Viewpoint on President Obama's Cairo Speech
by Salahuddeen Kareem
On a recent yahoo forum, A Place For Truth, whose aim is to "expose truths that are not known or broadcasted in the mainstream media," I witnessed back and forth dialogue, mostly amongst Muslims, with differing thoughts and opinions about President Obama's June 4th Cairo speech. Having multiple viewpoints can be a very rich experience. Indeed, we need more places where our knowledge, intellect, experience, and concerns can be voiced without being labeled idiots, traitors, and other unhealthy descriptions. Unfortunately name‑calling is exactly what happened on the forum when some members criticized the President's speech.
Like some, I'm among those who are watching and listening to the "young president's" speeches very carefully. As a person, he appears to be a nice guy—a fairly reasonable guy, a guy you wouldn't mind having lunch or dinner with. However, a president has to be much more than a nice guy who has polished oratory skills. He or she has to be much more than a person who stirs a listener's emotions by raising relevant issues coupled with promises that may or may not be fulfilled. A president, especially within the framework of Islamic leadership, has to have a heart, soul, and mind that is anchored in morality and compassion. The president, no doubt, has to be smart and well-educated, but this is not enough when we think about national and "global leadership." A president, a leader, has to be independent minded enough, focused enough, and courageous enough to break through barriers and obstacles that might prevent him/her from fulfilling the people's mandate. He or she must be the voice and hand of the least among us. He or she must work very hard to contain the venom and vice of the powerful and strong elements of society. As a Muslim, this means fulfilling The Creator's mandate in an honest, fair, and prosperous manner.
Allah Almighty has promised to favor (offer divine support and grant victory) the least among us, the disenfranchised among us, the violated among us, the voiceless, the innocent, the marginalized, the oppressed, the repressed, the victims of those with massive power (Israeli military, American military might...) who use their power for foul, unclean, self-serving aims and objectives.
How many smart, clever, well-informed, politically savvy leaders have we seen and read about—past and present—who did not hold their people's interests at heart? Being a great speaker, handsome, well dressed, and able to eat and drink small meals (hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries) like the average Joe, Jane, Mohammed, and Fatimah isn't enough. A great leader has to take on powerful forces that seek to use his or her intelligence, humility, public clout, and persuasive power for self-interest objectives that trample upon the rights and needs of the masses.
When the President's Cairo speech is carefully read and reflected upon, there are many disturbing and troubling omissions that should have been included in the script.
For example, when the president referenced the nervous, sleepless nights of Israeli children who are innocent targets of Palestinian rockets, and old ladies who are bombed on buses, he "forgot" to mention the nervous, sleepless nights and days of Palestinian men, women, and children who are bombed and burned from the ground and sky by American made killing machines (helicopters, small planes...) that fire missiles, bombs, explosives, bullets, and deadly poisonous chemicals into their fragile, unprotected homes. If an Israeli child has difficulty going to sleep at night and it's a huge unforgivable crime, then the same is true for a Palestinian child who is innocent and deserves life and liberty just as much as an Israeli child.
Why did the president focus his words on one group of children and senior citizens (the Israelis), and fail to remember the other (the Palestinians)?
Second, when the President talked about the "dignified, sophisticated, meek, non-violent struggle of African Americans" who endured the endless nights and days of torture and terrorism of slavery, his remarks were vulgar and misleading. He used this most tragic, painful period in human history as a liberation model to be adopted and emulated by other suffering people i.e. the Muslims. He tried to frame this experience—my forefathers' bloody, tearful, destructive experience in this country—as a blue print that leads to social victory and freedom.
Has the president forgotten how long black people suffered in this country, and how the aches and pains of slavery's brutal legacy lives with us today? Why did he use confusing words and phrases when attempting to recapture and rebottle the African American experience? Rather than aim his words of advice and condemnation at the profiteers and perpetuators of American slavery (the ruling class), he cleverly tried to convince the listening audience that dignified suffering, first-class suffering, class act suffering, is an ageless, universal program to be adopted by all brutalized, violated, oppressed, freedom-denied people.
