Thursday, June 04, 2009

President Obama addresses Islam

President Obama this morning delivered an address to the Muslim world from Cairo University in Egypt. I just finished listening to it, in its entirety and I have a few initial observations.

First of all, it is such a relief to have a president that can speak to Islam and be heard. President Obama is in a fairly unique position to deliver this opening salvo in interfaith dialog by dint of his Muslim father. Junior had so damaged our relations with Islam, his hand-holding of Saudi princes notwithstanding, that he almost single-handedly brought about a full on religious conflagration. President Obama provides a new opportunity for dialog. And, as Winston Churchill said, "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."

Secondly, the speech pays tribute to Islam's history and its contribution to humankind. Christians don't generally remember that, after the fall of the Roman Empire, most of Christendom was reduced to peat bog hovels and brute feudalism. During that time, Islam was the center of Western civilization, making huge strides in mathematics, art, medicine, and architecture, and, as President Obama pointed out, paving the way for the Christian Renaissance.

Thirdly, President Obama uses the word "intolerable" to describe the condition of the Palestinians. For any American politician to express anything other than full-throated support for Israel is a risky political proposition. And just days ago, the president met with the repulsive Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who emphatically stated that Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories will continue to expand. Let's see if President Obama is willing to take on this issue in a serious way. In the past, of course, US presidents have all paid lip service to the Palestinian cause (lip service that has added up to a whole lot of nothing, Jimmy Carter being the exception), but I can't ever remember the word "intolerable" being used before.

Lastly, we can predict that this speech will evoke indignant protest from Fox News viewers in the US. Already, we can be sure that Sean Hannity and friends are carefully picking through the text of the speech to find something about which they can pretend to be outraged. Or, perhaps, they'll resurrect the old "Obama is a secret Muslim" meme. It's entirely predictable. But the good news is that the Obama administration continues to humiliate and marginalize them by playing to the larger audience.

All in all, this is a good speech that offers a hopeful vision for Christian-Muslim relations. Now, let's see if it is backed up by real policy.

No comments: