Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama Speaks to the Muslim World

"America is not - and never will be - at war with Islam," declared Barak Hussein Obama in a speech billed as his administration's attempt to mend fences with the Muslim world.

In the last few days and weeks leading up to the speech in Cairo today, President Obama has spoken proudly of American Muslims, even talked about his heritage as the son of a Muslim man.

Obama's openness about his own Muslim heritage comes as a pleasant surprise to Muslims, especially after his presidential campaign last year went to great lengths to keep him away from Muslims, including an incident where a hijab-wearing American Muslim woman was denied a spot on the stage at an Obama rally, but the president showed long ago that he is comfortable talking about his roots, which are addressed in his two biographical books, "Dreams From My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope."

Now, Obama appears to be citing those roots to mend fences with the Islamic world, and persuade elements of Islamic society to rise up and join with the United States against al Qaeda.

He referred to his childhood in Indonesia in an interview with the BBC ahead of his trip. Adviser Denis McDonough did the same on Friday.

Speaking about America's strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama said, "We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon."

On Arab-Israeli conflict, Obama asserted, "For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers - for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: 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."

He opened with greetings of gratitude and peace -- "Shukran" and “As-Salaam-Alaikum."

Here's the full text of the speech:

I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.

We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world - tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one 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. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles - principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." That is what I will try to do - to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam - at places like Al-Azhar University - that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers - Thomas Jefferson - kept in his personal library.

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And 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. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words - within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."

Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores - that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations - to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.

That does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: we must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not - and never will be - at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. 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. But that is not yet the case.

That's why we're partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths - more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism - it is an important part of promoting peace.

We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future - and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically-elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012. We will help Iraq train its Security Forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.

So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed - more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers - for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: 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. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them - and all of us - to live up to our responsibilities.

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. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. 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.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically- elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. 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. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.

I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But 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. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments - provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld - whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit - for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

Indeed, faith should bring us together. That is why we are forging service projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That is why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's Interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. 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.

The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, 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.

Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity - men and women - to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and changing communities. In all nations - including my own - this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we will lose of control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities - those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradiction between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

This is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf States have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But 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. 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.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America, while encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in on-line learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.

On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek - a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many - Muslim and non-Muslim - who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort - that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country - you, more than anyone, have the ability to remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort - a sustained effort - to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward; to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples - a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you.

As American Muslims, let us all acknowledge that President Obama is saying all the right things, and hope that his words will soon translate into good deeds on the ground. He's only been in office just a few months, let's give him a little more time before we pronounce judgment on his performance.

Related Links:

Is Obama a True Friend of Israel?

Why Obama Shies Away from Muslims?

So What if Obama is Muslim?


Anonymous said...

Obama's the ultimate appeaser. This is a prelude to cutting and running. He's got to be really careful not to be the next Carter.

Anonymous said...

He is representing a country that prides in high regard for tolerance and values and export of democracy and freedom even at gun point - to have him give a speech to "Muslims" from a country that prides in human rights violations, intolerance to other faiths and above all an autocratic rule... Well it is all bullshit..

Anonymous said...

to have him give a speech to "Muslims" from a country that prides in human rights violations, intolerance to other faiths and above all an autocratic rule... Well it is all bullshit..

If you stretch out a little higher from the rock you live under you may see some daylight.

Anonymous said...

Islam and tolerance does not exist togather. Read the story of islam as the religion claims to be historical and mythological.

Invariable either the father would have killed the sone or vice versa if not the brother will have honour.

Probably obama might want to be light on islamic world but the administration the israel lobby has not allowed him to do a single act as per his talk.

AFter four years, he will be made to look like a complete failure.

Riaz Haq said...

I know many Indians loved Bush and cheered him on for failed policies of war against the Muslim world. So it is not a surprise that you do not like Obama's enlightened approach to find success in dealing with the Muslims.

