Saturday, June 20, 2009

Barack Obama's speech

BARACK Hussein Obama, as the 44th President of America took the pain to call himself, delivered an historic speech before a select audience at the University of Cairo on Thursday, June 4. In this speech of close to 6000 words to Muslims everywhere, Obama put religion at the core of the peacemaking process in issues involving Muslims and America.

The U.S. president declared that Islam has a rich history and tradition of teaching and promoting peace and tolerance; that Muslims have championed and stayed at the forefront of promoting values of social justice and equality everywhere and that Islam carried light of learning for centuries and that hijab is not inequality. Obama freely quoted verses from the Holy Quran to entrance his auditorium audience who themselves performed like a veteran cheering squad as Obama walked into the auditorium without guides.

Also captured in the speech was American occupation in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the spread of nuclear weapons, development of democracy, religious freedom, women's rights and economic development. If nothing else, this speech shows that America can give to the world the peace it needs at this time, and that America's only enemy is truly its own foreign policies. It is interesting to see a U.S. President that is willing to break from Bush's disgraceful legacy of propagating fears based on the myths of a cruel, murderous, destructive, fanatical and blood-thirsty Islam. Although Obama's speech is capable of uprooting the various myths founded by Bush and his neocon minions and he addressed this speech specifically to the Muslims, the whole world listened. And rightly so. If words could repair all the sorrow, pains and trauma caused thousands of families whose sons, husbands and wives were raped and tortured in the most horrific ways in Abu Ghraib and in other secret prisons by uniformed filths whose only claim to being human is at best feeble, these clever insights will.

They are nice words, almost too nice not to hear the clinched nonsense about the hoax called war on terror that Bush and Blair - a despicable breed who hold life, law and human rights so cheap they caused the death, directly and indirectly, of more than a million innocent Iraqis on a pack of what they know to be lies - waged for eight years to keep alive the fear that causes the American public to accept pointless wars. It is equally nice to see that no one gave Obama the Muntazer al-Zaidi's flying shoe treatment in Cairo. But in the heat of the Obamania euphoria, a relevant question must be asked: will these nice words transform into real policies and actions in Washington where Obama will have to walk the talk?

This is what really matters to the Iraqis who continue to be victims of Americas more than 20-years old violent justice and this is what matters to the Palestinians who watched in horror as Israel slaughtered 1,400 people in Gaza last winter, including hundreds of sleeping, fleeing or terrified children, with American-supplied weapons? It will surely take more than 50 minutes of nice words to simply wipe off the memories that centuries of Jews persecution by the Europeans, which culminated in the Holocaust, and the legitimate need to redress this, are the only two core elements of the cause of the Palestinians suffering since 1948. The injustice of original ethnic cleansing, and continued victimisation derive their fuel from the fund, guns and political cover from America. As one of the founding fathers of America, Churchill, aptly puts it: "Words are easy and many, while great deeds are difficult and rare". Deeds are what really matter to the Muslim world; great deeds, not nice words.

Although, President Obama's speech contained many honest words, it is also riddled with many blindspots. One of these was President Obama's description of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a conflict between two overzealous national formations that must learn manners and civility from the international community. Obama called on Arabs and Israelis not to point fingers at each other or to see this conflict only from one side or the other. In actual fact, the conflict is not strictly between Arabs and Israelis but rather between Arabs on one side and Israelis and America on the other side. The United States alone plays a major and decisive role in sustaining the conflict and Obama gave no indication that the role should change or even be considered.

Lastly, Obama's choice of Egypt, one of the region's most repressive, undemocratic and ruthless police states, to address Muslims detracts from the full merit due the speech. Selection of Egypt for the address has been rightly deemed by some analysts as a desperate move by Washington to prop up one of America's last remaining dictators in the Middle East, which is dwindling in regional influence - a sort of commission for services done for America. But in fairness where else could he have gone to make the august address in the whole of the so-called Muslim world?

From Morocco to Bahrain political dissent is ruthlessly stifled, opposition movements where they are allowed to exist are weak, vulnerable, manipulated and persecuted by ruling establishments who use venal state intelligence machinery to carry out some of the worst forms of abuse and torture known to man. Tacit acknowledgement of this fact must be the reason why the auditorium, packed full of a supposedly obedient audience, was drowned in a resounding applause when Obama declared that some governments once in power, are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. When Obama said these honest and clever words, all eyes turned on Obama's chief host: the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.