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Wise Presidential Words

I read the speech that President Obama gave at Cairo University today and found a lot to like. He conveyed respect for Islamic culture without diminishing our own. He expressed clear expectations for other countries and made it clear that America had the responsibility for living up to standards we propose for others.

My favorite part of his speech addressed a topic near and dear to me — the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance:

Palestinians must abandon violence.  Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it 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 neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus.  That’s not how moral authority is claimed; that’s how it is surrendered.

It is long past time that a US President acknowledge the power that Gandhi unleashed in 1901.

People on the right are already claiming that the speech was a giveaway to Hamas. But I ask you to read the speech for yourself and draw your own conclusions. For me, when I see:

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 to recognize they have responsibilities.  To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel’s right to exist.

I see a recognition that 1) Hamas did win an election that was generally recognized as one of the fairer ones in the Arab world, and 2) they retain the support of a sizeable number of Palestinians. I also see that Hamas will not be allowed an official diplomatic role in “fulfilling Palestinian aspirations” until they renounce armed struggle and recognize Israel’s right to exist. This does not seem to me to be giving away the store.

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3 Responses

  1. I found nothing to like. I see he’s changed his tune on his Muslim roots. This constant apology touring is getting old. Do you really think anyone hears that slavery is and was a univeral, global scourge when he leads only with the U.S. story?

  2. Hi Norma,

    I’m very shocked you found nothing to like about the President’s speech in Egypt. What did you find wrong with:

    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.

    I don’t see how anyone could not appreciate the President’s denouncement of holocaust deniers:

    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, it is ignorant, and it is 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.

    Hopefully you didn’t really dislike the President’s promise to support expanded education for girls in Muslim countries:

    I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons. (Applause.) 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. And 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.

    I don’t think that you really disapprove of any of the above items, but that’s what you leave yourself open to when you write off an entire speech. Even I found things to like in most Bush speeches. That’s why I took the time to read all of the speeches I choose to blog about.

    You might find the world a better place if you searched for common ground like the President does instead of seizing on every difference as evidence of one’s evil.

  3. The Metta Center blog has an interesting commentary on the President’s speech that includes well-taken criticism for Obama’s recommendation of non-violence for the weak while reserving violence for the strong. It also offers examples of current non-violent actions taking place against the Israeli occupation.

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