Two speeches were in the ring competing for the Muslims’ hearts and minds: The US President’s speech from Cairo University and Osama Bin Laden’s speech from his lair. Who did the Muslim world listen to? Who won the hearts and minds last week: Osama or Obama?
Obama’s speech at Cairo University and every word, full stop, and comma in it would not have had this impact or interest — or even a little of it — had it been delivered by another US president. It was not the speech or the message that was the event; it was the man. Obama is unlike all former US presidents who had visited the Middle East. The face of Nixon, Roosevelt, Bush, Carter, and Clinton, were the faces of the “white foreigner” who is associated in Arab and Islamic mentality with imperialism and occupation while the face of Obama resembles very much the faces of God’s creatures walking in the Middle East’s streets. It resembles the faces of half the Saudi national soccer team and most people in northern Sudan and Morocco. Obama himself was probably surprised when he saw these massive numbers of humans in Saudi Arabia and Egypt who have the same features as his and those of his relatives.
A US President who looks like us delivered a speech that our leaders were supposed to deliver. The speech was like a mirror the man carried in his hand to the Muslims. He told them this is your religion that tells you “Let him who will, believe, and let him who will, reject (it.); “It is true thou wilt not be able to guide every one whom thou lovest”; “We made you intonations and tribes, that ye may know each other”; and “Speak words of appropriate (comfort).” A religion that is tolerant, celebrates the differences and urges them, lays the foundation for freedom of expression and faith, and incites honesty publicly and secretly. Do your faces look like the face you see in the mirror I am bringing to you? Obama’s speech revealed to us the difference between the values of Islam and the behavior of Muslims. How is it that when the religion says one who slays a person for no reason is like he is slaying the whole people we see many among us supporting the killing of innocent people under Osama Bin Laden’s banner? How did these abandon the tolerance of their true religion and adopted Bin Laden’s violent interpretation?
Obama discomfited us when he brought us the mirror and we saw that we do not resemble our Islam and that Islam is innocent of the behavior of some of us. Obama discomfited us because he is a man who looks like us, studied in Islamic schools when he was young, has a name similar to our names, and reached where he is now in a free world. Obama discomfited us because he can be an independent individual who thinks freely while we think only within the herd mentality and we say about anyone who disagrees with us he is singing out of tune. We are the herd mentality and our conditions will not improve unless we become individuals who accept the differences secretly and publicly. We are sometimes individuals secretly and at private meetings but enter the herd mentality publicly. This is what Obama told us frankly in his speech when he demanded from us to say publicly what we really believe as we say it secretly. Obama is encouraging us to emerge from the mentality of fear that has imprisoned our minds for decades and rendered us not daring to say in public what we say behind closed doors, the fear of the ruler from the ruled, and the fear of the ruled from the ruler. Obama told us the shortcoming is of our making and not in our Islam, as Umm Kulthum says in her famous song “the shortcoming is of your making or the making of your loved ones, not of the love.” The shortcoming is of the making of our lovers and the lovers of Bin Laden. As to Islam, there are no shortcomings in it. This was the message, a short “SMS” one despite the length of the speech.
Obama’s speech was important for its “maturity”, in the sense that this word meant leaving behind adolescence and reaching the age of maturity. Obama told us clearly that the US relationship with Israel is along-term partnership; coexist with it but at the same time I am extending myhand to you. It is not necessary for the Arabs to make those who become friends with Israel their enemies as they will ultimately be the losers. Cleverness means attracting those not standing with you and influencing them. It is not a matter of exclusivity and of being limited to us so that we do not accept sharing our friends. We must get rid of the mentality that one who is our enemy’s friend is necessarily our enemy whom we avoid instead of making the effort to win him to our side.
It is our duty to help the US President so that he can help us. He will be, from now on, the target of Israel’s friends who will try to deter him from doing what he is going to do, namely, impose the two Palestinian and Israeli states solution. They will threaten that they will make him a single term president. We must provide Obama with the tools with which to resist this deep-rooted lobby in Washington by being flexible with him and by arming him with what he wants against the forces of evil which do not want him to solve the issue. The Zionist groups have started to accuse Obama of anti-Semitism just because he talked about the Palestinians positively. Obama is in the end human and might change his stands under pressure unless the Arabs arm him with the tools that help him insist on them and the Arabs should not be silent and inactive, like in the songs “I lost my love, who can bring her tome” and “my love lives in Al-Sayyidah and I live in Al-Husayn” [Cairo districts] as if there are no roads between the man and the woman he loves. We must leave the world of the singer Abdul-Muttalib who sang “my love lives in Al-Sayyidah” to the world of interactions and the “GPS” that takes us to the correct address without getting lost.
Osama Bin Laden filled the world with his screams through Aljazeera channel the day Obama arrived in Riyadh. Bin Laden talked about deceitful Obama saying he is an extension of his predecessor George Bush. But what television screens showed and opinion polls indicated say the Arab and Islamic world thought differently. The Arab and Islamic world stood with Obama and ignored Bin Laden’s screams. The young in the Arab world admired the smart and modest black young man. They saw him after delivering his speech at Cairo University as a “casual” person touring the Khufu pyramid wearing casual clothes, carrying a water bottle, behaving like any ordinary person, and taking off his shoes at Al-Sultan Mosque in Cairo while the Muslim security men were walking in their shoes. The young did not see this modesty and this sensitivity in the words and behavior of Bin Laden but saw them in Obama. One of the students in the university hall shouted when he delivered his speech: “We love you Obama.” Most of the Islamic world listened to Obama while Bin Laden remained screaming alone inside a recorded tape in one of Aljazeera channel’s drawers.