President Barack Obama, speaking at a town hall meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Friday, criticized the United States of America for telling other people to do what Americans fail to do themselves, for “growing inequality,” and because “our political system does not work as well as it should.”
The U.S. president was speaking to a group of people associated with the Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative, a program run by the U.S. State Department.
The State Department’s 2014 Country Report on Human Rights in Malaysia—published this year—cited the country in which Obama was speaking for limiting the freedoms of speech and religion and for allowing “Islamic authorities” to enter people’s homes without warrants.
“The most significant human rights problems included government restrictions on freedom of expression – including speech, assembly, association, and media,” said the State Department report on Malaysia.
“Restrictions on freedom of religion were also a significant concern–including bans on religious groups, restrictions on proselytizing, and prohibitions on the freedom to change one’s religion,” said the State Department.
The State Department also noted that Malaysia restricts the rights of women, migrants, gays and workers who want to unionize.
“Other human rights problems included deaths during police apprehension and while in police custody; laws allowing detention without trial; caning as a form of punishment imposed by criminal and sharia courts; official corruption; violence and discrimination against women; discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons; and restrictions on the rights of migrants, including migrant workers, refugees, and victims of human trafficking,” said the State Department. “Longstanding government policies gave preferences to ethnic Malays in many areas. The government restricted union and collective-bargaining activity, and government policies created vulnerabilities and worsened child labor and forced labor problems, especially for migrant workers.”
According to the State Department, “Islamic authorities” in Malaysia do not need warrants to enter people’s homes.
“Islamic authorities may enter private premises without a warrant if they deem swift action necessary to catch Muslims suspected of engaging in offenses such as gambling, consumption of alcohol, and sexual relations outside marriage,” says the State Department.
“The government bans membership in unregistered political parties and organizations,” the State Department reports.
The entire transcript of President Obama’s remarks can be read on the White House website. Here are some key excerpts:
“Now, keep in mind, the United States, we always have to be a little careful because we’re such a large country and we have a lot of influence. I think there are times sometimes when people say they don’t want us meddling in their internal affairs. And the United States has to have some humility because there have been times where we did the wrong thing. There have been times where we have problems in our own country. And so we will want to go tell other people what to do, but then back home we’re not always doing what we say we should do.”
“But when you go to the United States, I think there are still some anxieties. And I would say that, number one, in the United States, there is a growing inequality that I think is a real problem not just for the United States but around the world. And some of this has to do with technology is replacing low-skilled jobs, and automation, and so it’s harder for people, if they don’t have good educations, to make a living. There’s more global competition–that’s putting pressure on middle-class families. And when people feel economic stress and inequality, then I think politics become harder because people are afraid for their futures and sometimes politics can become much more divided than it used to be.”
“Also what happens is when there’s more inequality, the people who are powerful can influence the political system to further reinforce their privilege, and it makes it harder for ordinary people to feel that they have influence on the political process. And so people become cynical.
‘Our Political System:’
“Now, these are all problems that can be solved, and I’m confident we will eventually solve them. But right now, our political system does not work as well as it should. And what I would say to young leaders, what sort of pitfalls should you avoid, I would say, number one, it is very important to avoid any political system where money overwhelms ideas. And the United States politics process has become so expensive and it lasts so long, and even though I was successful at it, we spend hundreds of millions of dollars in television advertising and in all the things that go into a U.S. presidential campaign. But it’s also true for members of Congress. And when politicians have to raise so much money all the time, then they start listening a little bit more to the people who have money, as opposed to ordinary people.”