As to the intolerance charge, all I can say is you need to study Muslim history of tolerance toward non-Muslims. Read Xanadu by British historian William Dalymple, or read about Israeli historian Aba Eban's description of Muslim Spain as "Golden era for Jews", or read about Salahuddin Ayyubi and his behavior during the Crusades.

Jaydev,India said...

Read all those history
..OR just watch what Muslims are doing today..there is no smoke without fire..After all, in real life things don't go from normal to slasher movie..from Rodriguez's Dusk till Dawn Till Dawn(1996). ;-)

It was cheap to comment
"Indians loved Bush and cheered him on for failed policies of war against the Muslim world"
It actually shows ur pakistaniat! :-)
Indians love Bush becoz He and His whole team (minus Colin Powell) were ardent Indophiles..
Paul Wolfowitz,Dick Cheney, Condolissa Rice,John Bolton,John McCain,Robert Blackwill etc..

There is no way in the world we Indians(most of them) can't do anything but love them..
demonstrable actions:
1) Promoting India-Israel ties
2) Phalcon AWACS sale clearance
3) N-deal(big one)
4) Indo-Pak dehyphernation in American foreign policy(big one)
5) India-US strategic military co-operation(big-one)

Jaydev,India said...

Obama is a sweet tongued careerist to my mind from his conduct.I would love to read your post about him at time of next re-election.Do you honestly buy his extraordinary Muslims crap..?
"My job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives"
Read that sentence a few times..its all a rhetorical feel good nothing.My prognosis is that he is going to screw everything from Iran,North Korea,economy to Pakistan by design or default..coz lots of things have gone out of control..Only bright side is the "reset" with Russia.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Jadev. It is disingenuous on your part to say that Indians cheered on Bush in the war against muslims. In 2006 our PM Singh went to the U.S to sign the nuke deal. While fielding questions from the U.S media, said that the Iraq war was a mistake, to much applause. We did not cheer on Bush to invade Iraq. We didn't let U.S arm twist us into sending Indian troops to Iraq. But look at what the Pak army is doing today. They are implanting GPS tracking chips on their own people, so that the U.S drones can shoot down innocent civilians like sitting ducks from high above in the sky.

Riaz Haq said...


"The people of India deeply love you", said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to President Bush on a visit to the White House late last year.

The Prime Minister continued with the theme of affection and gratitude by adding, “In the last four and half years that I have been Prime Minister, I have been the recipient of your generosity, your affection, your friendship. It means a lot to me and to the people of India.”

Later, India's Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon explained: “I think, if you look at the public opinion polls, the ratings for President Bush are higher in India than in any other country. That is the factual basis.”

For a long time, Bush was far more popular in India than any place else in the world, including US.

Jaydev,India said...

(before 1999, India was totally anti-American coz of threatening nuclear strike on India for Pak in 1971,arming Pakistan,interfering in Kashmir,American Bapist missionaries sponsoring North-East militants etc..that is why all those opposing US was considered heroes)
Its very ignorant stereotyping..that India cheered Iraqi invasion.First of all, Sadaam Hussien was a great friend of India(Iraq and Algeria were the only Muslim countries that support Indian position in international forums and counter-"islamic" terrorism co-operation before 9/11) and many people love him here and there are many fan clubs for him here(in Kerala there is beach called Sadaam Beach dedicated to him for challenging US in Gulf War..). Same for Gaddafi,you might have heard about Gaddafi stadium in India.Hitler is also very inspiring to Indian youth(since he supported INA under Subash Chandra Bose) and also courage of Israelis for making their last stand against all odds on a tiny sliver of land.Mein Kampf is a best seller even today..but there is zero Anti-Jewish sentiment here except among Muslims/Commies.
So much so that,Israelis after mandatory service comes to Himachal Pradesh,Jammu & Kashmir,Goa and Kerala for relaxing(Most of them stay here for years and some settle here).
Though after invasion and Sunni-Shia deathsquad & bloodshed,many people here feel that Iraq was better under iron fist rule of Saddam.What I am implying is that things are not black and white here(or anywhere), but its safe to make some generalization(but I disagree with yours..since I live here :-)).

Anonymous said...

