A few days ago, I was called into CNN International's studios in London to record some comments on President Obama's visit to Saudi Arabia and discuss expectations regarding the -- then much anticipated -- Cairo speech.
What I said bluntly at the time was that despite the positive attitudes many Arabs have towards Obama, "actions will always speak louder than words", meaning that what really matters isn't what Obama says but what he actually does.
"Many Arabs have had it with American promises and want to see results", I said while also pointing that given Mr. Obama's record since his inauguration, he seems to be on a roll... "signing off the closure of Guantanamo, the pledge and deadline to withdraw US troops from Iraq and finally his position on Israeli settlements are all positive indicators that the man means business", I said.
I was also asked what was different this time around, particularly that the US - Saudi relations for example have always been 'special'... I said: "well, I suppose the fact that you have an American administration that is actually ready to listen is a major difference".
Having seen and heard the now infamous Cairo University speech several times , I must admit that if I were to record that interview again with CNN, I would have altered my comments a bit... though many of them didn't make the final cut on air anyway.
I guess I would have said that while it is true that actions will always speak louder than words, and while it is equally important for a leader to have the ability to listen... I would have also mentioned that it would certainly be a big plus for this leader to be able to say the right things.
Now, I am not 'misunderestimating' the previous US administration in anyway, but I deeply believe that using quotes about peace and understanding from the Holy Quran while repeating that "America isn't and will never will be at war with Islam" would probably have a better impact on most Muslims than describing a certain war as a 'Crusade' for example.
In all cases, Obama seemed aware that many were and still are expecting him to present more than just words, "No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust" he told the audience in Cairo which responded to his words with a truly deserved standing ovation.
The US President also seemed very well informed of every little detail in the 'What Upsets Arabs and Muslims' booklet and tackled these details one by one (again a major step forward from the previous administration which seemed to be implementing them instead)
His nod to Islam's accomplishments in various areas, such as science and arts, abolishes the highly-spread preconceived belief that 'The West looks down at our culture' which I have to admit that many of us have in the Middle East.
Now, this is not to deny that there are in fact many 'Westerners' that do look down at Arab and Muslim culture, but the whole point is that we shouldn't allow ourselves to generalize.... Something Mr. Obama also pointed out to when he said that extremists form only a minority and that they don't reflect the true values and face of Islam.
The speech also contained a sort of confession that the Iraq War was a mistake, and while no apology was made there was a clear reassurance that Iraq and its resources will always belong to its people.
The part on Israel and Palestine was remarkable, as while its true that Obama asked those who deny the Holocaust to stop doing so, and stressed on the unbreakable ties that the US has with Israel, he managed at the same time to go where others may have stopped; calling on Israel to halt settlements in Palestine, while reassuring the Palestinians that its in everyone's interest for them to have their own viable state.
I truly wish that the Israelis would take peace seriously and that Palestinians would overcome their divides and make use of the passion, fairness and true desire that this President has to resolve this issue.
I believe President Obama's statements are equally important to both Arabs and Muslims as well as the American audience back in the US, as they certainly set the right tone (or at least the best one I've heard so far anyway) to what the future of the relationship between America and Islam should look like.
The Cairo speech certainly marks a 'New Beginning', and hopefully a new era of peace and prosperity, where we can all live together and share a better future... E Pluribus Unum!
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