I watched Barack Obama’s speech “to the Muslim world” with a lot of interest, and I must say that, as a person who comes from that “world”, I was very pleasantly surprised. I understand some of my fellow Muslims’ dissatisfaction, and tendency to remain skeptical, due in large to decades of bluntly biased, aggressive, and unjust U.S policy towards the Middle East, but I believe that Obama’s speech needs, first and foremost, to be seen as it was intended to be, and as it was: The first paragraph of a “potential” new chapter, and a first step to highlight the new U.S administration’s willingness to break away from its predecessors’ policy towards Muslim countries, in the Middle East particularly.
Yes, the speech was broad. Yes, Obama talked about the Muslim world as if it was one single compact entity (which is a debatable concept even amongst Muslims themselves), but how much more could he possibly say in 55 minutes really? And most importantly: Can you name one single Western head of state, in the last 100 years, who did a better job publicly addressing a Muslim audience? Think about it. So why not, instead, focus on the positive sides of his speech? For example, the change of tone towards Israel, and the absence of the traditional U.S rhetoric of unconditional support to this latter. The use of the meaningful word “Palestine”, and the strong condemnation of Israeli occupation. The emphasis (although broad) on education and economic empowerment as means to effectively enhance women’s rights in the Muslim world. The sight of a U.S president who actually tries to relate to Muslims, one who did his research about their religion, read one thing or two about the history of the Middle East, and “gives a damn” to actually talk honestly to Muslims and take political risks by doing it. Those are all good points that should not be taken for granted or ignored, considering not only where we come from (yes, eight years of Bush), but also, the general atmosphere of Islamophobia that has been quite widespread around the world for many years now.
So while waiting for more updates, and concrete plans from “Abu Hussein” and his administration: I choose to look at the bright side, and I choose to believe. I really do want our two “worlds” to get along…
Mehdi Boubiya is a Program Associate for the Global Fund for Women's Middle East North Africa program.