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Posts Tagged ‘palestine’

Israel Eases Gaza Blockade

June 21st, 2010 No comments

This is definitely the most positive story of the day. The blockade on Gaza was a gross overreach on the part of the Israeli government, and I’m glad they’re finally pulling back. I understand the need Israelies feel to protect themselves, but slowly starving an entire population only militarizes the Palestinians further and ensures that the rest of the Muslim world continues to hate them, and the U.S. by extension.

The fact that international pressure has finally forced Israel to ease the blockade shows just how wrong America’s approach has been. By blindly supporting the government of Israel no matter how right-wing and self-destructive it is, the U.S. has damaged both itself and Israel. By attempting to weaken Hamas, both our governments have effectively strengthened it.

We’ve been so concerned with being a good friend to Israel that we’ve actually been the opposite. If your best friend is engaging in self-destructive behavior—drug use, for example—a good friend wouldn’t support that behavior. The right thing to do, as a friend, is to step in and tell them when they’ve gone too far.

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America’s Chosen People

June 4th, 2010 No comments

We’re witnessing events that when recorded in history could be considered another sequel to the Old Testament. It’s got the same main characters—the children of Israel—and the same setting—a small area of land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. And for the most part, the plot is the same. In the original, the Israelies migrate to Palestine after brutal enslavement by the Egyptians. In the sequel, the Nazis play the role of the Egyptians as the Israelies migrate back to Palestine after the brutality of the Holocaust. And in the role of Yahweh—the world’s most powerful force who promises Israel that land and offers them protection and victory over their enemies—is the United States. The only key difference between the original story and the sequel is that unlike Yahweh, the United States would never punish Israel for any wrongdoing, and whereas in the original Israel was clearly subservient to Yahweh, in the sequel it’s the United States that has become subservient to Israel.

Israel has basically imprisoned millions of Palestinians in the Gaza strip and deprived them of everything short of the most basic necessities for survival—and barely even enough for that. When a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid bound for Gaza was stopped by the Israeli blockade this past Monday, their ship was boarded and many of the activists were killed, including one American citizen. To be fair, the activists did resist the Israeli Defense Forces with the weapons they had at their disposal—rocks and sticks—so the retaliation on the part of the IDF with the weapons at their disposal—guns—wasn’t entirely unprovoked. But most objective observers look at this incident and see that Israel is in the wrong.

Most Americans, however, are not objective observers. After all, the Israelies are our Chosen People. In the first sequel to the Old Testament—known as the “New Testament”—the next sequel is foreshadowed by prophecies proclaiming that its main character, God’s son Jesus, will return when Israel is again occupied by the Jews and the temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt. Americans, who are big fans of Jesus and can’t wait for his appearance in the third part of the trilogy, want to do everything they can to help the Jews in their quest to make Israel for the Israelies alone.

So naturally, whenever Israel’s right-wing government does anything morally questionable, excuses and justifications abound. Israel is brutally oppressing millions of Palestinians in order to “starve them just a little” so that they’ll get angry at their own government, Hamas, and demand that they give in to Israel’s demands. The only reason they’ve been able to get away with this crime against humanity is that the United States has their back. The world’s largest military power says that the Palestinians are the bad guys—the Israelies are just defending themselves—and that if the Muslims want peace they should just give all of their land to Israel. By insisting on having a state of their own—which they had until Israel decided to form their own state on top of theirs last century—the Palestinians are to blame for all of the violence.

Obviously, a flotilla full of humanitarian aid bound for Gaza is a vessel of hatred, as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said. They’re trying to undermine Israel’s plan of making the Palestinians hate Hamas for not giving in to Israel’s demands. Ipso facto they’re helping Hamas, whom we all know are a bunch of bloodthirsty terrorists.

Again to be fair, Hamas is a terrible organization that has undoubtedly committed heinous crimes and killed many innocent Israelies. I would never say that Hamas is completely right and Israel is completely wrong. But most American politicians and pundits would confidently say that Israel is completely right and Hamas is completely wrong. In American politics regarding Israel, there are no shades of grey.

So we hear almost nothing but defense of Israel’s actions in the American mainstream media. The vessel was looking for a fight. They had cameras on board because they were hoping to catch Israel in an act of violence and generate sympathy on the world stage.

