When U.S. President Barack Obama first addressed the Muslim world in its traditional heartland last year, his speech was laden with references to the past, to Islam and to the tensions plaguing the Middle East. Updating his speech on Wednesday on the far eastern fringe of that world, his upbeat remarks about Indonesia’s democracy, development and diversity spelled hope for the future. (Photo: President Obama greets the audience after his speech in Jakarta November 10, 2010/Jason Reed)
But they were also veiled reference to autocratic Muslim countries. He held up Indonesia as an example for others to emulate, praising the progress it has made from dictatorship to a vibrant democracy tolerant of other religions.
Cairo and Jakarta offered contrasting backdrops to review Washington’s relations with countries whose main link is a faith they practice in varied and sometimes contradictory ways. The speeches clearly reflected those differences. In Cairo, the president spelled out seven problems to be solved in the Middle East. The Jakarta speech praised three areas where he said the world’s most populous Muslim nation enjoyed success.
“That is not to say that Indonesia is without imperfections. No country is,” Obama said. “But here can be found the ability to bridge divides of race and region and religion – that ability to see yourself in all individuals.”
While both speeches stressed the U.S. was not at war with Islam, the Cairo address focused far more on religion. Obama quoted the Koran four times, spoke of “civilisation’s debt to Islam” and said the faith had “a proud tradition of tolerance.” At the same time, he warned: “Among some Muslims, there’s a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of somebody else’s faith. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld — whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. … And if we are being honest, fault lines must be closed among Muslims, as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.”