Dear President Barack Hussein Obama,
First of all, congratulations for your winning on the November 2008 presidential election and for your inauguration as the US’s 44th president.
I am not an American, I’m only one of those millions of non-US citizen who are happy with your winning and inauguration. To make it more specific, I am an Indonesian, who happen to have international relations as academic background that I’ve been an avid observer of the US political dynamics for more than 5 years.
Currently I’m in my first year as a civil servant in the national development planning agency of the Republic of Indonesia, in the Directorate for Political Affairs and communications. My office’s located in the neighborhood that might be familiar to you, in Menteng, central Jakarta. It takes less than 15 minutes if you walk from my office to your old elementary school, The SD Menteng Besuki.
I wrote this letter due to what happened and what I felt after the 4th of November. After the result of your election was announced, as you’ve might aware of, most part of the world enthusiastically celebrated it, including many people in my country. I can tell you how the media was overwhelmed by breaking news, features, live debates, comments etc related to this historical elections. I can tell you how so many people in my country got very excited to discover that the President-elect of the world’s most powerful and most influential country has once spend his childhood in their country. Not to mention that you brought “believe in change” as your main vision of the coming United States of America. I can also tell you that our televisions broadcasted your inauguration in a very enthusiastic details, and I am telling you that I was only one of maybe thousands of Indonesians who stayed awake until 2 am just to watch your inauguration. I think this is the very first inauguration that is anticipated even more greatly than the FIFA world cup final match.
However, at the same time, many people including my friends asked me one important question which latter became a trigger to write this letter and to really send it to you through facebook. Their question was: Is there any impact of Obama’s winning for us in Indonesia?
There might have been thousands of theories, analysis and prediction based on very detailed calculation and data, but I want to talk to you through this letter not as a political scientist or international relations observer. I want to talk as myself.
I am a Muslim. In my religion, we believe that there is no single leave fall from its trunk without His knowledge. It means, there is nothing in this world happen as a coincidence. Everything happen for reasons, and I believe that they’re good reasons. What I want to say is, I believe that there must be a reason why it is Barack Hussein Obama who won the US 2008 presidential election. There must be reasons why Barack Hussein Obama was born from Kenyan-Muslim father & once had an Indonesian-Muslim step father, has a half-Indonesian Buddhist sister who married to a Chinese, & was raised in Indonesian-Hawaiian multicultural environment.
I believe that God’s willing is already written in very careful and specific details. There must be a reason that you are the one who were elected when hatred, animosity, injustice, and violence and the so-called “clash of civilization” became the main theme in human relations.
Just like many other people all around the world, I remind myself not to keep my hope too high. But few days ago I realized that I can make my hope much more realistic if I write this letter.
I started to conceptualize this letter since your winning last November, what you’ve mentioned in your inauguration has even made it clear that I can keep my hope for you. I don’t know how to explain what I thought, but I think there are several important aspects in you that I always thought as some reasons why you’re destined to be the US’s 44th president.. you are not necessarily directly related to this aspects, but as I’ve mentioned above, these aspects have special or unique connection with you or your background. Those aspects are:
The religion which is currently perceived in a very complicated way by most of Americans (and maybe the rest of the world), yet, Islam has played and will still play important role in shaping the world’s future in many ways. Although you’re not a Muslim, I believe that your indirect connection with the believe and its believers will play a role in building the bridge of understanding between Islam and the rest of the world.
The third largest democracy (after US and India), which is interestingly and uniquely the world’s largest Muslim population, and consequently has a potential to promote peace and understanding among nation. Indonesia is probably the most potential anchor to keep the high hopes for democracy in South East Asia. Your special connection with the country (and now its people as Indonesians are so excited with your presidency), has stimulated my brain to think about so many exciting and benevolent possibilities in the future.
I’ve read in many articles that Barack Obama inherits the best of him from his Mom, he was raised by his grand parents and very close to his grand mother, and he’s currently the only gentleman in his small-happy family. I believe that the wisdom of women which can be learned from their nurturing nature will generate a wiser leadership.