The President's message was very dangerous and troubling. He showed little regard and concern for the "little guy”, the average guy, the voiceless guy, the guy or girl whose dreams, hopes, and aspirations are taken away by money and power-hungry brutes and criminals who disguise themselves in government garb and official titles. Such people were active in the past and they are active today.
Finally, when the President talked about ending the cycle of violence between the Israelis and Palestinians, he was totally dishonest. If he really cared about ending the violence, why not deny Israel money (my money and your money!), media, and military equipment that always keep things in its favor? If the President can exercise his executive authority in special cases, why not use it for this tragic case? Why can't he say, and mean what he says to the Israeli government: “No more financial aid to your country. No more military equipment. No more settlement building. No more random killing of innocent civilians. No more private homes and building demolitions. No more harassment and humiliation at cross points. No more media cover for Israeli crimes against humanity”? He could make these statements and implement them as a matter of policy immediately.
If he wanted to be "generous," he could give them one, two, three, or six months to fix their broken, illegal practices and policies. And if he thought such orders were too dangerous for him and his family (sadly and unfortunately, some Muslims and others might say such demands were unrealistic) he should beef up his security apparatus.
If the precious lives of Israeli children are so important to American foreign policy architects, then the same must be true for Muslim children within the Muslim community's foreign policy architects. We call it "Ummah-Concern Foreign Policy Consideration." The President should be told:
Dear Mr. Obama: If you have to go into hiding and conduct your job in secret to protect yourself from elements that were responsible for Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination, Malcolm X's (Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) martyrdom, Ron Brown's mysterious, unsolved murder, and other heinous crimes, then do so, especially if your secret work is morally sound, truthful, honest, fair, and beneficial for all mankind.
As you quoted during your Cairo speech, "the Holy Qur’an says whoever kills a person unjustly or unfairly, it's as if he has killed all mankind, and whoever saves a person, it's as if he has saved all mankind." If you believe in these perfect, divine words, then follow them with sound policy and practice. This is what we need from you and your administration.
I hope the Yahoo group that prompted this writing will continue to be to be a place of differing views. I pray that Allah sustain this practice. In Islam, the rule governing difference of approach and perspective, relates to mannerisms and engagement. People's sincere, legitimate views and perspectives should be respected and welcomed, so long as the advocates are sincere in their expressions. This is sufficient enough to allow such exchanges to take place. Even if their views are fault-ridden, ridiculous, and inaccurate, they should be heard and tolerated.
However, after all is said and done, our personal and collective responsibility is to reach the truth, as best we can. After the truth has been reached, we must go forward. We cannot remain numb or immobile once we reach a truthful place in our personal and collective lives. The Muslim Community should be a model of truth—in word and deed—worthy of emulating.
As a community, we earn and deserve this title of truthtellers and protectors of truth due to what we practice, not simply because of what we say. Today, it is our responsibility to keep close watch of what's going on in this country and around the world. We cannot fall victim to our emotional, racial, and historic selves. When it comes to the president of this country, he needs to hear the truth regularly and relentlessly. If he makes himself available, we can communicate our concerns and ideas to him and his, in a manner that might take some of the steam out of our public declarations.
Furthermore, the president needs to broaden his circle. He needs to make room for those whose voices are hardly heard, if heard at all. The president needs a "front line" that moves out and away from forces and hurdles that deny him access to the truth. And more importantly, he needs to gain access to "The Divine." He knows who this divine reality is, even though public scrutiny has made this journey more difficult. Therefore, he takes cover beneath a more welcoming and acceptable "unseen authority."
But no matter who or what President Barack Hussein Obama takes refuge in, he like us, cannot escape his internal self, nor can we. Like him, we live with our conscience. The quality of our conscience and the purity of our heartbeats can take us to great heights. This is true for the President and equally true for us.
Dear Mr. President: Stand up. Meet the challenge. Take on the forces of falsehood and aggression—near and far. And more importantly, be truthful, honest, and fair with yourself and others. You should be more than a front man for those seeking to use your global appeal. This is what the children —all children—need and expect from you today and tomorrow.. This should be at the core of your innermost self.
Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.