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“Assalaamu alaykum” says Barack Hussein Obama from Egypt

June 13, 2009

“Assalaamu alaykum” (Peace by upon you) – the infamous opening words from last week’s [June 4, 2009] historic speech by President Obama, where he addressed the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt.  It has been one of the most talked about events of 2009 and recent history worldwide, and for good reason.  Primarily as a world citizen, and also as an Iranian-American, I have a good deal of vested interest in a good outcome of this “New Beginning”.  We all do.  Is it just rhetoric to appease Muslims for American trespasses over the past hundred years?  How genuine is this effort?  Even if it is, will it be well-received and make any kind of difference?

First of all, if you have not seen the speech in its entirety (54 minutes), I strongly advice you to do so.  This is the best high-resolution version from Youtube.

So here are my thoughts, a summary and some memorable quotes from the speech.

  • After a thoughtful introduction where he praises Islam, recognizing its contributions to humanity, and highlighting his personal relation to Islam, Obama urged us to focus on the shared principles and values between Islam and American ideals instead of our differences.  “I’m Christian” he says firmly, “but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims.”
  • The President then proceeded to the meat of his speech, outlining seven points of tension that need to be addressed by both sides head-on.  I included time marks in case you want to fast forward to one of the particular issues.
  1. Combating Extremists (15:15)
  2. Israel-Palestine and a 2-State Solution (23:25)
  3. Nuclear Proliferation and Iran (33:00)
  4. Democracy (35:45)
  5. Religious Freedom (39:30)
  6. Women’s Rights (42:20)
  7. Economic Development and Opportunity (44:30)
  • “The Holy Koran tells us, ‘Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.'” [AR] Five references were made by Obama to the Holy Koran.  That’s too square a number for me – obviously, it was calculated in the speech writing process.  Not to be too skeptical though, as it was a nice gesture.
  • “I also know 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.”
  • “We [America] are dedicated to a simple concept – E pluribus unum – [which means] out of many, one” [AR] This sounds like more of a socialist credo, but I like hearing it from the mouth of an American President!
  • “There are over 7 million Muslims in America”
  • “There is a mosque in every state of America”
  • Thomas Jefferson – “I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power; and that the less we use our power, the greater it will be.”
  • “America will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law.” – [AR] What does that mean? Is there any possibility of respect in war?  Does this justify U.S. military supported killing of millions worldwide?
  • “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.” – [AR] I am very interested to see how this plays out in light of the US “special relationship” with Israel, that seems to permit and forgive all types of moral trespasses and treacherous behavior by its ally.
  • “The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action…to choose progress over the self-defeating focus on the past.” [AR] Great point, and one that I think needs to be taken to heart by Arabs and Muslim citizens and leaders worldwide.
  • “All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer.” [AR] InshAllah, this will be a glorious day!
  • Acknowledgment of U.S. role in overthrowing of a “democratically elected Iranian government” during the Cold War. [AR] I am glad that Obama made this acknowledgment, but wish that he spent more time on it.  President Bill Clinton went as far as apologizing for this tremendously immoral and criminal act by our state; Obama, in his promise of speaking honestly and being conscious of God, would gain the world’s respect by taking more responsibility for injustices and crimes carried out by the U.S. on Iran and other Muslim nations over the years.
  • “It’s about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”
  • “No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons.”
  • “America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons.” [AR] Amen to that!  Again, it’s great to hear this from the mouth of an American President.  Let us really watch this issue closely, as the pace of nuclear proliferation is directly linked to the collective trust between nations.
  • “And any nation — including Iran — should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” [AR] I don’t know enough about this treaty to speak intelligently on it.  All I can say is that the U.S., Russia, Israel, Pakistan, India and all other nuclear nations should be held to the same standard when it comes to curtailing and deconstructing nuclear and other military capabilities.  It can’t be such that one or several military and economic powers call the shots.
  • “No system of government can or should be imposed by any one nation…America does not presume to know what is best for everyone.”
  • “The ability to speak your mind…confidence in the rule of law…government that is transparent…the freedom to live as you choose.  These are not just American ideas, they are human rights…Governments that protect these rights are more stable and secure.” [AR] This is on point.  Muslim (and other) states that punish their citizens from speaking up are just living in the past and clinging to ideals that do not fit the modern world.  It is one thing to regulate and censor certain information sources; however, to punish and intimidate people who speak up is, in my view, a limited and counter-productive policy.
  • “You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion.”
  • “Muslims have a great history of religious tolerance, such as in Andalusia and Cordoba…people should be free to choose based upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul.”
  • “Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of somebody else’s faith.” [AR] Very true.  It would have been good to add that this tendency is not exclusive to Muslims, but in fact, pervades all three major religions and is part of collective human nature.
  • “In the U.S. rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation…working with American Muslims to make sure they can fulfill zakat.”
  • “Turkey’s leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations.”
  • “I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons.” [AR] Amen!
  • “I respect women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles…as long as it’s their choice.”
  • [AR] Obama’s Acknowledgment that modernity [and capitalism] has the tendency to erode a society’s moral values.  He did not say it in such plain words, but aluded to it.  I believe it to be quite true.
  • “…but human progress cannot be denied.” (references Japan, Korea, Dubai) [AR] We have to be careful what we call “progress”.
  • “We will expand exchange programs and increase scholarships…like the one that brought my father to America.”
  • “We will create a new online network so young person in Kansas can communicate with a young person in Cairo.”
  • Entrepreneurship Conference – ‘social entrepreneurs’ [AR] This is very exciting to me, as a social and technology Entrepreneur, I am planning to be involved in this.
  • “And All of God’s children are protected”
  • Young people…”you, more than anyone, have the ability to remake this world”
  • “All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or …to focus on the future we seek for our children…”
  • “There’s one rule that lies at the heart of every religion — that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  This truth transcends nations and peoples.”
  • “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.” [AR] Wow, Obama ending the speech by quoting the Koran, Talmud and Bible was fantastic.
4 Comments leave one →
  1. Lynette Korpita permalink
    June 13, 2009 3:55 pm

    very interesting and thoughtful post. let us all seek to live peacefully with one another.

  2. Khan Safia permalink
    June 13, 2009 9:18 pm

    excellent break down!

  3. June 14, 2009 5:15 am

    This one was one of the best speech by any President I have ever heard. And it’s one of the best Obama has given too since his presidential campaign. I had the video downloaded first and watched the entire one. The time was worth it. I liked the home work he or his speechmakers did before the convention.

    Looks like you have heard with a more attention and broke down for convenience. Really good effort!

  4. June 14, 2009 1:51 pm

    Yes, Obama is an excellent speaker and really spoke well and honestly in Egypt. His efforts have started to rebuild hope and trust between nations and people around the world. Let us all pray that his vision and words will continue to foster peaceful dialogue amongst world leaders. Peace in the Middle East…could it be possible? Let’s see.

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