Thursday, July 16, 2009

Still on Obama's Cairo speech

PRESIDENT Barack Obama's words of change come in torrents. Not few are overwhelmed with multiple issues thrown up in Obama's spoken and written words: from a major speech in Prague before a 20,000 crowd where he envisions a world free of nuclear weapons to Turkey's speech during his first trip "overseas as President of the United States". Many are simply paralysed by analysis of sundry issue-motivated speeches of the 44th President of United States of America. Thanks therefore to the likes of Disu Kamor (The Guardian, June 18) for facing up to the challenge and opting for some informed analysis of Obama's Cairo speech.

Fidel Castro Ruz (retired but intellectually activist Cuban leader) and the master communicator in his own right spanning decades of despicable American blockade accepts as much that Obama's outing in Cairo is exceptional. In Fidel's own words: "Some time will go by before we see anything like it again". As significant as Disu's review of Cairo speech is, it regrettably betrays deep appreciation of Obama's inclusive vision of the world. He exhibits same exclusivist premises for an assessment of an inclusive historic presidential speech. As men and women of faith it is legitimate that we see issues from our "religious" prism. The challenge however lies in our capacity not to trade our preferred partisan and political views for our religious views because they are hardly one and the same.

After drawing inspiration from Churchill (who is certainly not an American founding father as he claims) and warns against easy "Words" without "great deeds", Disu unhelpfully slides into stupor of words and words and indeed religious rhetoric/ labelling of little heuristic value. It is misleading to characterise Obama's as "6000 words to Muslims everywhere". The speech is not so-called or so captioned. Yes the U.S. President delivers a speech at the Muslim University of Al-Azhar of Cairo but his audience is global regardless of race, creed and ideology. His quotes are not limited to Holy Quran but other Holy books: The Bible and Torah.

Just as he is "comfortable in his skin" to contest and win as President of USA, Obama refers to the books with ease neither as a Rabbi, or Pastor nor an Imam but as the 44th President of the United States. It is a misreading of his text to write that: "Obama put religion at the core of the peacemaking process in issues involving Muslims and America". We dare not assign unhelpful religious dogmas to Obama who has significantly moved from the notoriety of "crusade"/ "Jihadist" binary brigand ship of Bush era. The global media erroneously dubs Obama's speech as "dialogue with Islamic world".

At the last count, just like Disu, yours truly identifies the following all- inclusive subjects: Development, freedom and democracy, interfaith dialogue, education, science and development, history and Development, youth and women, Palestine Israeli conflict, nuclear proliferation, War and Peace, Afghanistan and terrorism. All the above subjects are not Arab or Islam specific. They are of profound interest to contemporary humanity and global peace and justice. One recurring theme in Obama's speeches whether in Prague, Ankara or Cairo (and I bet certainly in Ghana too!) is that what eventual binds humanity together is weightier than what divides us. Relying on memory, he reminds us that Morocco, an Islamic developing country was "the first nation" to recognise USA after its war of independence from Britain. One historic good turn deserves another. Obama, a proud student of history shows that in signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, America's second President, John Adams, wrote,: "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquillity of Muslims."

For the demagogues who profit from hatred and unhelpful divide Obama reminds his audience that Islam is also part of American heritage. "American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars; they have served in our government". Obama tasks our imagination to bring to the fore similar historic examples of international solidarity which shatters into smithereens our artificial "religious" divide. It will be a good tune for once to complement Obama by also pointing out that Islam right from the times of the Prophets has been with peace with other faiths. As far back of 616, persecuted Muslims, sought sanctuary in Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia!), "that ancient bastion of Christianity in Africa whose religious traditions could be traced to the time of apostles". Contemporary Iraqi carnage and the Gaza genocide which leave in their trail hundreds of thousands killed are human (and not necessarily Muslim) tragedies.

Indeed the anti-war protests and solidarity with Iraqi peoples are as profound and loud in Europe and America. The sense of outrage against injustices anywhere is not religion or race determined but ethically driven by our political convictions and choices. Venezuela, Peru and Cuba initiated diplomatic actions against Zionist Israel in the wake of Gaza bombings than scores of "Muslim nations". The struggle against apartheid (for as long as that inhuman madness lasted) shows that human solidarity cuts across and indeed transcends faiths. 40,000 Cuban heroic combatants in Cuito Cuanavale in South western border of Angola struck a decisive blow against apartheid troops (aided by Israel and United States of America) in the late 70s. Cubans shed their blood so that Nelson Mandela among others can be free. Cuba just as Nigeria (which used to be part of the front line states!) offered solidarity to the liberation movement, motivated by UN's lofty resolution which classified apartheid as crime against humanity. Historically, the global train of justice contains remarkable mix of noble passengers of diverse faiths and conventions that include Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro, Murtala Muhammed, Desmond Tutu, Che Guevara, Mother Teresa, Patrick Wilmot, Oliver Tambo, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcal Cabra, Franz Fanon, Walter Rodney, etc.

Disu asks the critical "relevant question": Will these nice words (of Obama) transform into real policies and actions in Washington? And that's the real problem. His question begets another question: if America through Obama is trying to change the world, are we also changing and moving out of straight jacket of dogmas to take another look at our methods and perspective? It is amazing how Obama's presidency has put the world on the defensive from Iran to Israel, North Korea to Europe and Sudan to Zimbabwe on governance issues in general.

The danger is that in the absence of creative, refreshing thinking elsewhere, we might be inadvertently promoting another global monologue punctuated with applauses in place of robust dialogue which certainly Obama craves for. Lastly, a Nigerian has no luxury of interrogating Obama's choice of Egypt. Whether Egypt is a "repressive" or "undemocratic" or not what should be of interest to Nigerians watching was that for as long as Obama's speech lasted in Al Azhar University, (described as the greatest Islamic institution of learning in the world,) there was no power failure!