CAIRO: Quoting from the Quran for emphasis, President Barack Obama called for a “new
beginning between the United States and Muslims” today and said together, they could confront violent extremism across the globe and advance the timeless search for peace in the Middle East.
“This cycle of suspicion and discord must end,” Obama said in a widely anticipated speech in one of the world’s largest Muslim countries, an address designed to reframe relations after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the US-led war in Iraq.
The White House said Obama’s speech contained no new policy proposals on the Middle East. He said American ties with Israel are unbreakable, yet issued a firm, evenhanded call to the Jewish state and Palestinians alike to live up to their international obligations.
In a gesture to the Islamic world, Obama conceded at the beginning of his remarks that tension “has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.”
“And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear,” said the president, who recalled hearing prayer calls of azaan at dawn and dusk while living in Indonesia as a boy. At the same time, he said the same principle must apply in reverse. “Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”
Obama spoke at Cairo University after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the second stop of a four-nation trip to the Middle East and Europe. The speech was the centrepiece of his journey, and while its tone was striking, the president also covered the Middle East peace process, Iran, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the violent struggle waged by al-Qaida. Obama arrived in the Middle East yesterday, greeted by a new and threatening message from al-Qaida’s leader, Osama bin Laden. In an audio recording, Laden said Obama inflamed the Muslim world by ordering Pakistan to crack down on militants in the Swat Valley and block Islamic law there.