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U.S. President Barack Obama speaking at Cairo University on June 4, 2009

"A New Beginning" is the name of a speech delivered by United States President Barack Obama on June 4, 2009, from the Major Reception Hall at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt. Al-Azhar University co-hosted the event. The speech honors a promise Obama made during his presidential campaign to give a major address to Muslims from a Muslim capital during his first few months as president.[1]

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs indicated that Egypt was chosen because "it is a country that in many ways represents the heart of the Arab world."[2] Egypt is considered a key player in the Middle East peace process as well as a major recipient of American military and economic aid. Reuters reporter Ross Colvin reported that the speech would attempt to mend the United States' relations with the Muslim world, which he wrote were "severely damaged" during the presidency of George W. Bush.[1]





There was initially some speculation about the speech. Some thought Obama would unveil in detail his highly anticipated plans for future Middle East policy. In April and May 2009, the U.S. President had met in succession King Abdullah II of Jordan,[3][4] Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas to elaborate a peace plan in the Middle East. Arguments and ideas were exchanged during these three meetings, but few details were given about Obama's plan on the Middle East.[4]

Since taking office, Obama stated his support for the creation of a Palestinian state and announced that he would engage in negotiations with Iran. He also declared he opposed Israeli settlements and wanted to revive peace talks. In an interview to Al Arabiya, few days after his inauguration, Obama declared: "my job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy."[5][6]

Context and preparation

President Obama talking with Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on 18 May 2009.

The speech occurred just after Obama met the representatives of both Israel and the Palestinian Authorities. He had previously met King Abdullah on April 21 and Israeli President Shimon Peres on May 5.[4][7]

On May 19, 2009, he met Netanyahu at the White House, where they discussed the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and Israel's settlements in the West Bank. While Obama said a two state solution was a priority, Benyamin Netanyahu refused to support the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu said Israel has the right to continue settlements, whereas Obama called for settlement growth to be frozen. Obama also stated a "range of steps" are still available against Iran, including sanctions, if it continues its nuclear program.[8][9]

Obama also met Mahmoud Abbas on 28 May. Obama reaffirmed his belief in a two-state solution, and stressed that Israel's obligation under a 2003 Middle East peace 'road map' includes stopping settlement growth and ensuring that there is a viable Palestinian state.[10][11]

President Obama talking with Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on 28 May 2009.

Before Egypt was announced as the speech venue, there was speculation by the media about the location of the address. Jakarta, Rabat, Amman, Cairo, and Istanbul were all considered likely choices.[12] Mohammed Habib, the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group, dismissed Obama's trip and said it would be "useless unless it is preceded by real change in the policies of the U.S. administration toward the Arab and Islamic world."[13]

Cairo University spokeswoman Galila Mukhtar told The New York Times that "we are very proud to host the president of the United States,"[14] with spokesman Sami Abdel Aziz adding that the speech would be delivered in the Major Reception Hall. Renovations took place at the college and some final exams were postponed.

Obama's tour

U.S. President Barack Obama at Cairo University

Obama met with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the king’s ranch outside Riyadh on his way to Cairo. They discussed peace and economics. Obama stayed overnight at the ranch. While there, the president continued to prepare his speech to be given at Cairo University the next day.[15]

On 4 June, before delivering the speech, Obama led talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at Koubbeh Palace. The U.S. President said about the talks: "We discussed the situation between Israel and the Palestinians. We discussed how we can move forward in a constructive way that brings about peace and prosperity for all people in the region".[16] He said the US was committed to working in partnership with countries in the Middle East. The President later visited the Sultan Hassan Mosque, before going to Cairo University.

After the speech, Obama continued his tour with a visit to Buchenwald concentration camp to pay homage to the victims of the Holocaust. He met German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Dresden on June 5.


Obama's speech called for improved mutual understanding and relations between the Islamic world and the West and said both should do more to confront violent extremism.[17] However, it was Obama's call for peace between Israel and Palestinians that cut the highest profile. Obama reaffirmed America's alliance with Israel, calling their mutual bond "unbreakable", but also described Palestinian statelessness as "intolerable" and recognizing their aspirations for statehood and dignity as legitimate—just as legitimate as Israel's desire for a Jewish homeland.[17]

Obama's speech was divided into seven parts: violent extremism, the Israeli/Palestinian dispute, nuclear weapons (with a reference to Iran), democracy, religious freedom, rights of women, and economic development.

