Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Cairo Speech (with commentary)

Notable parts of Obama's speech today:

Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.
Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11, 2001....

Right out of the gate, Obama offered his explanation for the tension between Islam and the West. Its an interesting explanation--modernity causes hostility to the West, and then violent extremists exploit those feelings. Already, he draws a line between angry feelings toward the west--which are legitimate--and the extremists who use violence--which is not cool. And he gets his mention of 9-11 in at the very beginning.

But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors.

This sentence sums up everything that I love about Obama. Its what makes people trust him.

I also know that Islam has always been a part of America's story.

Bringing Islam inside the American story is a mental leap at first, but one that harkens to the Idea of America. It has often been said that most countries are founded on tribal loyalties, but America is founded on an idea. That idea of freedom, equality and new beginnings can include all cultures, all tribes.

Now, much has been made of the fact that an African American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President.

Obama takes what some would perceive as risks in this speech, tying himself to Islam in a way that he never did during the campaign. He must feel that the American people know him now, and are less prone to fearmongering.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

The refrain you hear about Obama from Muslims, Israelis and Americans is "nice words, but deeds are what matter." And Obama is saying back to them "Yeah I know. But I can't do it alone. 'We' have to do it."

But let us be clear: Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day.... These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

I like that Obama acknowledges the fact that many Muslims, and Americans, do not believe that al-Queda was behind 9-11, even as he vigorously disagrees with them.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. 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.

Iraq is a rhetorical minefield that I wondered how Obama would address. I've got to say.....that was pretty damn good.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. (Applause.) This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

What happens if Israel does not stop the settlements? That will be where the rubber hits the road.

In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians.

It is amazing how the simple restatement of historical fact by world leaders has become so rare, that to see Obama do it here in a way that acknowledges the mistakes made by both sides is amazing. That is Obama's simple genius--he finds simple ways to do things that for some reason are just never done.

In fact, faith should bring us together. And that's why we're forging service projects in America to bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That's why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations.

This is an approach I try to follow in my own work. Sometimes little gestures can keep open the lines of communication between opposing forces. They may not fix a problem, but they can create the opportunities to do so.

And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country -- you, more than anyone, have the ability to reimagine the world, to remake this world.


The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

He doesn't cede religion to the extremists--he claims it for the peaceful. Very well done.

At some point, is Obama going to give a bad or even mediocre speech?

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you, Caretaker, that this was a wonderful speech. And your analysis was excellent.

    As you might expect, I only disagree with one part. I remain convinced that 9/11 was, at least in part, an inside job. But that doesn't change the fact that Al Quaeda uses terrorism as a tool of war, such as suicide bombings.

    But, dare I say it, we are too ready as well as take innocent lives in the pursuit of those we fight with. We call it 'collateral damage', but our methods of violence need scrutiny as well.

    In war, no one is free of guilt from bloodshed. That's why the pursuit of peace is so important, with the kind of evenhandedness that Obama is becoming famous for.