6.06.2009

Reflections Upon President Obama’s Speech to Muslim World in Cairo

I was watching Pres. Obama's wonderful Cairo speech. It was a very adult & well crafted address. It departed from negativity and swagger, but highlighted and raised the controversial and divisive joint concerns of: violent extremism in all of its forms; Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world; shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons; democracy; religious freedom and women's rights.

Do not mistake this as part of some sort of "American apologist tour." Though as a Nation, it would certainly aid us and help us appear stronger and more mature and focused upon the 24/7 World stage. If only we could sincerely apologize for some of our recent actions that were so very, very contrary to our founding and guiding legal and moral principles.

Of course the real question is: Where will it take us from here? As the intellectual center of the "Muslim world", Cairo was a fairly ready audience, but how will it play in other areas? Real & symbolic positive actions are needed on all sides. Breaking the bonds of the small-minded and poorly culturally educated on ALL sides will not be an easy thing, but remains so very necessary for a safer, saner and more peacefully connected world.

Some lines from the speech:

"The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

The fear and anger that it (Sept. 11) provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course.

Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

I know there are many - Muslim and non-Muslim - who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort - that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country - you, more than anyone, have the ability to remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort - a sustained effort - to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

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