The president opened his speech seeking a common ground between Muslims and the United States. He quoted from the Quran, "Be conscious of God and always speak the truth".[18] Obama described Muslim contributions to Western civilization, citing the founding of algebra, the development of navigational tools, the invention of the fountain pen, and the influence of Islamic architecture. He described his own personal experiences with Islam, including having Muslim family members, growing up in Indonesia, a majority-Muslim country and hearing "the call of the azaan", and working "in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith." He also listed several of the United States' connections to Islam, including Morocco being the first country to recognize the United States, American Muslim sportsmen (such as Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and civil rights leaders (such as Malcolm X), the Nobel Prize winner Ahmed Zewail, the Bangladeshi American architect-engineer Fazlur Khan who designed the Sears Tower,[19] the election of Keith Ellison as the U.S.'s first Muslim congressman, and the presence of over 1,200 mosques in the U.S.

On the subject of the Iraq War, Obama stated, "Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible." He also promised to "remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012."

During the "nuclear weapons" portion of the speech, Obama stated, "In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government." It was the first acknowledgement by a U.S. President of the United States government's involvement in the 1953 Iranian coup d'état;[20] although then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had acknowledged it as well in a speech in 2000.[21]

About democracy, Obama stated that, though "America does not presume to know what is best for everyone", "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." He called such freedoms "human rights".

On economic development, Obama described several new funds, scholarship programs and partnerships to support education, technological development and better health care in Muslim-majority countries.


The speech was highly anticipated and generally acclaimed by the Muslim world. However, some Muslims criticized it, both before and after it was delivered.


On 3 June, Al-Qaeda released a video in which Osama Bin Laden strongly criticized Obama's foreign policy in the Middle East. He said that Barack Obama "has followed the steps of his predecessor in antagonising Muslims ... and laying the foundation for long wars." He also added that "Obama and his administration have sowed new seeds of hatred against America."[22] One day before, a video of Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri was posted to extremist websites, in which the leader criticized Obama's policy, declaring "his bloody messages were received and are still being received by Muslims, and they will not be concealed by public relations campaigns or by farcical visits or elegant words."[23]

President Obama was also criticized by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who delivered a speech to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini a few hours before Barack Obama's speech. Ayatollah Khamenei commented on the pending U.S. President's speech declaring: "The nations of this part of the world... deeply hate America. Even if they give sweet and beautiful [speeches] to the Muslim nation that will not create change. Action is needed."[24]


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas described the speech as "clear and frank... an innovative political step." Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum also welcomed the speech, saying "It had many contradictions, all the while reflecting tangible change".[25 ] However, another Hamas spokesman, Ayman Taha, remarked after the speech that Obama is "no different" from George W. Bush. Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League, hailed the speech, saying it "was balanced and offered a new vision of rapprochement regarding relations with Islamic states."[26]

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the speech was "direct, significant and brave appeal in which President Obama elucidated his vision and important universal principles, which he wishes to share with the Muslim world". Israeli President Shimon Peres said the speech was "full of vision, a brave speech demanding a commitment to hard work on all sides involved in the promotion of the peace process in the Middle East...The idea of peace was born in the Middle East as the basis of the three monotheistic religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – and the sons of Abraham must join hands in order to take on this challenge together, a sustainable peace in the Middle East." Other government officials criticized the speech for what they saw as glossing over Palestinian terrorism.[27] Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz said, "Obama completely overlooked that fact that the Palestinians have yet to abandon terror. The Israeli government is not some overlapping excess of the US administration."[28]

Javier Solana, European Union Common Foreign and Security Policy chief, praised the speech saying "It was a remarkable speech, a speech that without any doubt is going to open a new page in the relation with the Arab-Muslim world and I hope in the problems we have in so many theatres in the region."[26] United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke of "the opening of a new chapter in relations between the United States and the Islamic world."[25 ] The Vatican also welcomed the speech, saying it "went beyond political formulas, evoking concrete common interests in the name of a common humanity".[29]

A Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman praised and backed the speech saying, "We feel encouraged by President Obama’s remarks on Palestine and Israel. It has been a long standing demand of Pakistan that the two-nation theory is the only way forward out of the Middle East crisis". He further went on to say, "We see this visit as a very positive step on the part of US because over the years there has been proverbial chasm between the Western and Islamic world. So this visit will be useful in bridging gaps between the Muslim and the Western world."[30] An Iraqi government spokesperson stated that the speech made a "positive direction" towards international dialogue.[25 ]

Hezbollah political figure Hassan Fadlallah remarked that "[t]he Islamic and Arab world does not need lectures".[31] Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, later made an address that did not mention Obama's speech directly, but he said, "[t]he new US government seeks to transform this image. I say firmly, that this will not be achieved by talking, speech and slogans". Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr also criticized it.[25 ]

