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Kashmir based Prominent Columnist Tarique A Bhat writes on Obama Speech

Reader comment on item: Assessing Obama's Cairo Speech

Submitted by Abd al Ali (India), Jun 16, 2009 at 05:39

Obama's oratory: Deeds will have to follow words Sunday, 07 June 2009 12:33

Opening with the greetings of "Shukran" and "As-salaam-alaikum," his speech was filled with appreciation for Muslim contributions to the world and to America. US President Barack Hussain Obama's much-heralded speech to the Muslim world in "the heart of the Arab world", Cairo's University has evoked a mixed response in the Muslim world. It was so refreshing to hear simple and balanced rhetoric coming from the mouth of an American president.

Can we compare the speech to "I have a Dream!" largely depends on whether the follow up actions of US is gradually morphing and reaching for a Navigational Change. Tarique A Bhat In fact, one impressive speech will not erase years of mistrust and missed opportunities just as Dr. King's 'I Have A Dream' speech did not complete the civil rights movement. In reality President Obama delivered a "big" speech.

Throughout his short but extraordinary career, Obama has displayed a penchant for taking on big issues with big speeches. He rebounded from a defeat during the Presidential primaries with a remarkable speech in New Hampshire that helped to define and infuse new hope into his campaign. It is important to recognize that he was facing a nation hardened in its negative view of the US. Much of the Arab & Muslim world doubts that the US president can change entrenched foreign policy. Experts of rhetoric say, if you want to reach the hearts and minds of people in the target audience, (here Muslim world) you need to use language they understand.

Obama chose to open a dialogue, by incorporating citations from the Holy Qur'an. Quoting from the Qur'an three times and acknowledging his personal ties to Islam, Obama called on the Muslim world to embrace common principles of justice, progress and tolerance to move beyond "the cycle of suspicion and discord" between the US and Arab nations. skillfully Obama argued the threat of extremist violence united all the children of Abraham and quoted from the Holy Qur'an, the Torah and the Bible the message of promoting peace. Extremism threatened the world just as much as recession, influenza and nuclear proliferation. US President called on Muslims, Jews and Christians around the world to cast aside fear and mistrust in the name of a safer, more prosperous future. The message was crystal clear, short on oratory and comprehensive on reality both America and the Muslim world should abandon crude stereotypes of each other. People should focus on what they have in common, not what divides them.

The speech is building bridges and opening better doors of understanding for the greater Muslim world. Obama said his foreign policy was rooted in diplomacy and international consensus, not in imposing Washington's will . "You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion" was a fascinating comment, which in a speech so carefully crafted, could not have been a mistake. Having said America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, he said equally "we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election." Obama divided his speech into seven sections, mostly political.

However, the sixth issue focused entirely on women's rights. He called for women's rights, religious dialogue and tolerance, and yes, freedom. "I know there is debate about this issue," Obama said. "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."

He echoed that long-respected American principle of self-determination. "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," Obama said. He talked about hijab and women's rights and talked how it is ingrained in Islamic traditions. He talked about giving women the freedom to choose the way they dress or whether they want to live in traditional ways.

Unlike our part of the world, he did not evade sensitive issues and has illustrated the ability and desire to work with all parties. Muslims across the board are expressing reservations over whether the US president's eloquent words would result in actions — especially pertaining to Palestinian sovereignty and the statehood. Balancing the most ticklish issue, on one hand, he reaffirmed the United States' "unbreakable" bond with Israel, which he said was "based upon cultural and historical ties."

He strongly condemned anti-Semitism, Holocaust-denial, 9/11-denial, and "anti-Israeli terrorism." At the same time, Obama forcefully reiterated points that some in the pro-Israel camp certainly didn't want to hear – reiterating his demand that Israeli settlements stop, saying the United States "does not accept" their "legitimacy." He cast the settlements as a barrier to Palestine's right to exist, placing it on a moral par with Israel's right to exist. He restated the position that the only route to peace is through two states. He also reminded the Arab world that he had closed Guantanamo Bay, which is polling badly for the White House right now, and restated his unequivocal prohibition of torture, using that word without apology.

President Obama seems enthusiastic about generating a dynamic dialogue process with the Muslim World. He ended as he began by calling for "a new beginning." It is high time for him to "turn the page" on the Bush doctrine. Obama must overcome the mindset of the powerful U.S. military-industrial complex that has immense influence. These grand statements need to be followed through by his motivational promise, Yes We Can!

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