Leading article: Mr Obama makes his case for a historic rapprochement

The onus is now on the Muslim countries to give a positive response

Share
Related Topics

It is not often in modern times that a single speech is delivered with a view to changing history; still more rarely that it achieves this end. But the address delivered by the US President at the University of Cairo yesterday has a chance, just a chance, of doing that. If the United States and the Islamic countries eventually succeed in banishing their mutual suspicion and inaugurating a new age of understanding – a distant prospect, to be sure – Barack Obama's bold efforts to make a new beginning, based, as he put it, on mutual interest and mutual respect, will deserve much of the credit.

As a President seeking to bridge the gulf that now yawns between the United States and the Islamic world, Mr Obama started out with three advantages. The first derived from his biography. His references to his Kenyan family, his childhood in Indonesia and his Chicago years all rang true. The second, not unconnected, is the cultural sensitivity that derives at least in part from that variegated background. When he quoted from the Koran – as he did several times and always to applause – the allusions flowed naturally, without the slightest affectation. And the third is his skill as a communicator, which encompasses not just his formidable rhetorical gifts, but his ability to explain a complex message in such a way that it will be heard and understood. These qualities, which played such a large part in winning him the presidency, were displayed to full effect again yesterday.

Nor were any of the intended recipients left with any excuse for misinterpreting what he had to say yesterday. Not only was the speech widely trailed by the US administration, it was also webcast live by the White House and supplied via text messages in Arabic, Urdu and Farsi translation, with invitations for the recipients to comment.

The speech was as pitch-perfect as we have come to expect from Mr Obama. But in content, too, it was hard to fault. This was an hour-long discourse on subjects that have been minutely analysed and argued about by experts over the years. It was a diplomatic and intellectual tour de force; a cool, logical and coherent argument for the ditching of stereotypes and the harmonious coexistence of two different, but not automatically conflicting, views of the world.

The US President had some uncomfortable things to say: to Israel about calling a halt to the settlements and accepting a Palestinian state; to Palestinians about not launching rocket attacks on Israel; to the whole Arab world about recognition for Israel and the permanence of the US-Israel alliance, and to conservative Muslim states about the place of women. But he did so in a way that made clear that he was representing American interests and that the US, during his presidency at least, had no claims on other people's territory, security or way of life.

It is true, as a few less benevolent critics noted yesterday, that words are not the same thing as deeds. But words set a tone, and Mr Obama's every nuance was calculated to say that today's White House, politically and philosophically, is as far from George Bush's as it is possible to be. A time will come when Mr Obama – and the US public on his behalf – will, rightly, expect his outstretched hand to be reciprocated. Foreign leaders will not be able to bask indefinitely in the US President's reflected goodwill. But this month sees crucial elections in Lebanon and Iran, and all leaders need to carry their people with them. If patience is the price of a new start in US-Muslim understanding, Mr Obama can afford to wait.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: International Customer Service Administrators

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: With 100 days still to go how will Cameron, Miliband and Co. keep us all engaged?

Andrew Grice
A solar energy farm in France  

Nature Studies: For all the attractions of solar power, it shouldn’t blight the countryside

Michael McCarthy
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea