The Greatest Hits and Minor Misses of Obama’s Cairo Speech
There were a lot of expectations for the speech United States President Barack Hussein Obama gave at Cairo University on the morning of June 04, 2009 and with a few points of diction aside, he hit all the points he needed to and then some.
As for the missed opportunities, Obama never once mentioned the nuclear weapons of the Israeli state, though he did refer by name to those of Iran. The other criticism comes from the Israeli side who call out the President for never once mentioning terror directly in his speech, preferring instead, to use the term “violence.”
Aside from those two points however, Obama more than delivered. In fact, his admittance of the United States’ role in “the overthrow of a democratically–elected Iranian government,” and the “Cold War in which Muslim–majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.” Though neither of these statements can make up for the current situations in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan orchestrated by the United States’ will to destroy the USSR, it is still an important step to hear a United States President admit that his nation helped orchestrate these political debacles. With a little more careful and direct verbiage these statements could have also been admissions that the United States is currently facing risks to its national security from groups within these nations because of actions perpetrated by the United States itself.
Though Israeli commenters found Obama’s decision to follow up his statements about the “baseless, ignorant, and hateful,” tactics of Holocaust deniers with examples of Palestinian suffering hurtful, it was in fact, a brilliant and pointed move the President. By putting the suffering of the two peoples side by side, Obama was able to make the connection that both parties are victims of oppressive and violent acts against their existence and that in reality, the one thing that binds them most is also the one thing that they must thwart in order to create lasting peace for both peoples of the region. It was very important that Obama point to the fact that “Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today,” as a way to remind Muslims around the world of the grandeur and scope of the Holocaust.
A much appreciated minor point in the speech came when Obama acknowledged the Christian Palestinians suffering under the oppressive Israeli regime.
Of course, the biggest breakthrough of the Israel-Palestine segment came from Obama’s flat out use of the word “occupation” when referring to the “daily humiliations – large and small” that the Palestinians (both Muslim and Christian) suffer.
Another important moment in the speech came during Obama’s discussion of democracy and how certain leaders in the Arab world are countering the development of both democracy and human rights under their strict rule. “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…you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion…elections alone do not make true democracy. Wonder what Egyptian President Husni Mobarak thought of these statements that were so pointedly aimed at autocrats like himself, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and other rulers of the Muslim world who impede democracy and human rights through the very existence of their reigns.
Though some people may have found Obama’s references to Muslim achievements and history to be re-iterations of well-known facts, the statements served two very distinct purposes. Firstly, if the United States mainstream media broadcasts and analyzes the speech, it will hopefully reach the ears of Americans who now more than ever have such a negative view of Islam and Muslim nations. The other purpose of Obama’s statements about the contributions of Muslims to humanity is to hopefully convey to Muslim people the world over, that President Barack Hussein Obama, internalizes and respects these undeniable facts about Islam – its nature, its contributions, and the richness of its many cultures. If Obama can indeed show the Muslim people that he deeply understands and respects these facts then he has taken a great step forward in being a more transparent, likable, and understanding United States leader than the Muslim world has possibly ever known.
In the end, some people may be upset by the tone they see akin to a “moral or political sermon,” in the speech, but it was full of the kinds of statements that Muslims, Christians, Jews, Arabs, and Americans (perhaps most of all) needed to hear.