Obama’s Speech: What Now?

An bold speech. It seemed that he did manage to cover the major issues surrounding American and Islamic relations, while trying to win over those on the fence by backing some of his arguments with Qur’anic verses.

The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as — it is as if he has killed all mankind. And the Holy Koran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.

(The verse above is from al-Maa’idah:32)

Reactions to the speech have been generally positive. His speech had been well-received by the Arabic press. Organizations such as ISNA regards it as la positive engagement. The Islamic Shura Council of South California said that words must be followed by action:

“This infatuation exercise with this black president of the United States who’s speaking about Islam will have a certain life cycle. But before that life cycle has dissipated, I think some concrete policies need to be laid out.”

Meanwhile locally, A/P Hussin Muttalib wrote in to the local daily, with caveat, that:

His statements about the right of Muslim women to wear the hijab, his determination to push for new approaches in US policies towards Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan – and especially his emphatic promise to implement fully and zealously the ‘two-state solution’ in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict – have been given a standing ovation in Egypt, and in many parts of the Muslim world. So too his self-effacing overture in calling for ‘a new beginning between the US and the Muslim world…based on mutual respect’ and adherence to core principles such as mutual progress and human dignity. These have struck a chord with Muslims in many corners of the globe, including in Singapore.

All in all, not a bad speech by the head of the world’s most powerful nation. The writer had done his homework well and consulted those who are familiar with Islamic texts to be able to pepper the speech with Qur’anic verses (in addition to Talmud and Bible verses). Some might even go so far as to speculate the absence of any hadith citation is to placate the extreme left-wing Muslims, but then again, this is not a sermon from an religious scholar.

It’s too soon to say what will exactly entail his speech. A positive shift in policy, or impossible red-tape bureaucracy, assuming the president follows up his words with actions.

And if his speech is any indication of any form of action that may take place, then Muslims Americans are in for a (hopefully) more pleasant change. For instance, Obama spoke on the rights of hijab (aka tudung here) for Muslim women:

…the United States 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… 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 can’t disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretense of liberalism.

He also compared the right to hijab to the tendencies of some Middle-Eastern countries to sideline women in their daily conduct and rights to education:

…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.

He iterated on the two-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis:

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… 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.

Although, shortly after, Israel refuted that request:

Israel will not heed President Barack Obama’s powerful appeal to halt all settlement activity on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state, officials said Friday, a position that looks sure to cause a policy clash with its most important ally.

Apparently not all of the reactions are positive then. What’s gonna happen now? Too soon to tell.


Full video of the speech: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/NewBeginning/

Full text of the speech: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-Cairo-University-6-04-09/


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