Here’s my question: what’s wrong with that? That’s the way the Palestinians should be going about the fight to free Gaza. Not launching rockets at Israel, but merely trying to bring food and medical equipment to the people of Gaza and showing the whole world how far Israel is willing to go to prevent them from doing that. Draw attention to the conflict and get other nations to put pressure on Israel to back down from its all-or-nothing stance.

Again, a few rockets apparently were launched from Gaza on Thursday, apparently in retaliation for the flotilla raid, and to whoever launched those rockets I say: No. Wrong. Don’t be stupid. You’ll never win this battle through force. If those rockets had killed any Israeli civilians (and luckily they didn’t) you would have completely undermined your own cause and dissolved the sympathy that this incident has generated for you.

Meanwhile, America is doing everything it can to stifle that sympathy. The most infuriating thing I’ve heard from any pundit came from Charles Krauthammer, who insists that there’s no humanitarian crisis in Gaza to begin with: “There’s no one starving in Gaza. The Gazans have been supplied with food and social services, education, by the U.N., by UNRWA, for 60 years, in part with American tax money.”

Not only are the Gazans getting plenty to eat, but it’s being paid for by the American taxpayer! The Gazans are not only a bunch of bloodthirsty Jew-hating terrorists, but they’re a bunch of welfare queens as well! If you already hated them because they were Muslim, now you can hate them even more because you’re paying for their food!

I’d like to see Krauthammer travel to Gaza and talk to some of the people there, maybe ask them to give the American taxpayers some of their money back.

But in all seriousness, America needs to break out of this support-Israel-no-matter-what political mindset we’re trapped in. Israel is becoming like a cinderblock that we’ve tied to our neck with our own rope and it just keeps dragging us down. Worldwide public opinion is shifting very much in favor of Palestine and against Israel. How long can America afford to stand with Israel against this turning tide? America’s international clout has already diminished significantly in just the last ten years, and it won’t be long before we’re no longer the sole superpower but merely one of many.

Once America can no longer be Yahweh to Israel, Israel may find itself backed into a corner. And if they’re still unwilling to budge a single centimeter from their demands, they may do something drastic and drag America into it with them. Worst case scenario, Israel drops a nuclear bomb on Iran (or some other perceived threat) and the U.S. follows them into war while the rest of the world sides with Iran. Suddenly we’re in WWIII, with America and Israel as the new “axis of evil” to the rest of the world.

We can’t just sit idly by and let Israel oppress these people indefinitely. You can only starve a population for so long before the world takes a stand against you. Whose side do we want to be on? We should be doing everything we can to pressure Israel to give up on this blockade and let the people of Gaza live and thrive. We should insist that they work towards peace, which means giving up some of their demands rather than stubbornly insisting that the Palestinians give up all of theirs.

But it doesn’t look like we will. Too many people have invested too much in seeing Part Three of The Bible written exactly as they’ve pictured it, and that means treating Israel as a divine, infallible entity. They have to realize that Israel is capable of mistakes, America is capable of mistakes, and that both of our countries are making very serious ones right now.

Is Israel Trying to Start WWIII?

March 13th, 2010 No comments

This past week, Israel made two announcements. First, they intend to develop nuclear energy. Second, they will build 1,600 new homes in disputed east Jerusalem and forcibly keep the Palestinians out.

For a country surrounded by enemies who want to obliterate them, they sure have a lot of balls…or rather, chutzpah. On the one hand they call for sanctions on Iran for developing nuclear energy, while on the other hand they say, “By the way, we’re developing nuclear energy.” On the one hand they condemn the Palestinians for not talking peace, while on the other hand they continue to encroach on Palestinian territory and ignore international calls to stop the settlements so that peace talks can ensue.

The 1,600 new homes are just the latest incursion into disputed territory that Israel is embarking on. The settlements on the West Bank, which former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon very bravely called to be removed and given back to Palestine (and it cost him his job) were not removed and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t even go so far as to freeze the development. “We’re willing to talk peace, but only if you are willing to accede to 100% of our demands, including letting us continue to take your land.”

