Published Jun 5 2009 by Energy Bulletin
Archived Jun 5 2009

Obama's speech to the Mideast

by Staff

Obama's Middle East Speech: VIDEO, Full Text

Huffington Post

I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.

...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.

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles - principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." That is what I will try to do - to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

...So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words - within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."

Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores - that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.
(3 June 2009)

Using New Language, President Shows Understanding for Both Sides in Middle East

Glenn Kessler and Jacqueline L. Salmon, Washington Post
There was no mention of "terrorists" or "terrorism," just "violent extremists." There was the suggestion that Israeli settlements are illegitimate and the assertion that the Palestinians "have suffered in pursuit of a homeland." There were frequent references to the "Holy Koran" and echoes of Muslim phrases.

President Obama, who aides say spent many hours "holed up" in the past week revising his Cairo speech, clearly believes in the power of his oratory to win people to his point of view. In many ways, he used his address to promote American values, but his efforts to use new language to recast old grievances have already prompted debate and consternation in some quarters.

At the same time, he avoided specific complaints about the lack of freedoms in the Muslim world. Instead, he spoke of the need to obtain concrete political goals, such as the fair administration of justice. He made no mention of his host, President Hosni Mubarak, a snub surely noticed by Egypt's autocratic ruler of nearly three decades.

...In contrast to what Obama called "the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity," the president was sharply critical of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements." Not since Jimmy Carter has a U.S. president in his own voice declared the settlements to be illegal, but Obama tiptoed very close to the line. He also deftly referred to a "Jewish homeland," slightly different from Israel's demands that it be considered a Jewish state.

...Obama quoted from the holy books of all three Abrahamic faiths -- Islam, Christianity and Judaism. But, most especially, he drew on the Koran as well as other Islamic religious teachings and sayings to provide the spiritual underpinnings of his speech.

Mohamed Magid, imam at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center, a Sterling mosque, and vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, said he was "amazed" at the sophisticated use that Obama made of Islam's holy text. "He was taking verses from the Koran to support his arguments," Magid said. "He was looking to persuade them to believe in the ideas that he wanted to share with them -- 'Not only listen to my words, but your own religion asks you to do the same.' "

...Almost two weeks ago, senior Obama advisers met with an even broader group of Muslim leaders at the White House, including activists and academics from across the political spectrum, according to participants. One of those at the meeting, University of Maryland professor Shibley Telhami, said the result was a speech that provided a far more specific description of Obama's goals on a series of issues related to Muslims, Middle East peace and the Arab world.
A nuanced response from a mainstream paper that takes a different tack on the speech. KS
(5 June 2009)

Obama's Cairo speech

Erin Manning, Crunchy con blog
I just finished reading the text of the speech President Obama gave in Cairo today. Overall impression: a good speech, sensitively written with his audience in mind. Only negative impression: when Obama begins listing the specific issues, all of which are important, he at times starts to list various things America has done or is doing in a way that seems more like either a campaign speech or State of the Union address.

Some things that struck me:

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11, 2001, and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and western countries but also to human rights.

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

I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap and share common principles, principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings. [...]

Now, part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I'm a Christian. But my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk.

As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith. As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam at places like Al-Azhar that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's renaissance and enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities..

...There's much, much more, of course; I'm just highlighting a few of the initial, tone-setting passages that caught my eye on first reading. I think the president was clearly striving for balance, showing both his own Muslim roots and the various ties Islam has had in the past and continues to have in America, while mentioning some of the things that make America unique: our birth and history, our committment to rights, our notions of free speech and freedom of religion, and our love of democracy.
A balanced reaction from a moderate conservative blog, along with comments.
(4 June 2009)

Shibley Telhami on Obama’s Historic Speech

Martin Savidge interview with Shibley Telhami, WorldFocus via By the Fault blog

In a historic speech from Egypt on Thursday, President Obama called for a new beginning between the United States and the Muslim world, after years of mutual and deepening anger, resentment and hostility fueled by terrorism and two wars.

People all over the the Middle East — from leaders and radical groups to students and shopkeepers — reacted to Obama’s speech.

Shibley Telhami, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, joins Martin Savidge to discuss the speech, its intended audience and Obama’s other efforts to reach out to the Muslim world.
Picked up by Charles Lemos' progressive blog that initially supported Hilary Clinton, and calls "...himself a a progressive Liberal but primarily a dissenting voice of caution..." He also comments on the speech itself: "Reaction is generally positive except among some of the usual suspects. Two key moments, in my view, he talked about Palestine and broached the subject of American involvement in the 1953 coup in Iran." KS
(4 June 2009)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Editorial Notes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A selection of articles that attempts to give a panorama of reactions from an American viewpoint to the new President's first overt attempt to reach out to the Middle East.

The connection with energy and sustainability is that the speech may help rachet down the tensions between the U.S. and the Muslim world. In a future characterized by shrinking resources, any move that can reduce the possibility of armed conflict is devoutly to be wished. The world ahead is problematic enough without the massive waste of resources that war represents.