Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama's speech in Cairo - an extended hand to the Muslim world

There are so many things to write about on this blog, but of everything I write, these posts take the most time and thought. I want to address the Tiller murder, finish up my thoughts on Sviegel's Retro-Christianity, etc.. etc.

For right now - something I'm excited about: Obama's speech in Cairo.

For those of you who followed me during the election, you know I'm passionate about foreign affairs, and that I have really appreciated Obama's philosophy of foreign relations. I do not think that Bush was all bad, but so often I cringed when I heard his rhetoric. Obama's speech of course is going to be filled with platitudes because that is what political speeches are supposed to be full of. To be fair, big ceremonies and speeches and all of the decorum that goes with them are probably more valued overseas than they are here. We like impromptu and personal, but where I grew up people relished formal ceremonies that lasted for hours. So in any case, there are some key points underneath the political correctness.

To quote the Wall Street Journal's live blog on the speech:
If you’re looking for a summary of the Obama speech, it comes in these two
lines near the top: “America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in
competition…instead they overlap..I am convinced that in order to move forward
we must say openly to each other the things that are in our hearts.” Those are
his themes: We aren’t destined to be in eternal conflict, and we’ll get beyond
conflict only by being hones and open with each other.

I have friends that fundamentally disagree with this statement - they think that democracy and Islam are fundamentally in opposition to each other. I disagree. I appreciate that Obama went on to speak of the high points of Islamic history, something that few in the U.S. know much about. In the Dark Ages of Western civilization, it was the Islamic world that carried out scholarship, kept record of the classics, and furthered study in math and philosophy, etc. Then he requests that what the moderate Islamic world asks of the U.S. be reciprocated:

I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.

Obama condemned the Al-Quaeda and called for the Muslim world to fight them as well. He recalled 9-11, and insisted on the need for the continued war in Afghanistan. He defended Israel and the Jews and then calls for both sides to work towards a two-state solution, and condemns Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories. He upheld the need for democracy and women's rights, and pushed against Iran's aggression.

All in all, sounds good to me. It was typically sappy at times. I was surprised how clearly he defended and advocated democracy. I was glad that he was so clear and uncompromising on some issues, and glad that he was respectful and intentional about meeting them in their land, quoting the Koran, and honoring their history. It creates room for hope, without abandoning the hard things that he knows most of his audience will disagree with. Most of them do not want to compromise with Israel, but Obama's words were great:

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing
is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered
the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was
not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined
insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. It is a sign of
neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up
old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it
is surrendered.

Most of all, I know the Islamic world is has been watching and waiting for this moment to see what Obama will say to them. Of course the fundamentalists will reject him, but who cares? What is important is that he has reached out to the moderates and paved the way for a partnership against aggressive fundamentalism.

The media response so far is predictably positive.


Melissa said...

I appreciated this post, Kacie!

Angie Smith said...

hi kacie! i know this is a random place to post, but i got your comment on my blog and i would love to know more!!!! my email address is if you get a chance!!!! thanks so much...


randplaty said...

I remember a class on Islam that I took a few years back and what the professor who was muslim himself said about Islam. He said that 911 was not out of character with the Koran and the Islamic faith. What the west characterized as Islamic fundamentalism was actually the mainstream of the faith. The pacifist muslims were actually the fringe groups. Islam is a warrior religion and that Islam needed to reform itself in fundamental ways before it would be able to coexist peacefully with the rest of the world.

Togenberg said...

How did the various voices in the choir of Fox News react I wonder?

I loved the speech. Artful and good. Not sure of its on-the-ground efficacy but it did some good. I was proud!

Of course Islam and democracy may be compatible. I think the real question is what form of Islam (and to a lesser degree what form of democracy?)?

I find it interesting and troubling that some people assume Christianity and democracy are of a pair.

Clearly there are huge swaths of Christian history when nations or large groupings of Christians most clearly did not embrace democracy. Indeed, once gaining political power it would take Christians many centuries before democracy (parliamentary democracy of some sort) would in any way would make sense; this includes Augustine, the history of much of Roman Catholicism, the Eastern Orthodox church, the Lutheran principalities and kingdoms, Luther's Geneva, a great deal of Anglican history... The point sadly asserts itself. With the exception of the very early church (not that they were a polity per se), some heretical sects, many Anabaptists, and a village here and a canton there, Christianity and democracy have not been compatible up until the early modern era. Potentially perhaps but there weren't.

This doesn't mean that Christianity and democracy aren't compatible, just that there is not an essential or necessary linkage between them.