As someone who uses comedy to build bridges between people of all backgrounds, I was particularly impressed with President Obama's speech to the United Nations yesterday.
The president stood up for tolerance, acceptance, freedom of expression, and the belief that the citizens of the world have far more that unites us than divides us. And that those ideals can bring us together in peace and prosperity.
It is a message that Palestinian-American Muslim comedian Dean Obeidallah and I have been expressing through our Standup for Peace show for the last ten years. Performing at college campuses where discussing the Middle East usually erupts into shouting, walking out and tension between religious groups, our comedy show brings Jews, Muslims, Arabs and people of all backgrounds together, in support of a dialogue for a peaceful, political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And at a time of virulent anti-Muslim bigotry in our country, espoused by politicians like Michelle Bachmann, Dean and I use our standup comedy to stand up for religious and cultural acceptance, instead of demonizing an entire group for the actions of a tiny minority. Even before we take the stage, our show is a success because it brings together students who had previously never interacted on campus, and gives them an opportunity to meet each other casually at pre show receptions and meals.
Standup for Peace emphasizes the point that if you can sit in a theater and laugh together, you can certainly live together in harmony. Because if you can hear peace, it would sound like laughter.
The United Nations serves a similar function. And instead of the relentless criticism it gets from Republicans in this country, the UN should be embraced as an opportunity for all the leaders of the world to sit together in the same room and listen to each other, even when some, like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, unfortunately insist on using inflammatory language.
In his speech, the president showed again why he has a decidedly firmer grasp than Mitt Romney does of what is needed in the Middle East.
President Obama at the UN yesterday:
Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on the prospect of peace. Let us leave behind those who thrive on conflict, and those who reject the right of Israel to exist. The road is hard but the destination is clear -- a secure, Jewish state of Israel; and an independent, prosperous Palestine. Understanding that such a peace must come through a just agreement between the parties, America will walk alongside all who are prepared to make that journey.
Mitt Romney in Boca Raton:
I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way. You recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem... and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.
Today at the United Nations, President Obama shared the optimistic vision of peace through understanding, that comedians like myself also embrace. And his determination to build bridges between the nations of the world, particularly among Israelis and Palestinians, especially resonated with me.
Standing up for peace can be done through diplomacy, as the President did today, as well as through comedy, as Dean Obeidallah and I continue to do. The United Nations might not be the best room for comedy, but it was the ideal venue for President Obama to make his case so eloquently today.