A Milestone. Or Not.

June 5, 2009 – 04:45

After 9/11, and especially after visiting ground zero, I had some strong personal reactions.

I wrote some magazine columns and also wrote quite a bit about the issues and challenges surrounding the event in non-commercial venues.

In addition to doing what I could within my sphere of influence and expertise, I also wanted to learn more about how it came about, the people behind it, their culture and their religion.

To that end, I read a lot of books on those topics. The books provided important information on the region, its politics, its religions and its history.

Not satisfied with the books, magazines and newspapers, I also took a trip to the Middle East, and got to know some people there, as well as a little bit about the realities of their countries and cultures.

My in-person, eyewitness experiences taught me things I could never learn from a book.

While there I witnessed some things and interviewed some people. Some of those events and people were covered in the mainstream western media, including the New York Times. That coverage taught me the reality of western media: that the facts–the truth–had nothing to do with what was reported by the mainstream western media.

Many of the local people I met in the Middle East begged me to return to the U.S. and “tell them what we are really like.” I endeavored to do so, with varying levels of success and impact.

As a result of my experiences there, I have continued to be be interested in the countries, cultures, religions and people of the region, and especially in how they relate to the West and how the West relates to them.

Consequently, I was particularly interested in a watershed moment in that relationship, President Obama’s speech in Egypt.

As with all news, if you want to know what actually happened, you had to be there or watch or listen to the raw media feeds. Fortunately for us in this case, you can avoid the media filters, formation and spin by watching the raw video of the speech here. It’s worth investing the 55 minutes.

If you watch nothing else, the last five minutes contain some core messages and are worth viewing.

Highlights:

  • ~13:00 commonalities
  • ~18:30 extremists
  • ~27:40 two state solution
  • ~33:00 sons of Abraham
  • ~45:00 development versus cultural identity

 

If the embeded player doesn’t work, use this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BlqLwCKkeY

If you’d prefer to read the transcript, it is here:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-Cairo-University-6-04-09/

Viewed from a strictly inside-the-U.S.-looking-out perspective, the speech will probably have less impact than it does to those who have been to the Middle East or who are there now. After all, all politics are local, and if you have no interest in the region other than their oil, there won’t be much there except grist for the polarized partisan mill.

Viewed from my perspective, having had a small taste of the realities of the region, it is a significant foreign policy speech, and it could be a significant milestone in relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world. Or not.

How do other countries, with different perspectives view it? Here are some samples:

Notes:

a) The president gives a greeting of As-Salaamu ‘Alaykum. It is an Arabic spoken greeting used by Muslims as well as Arab Christians and Jews. The term Salam in Arabic means “Peace”. The greeting may also be transliterated as Salaam ‘Alaykum. It means “Peace be upon you”. The traditional response is wa `Alaykum As-Salaam, meaning “and upon you be peace.” (source: Wikipedia)

b) The president refers to “zakat” in the speech. Zakat (or zakah) (Giving of Alms) is the fourth of the five pillars, or obligations, of Sunni Islam. The five pillars are Shahada (Profession of Faith), Salah (prayers), Zakah (Giving of Alms), Saum (Fasting during Ramadan) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). Shi’a Muslims subscribe to eight ritual practices which substantially overlap with the five Pillars. (source: Wikipedia)

c) The president mispronounced “hijab” (headscarf), instead saying “hajib.”

d) The president refers to the “Sons of Abraham.” This is in reference to the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, who trace their major prophets’ bloodlines (Moses, Jesus Christ and Muhammad) back to the common ancestor of Abraham.

e) My favorite word from the speech was “rectitude,” which means “righteousness as a consequence of being honorable and honest.”

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