Speaking the Language: Obama's Greeting at Cairo Sends Message

Illustration for article titled Speaking the Language: Obama's Greeting at Cairo Sends Message

The use of Aabic greetings are no longer the purview of Black men in bow ties who terrify (white) people. While speaking in Cairo Thursday, President Obama opened his speech with the greeting "Assalamu alaykum"—meaning "peace of Allah be unto you"—and blogger Amy Alexander feels the move was a pivotal moment in our relations with the Muslim world.


Not unlike JFK's "Ich bin ein Berliner" when addressing German citizens looking to rebuild their ravaged country following WWII, Obama's gesture is a nod toward solidarity. Moreover, Alexander feels that Obama's greeting highlights some of this administrations geopolitical MO:

"It is another key signal that Reality Rules, in this administration. No more wasted energy chasing imaginary Bogeymen, at home or abroad. The Scariest Muslim in the world — Osama Bin Laden — finally has a worthy opponent, one who not only speaks the same language but who is likely to cite the Koran as he hunts him down."

The parallels here between Kennedy and Obama are close, but the realities Obama faces should be kept in perspective.

Kennedy expressed his feelings of solidarity to a former Western power who had been felled in the pursuit of world domination twenty years after the last shot was fired. The country he represented was largely willing to allow Germany to rehabilitate itself. Indeed, Kennedy did not make a similarly iconic statement to the people of Japan and to ignore the cultural factors at play there is dangerous.

Obama's words came in a region of people not quick to align themselves with the West in the midst of ongoing conflict which, at times, seems to have no resolution. And the country Obama represents is one in which many people, rightly and wrongly, see the Muslim world, particularly in the Middle East, as a threat to be wary of.

What say you? Can Kennedy's and Obama's words be paralleled? Or does Alexander's assertion fall flat?