Obama calls for ‘broader engagement’ with Muslim world
In a lengthy speech in which he quoted the Koran, Holy Bible and Torah, President Obama on Thursday called for a “new beginning” between the U.S. and the Muslim world by saying there is more that unites the world than divides. it.
Speaking at in Cairo, Egypt, Obama said he seeks a relationship “based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.”
“And one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition,” Obama said. “Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
Obama said he did not expect his speech to fundamentally change the dynamic in the region, but he hoped it would begin a process of changing that relationship.
“But I am convinced that in order to move forward,” he said, “we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors.”
Drawing upon his own experience with his father’s Muslim family, Obama broke down his remarks into seven sections. First, he addressed violent extremism in the Muslim world. He reiterated that the U.S. will never be “at war with Islam,” but emphasized the U.S.’s dedication to “confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security.”
He also addressed U.S. operations in Afghanistan and emphasized that he does not want to permanently station troops in the country. “We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can,” he said. “But that is not yet the case.”
In an extended part of the speech, Obama also discussed the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The president emphatically stated that there must be a two-state solution. “If we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth,” Obama said. “The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest.”
The president then discussed Iran’s nuclear program and said that the country does have the right to a peaceful nuclear power program. But Obama added that he seeks to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in all countries around the world.
“That is why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
Obama also didn’t shy away from a direct rebuke of the previous administration in discussing democracy in the region. The president said “no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other” and “America does not presume to know what is best for everyone,” an apparent direct contradiction to the Bush administration’s desire to install Democracy in Iraq.
Obama also said, though, that there are certain rights he believes everyone has.
“I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose,” he said. “Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”
Religious freedom was the fifth topic in Obama’s speech. He touched upon Islam’s “proud tradition of tolerance” and said “people should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart and soul.”
Religion should unite the world, not divide it, Obama said. The president also said religion should serve as a call to service.
“Around the world, we can turn dialogue into Interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action – whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster,” he said.
The issue of women’s rights, a controversial one in the region, was also highlighted in the speech. “I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal,” he said, “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.”
The president also discussed economic development in the region and said Middle East countries have “enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil.” The president, however, called for a greater investment in education and innovation and directed some of his remarks at the region’s youth.
“All of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century, and in too many Muslim communities there remains underinvestment in these areas,” he said. “I am emphasizing such investments within my country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas in this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.”