Thursday, June 4, 2009

Reaction to Obama Speech: Amusing and Insightful

Submitted by Guest Blogger Faisal Qazi

The coverage from today's speech in Cairo from our Media has it's usual array of amusing elements. The Yahoo headline stated Obama offering an "unclenched fist to the Muslim world", a poor attempt at sensationalization. The McClatchy News boasted "In speech to Muslims, Obama rejects Israeli settlements", projecting some sort of a unique link despite the fact that the settlement freeze notion is a longstanding although non-applied US policy and an international requirement. The Fox News after not getting any attention to it's rants about why Obama didn't visit Israel during this trip knowing full well that the objective of the trip was to address the Muslim world that would have not been possible in Tel Aviv and after not getting any substantial support for questioning why Muslim Brotherhood members were invited to the speech, something that US Embassy has done in the past when other officials (VP Cheney) have visited the Embassy, the headline today stated "Obama Embraces Islam". This one was really comic in nature.

What of the reaction of Muslims, Muslim leaders and their partners? Although not likely to get headlines, it may be the more substantive part of post-speech analysis.

The expectations were constantly being lowered prior to the speech by most experts and one leader even suggested that it's the same play different actor. The overall excitement amongst the Muslims was simply under-reported and still is under assessed.

One could gauge some of that excitement in commentary post speech where Tariq Ramadan suggested on NPR that President Obama has presented a "new vision" and Shibli Telhami noted a "new discourse" altogether. James Zogby called it an "effective speech". Arsalan Iftikhar in his commentary in CNN underscored more of the usual complaint that he hasn't visited a local mosque but also rightly pointed out that compared to prior years, Obama's speech was a "concert of enlightenment". It may also be worthwhile noting that previous Presidents including Bush have verbally recognized Islam's contribution to world civilizations but to most Muslims these just resonated as hollow words and mostly not believable.

Nihad Awad from CAIR appreciated the courage of Mr. Obama to speak to billions of Muslims with "clarity, decisiveness and sincerity". However there was a noticeable difference between the African American commentators that seem to fully appreciate the message and immigrant Muslims. One African American Muslim female attendee at a gathering of Muslim leaders watching the speech in DC found it to be "very encouraging" while Rahim Jenkins at this same event suggested that "stage has been set for real atonement and reconciliation" and called on the world to "embrace the words of this leader".

This optimism is in slight contrast to skepticism of others but may point towards a divergence in the world views of these two segments of Muslims in America, although it could be argued that the immigrant community has no real world view of their own, at least not yet.

I think the critics of the President, both Muslims and non-Muslims have missed out on enjoying an event of historic proportions at least to the fullest. Those that contend that Obama kept a distance from the Muslims during the campaign, those that complaint that he didn't comment on the Gaza war during last days of Bush are left puzzled but certainly mesmerized with the nature of the initiative (even though they'd never admit it) hopefully should now be able to see that this man is measured in his approach and it's better to work with him to gradually achieve lasting results. And there are those that are left wanting of action to follow words but are fairly realistic of our domestic politics that is unlikely to allow Mr.Obama to make broad gains given the significant negative views that America holds against the Muslim world. Nevertheless they should also enjoy the moment and take a chance in believing that it could be made right just like the President took his chances in Cairo.

(Sources for this paragraph includes various media websites and video clips)

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