Riaz, Again, we Indians applaud Bush for what he offered us. The Iraqis hate Bush for what he did to them. They are mutually exclusive. We don't like Bush because he invaded Iraq.

Anonymous said...

"In his first 100 days, Obama managed to create two million Pakistani refugees. It took Israel 60 years to create 3.5 million Palestinian refugees"

Appreciate the statement of fact.

Anonymous said...

In his first 100 days, Obama managed to create two million Pakistani refugees.

About 165M of the 170M people of Pakistan are IDP (internally dispossessed people). Obama, or the US, or India, or Israel had nothing to do with that. Find some other bogey - or face the truth that the State of Pakistan screws over its own people.

Anonymous said...

"So much so that,Israelis after mandatory service comes to Himachal Pradesh,Jammu & Kashmir,Goa and Kerala for relaxing(Most of them stay here for years and some settle here)."

Jaydev, India: oh yes, many. I am from India and had been to most of the places you wrote and didn't see any Israelis. Some odd do come to Kochin, Kerala to see the Synagogue. Few of the Jews probably want to admit that it was Arabs, who saved them from invading Romans in the middle east and brought them to Kerala.

As for Indo-Israeli relationship, it is over emphasised and sensationalized by both some urban Hindutva Indians and Pakistanis, each for their own causes. Most of the Indians who live in villages never heard of Israel and if you tell them the story of Palesine and Israel dispassionately, they are more likely to support Palestinians.

As for hysteria of Pakistan and some Muslim groups in India about Israeli ties, they should have better known that India need not necessarily sacrifice its own interests forever when it has absolutely no ideological or religious reason to do so. In any case, India doesn't have to be more Arab than Arabs - when Jordan and Egypt have cozy relations with Israel, why cant India?

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting commentary by Kapil Komireddi published in the Guardian earlier this year:

Indian Muslims in particular have rarely known a life uninterrupted by communal conflict or unimpaired by poverty and prejudice. Their grievances are legion, and the list of atrocities committed against them by the Indian state is long. In 2002 at least 1,000 Muslims were slaughtered by Hindu mobs in the western state of Gujarat in what was the second state-sponsored pogrom in India (Sikhs were the object of the first, in 1984).

For decades Indian intellectuals have claimed that religion, particularly Hinduism, is perfectly compatible with secularism. Indian secularism, they said repeatedly, is not a total rejection of religion by the state but rather an equal appreciation of every faith. Even though no faith is in principle privileged by the state, this approach made it possible for religion to find expression in the public sphere, and, since Hindus in India outnumber adherents of every other faith, Hinduism dominated it. Almost every government building in India has a prominently positioned picture of a Hindu deity. Hindu rituals accompany the inauguration of all public works, without exception.

The novelist Shashi Tharoor tried to burnish this certifiably sectarian phenomenon with a facile analogy: Indian Muslims, he wrote, accept Hindu rituals at state ceremonies in the same spirit as teetotallers accept champagne in western celebrations. This self-affirming explanation is characteristic of someone who belongs to the majority community. Muslims I interviewed took a different view, but understandably, they were unwilling to protest for the fear of being labelled as "angry Muslims" in a country famous for its tolerant Hindus.

The failure of secularism in India – or, more accurately, the failure of the Indian model of secularism – may be just one aspect of the gamut of failures, but it has the potential to bring down the country. Secularism in India rests entirely upon the goodwill of the Hindu majority. Can this kind of secularism really survive a Narendra Modi as prime minister? As Hindus are increasingly infected by the kind of hatred that Varun Gandhi's speech displayed, maybe it is time for Indian secularists to embrace a new, more radical kind of secularism that is not afraid to recognise and reject the principal source of this strife: religion itself.

Riaz Haq said...

