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Obama's Audience

By June 4, 2009

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In his much-anticipated "speech to the Muslim world" on Thursday, President Obama spoke directly to a crowd of thousands at Cairo University in Egypt. As the speech was broadcast live throughout the world, he reached out to the wider Muslim world with words of respect, hope, and challenge.

Obama's recent visits with regional leaders give evidence that Obama is engaging in the issues and has hope for resolution of key conflicts. Regional commentators continue to remind, however, that in the end it will be actions, not words, that define Obama's political success.

More than any previous U.S. President, Obama has directly outreached to the Muslim community without hesitation or apology. In preparing his Cairo speech, CNN reports that he instructed his staff to "cast a wide net" for opinions, including from Muslim-Americans. He does not seem to be a man who steers away from controversy, but addresses issues head-on. In this speech, he directly addressed U.S. policy on the issues of:

  • Combating violent extremism
  • The Israeli-Palestinian issue
  • Nuclear weaponry rights and responsibilities
  • Democracy
  • Religious freedom
  • Women's rights
  • Economic development and opportunity
As I listened to this speech, though, I also thought that in many ways that Obama's words should be addressed to the people of his own country. Obama praised the "harmony between tradition and progress" represented by his hosts: Al-Azhar University, one of the oldest institutes of learning in the world, and the more modern Cairo University. Throughout his address, Obama made reference to Islam as a faith of learning, a tradition of "religious tolerance and racial equality." He spoke with honor about the contributions that Muslims have made to American history and culture. He defended a Muslim's right to religious freedom, and pointed out that Muslim-Americans have higher incomes and educational levels than the national average.

Obama stated clearly that "Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism -- it is an important part of promoting peace."

They were words that the Muslim world perhaps wanted to hear, but that audiences in the U.S. should hear. Obama himself described that many people in the U.S. "view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights." Obama's understanding of Islamic history and culture is one that should be encouraged and shared.

More From Middle East Issues at About.com:

June 5, 2009 at 10:57 am
(1) aiman says:

Hopefully Obama will live to be a great leader — who perhaps for the first time is saying things contrary to what all empires have said, and not just American presidents. Great man. No wonder he has riled up the two extremes of the world — earning the wrath of both al-Qaeda (support from which is nearabout negligible among Muslims now) and some people in the West who do not wish for peace with the rest.

Some people have criticised his choice of venue — but I think this should be overlooked because he was making a point to everyone.

June 17, 2009 at 3:26 am
(2) Shaw says:

Obama speech has stirred the whole Muslim World – perhaps the most awaited speech made by any American President.

Obama punctuated and studded his historical speech with the quotation of verses of Holy Quran; more significant was: Killing of one single soul is akin to the killing of the whole mankind. How he will count the unjustified killings of thousands and thousand of innocent old persons and children in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama chose to the most tyrant ruled country of the Muslim World where a dispot is sitting on the crown for decades. He has also nominated a crown prince.

The most important burning and flash point is the occupied Jammu and Kashmir, where more than 100,000 Muslims have laid down their lives on the altar of freedom and the virgin girls raped.

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