Never been there, know little about it. Yet I can’t help thinking the President’s Cairo ‘New Beginnings’ speech improved Mid-East perceptions of the U.S. and may even have had something to do with the Arab Spring. Can you imagine such a speech by Mitt Romney or Rick Perry?

I can’t help thinking that the way the Obama team went after Bin Laden was more cost-effective than that of his predecessor.

I can’t help thinking that our handling of Qaddafi and Libya has thus far worked out well. (Here‘s Steve Clemons’ analysis to that effect.) What if we had taken this Qaddafi approach with Saddam Hussein and Iraq?

In any event, it prompted me to go back and read that Cairo speech, part of which I offer here:

… 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, 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 recognizing that change cannot happen overnight.  I know there’s been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point.  But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other 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.  As the Holy Koran tells us, “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.”  (Applause.)  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.  It was innovation in Muslim communities — (applause) — it was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed.  Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation.  And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.  (Applause.)

I also know that Islam has always been a part of America’s story.  The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco.  In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President, John Adams, wrote, “The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.”  And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States.  They have fought in our wars, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they’ve excelled in our sports arenas, they’ve won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch.  And when the first Muslim American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers — Thomas Jefferson — kept in his personal library.  (Applause.)

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed.  That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t.  And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. (Applause.)

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America.  (Applause.)  Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.  The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known.  We were born out of revolution against an empire.  We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words — within our borders, and around the world.  We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept:  E pluribus unum — “Out of many, one.”

Now, much has been made of the fact that an African American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President.  (Applause.)  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 — and that includes nearly 7 million American Muslims in our country today who, by the way, enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average.  (Applause.)

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion.  That is why there is a mosque in every state in our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders.  That’s why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it.  (Applause.)

So let there be no doubt:  Islam is a part of America.  And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations — to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God.  These things we share.  This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task.  Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people.  These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all. …

… I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq.  So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people.  Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people.  America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election.  But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:  the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.  These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.  And that is why we will support them everywhere.  (Applause.)

Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise.  But this much is clear:  Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure.  Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.  America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them.  And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments — provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they’re out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others.  (Applause.)  So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power:  You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party.  …

 

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