Open Discussion: President Obama’s Speech in Cairo

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Also published on Islam on My Side.

President Obama delivered a very moving and powerful speech in Cairo on June 4th, 2009.  The speech focused primarily on improving American and Muslim relations, but also addressed issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I admit that it was heartening and emotional to hear Obama cite so many verses from the Holy Qur’an, as well as referring to the miracle of al-Isra, the Night Journey, in which the Prophet Muhammad journeyed to the seven heavens and met with Jesus, Moses, and Abraham, peace be upon them all.  When Obama said “peace be upon them” after mentioning these Prophets, there was enormous applause from the audience because the attendees, as well as Muslims all around the world, knew exactly what it meant:  Respect.

It was also nice to hear Obama stress on the importance of Islam being part of America.  He acknowledged the contributions of Islamic civilization, particularly in mathematics, science, poetry, architecture, and music.  When he spoke of Israel and Palestine, he emphasized on a two-state solution and recognized the struggles that both Israelis and Palestinians face.  For many Muslims, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is crucial simply because U.S. foreign policy has been overwhelmingly supportive (politically, militarily, and economically) of Israel while vilifying and ignoring the plights of Palestinians.

Although there were many times during the speech where it seemed like Obama was hesitant to acknowledge certain atrocities, such as Israel’s recent airstrike on Gaza, it was at least refreshing to hear a U.S. president recognize the Palestinian humanitarian crisis.  I really liked when he said “children of Abraham,” because that kind of language speaks to the hearts of inter-faith communities around the world.

While citing the Qur’an and reaching out to Muslim majority countries displays the President’s desire to improve relations, it’s important to stay mindful that actions speak louder than words.  As Tariq Ramadan mentions in his recent article, “Obama’s speech to Muslims will mean little if its symbolism is not followed up by concrete measures to restore trust.”  In no way am I trying to deny Obama’s efforts, but rather I’m simply pointing out that I truly hope he follows up on his words.

What are your thoughts?  If you missed the President’s speech, you can watch it below (it’s divided into 6 parts):

Watch Part 2
Watch Part 3
Watch Part 4
Watch Part 5
Watch Part 6

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