Barack Hussein Obama opened his much-anticipated speech to Muslims world-wide with greetings of gratitude and peace — “Shukran” and “As-Salaam-Alaikum.”
From there, the President set out to build a bridge between the United States, which was born out of revolution in the 1700s, and the Arab world, which was born out of revelation and faith that dates back to Abraham and the Holy Bible itself.
He spoke directly against negative stereotypes: “I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear,” he said. “But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”
The President who quoted the Qur’an at least three times and acknowledged his own personal ties to Islam, also made clear that the United States will stand against terrorists and al-Qaeda who he rightly labeled as “extremists.” Obama further called on the Muslim world to embrace “common principles of justice, progress and tolerance,” and to move beyond “the cycle of suspicion and discord” between the U.S. and Arab nations. The speech was bold in that the President spoke directly to Israel (a longtime U.S. Ally) with regard to “settlements” and he told the Israeli government that continuing to construct new Jewish homes in the occupied Palestinian territories was unacceptable and must stop.
As a Republican, with an often differing view from the President on foreign affairs, I think his speech was good. I believe he made a compelling case to Muslims and Arabs world-wide to turn away from “the past” and embrace “a new day” in relations with the United States. In what was one of the most compelling lines of the speech, the President spoke directly to young men and women worldwide, “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.” He continued, “There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples – a belief that isn’t new; that isn’t black or white or brown; that isn’t Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It’s a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions. It’s a faith in other people, and it’s what brought me here today.”
Finally, the President used this occasion to draw at times on his father’s Islamic heritage and his own childhood in Indonesia; the third most-populous Muslim nation, Obama condemned religious intolerance and bigotry across nations, and warned that “a small but potent minority of Muslims” have used those tensions to promote religious violence.
I think on balance it was a good beginning–and when the speech was concluded the President received a standing ovation and shouts of “we love you.” A good sign that younger educated Muslims (presumably the future leaders of the Arab world) are truly open to a new beginning with the United States of America.
–SOPHIA A. NELSON