In an effort toward mending fences with the Muslim world, President Barack Obama gave a wide-ranging speech Thursday morning at Cairo University in Egypt.
While he touched on the many differences that divide the two cultures, Obama offered a hand of friendship, imploring a worldwide audience to seek a new, more peaceful relationship between the United States and the Muslim world.
"I know there are many — Muslim and non-Muslim — who question whether we can forge this new beginning," the president said, noting that it is easier to start wars than to end them. "It is easier to blame others than to look inward, to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share."
Obama began his trip to the Middle East with a meeting on Wednesday with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and the speech in Cairo was an eagerly anticipated part of the visit.
The president described the tension between the U.S. and Muslims across the world as deeply rooted in "historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate." He described the modern turmoil as "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."
He spoke of how the violent actions of a few have driven many in America to view Islam as "inevitably hostile" to the U.S. and the West. He warned that if we continue to allow ourselves to be defined by our differences alone, we only empower those who seek hatred over peace and conflict over cooperation.
"This cycle of suspicion and discord must end," he said. "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. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
"We have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek," Obama said. "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."
While the 55-minute speech did not offer any new initiatives for peace in the Middle East, Obama was adamant that Israel must stop its expansion in the West Bank, Hamas must end its violence, and a two-state solution is the "only resolution" to the decades-long conflict between the Jewish state and Palestinians seeking their own homeland.
Obama also promoted the idea of democracy in Egypt, spoke of his Christian faith and his family's Muslim background — the latter a topic he mostly avoided during his campaign for president — the noble tradition of Islam, and his desire to end the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, pointedly referring to Iraq as "a war of choice."
Ending with quotations from the Koran, the Jewish Talmud and the Christian Bible, Obama said peace is paramount, even though "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. 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 remake this world.
"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."