On Wednesday April 25th, Davidson students had the rare opportunity to listen to a lecture by a prominent dignitary, His Excellency, Ambassador of Indonesia, Dr. Dino Patti Djalal. Djalal is famous for his youth activism, and he graciously agreed to a dinner forum and lecture. Even before he began his lecture, the ambassador had made the acquaintance of quite a few students and cracked jokes with most of them.
When first approached for an interview, he kept a straight face long enough to say solemnly, “I don’t speak English,” before bursting into a warm chuckle and answering questions with a level of grace, composure and incredible insight very befitting of an international dignitary. Indonesia is composed of thousands of islands, with many different ethnic groups, cultures and religions represented among its peoples.
When asked about what unites Indonesians, Djalal replied that the sense of nationalism that continued after the 1949 revolution had brought Indonesians together and shaped their identity today. He has been known to highlight the fact that Indonesia has the highest Muslim population of any country, and is simultaneously the world’s third largest democracy. He explained that in Indonesia, politics and religion have been separated in such a way that the difficulties one might find in Arab countries currently struggling for democracy do not exist.
He speaks of his country with pride, but without arrogance or over-confidence. He is a bestselling author, was the longest serving presidential spokesman in Indonesia and has been involved with various youth programs. When asked to explain his current projects, he smiled and responded, “I think that being the Ambassador to the U.S. is enough right now.”
Before the lecture began, he asked students about their majors, and when he was called up to the podium he made sure to greet students by name. He told amusing anecdotes throughout the lecture, yet also made serious points about nationalism, democracy and the future of global affairs.
He spoke of how precious belief in a national future is and of the confidence that is growing in emerging countries. “[The emerging world] can compete with you, in certain areas; it can surpass you, and leapfrog you,” he said in reference to globalization and the rise of the Asian sector. The ambassador also spoke of the dangers of confidence in these countries, the dangers of ultra-nationalism and a win-lose mindset.
Finally, he expressed what he thinks this means for the United States. “It means that, yes, you need to reposition yourselves in this brave new world. It’s a different world. A different world for us and a different world for America. We have a greater risk appetite; we are more accustomed to thinking outside the box.” According to the ambassador, the United States is no longer the only country that values “exceptionalism,” and it needs to adopt a new mindset in order to meet the growing economies of other nations.
At the end of the lecture Djalal answered student’s questions. He went from discussing the political climate in East Timor to teasing a student on the second floor of the 900 room. “Did you pay to get in here?” he laughed. Any student who attended the lecture or had the opportunity to speak with the ambassador privately will agree that Djalal, one of the most celebrated contemporary political figures in Indonesia and perhaps even a future candidate for the presidency, is a fascinating combination of mirth and intellectual clarity.