A few thoughts from Obama’s speech to the Muslim community today in Cairo, Egypt. For the entire transcript, click HERE. My observations:
. . . the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.
Telling. What this says to me is “why should one country, or one group of people, be able to advance quicker than others?” Now, I do think the president is merely trying to put into words an aspect of the foundation of the conflict between civilizations, but the language, to me, is interesting.
I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point.
He really does consider himself to be President of the World, doesn’t he? The statement should read that no speech–at all–can eradicate years of mistrust — furthermore, if I’m reading this correctly, Obama is essentially saying that, if he had more time, he could boil down and answer all of the questions regarding the ongoing conflict between Islam and the West. How much time does he need? Seven days?
But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.” That is what I will try to do – to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.
Why is this president trying to downplay religion in our own country, yet using it to make his point in Egypt? I mean, the heart of this statement is in the right place, but I just find it odd that here at home he goes out of his way to avoid religious symbolism yet, over there, he embraces it.
Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith. As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.
Wrong. Algebra was Greek, compasses were Chinese (I think), printing was Gutenberg, and all concepts of tolerance and equality seem to be equally lost. In terms of the latter, ask the women who cannot drive cars, who get imprisoned for speaking with men, stoned after already being gang-raped. With regard to tolerance, ask the cartoonist who feared for his life after depicting Mohammed with a bomb in his turban, or the schoolteacher who weathered calls for her death after naming the class teddy bear Mohammed.
I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America’s story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, “The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.” And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson – kept in his personal library.
That’s actually pretty interesting. I knew that Rep. Ellison was sworn in on the Koran, but I had no idea that it was Jefferson’s.
Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words – within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: “Out of many, one.”
Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores – that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.
Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.
So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.
Fantastic. Funny how, all of a sudden, the very same middle name for which many conservatives–including myself–were rebuked for using is all of a sudden at the forefront of American foreign policy, but overall Obama’s tone was good here. Gone–at least from this portion of the speech–was the apologetic tone we’ve heard from the president during previous stops overseas.
Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people.
Well, then. That pretty much rules out Barack Obama as an effective president now, doesn’t it?
Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.
Oh, come on! These three sentences pretty much sum up Barack Obama and his worldview in a nutshell. The slaughter of American exceptionalism. Sharing the wealth. Destroying our business and industry so it can move overseas to nations not quite as strong.
My goodness, how telling. I wish I had more time–I need a spare half-hour, not seven days–and I could address this further. Still, anyone with half a brain can understand the vast problems with this short, extremely instructive statement.
That does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: we must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.
The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.
In Ankara, I made clear that America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.
On his duty to protect the American people, to quote the president from a few moments before: “Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people.”
The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America’s goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.
Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.
That’s why we’re partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America’s commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths – more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.
I like this part, and have no problem praising the president when he says or does something right.
We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.
I’m sorry . . . what? If we’re going to be spending money in the Middle East, outside from the money spent rooting extremists out from the neighborhoods and such, perhaps we should look to gain commitment from other middle eastern nations who would also benefit exponentially from a more stable region. Instead of stating that America is going to unilaterally spend money to build schools and help the Afghanis with their economy, perhaps Obama could have mentioned that America was prepared to help, but essentially wanted to solicit investors who stand to gain from a stable Pakistan and Afghanistan.
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. 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.”
Sure thing, because diplomacy worked so well with Saddam Hussein. Furthermore, how dare Barack Obama previously cite the horrors of Boznia and Darfur while conveniently glossing over the brutality and mass killings presided over by Hussein? All liberals like to do this–let’s get involved in Darfur, but intervening in Iraq was all wrong–and it just doesn’t square up.
As for the Thomas Jefferson quote, I don’t know about you, but I’d really like to see Barack Obama read that quote a few more times and apply it to domestic policy. Unbelievable that he selects it for use in talking about Iraq, something for which Jefferson surely did not intend its application, yet is completely ignorant to its actual meaning here at home.
But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron. And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.
What was that, Mr. President, that you said a few minutes earlier? Something about your first duty being to protect American lives? Hmm . . . it seems that words alone indeed cannot meet the needs of our people.
The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.
Gee, I wonder on which side President Obama will come down? Without getting into too much detail–Obama’s speech was long, and I have actual work to do–I did like that Obama acknowledged the pervasive violence of Hamas, and that he pushed for the Arab recognition of the Israeli state. I did not like that it came with so many conditions — one group in this conflict is being violent, while the other is not. One group is killing innocent men, women and children, while the other is not.
The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.
As I said the other day, I find it amazing that Obama is fine with Iran setting out on a course of peaceable nuclear energy, while at the very same time is requiring, through added regulatory burdens here at home, that America take a step backward with regard to energy technology and independence.
Iran cannot be trusted. Plain and simple. And Obama seems to favor allowing Iran to prosper while handcuffing the growth and independence of his own nation.
The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.
I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.
So liberating Iraq is an imposition now? Freedom is an imposition? Golly gee, perhaps when the president is marking the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion this weekend, he can look at those headstones and cemeteries and hedgerows and aging veterans and take pride in knowing that so many men risked it all and so many men died bravely imposing freedom upon western Europe.
That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people.
Not here at home.
America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election.
Perhaps Egypt is a growth market for ACORN?
But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.
“Except in my own nation. Yearning for things is only okay if everyone else gets to have their fair share. Speaking your mind is just fine so long as you do not advocate the sanctity of life, agrue for the enforcement of immigration laws, or lament the exponential expansion of government. The equal administration of justice requires that we look at race and circumstance first, and the rule of law second, but be confident that the rule of law will get in there somewhere. Transparency is only really necessary with regard to governmental actions which aren’t too controversial, such as congressional oversight over my wife’s new flower garden, and it’s not stealing from the people when you give their money back–or part of it–in the form of unnecessary, bloated programs which only increase the people’s dependence upon the government. And yes, we’re free to live as we choose, so long as we keep our thermostats under 72 degrees and trade in our SUVs for smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles made by the auto manufacturer we now own.”
This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others.
Vote Democrat in 2010!
The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.
Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.
Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of another’s. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld – whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.
Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.
I don’t know what “zakat” is, though I think I ate it at a Moroccan restaurant. From the context, all kidding aside, I’m guessing that its a form of tithing. Tithing is good. So is religious freedom.
The sixth issue that I want to address is women’s rights.
I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.
Chooses? Or “forced” to cover her hair? Or “forced” subjugation?
Now let me be clear: issues of women’s equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.
Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.
Okay. Fair enough. As I’ve said many, many times, I am always amazed that womens’ groups never speak out about how women are treated by Islam. Honestly, Obama could have–and should have–gone a little further here, but I do like that he touched upon it.
The “micro-financing” thing I only know a little about. Bear with me, and perhaps I can add a little later.
On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America, while encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in on-line learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.
On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.
On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.
Again, he sounds like President of the World, and again, my wallet feels lighter not only because of the expanded entitlement programs here at home, but the proposed ones across the globe.
With regard to the expansion of exchange programs, I think that will only work if middle eastern nations like Iran stop jailing every American in sight, and if people who come to America to study stop overstaying their visas and remaining in the States illegally.
The Holy Koran tells us, “O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”
The Talmud tells us: “The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.”
The Holy Bible tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
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. Thank you. And may God’s peace be upon you.
And that, my friends, is it. This summer, join Barack Obama as he takes the stage for his World of Religion tour along with Joel Osteen, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Louis Farrakhan, Pat Robertson, somebody who looks like a Rabbi, and a ventriloquist featuring Xenu, the life-like wooden puppet of L. Ron Hubbard.