President Barrack Obama's Cairo Speech
Barrack Hussein Obama, as the 44th President of America took the pain to call himself, delivered an historic speech before a select audience at the University of Cairo on Thursday 4th of June. In this speech of close to 6000 words to ÔÇśMuslims everywhere', Obama put religion at the core of the peacemaking process in issues involving Muslims and America. This is a courageous initiative that must be appreciated and reciprocated by peace-seeking and peace-loving individuals and nations. The US President declared that Islam has a rich history and tradition of teaching and promoting peace and tolerance; that Muslims have championed and stayed at the forefront of promoting values of social justice and equality everywhere, that Islam carried light of learning for centuries and that hijab is not inequality. Obama freely quoted verses from the holy Qur'an to entrance his auditorium audience who themselves performed like veteran cheering squad as Obama walked into the auditorium without guides. Also captured in the speech was American occupation in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the spread of nuclear weapons, development of democracy, religious freedom, women's rights and economic development. If nothing else, this powerful speech shows that America is capable of giving to the world the peace it needs at this time, and that America's only enemy is truly its own foreign policies. It is interesting to see a respectable US President that is willing to break from Bushes disgraceful legacy of propagating fears based on the myths of a cruel, murderous, destructive, fanatical and bloodthirsty Islam. Although Obama's speech is capable of uprooting the various myths founded by Bush and his neocon minions and he addressed this speech specifically to the Muslim world, the whole world listened. And rightly so. If words could repair all the sorrow, pains and trauma caused thousands of families whose sons, husbands and wives simply disappeared without a trace during the past 8 years; or those that were raped and tortured in the most horrific manners in Abu Ghraib and other obscure CIA-run prisons by uniformed filths whose only claim to being human is at best feeble; if words could bring down the mountain of graves built on pointless wars in Iraq, if words could ....., these clever insights will.
They are nice words, almost too nice not to hear the clinched nonsense about the hoax called ÔÇśwar on terror' that Bush and Blair- a despicable breed who hold life, law and human rights so cheap they caused the death, directly and indirectly, of more than a million innocent human beings on a pack of what they knew to be lies. It is equally nice to see that no one gave Obama the ÔÇśMuntazer al-Zaidi's flying shoe' treatment in Cairo. But in the heat of the ÔÇśObamania' euphoria, a relevant question must be asked: will these nice words transform into real policies and actions in Washington where Obama will have to deal with a Congress that has been hopelessly corrupted by the Lobbies to ÔÇśwalk the walk'? This is what really matters to the Iraqis who continue to be victims of America's more than 20-years old violent justice and this is what matters to the Palestinians who watched in horror as Israel slaughtered 1,400 people in Gaza last winter, including hundreds of sleeping, fleeing or terrified children, with American-supplied weapons? It will surely take more than fifty minutes of nice words to simply wipe off the memories that centuries of Jews' persecution by the Europeans, which culminated in the Holocaust, and the legitimate need to redress this, are the only two core elements of the cause of the Palestinians' suffering since 1948. The injustice of original ethnic cleansing, and continued victimization derive their fuel from the fund, guns and political cover from America. As one of the founding fathers of America, Churchill, aptly puts it ÔÇśWords are easy and many, while great deeds are difficult and rare.' Deeds are what really matter to the ÔÇśMuslim world'- great deeds, not nice words alone.
