot of expectation also, at the same time.

HAMANN: Abdillah Toha is a Muslim scholar and member of Indonesia's parliament.

ABDILLLAH TOHA: We are the largest Muslim democracy in the world today and you dont find democracies in the middle east so I would have wished he would have made the speech here rather than Egypt, which I believe is a country with not democracy. 20-year old political student Jourdan Hussein was struck by Obamas roaming religious references.

JOURDAN HUSSEIN: It was very inspiring, encouraging also really impressive. He said a lot of Koran verses, Talmut and Bible that indicates a lot of emphasis on inter-faith work in Obamas initiative to actually make and achieve his goals in communicating with the entire world, which is a lot of diverse people and diverse religions.

HAMANN: But some like Meditama Suryadinigrat, a historian and senior editor at the Jakarta Post, were expecting more from the US president.

SURYADINIGRAT: The speech itself was good. I think he said the right things and the things we wanted to hear, but did he really tackle any issues, which relate to Indonesian Muslims Is it really an issue of US-Islam relations or is it an issue of US-Arab relations? That I think that is one of the fundamental things that the US needs to work out. For example I think the first half of the speech was wonderful, it was great and it would have been even better if it was heard by everyone in the United States rather than in the Muslim world. Thirty-year old program officer Kunti, who goes by one name, says not everything in the speech resonated with her.

KUNTI: I think I am with the panelist back there; that the speech is addressed not to the whole Muslim world because in Indonesia women is already quite equal, but maybe he address it to particular Muslim countries that still not promoting women's rights.

SFX: Buskers singing, people chatting.

HAMANN: Later on the streets of Jakarta, where perhaps the most potent examples of Muslim tolerance are visible everyday, Kuntis observations proved correct. Only a few people knew that Obama had even delivered a speech. And fewer still had bothered to watch.

HAMANN: I'm Just wondering if you watched Barack Obama's speech in Egypt tonight?

RESIDENT: No I didn't watch it.

HAMANN: I'm just wondering if any of you watched BVarack Obama's speech:

RESIDENT 2: I didn't, he did.

RESIDENT 3: No, no I didn't.

HAMANN: Did you even know it was on?

RESDIDENTS: No (laughter)

President Obama is expected to visit Indonesia before the end of the year.

In Jakarta this is Katie Hamann for Connect Asia.

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