In what has been widely billed as a major step in his promised effort to reach out to the Muslim community worldwide, President Barack Obama gave a speech entitled “New Beginnings” at Cairo University last week. The president did not, however, directly address conflicts between the West and the Muslim world. Instead, he tried to set a new tone in favor of global dialogue and to that end he was successful.
In fact, according to a transcript of the speech, Obama did not use the “Muslim world” once and chose instead to use “Muslim community.” Scott Carpenter and Soner Cogaptay wrote about the phrase the “Muslim world” for Foreign Affairs. In “What Muslim World?,” the author’s point is that a more nuanced worldview is needed. Indeed, as Musaab from the blog Mr. Moo, wrote on Twitter that day:
Some critics have expressed concerns that Obama’s new tone glosses over women’s rights and religious freedoms. Obama’s less nuanced description of a “Muslim community” could reduce Muslim women, for example, to a symbol, the hijab rather than equals in the community.
Obama’s tone can clearly be interpreted in a number of ways. In the post “War on words: Arab media on Obama’s speech in Cairo” a blogger from mediaoriente wrote:
While zapping in between Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya during Obama’s speech and trying to pick up the nuances in their coverage, I had hundreds of Tweets pulling out from my computer screen. Including people watching the speech from Israel, giving their opinions, translating things from Hebrew. Twitters written by Elizrael were very helpful. Neither Al Jazeera nor Arabiya were ready to pick up this energy and different views coming from Twitter live. Projects like Meedan of live translation Arabic-English and viceversa were helping. People were helping to understand, through Global Voices community. An incredible compilation of information, discussions, live translation, different opinions.
Obama’s opening remarks had an emphasis on peace and mutual understanding, but such ideals came at the cost of criticism and disappointment, especially with regards to women’s rights and religious freedom.
Today on Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders, Jean Feraca will be hosting a show about President Obama’s Cairo speech. For more information on how to listen, click here. Please feel free to leave a comment below with any thoughts or questions, and you can also send us a message by email.
Dissent and praise of Obama’s speech came from a wide range of social and news media. In “Let Women Wear the Hijab: The Emptiness of Obama’s Cairo Speech” blogger for UN Dispatch Peter Daou wrote that:
With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab? I would have been much more heartened if the preponderance of the speech had been about how in the 21st century, we CANNOT tolerate the pervasive abuse of our mothers and sisters and daughters.
Did Obama’s words physically stop the violence and settlements? No, not yet. And anyone expecting them to achieve that overnight is naive.
The president’s speech did set a new tone and called attention to the need for a more nuanced, global worldviews. Manager of the Muslim gateway of Pathos.com al-Husein Madhany writes that this process starts at home in American society. He outlines how the Obama presidency has impacted everyday life in “My Christian-Muslim American President.” Madhany calls for a conversation about religion in public life, saying:
As a nation, we have come to a point where it behooves us not to fall back on empty stereotypes about religious “others.” This requires that the global conversation about religion and spirituality must be made public–not simply for the sake of our individual well-being but also for the sake of all of us.
On Pathos, you can find videos that give context for President Obama’s speech under a section called “Obama in Egypt.” We invite you to leave links to additional articles or thoughts on these highlights below in the comments section.