Obama Connects in Cairo


Posted Jun 6, 2009      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Last year, President Obama made a campaign promise to deliver a message to the Muslim world. This week, he did more than deliver a speech. He spoke to the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world.

From his initial interview on Al Arabiya, to his speech in Turkey, the President has made it clear that he seeks to forge a constructive relationship between America and the Muslim world. In the speech he delivered at Cairo University yesterday, he stated, “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.”

While his remarks were highly praised by Muslims around the world, his speech particularly resonated with American Muslims. Those who heard the speech couldn’t help but notice the stark difference between President Obama and his predecessor. Instead of classifying the Muslim world in the context of terms such as “axis of evil” and “global war on terror,” President Obama chose to paint an affirmative vision of American values.

American Muslims felt a particular moment of pride when President Obama emphasized the contributions of our community. He stated, “American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in our government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our universities.”

The President did not hesitate to speak candidly about a full range of issues that have been the cause of tension over the years. President Obama’s balanced approach towards the Middle East peace process and his empathetic tone towards the Palestinians truly emphasized a new chapter of engagement between the Muslim world and the U.S.

Specifically, he said: “They [Palestinians] endure the daily humiliations—large and small—that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”

To the skeptics who have already begun to criticize the President for his lack of specifics on a peace plan, it is important to emphasize that the path to effective diplomacy is not an easy one. Developing and implementing a plan for lasting peace in the region will be long and hard, but it is important to note that respect, patience, and an even-handed approach will be President Obama’s most effective tools.

One thing is for sure. President Obama has emerged from his speech in Cairo having accumulated the moral authority to advance the shared values of peace, freedom, religious pluralism, and women’s rights.