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‘I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims’

Excerpts from US President Barack Obama’s speech on Islam and the West in Cairo University

Written by The Indian Express |
June 5, 2009 12:39:24 am

We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation,but also conflict and religious wars. More recently,tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims,and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover,the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalisation led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam….

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive,and need not be in competition. Instead,they overlap,and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings…. I do so recognising that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust,nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward,we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts,and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground…

Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian,but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy,I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man,I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith….. Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America,but its promise exists for all who come to our shores — that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average……

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan,Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein,I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible…..

America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties,and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied…On the other hand,it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. They endure the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity,opportunity,and a state of their own…..Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied,neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements…..

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance…. That is the spirit we need today…Among some Muslims,there is a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of another’s. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld—whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well,as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence,particularly in Iraq….

There need not be contradiction between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai….

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now,that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God’s peace be upon you.

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