Obama Offers Muslims a “Fresh Start” Based on Mutual Respect
By Dialogo June 04, 2009Cairo, June 4 (EFE). - Today, in his anticipated address to the Islamic believers of Cairo, U.S. President Barack Obama offered a "new beginning" for the relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world based on mutual respect and interests. The speech in the auditorium of the University of Cairo, which was nearly one hour long and one of the longest delivered by the President in his term of office, was loaded with content in which Obama reviewed the various areas of tension between his country and Muslims, but in which the main thread was the need to "break this cycle of suspicion and discord." Rather than present new proposals, Obama focused on explaining his policy toward the Muslim world to an audience that filled the hall, interrupting the President several times and cheering "Obama, Obama," when he left the installations. Conveying his message for the whole speech was not an easy task. His appeal in defense of the Jews and the right of Israel to exist was greeted with silence; however, his message against Israeli settlements and in favor of human rights was enthusiastically welcomed. "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 cooperation," the President emphasized before an audience representing a panorama of the political, cultural, and economic society of Cairo, and among which were such people as Ayman Nur, one of his opponents. The U.S. and Islam “need not be in competition,” but share principles such as justice and tolerance, the President affirmed, who cited his own experiences with Islam as a child reared in Indonesia and the contribution of Muslim culture in the United States. He urged Muslims to overcome their prejudices against the U.S. and listed a number of areas where there have been disagreements, from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and human rights. The President devoted a large part of his speech to the Middle East conflict, saying that the only possible solution is the coexistence of an Israeli state and a Palestinian one. Obama was very convincing in this regard, and noted that the Palestinians had the obligation to end the violence, and Israel to improve the living conditions of its neighbors and to stop the settlements. The President also restated his commitment to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by 2011 and his new strategy for Afghanistan, where he said that his intention is not to maintain troops forever. But while outlining his views on these areas, the President urged Muslims to reject violent extremism and said that the U.S. will soon be necessary to "relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security." Obama said that extremism will be addressed in a way "respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law," and in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. "The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer," said the President. The President also appealed to Iran to accept his offer of a new beginning without preconditions, in which the Islamic Republic must uphold its international commitments on its nuclear program to avoid an increase of weapon storage in the area. He also appealed to Muslim countries for a greater respect for human rights and particularly women's rights. The President concluded his remarks with two quotations from the Bible, the Koran, and the Jewish Torah to appeal for harmony between religions. The U.S. President's speech was aimed at the Muslim community worldwide, which has more than 1.5 billion people. To reach the widest possible audience, the White House released the speech via the Internet and through online social networks, while the State Department translated it into thirteen different languages and created a special web page to receive realtime text alerts in four languages: English, Arabic, Urdu and Farsi.