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Obama’s dream

The Jakarta Post   |  Mon, 06/08/2009 9:51 AM  |




Many have and will continue to debate the nuances of US president Barack Obama’s speech at Cairo University on Thursday. The critics will continue to be harsh, and supporters overly kind toward its merits. Its substance will be analyzed, its ramifications deliberated. Despite a breathtaking delivery, however it was by no means a perfect speech.


Nevertheless, the value of Obama’s speech may not be in the what he did or didn’t say, but in the intent of its delivery. Here was a man representing the world’s greatest power of the last century, extending a public hand of friendship, peace and conciliation to a civilization long erroneously perceived with suspicion, derision and perceptions of backwardness by the West.


As Obama pointed out, many people in the West forget (or fail to realize) it was Islamic civilization that served as a bridge between the founding sciences of the ancient Greeks and the renaissance of the “West”.


What Obama did was to take account of history and place it in its proper context, as well as acknowledging and reconciling mutual faults without the mistake of contradicting the past and the present at the expense of the future.


His speech is no doorway to a new world of love and understanding, but it is certainly a marker for a new beginning; one which Obama says is based on mutual interest and mutual respect, “based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition”.


At risk of pointing fingers, we cannot help but wonder if his speech is as poignant to a Muslim audience as it is to an American one.


When he declared that “Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism, it is an important part of promoting peace,” we hope such words resound as piercingly throughout the plains of North America as it does in the domes of a million mosques.


As Hillary Clinton and John McCain learned, one cannot argue with hope. Hence, while there are still a great many fine points and pledges to realize from Obama’s speech, he has injected fresh hope that rational dialog of civilizations is on the horizon.


Paradoxically, Obama has also raised expectations even further, by claiming that creating world peace will take much hard work, patience and persistence from all religions, ideologies and political entities.


Even Obama acknowledged the long road ahead when he said “no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust”.


The seven points raised in Obama’s speech may be partially or wholly appealing. Some points, arguably, are infused with American foreign policy self-interest.


But in what we hope to be the earliest dawn of a new era, this matters not. Let the diplomats and politicians sort the details out with their policy chess games. What is important is that there is a common desire for nuanced understanding.


The door is open, and a friendly hand stretched out. It is up to us all to realize the dream. If America often lauds itself as a place where dreams come true, then the Middle East has certainly been a graveyard of recurring nightmares. It will be up to Obama’s America, the Middle Eastern community and the Muslim world to realize which outcome will materialize.


“Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead.”

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