Lately, there have been some arrests of American-Muslim and Pakistani-American youths on suspicions of terror. The Internet has been identified as a tool for radicalization and proposals made to deal with it. Here's an interesting post by Reem Salahi in HuffingtonPost on this subject:

Yet even in cases where agent provocateurs were not employed, the reality is that the government and media have too long treated Islam and Muslims as a homogeneous, non-dynamic, suspect group. Whenever a Muslim engages in a criminal act, the individual is always qualified by his religious background. Very rarely do we see similar treatment of non-Muslims. For example, I have never read an article describing Timothy McVeigh as the Christian white man. But nearly every article on Nidal Hasan qualifies him as a Muslim and Palestinian within the first few sentences.

As a consequence, Muslims are forced to account for the (negative) actions of a fourth of the world's population. Ironically, I have never been congratulated for the positive actions of other fellow Muslims. The acts of a few bad apples or even a few misguided youth become the norm and not the exceptions. Put differently, it would be like suspecting that every White high school student was prone to commit a massacre as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the killers at Columbine High School, did.

The reality is that the discourse on radicalization and homegrown terrorism is fundamentally racist and Islamophobic. It is based on seeing Muslims as the "other" and viewing our actions through an "orientalist" lens which frames any Muslim's questionable action as terrorism. Hence, a Muslim overstaying an immigration visa or improperly filing taxes or even paintballing becomes evidence of terrorism and radicalization, justifying the government's infiltration of our mosques, surveillance of our youth groups, and mapping of our populations. Maybe, just maybe, Muslims don't need to be understood by a different rubric than other populations. Further, by framing Muslims as terrorists and as the internal enemy within, the government and media have alienated and disenfranchised many law-abiding Muslims who seek nothing more than to actually live "unremarkable" lives.

Those in the media, in the government, and in Muslim organizations who have jumped on the bandwagon, you have missed the boat. Muslims and Muslim youth are not intrinsically prone to radicalization through the aid of the internet, just as White youth are not intrinsically prone to commit massacres or lynch ethnic minorities in solidarity with the KKK. Rather, the problem is the media and the government's continued vilification and the consequential disenfranchisement of the Muslim community. It is the government's infiltration of mosques and community centers with informants and agent provocateurs. It is the FBI's prolonged fishing expeditions and false prosecutions of many innocent Muslims. And it is an ever-worsening foreign policy that wastes away our tax dollars on killing innocent civilians throughout the world. So please stop parroting the misguided construct of homegrown terrorism and Islamic radicalization as the problem, when the real problem is xenophobia couched in politically correct terms.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a piece by a former NY Times correspondent Chris Hedges published by on Dec 28, 2009:

Syed Fahad Hashmi can tell you about the dark heart of America. He knows that our First Amendment rights have become a joke, that habeas corpus no longer exists and that we torture, not only in black sites such as those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at Guantánamo Bay, but also at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan. Hashmi is a U.S. citizen of Muslim descent imprisoned on two counts of providing and conspiring to provide material support and two counts of making and conspiring to make a contribution of goods or services to al-Qaida. As his case prepares for trial, his plight illustrates that the gravest threat we face is not from Islamic extremists, but the codification of draconian procedures that deny Americans basic civil liberties and due process. Hashmi would be a better person to tell you this, but he is not allowed to speak.

This corruption of our legal system, if history is any guide, will not be reserved by the state for suspected terrorists, or even Muslim Americans. In the coming turmoil and economic collapse, it will be used to silence all who are branded as disruptive or subversive. Hashmi endures what many others, who are not Muslim, will endure later. Radical activists in the environmental, globalization, anti-nuclear, sustainable agriculture and anarchist movements—who are already being placed by the state in special detention facilities with Muslims charged with terrorism—have discovered that his fate is their fate. Courageous groups have organized protests, including vigils outside the Manhattan detention facility. They can be found at or On Martin Luther King Day, this Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. EST, protesters will hold a large vigil in front of the MCC on 150 Park Row in Lower Manhattan to call for a return of our constitutional rights. Join them if you can.

The case against Hashmi, like most of the terrorist cases launched by the Bush administration, is appallingly weak and built on flimsy circumstantial evidence. This may be the reason the state has set up parallel legal and penal codes to railroad those it charges with links to terrorism. If it were a matter of evidence, activists like Hashmi, who is accused of facilitating the delivery of socks to al-Qaida, would probably never be brought to trial.

