Yesterday, our president gave a long speech from Cairo University to the muslim world at large, covering topics from terrorism to the situation in the Middle East, but having a single focus in his speech: peace. Obama’s actions yesterday we’re a step in a different direction than previous presidents, who never made a large effort to relate to the worldwide muslim community. While I do tend to distance myself from matters of state and patriotism, I must say, I think this is a step in the right direction.
For the last millennia and a half, the majority of the western population has had a terrible relationship with Muslims, from the Crusades to the Inquisition to the post – 9/11 stigma of killing ragheads that seems prevalent throughout America no matter where you go. Though we’ve officially not declared war with Islam, it seems that the populace at large has, tying every last adherent to the crime of the few. An organization acting the name of Allah destroyed the perception of a peaceful religion, one to which we owe a great deal of gratitude for elements of our society we draw from it. Obama’s strides to end this relationship have been both bold and controversial, causing a great uproar in the media, as well as in the conservative community, looking at it as a sign of weakness and disrespect to the victims of 9/11 when he bowed to the Saudi prince, or even in making the aforementioned speech.
Now, before I go on defending Obama’s actions, let me be clear: the tragedy that occurred on 9/11 was a crime for which justice needed to be served, and had the guilty been alive to face judgment, I am sure that said judgment would have come swiftly to them no matter who was in office, including Obama. To date, Obama has done more than Bush was able to do as far as exacting justice for the victims, and I don’t think he’d do anything that conflicted with that position. The problem is that we’ve taken their loss upon ourselves, and have labeled every Muslim a terrorist by associating violence with an otherwise peaceful religion. The fact of the matter is that our violent, excluding methods have only further alienated a people who could be our ally, and Obama is seeking a third way to work with them, not by lying down on his back and becoming a doormat, but by the extension of the olive branch. We’ve clearly done nothing for better relations until now, so I’m supporting Barack Obama in his efforts to bring peace between the US and the Muslim world.
On the other hand, however, is Obama doing enough? Throughout his speech he is apt to criticize Muslim leaders in several countries for their use of force (rightly so) and encourage nonviolence as a means of social change (again, rightly so). Where, however, is the promise of this occurring in the US? It seems like everyone but the United States should commit to nonviolence, whereas the US is free to wage three different wars for sometimes very ambiguous reasons. Though Obama did extend the olive branch in his speech, is he doing so while holding a large baseball bat in the other hand? When will Obama heed his own advice and praise that he gives out so readily? (For more information on this perspective, see Waging Nonviolence’s article on the matter here).
Well, what do you guys think? Is Obama doing the right thing? Are we presenting a weak front, or are we doing something that might change how things work between us and what was once perceived an old enemy? Or is the speech more harm than good? Could the double standard indirectly presented in his speech overshadow his attempts at bridging the gap, or could nonviolence shine through his speech past it?