President Obama today called for "a new beginning" between the United States and Muslims across the globe in his much anticipated speech in Cairo, arguing that to move forward both sides need to hold a frank discussion about the causes of recent -- and not so recent -- tensions.
"I have come here 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," Obama said. "Instead, they overlap and share common principles -- principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings."
Obama spoke to an audience of roughly 3,000 people at the University of Cairo, but his message was aimed at the wider Muslim world.
The White House billed this speech as the continuation of a dialogueObama began at his inauguration and the centerpiece of the president's five-day, four-country swing. By traveling to Cairo to address Muslims across the globe, Obama fulfilled a campaign promise to deliver a major address from a Muslim capital early in his administration.
In a marked departure from his campaign days -- when he was loath to give conspiracy theorists and political opponents opportunities to exploit his exotic heritage to paint him as "other" or as some sort of Muslim Manchurian candidate -- Obama related his own experiences with Islam. "I am 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."
He also quoted from the Koran four times and sprinkled in Arabic phrases such as "assalaamu alaykum," a Muslim greeting, and "shukrun," which means thank you.
Painting the United States as a nation hospitable to Muslims, the president said that "much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected president," but Obama said his story is not unique in America.
"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 -- that includes nearly 7 million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average," he said.
Embedded within the speech were repeated acknowledgments of the improbability of the task at hand.
"If we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward," the president said while standing in a city founded in 969 A.D. as the home of the fourth and final Arab caliphate.
Saying he recognized that change cannot happen overnight, the president said, "I know there has 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 all the complex questions that brought us to this point." But Obama said the speech was the start of honest and open conversation.
"We must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors," he said.
Aiming squarely at conspiracy theorists prevalent throughout the region, the president declared starkly that 9/11 happened and was perpetrated by al Qaeda, and that 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust. While the 54-minute speech was interrupted by applause 37 times, neither remark drew even a clap from the Egyptian audience.