Post Speech Reax

June 4, 2009 at 11:16 am | Posted in Barack Obama, foreign policy | 2 Comments
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Tough, but too tepid at times, Obama’s speech in Cairo delivered on the major objective of reaching out to the Muslim community to mark a new beginning in U.S.-Muslim relations.  But, on human rights and women’s issues, Obama’s talk seemed anything but tough.

Where he rocked: always the consummate campaigner, Obama used his personal story to connect with his audience:

I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words – within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: “Out of many, one.”

And while he spoke to soften the image of Americans, the speech was not without some sharp langauge that bordered on risky:

It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Where he stumbled: True, Obama should be applauded for reinventing the relationship between Muslims and Americans, but when it came to the portion of the speech devoted to women’s issues,  Obama didn’t quite deliver: 

“The U.S. 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.”

“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.”

“Now let me be clear: issues of women’s equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.”

“Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and 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. 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.”

As Peter Daou asked today in the Huffington Post:  

“Is that a joke?

With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab?

That’s right– where’s the bold, risky language in this part of the speech?  If Obama was clearly not worried about stepping on any cultural egg shells when it came to denouncing terrorism, why not extend the same rhetoric to women’s issues and human rights abuses?



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  1. I think Obama nailed this speech. America needed a tonal shift in the way it approaches Middle East relations and this speech goes a long way towards accomplishing that goal. While women and minority rights are lacking in some parts of the region, I think pressure and/or public rebuke from the president will come in due course once relations are normalised.


    I responded on my blog. Give it a go.

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