According to journalist Richard Spencer, most commentators in the Arab press welcomed Obama's speech, hoping it would lay the ground for concrete action.[32] Christiane Amanpour of CNN has also described the Muslim world's general reaction as very favorable and supportive.[33] Many Muslim clerics in Indonesia, such as those in the Indonesian Ulema Council, praised the speech and stated that it reflected America's good intentions towards Muslims. Salahuddin Wahid, an influential cleric, expressed hope that it would not be just words, but rather followed by "concrete steps".[34]

Some Arab commentators had a more negative response. Rami Khouri, the editor of The Daily Star and director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, argued that Obama gave "a lot of good, positive vibes" but, ultimately, it "was only rhetoric". He referred to what he saw as the hypocrisy of Obama praising human rights after meeting with Egyptian and Saudi leaders who have suppressed those same rights. He stated that the Muslim world is still waiting for Obama's words to "translate" into real policy. Al Jazeera bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara made similar remarks, saying that "he talked about Palestinians killing Israelis, but he didn't talk a lot about Israelis killing Palestinians, especially in the context of the latest Israeli war on Gaza". Foukara also said, "he's come to us with his message of peace, but there are U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and there are civilians being killed there by American forces".[35]

The fact that Obama never mentioned the word "terrorism" or "terror" was positively interpreted by many in the Muslim street, given that many of them see a 'war on terror' interchangeably as a 'war on Islam'. American conservatives also picked up on this and argued that it weakened Obama's overall message.[33] House Republican leader John Boehner also commented after the speech that Obama "seemed to place equal blame on the Israelis and the Palestinians... I have concerns about that because Hamas is a terrorist organisation". As well, he said, "[w]here he continues to say he will sit down with the Iranians without any preconditions, I just think that that puts us in a position where America looks weak in the eyes of their rulers."[26]

CNN pundit David Gergen argued that while, in his view, Obama has wrongly apologized for American actions before, he did not do so here and conservative criticisms are unfounded.[33] Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman lauded the speech and went on to remark, "Obama is off to a very, very good start in a very difficult time in our nation’s history."[36] A spokesman for Human Rights Watch stated that "there were many things that were commendable... but it is disappointing that when he talked about democracy in the Muslim world he wasn't more specific about some of the problems." He also stated that Obama refrained from talking about what the spokesman saw as the suppression of dissidents in Egypt.[26]

Political effects

Following the speech, Essam Derbala, a leader of the Egyptian Islamist group al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, called for Taliban and Al-Qaeda to halt attacks on U.S. civilians and to consider the "opening" offered by Obama. He added that the organizations should also open up to talks with the United States. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood dismissed the speech as being a public relations effort.[37]

Three days after the speech, a strengthening of the pro-Western coalition in the Lebanese general election with a loss for Hezbollah was perceived by some foreign policy analysts to be at least in part due to Obama's speech.[38] Several others stated that the speech played only a minor role compared to domestic events such as a last-minute appeal by Lebanon's Maronite patriarch asking Christians to vote against Hezbollah. For example, Lydia Khalil of the Council on Foreign Relations commented that "[i]t is too soon to tell what the ultimate Obama effect will be."[39]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately called a special government meeting after Obama finished his address. Yedioth Ahronoth has stated that the address' words "resonated through Jerusalem's corridors".[28] On June 14, Netanyahu gave a speech at Bar-Ilan University in which he endorsed, for the first time, a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians; the speech was widely seen as a response to Obama's speech.[40] In a rejoinder to Obama's mentioning of the founding of Israel in the context of the Holocaust, Netanyahu remarked, "[t]here are those who say that if the Holocaust had not occurred, the State of Israel would never have been established. But I say that if the State of Israel would have been established earlier, the Holocaust would not have occurred."[41] Netanyahu stated that he would accept a Palestinian state if Jerusalem were to remain the united capital of Israel, the Palestinians would have no army, and the Palestinians would give up their demand for a right of return. He also stated that existing Jewish settlements in the West Bank will expand while their permanent status is up to further negotiation. The overture was quickly rejected by Palestinian leaders such as Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, who called the speech "racist".[40]

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, the speech may have played some role in the June 2009 Iranian Presidential election between hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his moderate rival Mir Hossein Mousavi, spurring on reformist public opinion. The paper also stated that the Obama administration would probably be loath to talk about this publicly in fear of sparking an Iranian backlash.[39] About a week later, some unnamed Obama administration officials did make that case to the Washington Post.[42]


