Following President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech directed at the “Muslim World”, the reactions of pundits in the United States and Europe were extreme on both sides. Those on the left called the speech a landmark achievement. In the case of people on the right, their analysis is that the speech made the United States appear to be ‘weak’ and threatened our security. In fact, just this week at a Republican fundraiser in Washington DC, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich declared, “I am not a citizen of the world, I am a citizen of the United States.” Moreover, the MC of the evening, John Voigt, declared President Obama a “false prophet that must be stopped.” Unfortunately, both the right and the left are completely wrong in their assessments, and have displayed such a misunderstanding of the intention of the speech, that at least in the United States, the purpose has been lost.
First of all, this speech was intended to show the respect and acknowledgment that Muslims throughout the world have sought since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. An empire that kept the lights on during the dark ages of Europe, the Inquisition and European monarch’s who would restrict the usage of math, science and other forms of scholarship with the intent of keeping the masses under strict control and manipulation by declaring these practices as ‘evil’ or ‘heresy’. For this reason, it is ironic that the West now claims to be bringing Islamic nations out of the ‘dark ages’ when it was Muslims who saved the West from their own misguided religious moral authority. Obviously, the so-called ‘sons and daughters of Moses and Abraham’ need each other in order to prevent the demise of us all.
Next, the intent of the speech was to ask the greater Muslim Diaspora to take responsibility for their own actions, their own nation-states and most of all their own identities. This was above and beyond the most important aspect of the Cairo address. The impression that many non-Muslims have of the Muslim people is a misunderstood belief that Islam in some way condones terrorism, misogyny and intolerance of all things ‘non-Islamic.’ This could not be any further from the truth. Extremists such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda have hijacked the Muslim bully pulpit and used the platform to express their hatred of the ‘infidel’ and allow the unassuming non-Muslim to conclude that these beliefs are fundamental to Islam. Furthermore, Neoconservatives, Zionists and fundamentalist Christians have gone the extra mile to convince the general public at large that this point of view is the heart of Islam.
Unfortunately, for the likes of Newt Gingrich, Gov. Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh who refuse all things international, non-Christian and/or non-white, their short sidedness continues to bolster the President and his agenda. Their inability to understand that President Obama was encouraging and voicing support for the majority of moderates getting ready to take the polls in Lebanon, Iran, Palestine and Afghanistan, and appealing to their sensibility baffles the mind. If the outcome in Lebanon is any indication, you could assume that President Obama’s strategy worked given the beating that Hezbollah took in the polls last week. If reports and polling are correct coming out of Tehran, the same is about to happen to Mahmoud Ahdmenijad.
As painful as it is to say, President Bush was correct in his belief that by spreading Democracy, despot leaders and tyrannical systems will fall to the will of the people. What he failed to understand from his own doctrine by the undemocratic pre-selection of who the ‘good democratic’ candidates were, and the ‘extremists’ that were elected in protest against the Bush policies. It kind of contradicts the ‘anti-tyranny’ angle. Then again, George W. Bush was not known to think things through 100%.
Finally, the greatest impact of President Obama’s speech is found in Pakistan believe it or not. In the SWAT Valley and parts of the Northwest Frontier Province, we are starting to see a major change in just how much the locals are willing to accept from the extremist point of view. Now, this does not pre-suppose that it was President Obama’s speech that inspired the local population to take up arms, form militias and openly hunt down and kill Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters. However, according to many anonymous sources in Punjab province, specifically Lahore, the speech did serve as inspiration that Obama was at least offering a sense of empathy, support and acknowledgment that the US had made mistakes, and was not an enemy of Islam. This has paid dividend and what was thought to once be a concern that Pakistan would fall to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda has now turned into a rout at the hands of the local people and not the military.
Make no mistake the acknowledgement, respect and contribution of Muslim peoples around the world is long over due. The only way in which the United States can truly secure their way of life and belief system is to accept that we are a unique country in the fact that we acknowledge all points of view, respect all religions and allow dissenting voices a chance to be heard. For those who say we are a Christian nation, defy the very foundation of our country as set forth by Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Hobbes, Franklin and the rest of the founding fathers. Separation of church and state is a fundamental foundation in the United States. However, showing respect for religion and its contributions are something completely different. Those are based in acknowledgement that without it, regardless of the faith, has saved humanity a time or two from extinction. Anything to the contrary is just revisionist history.