Obama’s Cairo speech

Nic366869 I can’t imagine George Bush quoting from the Koran, using the language of Muhammad. Yet this American president is at ease doing so. Well, some–particularly some Christians–will say, he’s too at ease.

The suspicions about Obama’s allegiances will probably increase as the result of the Cairo speech. The Republican Mike Pence (CNN) wasted no time in criticizing Obama’s supposed "pro-Palestinian" bent. For Pence, his words are a betrayal of an ally. 

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. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

But to those tied into a Zionist view, balance will look like bias. At the same time, to those blind to the anti-Israeli policies of Hamas, balance will also look like bias.

Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

What Obama is saying is what any honest and fair-minded politician would say. Thankfully so, because fair-minded is not the adjective that springs to mind regarding the previous administration.

But Obama will need to be more than not-Bush. And there’s the rub. How, practically, will Israeli settlements be stopped? How will the Palestinian Authority develop its capacity to govern so as to render the prescriptions and actions of Hamas a thing of the past? These, now, are the critical and urgent questions.
In all I was genuinely encouraged by the speech. Yes, there were some platitudes. But emphasizing the possibilities, the connections, doesn’t mean Obama is naïve–a charge immediately leveled by the neo-cons. It means he is injecting hope into old stalemates.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

That means of course that the "Jihad-watchers," the Christian-cons, and the far-right Republicans seek out or at least recognize points of connection and recognize that the Muslim faith is not monolithic but diverse. And it means that moderate Muslims, reformist Muslims, stand up and denounce the assertions of people like Anjem Choudhury. (Choudhury interprets passages in the Koran literally. Passages, apparently, that not only allow but encourage the killing of non-Muslims, because there are no "innocents" outside of Islam. Of course, it needs to be pointed out that passages in the Old Testament command the wiping out entire populations as well.)

Finally, it was refreshing to read these comments of Andrew Sullivan, a conservative: (TheAtlantic.com)

At its heart, the speech sprang, it seemed to me, a spiritual conviction that human differences, if openly acknowledged, need not remain crippling. It was a deeply Christian — and not Christianist — address; seeking to lead by example and patience rather than seeking to impose from certainty.


  1. I think it was creative for Obama to speak in Cairo. Egypt of course is an ally with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian question. I’m afraid, though, that Obama is the next in a long line of presidents who sought to bring peace where two peoples insist on hating each other. But not all .. and hopefully some of those on both sides were empowered. But there’s a lot of fear there. And that’s dangerous.

  2. Thanks Sam. You’re right on all counts. To insist on hating is of course an abiding in death. And fear is a catalyst of hatered and needs to be overcome. (What is it that overcomes fear again…?) I think Obama’s speech at least reminded us of these things.

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