Obama seeks common cause with Muslim world
Associated Press | 6/10/2009, 4:58 a.m.
CAIRO — Invoking the Quran and his rarely used middle name, Barack Hussein Obama declared last Thursday that America has a common cause with Islam and never will be at war with the faith.
The overture was intently watched by the Muslim world and welcomed in unlikely quarters; an Iranian cleric quickly called the president’s speech “an initial step for removing misconceptions.”
Obama spoke at a seat of Islamic learning, his 55-minute address suffused with respect for touchstones of the religion. He said the time had come to “speak the truth” and “seek a new beginning.”
“America and Islam are not exclusive,” he said, “and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
Obama made no specific references to his predecessor in the White House during his Cairo University speech, but others quickly did.
“There is a change between the language of President Obama and previous speeches made by George Bush,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas. But he added that Obama did not specifically note the suffering in Gaza following the three-week Israeli incursion earlier this year.
“So all we can say is that there is a difference in the statements, and the statements of today did not include a mechanism that can translate his wishes and views into actions,” said Barhoum, whose group the U.S. considers a terrorist organization.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in advance of the speech that any statements by Obama were just “words, speech and slogan” that would leave in place sanctions designed to persuade the nation to stop its nuclear weapons program.
But Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a cleric who was vice president under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, called the speech “compensation” for a hostile environment created by Bush.
“This can be an initial step for removing misconceptions between the world of Islam and the West,” he said.
Obama’s remarks were designed to reset relations after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Yet he also called sternly for Israelis and Palestinians to live up to their obligations in seeking peace, demanded Iran bow to international demands to halt its nuclear weapons program and asked Muslim countries for help in eradicating the threat of fundamentalist violence across the globe.
In doing so, the Christian son of a Kenyan Muslim father and a Kansas mother sought common cause in part by addressing his own roots — and using a middle name that opponents used against him at inflammatory moments in the presidential campaign.
“Much has been made of the fact that an African American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected president,” he said. “But my personal story is not so unique.” He went on to say the dream of America exists for all who go there — including nearly 7 million Muslims.
The Israeli government issued a statement saying that it, too, hoped for a new era. But it skirted any reference to Obama’s calls for a settlement freeze in the West Bank and the creation of an independent Palestinian state — demands that Israel’s hawkish prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, continues to reject.