Reaction in America Enthusiastic, With Caveats
By Garance Franke-Ruta
President Obama's Cairo address to the Muslim communities of the world reverberated back in the United States, where some Muslim leaders hailed it as a breakthrough, rebalancing international relationships, as well as an affirmation of American Muslims. Others thought the president could have gone further.
In the Washington area, the Council of American-Islamic Relations hosted a 6 a.m. viewing of the speech for local Muslim groups and community leaders. About 25 people attended, including representatives of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Falls Church Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center, the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations of Greater Washington, the District's Masjid Muhammed society, the Muslim American Society Freedom (MAS Freedom), and local business and community members.
Reaction to the speech by viewers at CAIR "was universally positive," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the group. "People really thought he set a new tone, a new direction for American policy toward the Muslim world, particularly in reference to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. His rejection of settlements was very straightforward." Hooper also hailed "his rejection of crude stereotypes of Islam" and the "nuanced" understanding of Islam revealed by Obama's words.
"A theme that ran through his speech was balance," Hooper said. "His speech brings our policy more to the center and toward a policy of evenhandedness and balance that I think will be well received in the Muslim world."
Others were more circumspect. Suhail Khan, a senior fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement who worked in the Bush White House Office of Public Liason, told The Post's Jacqueline Salmon it was an "important speech."
"Muslim Americans and people in the Muslim-majority world, particularly young Muslims, are accustomed to hearing a lot of promises and, for want of a better word, flowery language from American leaders about freedom and democracy. Now they are very hopeful," he said. "But follow through is needed, and that will require some tangible steps, particularly in the Arab-Israeli conflict.... With high hopes come expectations."
Amaney A. Jamal, an assistant professor of politics at Princeton and co-editor of "Race and Arab Americans after 9-11: From Invisible Citizens to Visible Subjects," called the speech "Fabulous" and a "180-degree turn from the Bush administration."
But Mahdi Bray, executive director MAS Freedom, a network of Muslim-American community groups, wondered when Obama's spirit of openness to the Islamic world would extend to the United States, where, he said, the president had had to keep the Muslim community at arms length while campaigning for office. "I found it very refreshing he visited a mosque in Turkey, a mosque in Egypt. He has yet to visit a Muslim house of worship in the U.S. The election is over, so we are looking for the president to engage the American Muslim community."
That said, the speech was "a breath of fresh air... as an American Muslim, I was inspired from the standpoint of feeling that this could be finally a breakthrough in terms of the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world," he said.
Posted at 12:37 PM ET on Jun 4, 2009
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