Although, President Obama's speech contained many honest words, it is also riddled with many blindspots. One of these was president Obama's description of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a conflict between two overzealous national formations that must learn manners and civility from the international community. Obama called on Arabs and Israelis not to ÔÇśpoint fingers' at each other or to ÔÇśsee this conflict only from one side or the other'. In actual fact, the conflict is not strictly between Arabs and Israelis but rather between Arabs on one side and Israelis and America on the other side. The United States alone plays a major and decisive role in sustaining the conflict and Obama gave no indication that the role should change or even America roles be considered. Rather, Obama describes the relationship between America and Israel for instance as ÔÇśunbreakable'. One must ask a few important questions here: Does this mean that America under Obama will continue to endorse the caging of the besieged Gazans that live in the world's biggest open prison? Will the US continue to shield Israel at the UN to defy the international community and veto its resolutions? Will his administration continue to treat the Palestinian democratically elected government as illegitimate on the excuse that Hamas ÔÇścalls for the destruction of Israel, refuses to renounce violence and abide by previous agreements' just like his predecessor did? Although Israel is uniquely the only country in the world that has refused to state its international borders, no one seem to be asking the politicians who repeat the mantra of Israel recognition what Israel should Hamas recognize? Should Hamas recognize the Israel of 1948? The Israel of 1967? The Israel of 2009 with its apartheid wall, settlements, second-class Arab citizens and with East Jerusalem annexed? Inspite of all these however, few people seem to realize that Hamas had said many times over that it was willing to accept Israel as a political entity on the 1967 borders. For instance, the New York Times editorial pages of November 1, 2006 ran a full op-ed column by a top official of the Hamas party, Ahmed Yousef, a senior adviser to the deposed Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh repeating the same offer Hamas has been making for years. Also, Palestine Liberation Organization have already recognized exclusive Israeli control of 78 percent of Palestine, yet the Israelis have insisted on expanding their control over much of the remaining 22 percent through their colonization drive. At the exact time that president Obama was addressing the Muslim world- including the Palestinians- Muslims and Christians- 'hilltop youths', a nickname for settler-thugs who use IDF-issued guns to harass and kill Palestinians were busy building more illegal settlements on West bank expropriated lands. So, when Obama declared that Israeli-American relationship is unbreakable, does it mean that US will continue to provide the funds and guns to enforce and progress Israel's racism and colonization project?
For those propagating the untruth that Hamas' non-recognition of Israel is an impediment to peace between the parties basing their argument on Hamas' Charter, let us examine what the Charter of the Likud Party, the current right-wing party ruling in Israel says;
In the "Peace and Security" chapter of the Likud Party platform, a recent document (1999) it says about settlements:
"The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting."
Therefore annihilating the slightest chance of a two-state solution.
On Palestinian self-rule it says:
"The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Israel's existence, security and national needs."
Therefore annihilating any chance of seeing a Palestinian sovereign state.
"Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel. The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem, including the plan to divide the city presented to the Knesset by the Arab factions and supported by many members of Labor and Meretz."
Therefore annihilating any chance for future peace negotiations because east Jerusalem as capital of a future Palestinian state is non-negotiable for any Palestinian.
The Likud party charter does not recognize Palestine and will not accept a sovereign Palestinian state. The current Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on assuming office declared that Israel is not bound by previous agreements. Not just that, he and some other members of the ruling cabinet are advocating the expulsion of the Arabs from Israel through the enactment of laws that will revoke the citizenship of Arab Israelis as well as sponsoring other bills that might have been conceived in Nuremberg. Interestingly, Lieberman does not live in Israel according to its internationally recognized borders, but rather in an illegal settlement called Nokdim. Legally speaking, this would be like US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton residing in Mexico or Canada and threatening the people of Mexico or Canada with expulsion! For those who agree that actions speak louder than words, we would love to see Obama administration act as an honest broker to open the door to peace, the door that Israelis have slammed shut over and over again.
Lastly, Obama's choice of Egypt, one of the region's most repressive, undemocratic and ruthless police states, to address Muslims detracts from the full merit due the speech. Selection of Egypt for the address has been rightly deemed by some analysts as a desperate move by Washington to prop up one of America's last remaining dictators in the Middle East, which is dwindling in regional influence- a sort of commission for services done for America. But in fairness where else could he have gone to make the august address in the whole of the so-called Muslim world? From Morocco to Bahrain, political dissent is ruthlessly stifled, opposition movements, where they are allowed to exist, are weak, vulnerable, manipulated and persecuted by the ruling establishments who use venal state intelligence machineries to carry out some of the worst forms of abuse and torture known to man. Tacit acknowledgement of this fact must be the reason why the auditorium, packed full of supposedly obedient audience, was drowned in a resounding applause when Obama declared that ÔÇśsome governments once in power, are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others'. When Obama said these honest and clever words, all eyes turned on Obama's chief host: the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Director of Media & Communications
Muslim Public Affairs Centre, MPAC