Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, is also a nation of immense diversity, comprising more than 300 ethnic groups speaking more than 700 languages or dialects. While more than 80 percent of its people profess a faith in Islam, religious freedom is guaranteed in the Indonesian constitution and practiced in its daily life.
President Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a child, drew upon that tradition of diversity and tolerance in a speech delivered there earlier today. And while he was speaking to Indonesians and less directly to the larger Islamic world, I think he was also reminding his fellow Americans to honor our own traditions of tolerance.
“Innocent civilians in America, Indonesia, and across the world are still targeted by violent extremists. I have made it clear that America is not, and never will be, at war with Islam. Instead, all of us must defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates, who have no claim to be leaders of any religion – certainly not a great, world religion like Islam. But those who want to build must not cede ground to terrorists who seek to destroy…..
But I believe that the history of both America and Indonesia gives us hope. It’s a story written into our national mottos. “E pluribus unum” – out of many, one. “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” – unity in diversity. We are two nations, which have traveled different paths. Yet our nations show that hundreds of millions who hold different beliefs can be united in freedom under one flag….
Earlier today, I visited the Istiqlal mosque – a place of worship that was still under construction when I lived in Jakarta. I admired its soaring minaret, imposing dome, and welcoming space. … this house of worship for many thousands of Muslims was designed by a Christian architect.
Such is Indonesia’s spirit. Such is the message of Indonesia’s inclusive philosophy, Pancasila….
That is not to say that Indonesia is without imperfections. No country is. But here can be found the ability to bridge divides of race and region and religion – that ability to see yourself in all individuals. As a child of a different race coming from a distant country, I found this spirit in the greeting that I received upon moving here: Selamat Datang. As a Christian visiting a mosque on this visit, I found it in the words of a leader who was asked about my visit and said, “Muslims are also allowed in churches. We are all God’s followers.”
That spark of the divine lies within each of us. We cannot give in to doubt or cynicism or despair.”
It is a message that Obama’s predecessor, President Bush, preached sincerely during his own time in office. The battle against al Qaida and Islamic extremism is being fought on many fronts, with weapons that range from Predator drones to printing presses, but its outcome will be determined by the willingness of people on all sides to embrace the concept of e pluribus unum, a concept born and first given reality here in these United States of America.