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Thursday, June 4, 2009 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: Professor Juan Cole and Cairo-Based Analyst Issandr El...
2009-06-04

In Cairo Speech, Obama Calls for "New Beginning" Between US and Muslims Worldwide

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President Obama delivered a highly anticipated speech in Cairo, Egypt, today, aimed at Muslims across the world. Among several points, Obama defended his decision to escalate the occupation of Afghanistan and refused to apologize for the invasion of Iraq that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. On the Israel-Palestine conflict, Obama refused to call for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories but likened the Palestinian struggle to the US civil rights movement and said Israeli settlement building should stop. And he acknowledged the US role in the 1953 overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected government. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama delivered a highly anticipated speech in Cairo, Egypt, today, aimed at Muslims across the world. He arrived in Cairo this morning amid what is being described as the biggest security operation ever seen in Egypt. That country’s capital was in a state of lockdown, with tens of thousands of police lining the streets and military helicopters circling overhead. The huge security presence was reportedly bolstered by up to 3,000 CIA operatives.

Obama joined Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on a palace balcony for the welcoming ceremony. The two then met privately for about twenty minutes. Obama was then escorted to Cairo University to deliver his landmark address.

In his speech, Obama defended his decision to escalate the occupation of Afghanistan and refused to apologize for the invasion of Iraq that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. On the Israel-Palestine conflict, Obama refused to call for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, but he said settlement building should stop.

The address was hosted jointly by Cairo University and Al-Azhar University. This is how Obama began his address.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m grateful for your hospitality and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. And I’m also proud to carry with me the good will of the American people and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: As’salaamu alaykum.

    We meet at a time of great 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 coexistence 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 globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

    Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11, 2001, and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.

    So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

    I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Obama went on to reference his own personal background.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: That is what I will try to do today, to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

    Now, part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I’m 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 at the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith. As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam, at places like Al-Azhar, that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.

    Now, much has been made of the fact that an American — 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.

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama also referenced 9/11 and the US reaction to the attacks.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter or forget our principles. Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable. But in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.

    So, America will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama, giving his address to the Muslim world from Cairo University in Egypt.

[...]

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to the excerpt of President Obama’s speech on Israel and Palestine.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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.

    Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed, more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction, or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews, is deeply wrong and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

    On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people, Muslims and Christians, have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years, they’ve endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. 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. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.

    For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It’s easy to point fingers — for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

    That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest and the world’s interest. And that is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires. The obligations — the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them, and all of us, to live up to our responsibilities.

    Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong, and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia, from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. [...]

    At the same time, 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. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

    And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama’s historic address at Cairo University in Egypt that took place just before this broadcast.

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