Obama urges Indonesians to resist divisive politics

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and former US president Barack Obama at the presidential palace in Bogor last Friday. Mr Obama, who spent four years in Indonesia as a child, returned for a holiday last week.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo and former US president Barack Obama at the presidential palace in Bogor last Friday. Mr Obama, who spent four years in Indonesia as a child, returned for a holiday last week.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JAKARTA • Former US President Barack Obama urged Indonesians yesterday to resist divisive politics based on race and religion, saying the world's most populous Muslim nation has a long history of tolerance that should be preserved.

Mr Obama, who spent four years in Indonesia as a child, said the Muslim community in the country had historically protected Hindu and Buddhist temples.

"Indonesia is made of thousands of islands, hundreds of languages, scores of regions and ethnic groups. So my time here made me cherish and have respect for people's differences," he told a packed audience at the opening of the Fourth Congress of the Indonesian Diaspora in Jakarta.

Mr Obama stopped short of mentioning any specific cases of racial or religious intolerance.

He pointed to the "enormous progress" in the Asia-Pacific which he said had occurred "in part because of the stability that the United States helped support".

But the former president said there were also challenges, and that globalisation and technology had created problems and "shifts in the foundations of societies" as well as in politics in both developing and developed countries.

CHANGING CLIMATE

The world is more prosperous than ever before, but this has also brought significant changes that are dangerous.

MR BARACK OBAMA, on the rise of sectarian politics and aggressive nationalism in both developing and developed nations.

"The world is more prosperous than ever before, but this has also brought significant changes that are dangerous," he said.

"We start seeing a rise in sectarian politics, we start seeing a rise in an aggressive kind of nationalism, we start seeing both in developed and developing countries an increased resentment about minority groups and the bad treatment of people who don't look like us or practise the same faith as us.

"We start seeing discrimination against people based on race or ethnicity or religion."

He said the world was at an "inflection point" and these threats must be confronted.

Mr Obama, in his address, also pointed to the importance of the Paris climate accord while criticising his successor, Mr Donald Trump, for pulling the world's biggest economy out of the pact.

Mr Obama, who was in Indonesia for a family vacation last week, met President Joko Widodo on Friday in Bogor, on the outskirts of the capital Jakarta. He said their meeting touched on issues such as infrastructure and economic development.

"I always found Jokowi to be a man of quiet but firm integrity, and somebody who sincerely wants what's right by all Indonesians," Mr Obama said, referring to the President by his popular name.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 02, 2017, with the headline 'Obama urges Indonesians to resist divisive politics'. Print Edition | Subscribe