Reviews of Obama’s speech to Muslims
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Below are excerpts from “On Faith,” a WashingtonPost.com feature that serves as a conversation on religion and politics. This week’s question: What’s your reaction to President Obama’s June 4 address to the Muslim world?
Eboo Patel, executive director, Interfaith Youth Core, in Chicago:
Martin Luther King Jr. sought to bridge the great divides of his age by challenging the dominant paradigm and lifting up a new framework. King was clear: This isn’t a black vs. white world, but a “live together as brothers or perish together as fools” world.
In Cairo, President Obama made his most King-like speech. Obama came to Cairo to bridge one of the great divides of our age – between the United States and the Muslim world. And he drew from the same vision, grace and courage that King did.
He spoke of his admiration for Muslim civilization and its role across the ages in nurturing learning and progress, peace and pluralism. These are the same values that America has sought to advance. The stereotypes that Islam is only violent or that America only seeks empire are inaccurate and counterproductive. So is the focus only on the history of conflict. …
Years ago, King spoke of inter-racial bridges, and a generation built them.
Today, Obama’s job is to speak of building interfaith bridges of service. It is our job to build them.
Brad Hirschfield, president, National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, New York:
President Obama’s long-awaited speech to “the Muslim world” contained any number of things that troubled me. They trouble me as an American, as a supporter of peace in the Middle East, as a supporter of Israel and even as a Jew.
The president’s remarks were filled with partial truths that often idealized the history of Islam and consistently avoided many of the real challenges that the world faces today. Speaking of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, Obama correctly identified the institution as one with a thousand-year track record of commitment to learning but avoided the fact that its religious policies make Bob Jones University seem liberal. He quoted the Koran’s dictum that we “be conscious of God and always speak the truth,” and received applause for doing so, but failed to acknowledge how that very teaching is often used by the extremists he reviled.
The president spoke of Islam’s historic commitment to religious tolerance and racial equality but did not address the fact that they were practiced only when Muslims were in power and that while racial equality existed, religious equality did not. He insisted that Islam was not part of the problem in combating religious extremism but an important part of promoting peace. Clearly, it is both.
And none of this even addresses the president’s unfortunate comparison of contemporary Israelis and Palestinians with black slaves in America and their white owners, or his unwillingness to mention that the biggest issue related to violence by Muslims is their murder of other Muslims, which far exceeds the amount of either Jewish or Christian blood that they shed.
Yet with all of that concern, I remind myself that this speech was not for me, not designed to please my ears or address my concerns. It was addressed to the Muslim world, and it was brilliant. Call it great statesmanship, or call it a wonderful expression of the biblical concept (Genesis 21) of “reaching someone where they are,” but the president’s speech in Cairo was spot on.
Richard Land, president, Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission:
I applaud President Obama for his clear and unambiguous proclamation of freedom of religion. Obama affirmed that “people in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, and the heart, and the soul” echoing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I was extremely disappointed Obama did not take this opportunity in Cairo to applaud the United States military and its valiant and sacrificial efforts to liberate Muslims in Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq from severe persecution and tyranny.
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