  1. ^ a b Colvin, Ross (2009-05-08). "Obama to reach out to Muslims in Egypt speech". Reuters. Retrieved 2009-05-10.  
  2. ^ Office of the Press Secretary (2009-05-08). "Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs". Retrieved 2009-05-10.  
  3. ^ Office of the Press Secretary (April 21, 2009). "The President and King Abdullah on Peace in the Middle East". White House.  
  4. ^ a b c "Obama embarks on maiden visit to Middle-East". Times of India. 2009-06-02. Retrieved 2009-10-09.  
  5. ^ Macon Phillips (27 January 2009). "President to Muslim World: "Americans are not your enemy"". White House.  
  6. ^ "'Americans are not your enemy,' Obama tells Muslims". CNN. 2009-01-27. Retrieved 2009-10-09.  
  7. ^ Office of the Press Secretary (May 5, 2009). "Readout on President Obama’s Meeting with President Shimon Peres of Israel". White House.  
  8. ^ Office of the Press Secretary (May 18, 2009). "Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel". White House.  
  9. ^ "Obama, Netanyahu Call Iranian Nukes Biggest Threat to Global Stability". Fox News. 2009-05-18. Retrieved 2009-10-10.  
  10. ^ Jesse Lee (28 May 2009). "Meeting with Abbas". White House. Retrieved 2 June 2009.  
  11. ^ "Obama, Abbas meet for talks". The Strait Times. 2009-05-29. Retrieved 2009-10-10.  
  12. ^ Ghosh, Bobby (2009-03-24). "Behind Obama's Speech to the Muslim World". TIME.,8599,1887435,00.html. Retrieved 2009-05-11.  
  13. ^ Sinan, Omar (2009-05-09). "Muslim Brotherhood: Obama's Egypt trip 'useless'". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-05-09.  
  14. ^ Slackman, Michael (2009-05-27). "An Ill-Kept Secret: The Site of Obama’s Egypt Speech". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-29.  
  15. ^ Christi Parsons and Mark Silva (June 4, 2009). "Apparent Osama bin Laden tape coincides with Obama visit". Los Angeles Times.,0,5079797.story.  
  16. ^ "Barack Obama begins key Egypt speech". BBC News. 4 June 2009. Retrieved 4 June 2009.  
  17. ^ a b Zeleny, Jeff; Adam Cowell (June 4, 2009). "Addressing Muslim World, Obama Pushes Mideast Peace". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-05.  
  18. ^ Reynolds, Paul (2009-06-04). "Obama speech: An analysis". BBC. Retrieved 2009-06-05.  
  19. ^ Sears Tower designer singled out, Chicago Sun-Times, June 5, 2009
  20. ^ Obama admits US involvement in 1953 Iran coup, AFP, June 4, 2009
  21. ^ U.S. Ending a Few of the Sanctions Imposed on Iran, David Sanger, The New York Times, March 18, 2000
  22. ^ "Bin Laden pours scorn on Obama charm offensive". Agence France Presse. France 24. 3 June 2009.  
  23. ^ "Al Qaeda number two hits out at Obama's 'bloody messages'". Agence France Presse. France 24. 2 June 2009.  
  24. ^ "Barack Obama set for keynote Egypt speech". BBC News (BBC). 4 June 2009. Retrieved 4 June 2009.  
  25. ^ a b c d "Obama speech widely hailed but foes still sceptical". Yahoo! News. June 5, 2009. Retrieved June 5, 2009.  
  26. ^ a b c d "Reaction: Obama's Cairo speech". BBC News. 4 June 2009. Retrieved 5 June 2009.  
  27. ^ Somfalvi, Attila (4 June 2009). "Israel says shares Obama's hopes for peace". Yedioth Ahronoth.,7340,L-3726482,00.html. Retrieved 19 June 2009.  
  28. ^ a b "Ministers split over Obama's Cairo speech". Yedioth Ahronoth. 4 June 2009.,7340,L-3726367,00.html. Retrieved 19 June 2009.  
  29. ^ Thavis, John (June 4, 2009). "Vatican media welcome Obama's speech in Cairo as step toward peace". Catholic News Service. Retrieved June 5, 2009.  
  30. ^ "Pakistan backs Obama’s Middle East approach". 2008-11-26. Retrieved 2009-06-06.  
  31. ^ ` (June 5, 2009). "Obama speech widely hailed but foes still sceptical". Emirates Business 24/7. AFP. Retrieved 2009-11-05.  
  32. ^ Spencer, Richard (2009-05-06). "Barack Obama's speech to Muslim world welcomed by the press". Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-06-05.  
  33. ^ a b c Transcript. Anderson Cooper 360. Broadcast June 4, 2009. Reviewed June 18, 2009.
  34. ^ Tong, Xiong. "Indonesian Muslim clerics praise Obama's speech". Xinhua News Agency. Retrieved June 19, 2009.  
  35. ^ "Obama's Speech Could Mark Shift in U.S.-Muslim Relations". News Hour with Jim Lehrer. June 4, 2009. Retrieved June 18, 2009.  
  36. ^ Johnston, Nicholas (June 13, 2009). "Lieberman Says Obama Off to ‘Good Start,’ Cites Cairo Speech". Bloomberg, L.P.. Retrieved June 18, 2009.  
  37. ^ "Islamist urges al Qaeda to open up to Obama's offer". Reuters. June 6, 2009. Retrieved June 18, 2009.  
  38. ^ Slackman, Michael (2009-06-08). "Hopeful Signs for U.S. in Lebanon Vote". Middle East - News Analysis (The New York Times). Retrieved 2009-06-17.  
  39. ^ a b Stannard, Matthew B. (June 13, 2009). "Iran election scrutinized for 'Obama effect'". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved June 18, 2009.  
  40. ^ a b Federman, Josef (June 14, 2009). "Netanyahu endorses Palestinian independence". Associated Press. Retrieved June 18, 2009.  
  41. ^ Herb Keinon; Khaled Abu Toameh; Tovah Lazaroff; Rebecca Anna Stoil (June 14, 2009). "PM lays down conditions for peace in foreign policy address". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2009-06-14.  
  42. ^ Iran Unrest Reveals Split In U.S. on Its Role Abroad, Scott Wilson, Washington Post, June 23, 2009

