In speech in Cairo, Barack Obama seeks 'common ground' with IslamBack to top
CAIRO – In remarks being translated live for broadcasts and Webcasts in every major language, President Barack Obama said Thursday that the United States wants “common ground” and “a new beginning” with the Muslim world, where America’s image plummeted with the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 attacks.
"Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique," he said in the Grand Hall of Cairo University. "The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores.”
The 55-minute speech was remarkable and historic not so much for the delivery or even the words, but for the context, the orator, the moment. Obama included blunt talk about the United States, Israel, Iraq, his predecessor and al Qaeda.
“I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11,” he said, speaking before a red curtain and six pairs of U.S. and Egyptian flags. “But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day.”
The president, who left the room to applause from an audience carefully chosen to reflect diverse perspectives, invoked the “Holy Koran” twice, and the “Holy Bible” once.
“It’s easier to start wars than to end them” he said. “It’s easier to blame others than to look inward; to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is one rule that lies at the heart of every religion – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. [Applause] This truth transcends nations and peoples.”
Obama got a standing early ovation when he declared: “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.
But some audience members gasped when he followed that with: “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 speech – delivered in Egypt, where the political opposition can be jailed, beaten or outlawed — is a major test of Obama’s ability to translate his appealing rhetoric into real change at what he acknowledged is “a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world.”
But conservative former U.S. Ambassador to United Nations John Bolton said he considered that one of several "flawed premises" upon which the speech was built, noting America's longstanding alliance with Saudi Arabia as sign that it's not all tension between the U.S. and Arab allies.
"This is another Obama blame America first moment," Bolton said.
Bolton also criticized Obama for what he called "a very hard line against Israeli settlements."
"When you criticize your strongest ally in an environment like that, it is intended to send a message to that ally," he said.
Liz Cheney, a former State Department official and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said it was a "well-delivered speech" and that Obama's personal story "sends a message about America being a land of opportunity."