15, Number 11
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Obama’s speech in Cairo
by Fidel Castro Ruz
On Thursday, June 4, at the Al-Azhar Islamic University in Cairo, Obama gave a speech of special interest for those of us who are carefully following his political actions, given the tremendous power of the superpower that he is leading. I am using his own words to note what, in my judgment, were the basic ideas that he expressed, thus synthesizing his speech in the interest of time. We need to know not just that he spoke, but also what he spoke about.
We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world, tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate…
The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and co-operation, but also conflict and religious wars.
…colonialism denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims… the Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.
Violent extremists have exploited these tensions…
…has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights.
I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect…
…they overlap, and share common principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point.
As the Holy Quran tells us: "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth."
I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.
It was Islam at places like Al-Azhar University that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment.
…since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States.
They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights…
And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.
…America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.
The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America…
Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people.
When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk.
When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations.
…any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.
In Ankara, I made clear that America is not and never will be at war with Islam.
…we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children.
…some question or justify the events of 9/11.
The victims were innocent men, women and children from America…
Make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can.
The Holy Quran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.
Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world.
…I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.
Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future --- and to leave Iraq to Iraqis.
I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources.
Iraq's sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August.
…combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012.
…9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country.
…in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals.
I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantánamo Bay closed by early next year.
America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law.
The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.
America's strong bonds with Israel are well-known. This bond is unbreakable.
On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people, Muslims and Christians, have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they have endured the pain of dislocation.
Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead.
…let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.
…two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive.
It is easy to point fingers, for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders.
But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth…
…the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.
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.
Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.
…Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.
This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.
Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society.
Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.
The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems.
The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.
In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.
Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against US troops and civilians.
Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.
It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect.
I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons.
…any nation --- including Iran --- should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The fundamental objective of his visit to that Islamic University of Egypt is contained in these first three issues. One cannot blame the new president of the United States for the situation created in the Middle East. It is evident that he wishes to find a way out of the colossal mess created there by his predecessors and on account of the very development of events over the last 100 years.
Not even Obama could have imagined, when he was working in the African-American communities of Chicago, that the terrible effects of a financial crisis would be added to the factors that made possible his election as president in a heavily racist society.
He is assuming the post at an exceptionally complex moment for his country and the world. He is trying to solve problems that he possibly considers less complex than they really are. Centuries of colonial and capitalist exploitation have given rise to a world in which a handful of superdeveloped and rich countries coexists with another immensely poor majority, which supply raw materials and a workforce. If you add China and India, two genuinely emerging nations, the struggle for natural resources and markets is shaping an entirely new situation on the planet where human survival itself is still to be resolved.
Obama’s African roots, his modest origins and his amazing ascent are arousing hopes in many people who, like shipwrecked souls, are seeking salvation in the midst of the storm.
His affirmation that "any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail" is correct; or when he states that "people of all faiths reject the killing of innocent men, women, and children;" or ratifies before the world his opposition to the use of torture.
Generally speaking, a number of the statements I have noted are correct in theory; he clearly perceives the need for all countries, without exception of course, to renounce nuclear weapons. Well-known and influential figures in the United States see in this a great danger, as technology and the sciences generalize access to radioactive material and ways of utilizing it, including in small quantities.
It is still early days to pass judgments on his degree of commitment to the ideas he is proposing and up to what point he is determined to sustain, for example, the intention to seek a peace agreement on just bases and with guarantees for all states in the Middle East.
The current president’s greatest difficulty is that the principles that he is preaching are in contradiction with the policy that the superpower has followed for close to seven decades, since the end of the final hostilities of World War II in August 1945. At this point, I will leave aside the aggressive and expansionist policy applied to the peoples of Latin America and in particular to Cuba, when it [the United States] was still far from being the most powerful nation in the world. Every one of the norms that Obama preached in Cairo is in contradiction with the interventions and wars promoted by the United States. The first of them was the famous Cold War, which he mentions in his speech, unleashed by the government of his country. The ideological differences with the USSR did not justify the hostility toward that state, which contributed more than 25 million lives to the struggle against Nazism. Obama would not be remembering in these days the 65th anniversary of the Normandy landings and the liberation of Europe without the blood shed by millions of soldiers who died fighting against the elite troops of Nazism. It was soldiers from the Soviet army who liberated the survivors of the famous Osviecim concentration camp. The world did not know what was going on, in spite of the fact that more than a few people in Western official circles were aware of the facts. Thus, millions of Russian children, women and the elderly lost their lives as a consequence of the brutal Nazi invasion seeking vital space. The West made concessions to Hitler and conspired to launch it: at the end of the day it launched it to occupy and colonize Slav territory. In World War II the Soviets were allies of the United States and not its enemies.