External links

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

A New Beginning
by Barack Obama
On June 4th, 2009, United States President Barack Obama delivered a speech entitled "A New Beginning" from the Major Reception Hall at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt. Al-Azhar University co-hosted the event. The speech honors a promise Obama made during his presidential campaign to give a major address to Muslims from a Muslim capital during his first few months as president.— Excerpted from A New Beginning on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Section headings have been added to the speech for readability.

Audio of the speech (24.11 MB, help | file info or download)
President Obama giving the speech



I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. And together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. 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.

Islam and the United States

We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world -- tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam. Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.

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 have come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon 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." 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 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 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. 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 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.

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. But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. 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. 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 seven million American Muslims in our country today who, by the way, enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average. 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 is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hajib (sic), and to punish those who would deny it.

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.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere; when a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk; when one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations; when violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean; when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

This is a difficult responsibility to embrace, for human history has often been a record of nations and tribes, and yes, religions, subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership. Our progress must be shared.

Now, that does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: we must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and as plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

Major sources of tension

Violent extremism

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not and never will be at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice; we went because of necessity. I am aware that there are still some who question or even justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Now, make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

That's why we're partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and the Holy Koran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism; it is an important part of promoting peace.

Now, we also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. That's why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.

Now, let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future, and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012. We will help Iraq train its security forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter or forget our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.

So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

Israeli–Palestinian conflict

Now, the second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied. Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed -- more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories, while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve. On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people -- Muslims and Christians -- have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations large and small that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers -- for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history, from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them and all of us to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is claimed; that's how it is surrendered. Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop. And Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

And finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past. America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have been shed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.

Nuclear proliferation

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is in fact a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build. I recognize it will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons. And that's why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation, including Iran, should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.


The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.

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 (sic) 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. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

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 are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who 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. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

Religious freedom

The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. 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. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it's being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of somebody else's faith. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld, whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. And, if we are being honest, fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit, for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

In fact, faith should bring us together. That's why we are forging service projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That's why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's Interfaith dialogue, and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action, whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

Women's rights

The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

I know, and you can tell form this audience that there is a healthy debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now, let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we've seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons. Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity, men and women, to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

Economic development and opportunity

Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence into the home. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and change in communities. In all nations, including America, this change can bring fear -- fear that because of modernity we lose of control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities -- those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradictions between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies enormously while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

And this is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf States have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century, and in too many Muslim communities there remains underinvestment in these areas. I am emphasizing such investment within my country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas when it comes to this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America. At the same time, we will encourage more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in on-line learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.

On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create more jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. Today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.


The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world that we seek -- a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many, Muslim and non-Muslim, who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort -- that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There is so much fear, so much mistrust that has built up over the years. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country, you, more than anyone, have the ability to reimagine the world, to remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort, a sustained effort, to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It's easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward. It is easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is one rule that lies at the heart of every religion: that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples, a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions around the world. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us, "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you.

PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).


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