Friday, 5 June 2009


WASHINGTON: In a landmark speech reaching out to the Islamic world, US President Barack Obama on Thursday called for a new beginning between the United States and Muslims, saying both sides should overcome the cycle of suspicion and discord, and religious beliefs across the world were not inimical or exclusive to each other.
Obama’s eloquent address in Cairo, Egypt, home to the historic Al Azhar and Cairo University, contained quotations from the Koran, rich references to Islam’s contribution to civilization, and his own personal connection to the faith. Beyond that, he also outlined the source of the fear and mistrust between the two sides, including 9/11, while warning that violent extremists have exploited these tensions ''in a small but potent minority of Muslims.''
Among the key contentious issues and geography identified by Obama were the festering Israeli-Palestinian dispute, Iraq (which he suggested was needlessly invaded), US differences with Iran and indeed much of the world over possession of nuclear weapons, Af-Pak (home to the perpetrators of 9/11), and differing perceptions between the west and the Islamic world on democracy and women's rights.
But he conspicuously excluded any reference to the Kashmir issue in the Indian sub-continent, home of the largest concentration of Muslims in the world, likely to the dismay of Pakistan and its separatist proxies who have made it a cause, and the delight of Indian nationalists who believe it is a domestic or regional concern.
Outlining the more recent events that led to the growing rift between the US and the Islamic world, Obama reminded the world that the perpetrators of 9/11 were hiding in the Af-Pak region, forcing U.S to come after them. Al Qaeda was not only unrepentant but was even now planning to expand their reach and kill on a mass scale. ''Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan.
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. But that is not yet the case,'' Obama said, echoing the general Indian sentiment about lowering its guard against acts of terrorism. The US President said ''America is not - and never will be - at war with Islam.
We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security.'' The US President also touched on the revived debate about nuclear weapons, saying he understood 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,'' he said, indicating that he would push ahead with advancing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Earlier, in reaching out to the Islamic world, Obama proffered his own personal experience, relating ''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.'' ''So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed,'' he said. ''That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't.''
Obama said he considered it part of his responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear, but 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,'' he said, offering a thesis that is seldom accepted in the Islamic world.