Remember just two short years ago when President Obama was in Cairo speaking to young Muslim Arabs and proclaimed, “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” (emphasis mine)
The political Right didn’t seem to hear this part and instead attacked the speech, “saying he assumed a false moral equivalence between the west and the Muslim world and apologized for past American actions while failing to hold Arab and Muslim states accountable for violent extremist groups.” Based on the revolts against their tyrannical regimes going on over in that region today, which version do you think the Muslim youth that Obama spoke to heard?
Thomas Friedman, the moderate voice of New York Times and an occasional critic of the President, has noted that Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech may have been a catalyst for many young Arab Muslims to protest their leaders’ grip over them. In a recent article of Friedman’s, This Is Just The Start, he observes that “Americans have never fully appreciated what a radical thing we did — in the eyes of the rest of the world — in electing an African-American with the middle name Hussein as president.
I’m convinced that listening to Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech — not the words, but the man — were more than a few young Arabs who were saying to themselves: “Hmmm, let’s see. He’s young. I’m young. He’s dark-skinned. I’m dark-skinned. His middle name is Hussein. My name is Hussein. His grandfather is a Muslim. My grandfather is a Muslim. He is president of the United States. And I’m an unemployed young Arab with no vote and no voice in my future.”
I’m sure that everyone on the Right would not concede such a possibility; many would even become incensed over such a prospect. But let it all sink in a bit and think how we all presume, rightly or wrongly, that words matter and can evoke action. The words alone are not the precursor to stir people to behave in unexpected ways. Few however could honestly deny that in conjunction with other stirrings within each of us, the right words by certain individuals could spark a reaction that might otherwise fester awhile before fizzling out.
Who among us can whole-heartedly say that as the leader of the most powerful democracy on earth looked into the fresh young faces of his Egyptian audience, whose physical appearance was not dissimilar to many of them, and encouraged them “to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed”, that something inside a few of them clicked with an inclination towards action that was already there?
As much as it galls the anti-Obama hatred of many in this country, the conviction they held for Bush’s desire to spread freedom in the middle east may have actually become a reality, not for what their man did, but was instead the results of the 2008 elections, which was in part a rejection of the Party that Bush was a member of. Irony is often a bitter pill for some to swallow.