Hashmi, who if convicted could face up to 70 years in prison, has been held in solitary confinement for more than 2½ years. Special administrative measures, known as SAMs, have been imposed by the attorney general to prevent or severely restrict communication with other prisoners, attorneys, family, the media and people outside the jail. He also is denied access to the news and other reading material. Hashmi is not allowed to attend group prayer. He is subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring and 23-hour lockdown. He must shower and go to the bathroom on camera. He can write one letter a week to a single member of his family, but he cannot use more than three pieces of paper. He has no access to fresh air and must take his one hour of daily recreation in a cage. His “proclivity for violence” is cited as the reason for these measures although he has never been charged or convicted with committing an act of violence.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is a BBC report about Taliban's brazen Kabul attacks and how the Afghan Taliban deliberately avoided civilian casualties, unlike the Pakistani Taliban:

The Taliban, we learned later, having failed to storm the government buildings they had at first targeted, sought shelter elsewhere.

At least four went into a crowded shopping centre.

If their intention had been to kill as many people as possible, it would have been achievable there.

But they didn't. They ordered everyone - shoppers and shopkeepers alike - out. Soon the building was on fire.

The Taliban fighters died amid the flames, most of them in a volley of gunfire, while the last man alive blew himself up.

The number of civilians who died was - given the scale of what was happening - surprisingly low.

From Pakistan, we learned, a Taliban spokesman had called a news agency, while the attack was still under way, to announce that 20 of its militants were involved.

The public relations management was as vital to the perpetrators as the co-ordination of the attack itself.

This care, this determination to avoid civilian deaths is now part of the conflict in Afghanistan.

It is something the Taliban shares with its Nato enemies.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a revealing piece by Mark Glenn, an American and former high school teacher turned writer and commentator:

Today, while driving through town, I wound up behind a minivan that had a big sticker on the back. The sticker had an Israeli flag in the middle of it, and under it the quotation from the book of Genesis that reads "I will bless those who bless thee."

I would like to take this time to list my own reasons for thanking and blessing Israel, our lone ally in the Middle East, for everything she has done for us, since I am quite sure most Americans are unaware of just what kind of friend she has been to us.

For extorting from me and my fellow Americans $16,000,000,000 (billion) a year for the last 4 decades, we bless thee.

For taking our most sophisticated weapons technology and stealing it for yourself without paying the American patent holders, we bless thee.

For taking that high-tech military technology and selling it to our enemies, such as the Russians and Chinese, thus further endangering us, we bless thee.

For using that weaponry in a sustained attack against a United States ship, the USS Liberty, in an attempt to sink her, thus preventing US servicemen from revealing to the rest of the world information concerning the war crimes they witnessed you commit against Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai Desert during the Six Day War, we bless thee.

For killing 35 and wounding 170 American sailors aboard the USS Liberty, we bless thee.

For bribing the United States government into covering it up, preventing any justice from being done for the benefit of the families of the lost sailors - as well as the American People, we bless thee.

For sending your agents into Egypt and blowing up American buildings for the purpose of blaming the Arabs in an event known as the Lavon Affair, we bless thee.

For sending your agents into Libya during the Reagan administration, and broadcasting radio messages in Arabic that were designed to sound like "terrorist cell planning" so that the US would initiate military strikes against Khadafi, we bless thee.

For withholding information from us concerning the planned attacks against the US Marine barracks in Lebanon, attacks you knew about through your moles in the Islamic world and about which you deliberately refused to warn us in order to further your interests against the Arabs, we bless thee.

For employing Jonathon Pollard, an American serviceman paid to spy for Israel in order to steal even more of our National Security secrets for your parasitic purposes, we bless thee.

For blackmailing President Clinton through one of your intelligence agents, Monica Lewinsky, in order to prevent a coherent peace program from being pushed forward between yourself and the Palestinian people that you have brutalized and murdered for the last 50 years, we bless thee.