• African descendant
As I watched the CNN live last night, again, I was reminded that you are the very first African-American president, and it IS already a great change. (I still remember that my lecturer used to tell us about the “WASP” or white-anglosaxon-protestant domination in the US presidency).
• Multiculturalism, pluralism
Indonesia, Hawaii, multicolored family and relatives, “strange” name, relatives with different religion as your background, I believe, will help you understand better what the word “multiculturalism” means.
Your inaugural speech strengthened those thoughts. When you mentioned …we are the nation of Christian and Muslims …I believe that you do have a great concern on the issues I considered important for the future of peace and understanding.
On the other hand, I believe that you still need to listen more from more various people, not only for certain sources. I read the first chapter of your book, The Audacity of Hope excitedly since you dedicated the chapter to talk about my country, Indonesia. (Fyi, the book is translated to Bahasa, but I think it will be better to read the English version, although it’s not so easy to get the English copy here). I concluded that you have a concern about the changing situation in Indonesia. I feel that your concern is also related to the fact that there is a growing number of Muslim women wearing the Islamic clothing and its relations with the growing “fundamentalism”. Since the first time I read the paragraph on this issue, I was imagining a conversation with you, discussing about my opinion on this issue. Yes, there has been growing number of Muslim women wearing Islamic clothing. I am one of those women. Many people, who do not understand, think that we are forced to wear such clothing. Many people perceive the clothing as a symbol male’s domination. I cannot deny that in some cases, in some countries, this thought may (sadly) be true, but you also need to hear from woman like me, who choose to wear the clothing. It is my own decision, based on my belief that I respect my self, my fellow human beings and my God by wearing such clothing. By wearing such clothing, I choose to be valued as a woman who has heart and brain, not merely valued as a physical creature. By wearing the clothing I am showing the world that I am proud to be a Muslim woman, who is proud about the noble teaching of the religion which I believe as the “blessing for the universe” (rahmatan lil alamin). The clothing reminds me to walk and talk based on the noble values, even though I admit it is not always successful for me. :) Maybe you will not believe that I became more determined about the Muslim clothes I wear after attending the “Gender & Politics” classes in my university. The lectures actually convinced me that Islam has it own way to respect women. Our holy book tells us to always think and think, and I am happy with this instructions. The deeper I think about the teaching on Islamic clothing, the more I believe that to wear the clothing is the option that I need to choose. I have more stories, arguments, opinion and et cetera to share with you on this matter, but I will not write it here. :) I believe that many Muslim women in Indonesia also made their own decision like me, and you need to hear them.
I can also tell you that these women are educated, intelligent, raised in democratic environment and very open-minded. My father and brothers never told me to wear the clothing, I was graduated from a quite ‘leftist’ campus, once joined exchange student program in a quite westernized country, I once worked with the American Quakers on peace building and currently working in one institution which is pioneering the efforts to consolidate democracy in Indonesia. And through all these experiences, I never regret my decision to wear this clothing and even I’ve become more and more grateful that I’ve made the decision. (oh, I almost forgot to mention that I listen to American music and watch American movies a lot ;)
I do hope someday that you can visit your old Menteng neighborhood and drop by in my office and discuss many issues more deeply so that I can show my friend that Obama’s presidency does bring good influence for Indonesia. ;) I also dream about visiting your country someday in a diplomatic mission, promoting Indonesia’s democratic success or promoting about the idea that Islam and democracy can get a long with each other in a constructive and positive relationship.
Well, I think the letter is already too long. :) So, I am wishing you all the best for the new term. I hope that your tenure will contribute to the emerging understanding, justice, prosperity and peace, not only for the Americans but also for the rest of the world. :) Wish a good health for you, Ibu Michelle, Malia and Sasha too. :)
Thank you for reading my letter. :)