Unlike my normal, school day morning, I managed to get up and get myself coffee in time to hear President Obama’s speech in Cairo, Egypt live this morning. While a good speech, it was not the moving speech we heard on his campaign trail last fall.
Many items discussed in the speech made me think that Obama called on his time as a professor to make this speech. He was distinctly trying to teach his audience, both in Cairo and back home in the US, how intricately the worlds of the United States and Muslim nations are intertwined.
President Obama began the speech with a discussion of the “great tensions” between the US and Muslims around the world. He noted that these tensions were fueled by colonialism, a cold war, and the changes that globalization brings which threaten some religious tenets. He also was quick to note that these tensions are being exploited by extremists.
Obama went on to say that as long as religions are defined by differences, they will sow hate. It is time for a new beginning. America and Islam are not mutually exclusive but share common principles. He quoted the Holy Koran – “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.” – in pointing out that the US will say in public the same things it is saying private and that we must listen to, learn from each other.
Obama, then, listed contributions Muslims have made to the world. He also pointed out that it was a Muslim nation – Morocco – that first recognized the United States as a new country with the Treaty of Tripoli.
After veiled mentions of Pakistan and North Korea – describing what is going on in these countries without mentioning the countries specifically, President Obama indicated that we should not ignore the faces of tension but should face these tenisons squarely. He went on to discuss seven tensions that need to be confronted squarely.
- Violent extremism in all of its forms – Obama reiterated that the US is not now, nor has never been, at war with Islam but will go after extremists around the globe. Islam is not a part of the problem but a part of what is necessary to achieve peace. The sooner extremists are gone, the sooner the world will be a safer place.
- The issue of Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab World – Obama stated that to deny the Holocaust is hateful and causes Israelis pain. Palestinians are caused pain by their continued dislocation, which is an intolerable situation. There have been decades of stalemate in this area. There are two peoples with aspirations that may differ with the exception of both having a valid aspiration of a homeland. The only resolution is for two states. Hamas must put an end to its violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Israel must stop building additional settlements and recognize Palestine’s right to exist. Arab states must help Palestine view progress over a self-defeating view of the past as best.
- Shared Interest of Rights and Responsibilities of Nations on Nuclear Weapons – Obama concentrated on Iran in this area. He said he is willing to forget the past, the well-known history between the two countries and move forward with a mutual respect.
- Democracy – Obama stated clearly that no system of government should be forced on a country by another. He also let it be known, in case there was any doubt, that the US is commited to any government that shows the will of its people, regardless of type of government.
- Religious Freedom – Obama noted that the richness of religious diversity must be upheld. This is central to the ability of people to live together.
- Women’s Rights – There is a healthy debate regarding this issue. Debate is good. Women who are denied an education are also denied equality. Countries where women are well-educated will prosper. Obama also announced that the US will partner with any Muslim country that looks to educate its young women.
- Economic Development and Opportunity – Education and innovation are the currency of the 21st century.
In closing, Obama noted that we have the power to make the world we seek. He also called on the young people of the world, regardless of religion and nationality, to help remake the world as they have the power to do so.
While I found nothing controversial in the words my president had to say this morning, I was a little disturbed by the order in which he chose to point out the specific issues/tensions which need to be confronted. Maybe it is just the slant at which I view the world as a woman but I believe that women’s rights – including that to education – would help with many of the other tensions. Women who are educated take more of an interest in the way they live, in the government of their countries, in the policies of their governments. Making all peoples equal – whether according to gender or according to religion – will make many of the other tensions easier to deal with.