I rushed to my office in downtown Washington, but a few long blocks from the Capitol to share with you the wonderous experience of witnessing first-hand the inauguration of President Obama. Having stood within but a few hundred yards from the inaugural stand for hours surrounded by thousands at the foot of the Capitol, we could hear Obama's words, but like many hundreds of thousands standing shoulder to shoulder across Washington, we had to rely on the "jumbotron" TV screens that dotted the grassy areas on either side of the stands to watch the ceremony unfold.
But that did not matter. What mattered most was being surrounded by so many of my fellow Americans, who with tears in their eyes and joyous cries of "OBAMA" as he ended his oath of office with the words "...so help me God" hugged and kissed and laughed and cried.
I have not read Obama"s Inaugural Address yet. But as his words swept across the sea of people before him which stretched mile upon mile as far as the eye could see down the Mall past the Washington Monument, my thoughts drifted across continents wondering how his Inaugural Address would play on the world stage. Would his words inspire and reassure? Would his words lay a durable foundation for the reemergence of a respected America abroad?
Time will tell.
But I am truly certain that as I stood there, his speech captured the essence of what ails and what inspires Americans as we face the challenges now under his guiding hand.
One sentence, in particular, stayed with me as the crowds began to scatter.
With an outstretched hand, President Obama addressed the Muslim world when he said "....we seek a new way forward based on mutual interest and mutual respect." Here Obama twiced used the word "mutual," which was not by accident.
His call is intended to inspire both Americans and Muslims to jointly examine what divides our worlds, the policies that sow discord, but also that which binds us together: our common humanity and our mutual desire fo build a better life for our children and the world they will inherit. I wholeheartedly applaud our president for recognizing the centrality of that mission and the urgency of that task. I hope that Muslims will be inspired as well by the challenge that President Obama has placed before them, as squarely as he has placed that challenge before his own nation.
There are so many issues that divide our two worlds...policies over Palestine and Israel, the perceived weakness of America's word, the misunderstandings and miscommunications over our struggled against Bin Laden and America's indifference to the aspirations of Muslim youth, not to mention the perception that Muslims are indifferent to the apprehensions Americans feel about their politics and hostility to western values, Israel's right to exist, etc. etc. The list of perceived and actual inflictions seems, at times, almost insurmountable, but under Obama, I am convinced they will no longer be.
One things is certain. Obama's commitment is not merely and inaugural flourish. In his semi-autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, Obama committed himself to rebuild America's reputation in the Muslim world. At a time when the gulf between our two worlds seems unbridgeable, he has clearly committed his administration to the cause of better coexistence, but not at the expense of America's security or its own values.
How will this happen? And from whence will come the outstretched arm from the Muslim world? Don't quite know yet. I know for certain that even before his inauguration, President Obama's staff were beginning to put the final touches on a new and innovative policy approach.
But pehaps what transpired at noon in our Capital today at the foot of the Capitol Hill, will encourage Muslims and their leaders to begin exploring what is in their own tool chest to help rebuild those bridges, as we surely must do here at home in the weeks and months ahead to find what we must do identify our mutual interests in order to regain our mutual respect.