For breaking every agreement you have made with your Arab neighbors, stealing their land, displacing, murdering, and treating them like the animals you see them as, we bless thee.

For using your agents within the first Bush administration to involve us in the first Gulf War, causing the deaths of American men and women, and exposing our servicemen to whatever bioweapons were/are responsible that has led to Gulf War Syndrome, we bless thee.

For your role in the September 11 attacks in this country, and for blackmailing and bribing the US government into deporting back to Israel the 100 or more intelligence agents that were arrested after the attacks, we bless thee.

For supressing the information from the American people of your involvement in the September 11 attacks and sending us in the wrong direction in search of answers, we bless thee.

For using one of your agents in the US Army Weapons Lab, Lt Colonel Philip Zack to steal anthrax and distribute it into our mail system, terrorizing US citizens and killing several in order to blame the Arabs, we bless thee.

Riaz Haq said...

Mark Glenn Piece Contd:

For supressing the information from the American people of your involvement in the September 11 attacks and sending us in the wrong direction in search of answers, we bless thee.

For using one of your agents in the US Army Weapons Lab, Lt Colonel Philip Zack to steal anthrax and distribute it into our mail system, terrorizing US citizens and killing several in order to blame the Arabs, we bless thee.

For using your agents in the US Government, namely, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, Abrams, and the rest into initiating this war in the Middle East so that you could bring to heel all the enemies you have made during the last 50 years, we bless thee.

For using your agents in the media to lie to us on a minute by minute basis about the war, how "just" this cause is, and what the real reasons behind it are, we bless thee.

For using your agents in the Christian Evangelical community, such as Falwell, Graham, Swaggert, and the rest who praise you as God's chosen people and further keep Americans in the dark about who you really are, what you have done, and what you are truly about, we bless thee.

For bringing idiots like Limbaugh, Liddy, Hannity, Beck, and Savage to the forefront as paid liars that will support you and further lead Americans astray, we bless thee.

For making America your attack dog, and for sending her sons and daughters to fight and die in all your future wars, we bless thee.

For using your influence in the media to hide the real statistics about the war, the dead and wounded on both sides, we bless thee.

For using us in such a way that not only further inflames the Arab world against us, but as well has succeeded in our alienating ourselves against those nations with whom we have been friendly for over a century, we bless thee.

And finally, for using your influence in our media and academia to flood our minds with pornography and lies, as well as inculcating in us a hatred for our history, religion, and culture, for dividing our nation between races and sexes, and for releasing into our society all of your plagues and filth that have left us a rotted out corpse of a once great nation, oh Israel, our friend,we bless thee.


For further information regarding the above cited events, read either books written by ex- Israeli Intelligence agent Victor Ostrovsky entitled "By Way of Deception" and "The Other Side of Deception".

Riaz Haq said...

In his book "On China", Henry Kissinger mentions the name of Zeng He, a 15th century Muslim admiral, who commanded the first Chinese Navy and made seven major expeditions under Emperor Yongle during Ming dynasty.

He was the great great great grandson of Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar, a Persian who served in the administration of the Mongolian Empire and was appointed governor of Yunnan during the early Yuan Dynasty.

Kissinger says that the world history would have been very different if the Chinese emperors who succeeded Yongle had not decided to end the expeditions.

Riaz Haq said...

Those who embrace Islam tend to do so after years of contact with Muslims. (Ms Lewthwaite reportedly had a close relationship with Muslim neighbours during her youth.) Some, mostly women who make up around two-thirds of new believers in Britain, convert because they want to marry a Muslim. Others are fed up with what they see as the bawdiness of British society. Many speak of seeking a sense of community. Prisons have proven fertile ground for conversions for men. Some worry that those who convert in jail are exposed to more radical strains of Islam; others say that Islam's discipline and structure, along with the support they received from other Muslims, helped them to cope with life inside.

...converts who turn to terrorism, as Ms Lewthwaite is suspected of doing, are rare. Indeed, the vast, peaceable majority may help to bridge the gap between Muslims and others. In Western countries the growth in converts is part of Islam’s transition from an immigrant religion to a home-grown one.