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Back Issue: June 2009

President Obama seeks new beginning with Muslims

US President Barack Obama in Egypt
US President Barack Obama in Egypt

By Lylian Fotabong

President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, called for a new beginning between the United States and the Muslim World and a world that is peaceful and equal, in an historic speech at Cairo’s University, Thursday.

Mr. Obama talked extensively on seven themes that constitute major sources of tension in his “New Beginning” philosophy: Confronting Violent Extremism in all of its forms, Discussing the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world, Addressing Shared Interest in the Rights and Responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons, Democracy, Religious Freedom, Women’s Rights and lastly, discussing Economic Development and Opportunity.

The President of the United States was speaking at the cradle of ancient civilization, Egypt, at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo amidst the biggest security operation ever witnessed in Egypt on his Middle East tour.

Mr. Obama, on his two day tour of the Muslim world, started his first leg with the birth place of Islam, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday last, where he visited the Saudi King Abdullah before moving on to the land of the pharaohs to deliver his much talked-truth-telling speech where the world - the young and the old, the educated and non-educated, intellectual and common men watched from Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, Riyadh and Baghdad. He continued to Germany, Friday, where he visited the notorious Buchenwald Concentration Camps where thousands of Jews died during the Holocaust, and had a tęte a tęte with the German’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, where they talked on strengthening ties with the Muslim World.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected America’s President in 1932, he promised Americans a "New Deal" that would provide them with security from the "Cradle to the Grave." However, that was not to be as it did not end the "Black Tuesday" Stock Market Crash of 1929-The Great Depression. President Obama was elected America’s president in 2008 and in 2009; he has just promised the Muslim world a "New Beginning" that would end terrorism and decades of tensions between America and the Muslim World and also, tensions around the world in order to create a peaceful world – God’s Vision. Let us hope that there will not be a need for a Second "New Beginning". In a significant gesture, he saluted the Muslim World in the language they much prefer and would like to hear; "Assalaamu Alaykum" (May peace and harmony be upon you) as thunders of hands shot through the house clapping at the young President’s eloquence.

He condemned violent extremism in all its forms and the activities of al- Qaida, especially the unmitigated slaughter of Americans on September 11th, 2001. Mr. Obama said, although, America is not at war with Islam, it will confront violent extremists who pose a threat to America’s security:
"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."

Supporting his ideology and quoting from The Holy Quran, a thing he did over three times and that which critics say was well set, he said; "The Holy Quran 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."

On this principle therefore, he knows that "the enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few, adding that, Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism - it is an important part of promoting peace."

He hopes that the decades of stalemate between Israel and Palestine will be resolved under the two state solutions where Israelis and Palestinians, peoples with legitimate aspirations and painful histories will, at long last live in peace. Where there is recognition for a Jewish homeland and an end to Israeli destruction and vile stereotypes:
"Threatening Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve."

At the same time, he echoed his support for the Palestinians:
"America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own."

He urged the people of Iran to move forward from the events of the past that continue to cause tensions between both countries and to prevent the emergence of an arms race in the world for the peace and security of the world but this, he added, will be done without preconditions. "Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build. It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve."

He condemned the tyranny of some leaders and reiterated the role of democracy in civil society, which he said, America will support everywhere: “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 ...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. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party."

Christian, but born of a Muslim father, Mr Obama pointed out the proud tradition of Islamic tolerance and said, acceptance of peoples’ religions is key to living together. “It is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit - for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism” and cautioned that, we need to support Interfaith Service so that bridges between people can lead to actions that include fighting the No 1 Killer disease in Africa, Malaria.

He spoke on women emancipation and in strong terms, condemned those who deny the right of equality to women or those who consider other women inferior because of the traditions they follow: "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. 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."

Mr. Obama told audiences, including heads of states from around the world to embrace globalization as a sign of human progress and manage its adverse effects while avoiding contradictions between development and tradition. "I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and changing communities. In all nations - including my own - this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we will lose our control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities - those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith."

He promised to expand on education by expanding exchange programmes, creating a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries on economic development, and to “open centres of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programmes 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."

The president who has been compared to a preacher since his presidential campaign did not leave his religious admirers short of faith as he echoed his strong knowledge and beliefs in the Quran, Talmud and the bible from phraseologies that now leave the world wondering what to make of the speech:

"There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us." 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."

Some Critics are unsure whether to make this historic speech a sermon or a pragmatic approach to remedy the decades of divides between the Muslim world and the United States from the oratory genius who believes in an inward examination than blaming others. Others wonder that of all possible locations to launch his "New Beginning", Mr. Obama dared Egypt that is known for its political anarchy, a tavern for political prisoners, inequality between men and women and ruled by an authoritarian regime under President Hosni Mubarak who has been in power for more than three decades.

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