Goose bumps… yes, and tears as well. I read President Obama's speech before I listened to it and each line touched my heart. When he said "I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum." I had goose bumps. He represents me, he knows it and he's proud of it. He is my president. Nothing he said in his introduction, recounting achievements of the civilization of Islam and Muslim Americans, was new to me but it is redeeming to hear it from him as the entire world is listening.
Egyptian as I am, Napoleon Bonaparte popped in my mind. Bonaparte led the French to occupy my country, Egypt, in 1798. As soon as he landed on our shore, he sent a message to the Muslims of Egypt declaring allegiance to the Ottoman Khalifat and he started praying in Azhar while his soldiers were killing Egyptians and his commanders planning the invasion of Palestine. Bonaparte and his soldiers killed many Egyptians and killed many Arabs and Muslims. His emotional trick didn't work and his little escapade in Egypt failed disastrously. Yet Obama is not Napoleon Bonaparte. He was solid in his positions, consistent with his beliefs and blunt with Muslims. My superficial cynicism was definitely an unfortunate moment of injustice to my president. I don't believe that history repeats itself and I don't believe that we can make any change if we remain hostage to our colonial history. We need to be more self-confident; learn from our history but examine the present with an open mind.
As I listened to him addressing the Middle East conflict, I realized that many Muslims would perceive his position as, yet, imbalanced. I am not going to say if I think it was balanced or not. I will, however, remind everyone that Obama's position is consistent with his pragmatic policies. Obama believes in gradual sustained change. He's willing to compromise so that he can make one substantial step forward. He compromised a lot to pass the stimulus bill but as he promised a stimulus bill passed within his first hundred days. This theme of compromise to achieve what's possible is a consistent characteristic of the Obama philosophy since he was in the Illinois legislature. I don't see his Middle East policy any different from his other policies but I could see the steps forward. For the first time, the Palestinian statehood is a right the American president is pledging to support not just a suggestion on the negotiation table. For the first time, the unbreakable ties with Israel are not justifying ignoring the agony of the Palestinian people. And for the first time this is said in public not just behind closed doors.
This speech advanced the Muslim American identity crisis resolution decades forward. Thanks Mr. President. Peace be upon you.