Two atomic bombs were dropped to test their effects on two defenseless cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those who perished there were, in the majority, Japanese children, women and elderly people.
If one analyzes the wars promoted, backed or carried out by the United States in China, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, many children, women and the elderly were among the millions who died.
The colonial wars of France and Portugal after World War II had the support of the United States; the coup d’états and interventions in Central America, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru and Argentina were all promoted and supported by the United States.
Israel was not a nuclear power. The creation of a state on territory from which the Jews were expelled to their exodus by the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago, was supported in good faith by the USSR and many other countries in the world. At the triumph of the Cuban Revolution we had relations with that state for more than 10 years, until its wars of conquest against the Palestinians and other Arab peoples led us to breaking them off. Total respect for the Jewish cult and religious activity has been maintained without any interruption whatsoever.
The United States never opposed Israel’s conquest of Arab territories, nor did it protest at the terrorist methods employed against the Palestinians. On the contrary, it created a nuclear power there, one of the most advanced in the world, right in the heart of Arab and Muslim territory, thus creating one of the most dangerous points of the planet in the Middle East.
The superpower likewise used Israel to supply nuclear weapons to the apartheid army of South Africa, in order to use them against the Cuban troops who, alongside the Angolan and Namibian forces, were defending the People’s Republic of Angola. These are relatively recent events that the current president of the United States is undoubtedly aware of. Thus, we are not so distant from the aggressiveness and danger that the Israeli nuclear power signifies for peace.
After the three initial points, Obama devoted his speech in Cairo to philosophizing and to establishing a professorship on US foreign policy: "The fourth issue that I will address is democracy," he said.
…let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.
America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election.
I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice…
Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.
The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.
Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance… I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshipped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.
Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's.
…And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.
…it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretense of liberalism.
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.
…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.
The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and changing communities.
…invest in online learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.
…we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek --- a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes…
That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.
It is easier to start wars than to end them.
…do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.
The Holy Quran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."
The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."
The Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
The people of the world can live together in peace.
As can be appreciated, on approaching the fourth issue of his speech at Al-Azhar University, Obama falls into a contradiction. After beginning his words with an apothegm, as is his habit, by affirming: "no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other," a principle enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations as a fundamental element of international law, he immediately contradicts himself with a declaration of faith which converts the United States into the supreme judge of democratic values and human rights.
He goes on to allude to issues related to economic development and equality of opportunity. He makes promises to the Arab world; he points to advantages and contradictions. It would really appear to be a public relations campaign with the Muslim countries on the part of the United States which, in any event, is better than threatening to bombard and destroy them.
At the end of the speech, there is quite a mix of issues.
Taking into account the length of the speech, without using written notes, the number of lapses is negligible in comparison with his predecessor, who made mistakes in every paragraph. He has a great capacity for communication.
I am accustomed to observing with interest historical, political and religious ceremonies.
That of Al-Azhar University seemed to me an unreal scene. Not even Pope Benedict XVI would have uttered phrases more ecumenical than those of Obama. For one second I imagined pious Muslim, Catholic, Christian or Jewish believers, or those of any other religion, listening to the president in the wide hall of Al-Azhar University. At any specific moment, they wouldn’t have known if they were in a Catholic cathedral, a Christian church, a mosque or a synagogue.
He left early for Germany. For three days he toured points of political significance. He participated in and spoke at all the commemorative events. He visited museums, received his family and dined in famous restaurants. He possesses an impressive capacity for work. A long time will pass before a similar case is seen.
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