Netanyahu and the current right-wing Israeli government don’t seem interested in peace at all. The announcement to develop nuclear energy also seems like pure muscle-flexing, practically goading Iran into a conflict. “Hey Iran, we’re going to build nuclear power plants and probably more bombs to add to the ones America already gave us. What are you gonna do about it? Huh? What are you gonna do?”

Now I’m not one of those ultra-ultra-lefties (at least on this issue) who say that if America and other nations can have nuclear capabilities, why not Iran? Yeah, it would be one thing if was just safe nuclear energy for building power plants, but it’s not too many steps from nuclear power plants to nuclear bombs and a nuclear Iran in its current political state could be potentially catastrophic. The other nations which have nuclear weapons are run—at least for the time being—by relatively reasonable people with no interest in starting World War III because they stand nothing to gain by it. But the Iranian government consists of ultra-religious ideologues who believe that their God, Allah, wants Israel wiped from the map, and if they had a nuclear bomb the odds are that they actually would use it. In this case, the principle of fairness is greatly outweighed by the potential consequences. While I believe that security should almost always take a back-seat to justice, I’m willing to make an exception when dealing with the potential annihilation of the human race.

But it’s not just Iran that threatens to bring about a nuclear holocaust—it’s Israel. Their government also consists of ultra-religious ideologues who believe that their God, Yahweh (don’t get me started on that evil bastard) has promised them that land and they have every right to kill whoever stands in their way of keeping it. The religious texts they adhere to are filled with stories of war and conquest, of totally annihilating the enemy down to the last woman and child.

Israel has the backing of the United States, the world’s most militarily powerful nation, which also happens to have a government filled with ultra-religious ideologues, many of whom believe that their god, Jesus, wants the Jews in Jerusalem so that the Second Coming prophecies can be fulfilled and Armageddon can take place. As long as America has Israel’s back, Israel knows it can do whatever it wants. They’d be happy to be attacked by Iran, as they and America would then respond by turning Iran into a radioactive wasteland. The “chosen people” will have their glorious triumph, assuming Israel gets through the conflict unscathed. And of course they will because Yahweh will protect them—He’s never let bad things happen to them in the past, right?

The whole thing is a little frightening, but a hell of a lot of religious people have a hard-on for the prospect of a nuclear conflict in the Middle East. As soon as the first mushroom cloud appears, they believe, Jesus will come down and rapture their asses straight to Heaven where they can watch and laugh as all those brown people get blown to smithereens and cast into Hell where they will burn for all eternity for the crime of not realizing the religion they were raised in was false and the Americans had it right all along. It’s such an incredibly just scheme of things God has going, isn’t it? Seriously, the more I think about God and what one has to believe if they accept the truth of Scripture, the more baffling it is that so many people still believe it.

Just look at Israel as a whole. The Palestinians were living there for centuries until all of a sudden they get driven out in 1948 as millions of displaced Jews decided to go back to the homeland. Now, I don’t want to come across as anti-semitic, although it’s probably way too late for that. I think the Jews have just as much a right to a state as any other ethnic group that wishes to insulate itself from all other ethnic groups (there I go again), but you can’t just take a state that already exists and claim it’s yours now. That’s called invasion and occupation.

I didn’t always see it this way. In fact I used to feel the exact opposite. My first exposure to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict came through Leon Uris’s novel Exodus which is radically pro-Israel. When I read that book in high school I was so moved that for awhile I actually intended to convert to Judaism and move to Israel to help them fight the good fight. Seriously. Of course back then I also believed that the Bible was really the word of God and the most moral thing a person could do was fight, kill, and die for one’s religious convictions.

But as I gradually shed my religious beliefs and began to look at the conflict more objectively, I began to see that the Muslims might have some legitimate grievances. Eventually I decided that the Palestinians were actually in the right and Israel was in the wrong, but that since they’re all there now you might as well have a two-state solution. But with the way Israel has been behaving lately, I’m tempted to just say the whole damned nation should be dissolved and Palestinians should get back everything.

Seriously, what gives Israel the right to exist where it is? They just invaded and occupied that land and declared it a country. Their justification? God said it was theirs. Sure, the Palestinians claim that Allah said it’s theirs, but Allah isn’t real. Yahweh is obviously real because…because…well, because the Torah says so, and since the Torah is the word of Yahweh it must be correct. Simple logic.

Sorry, but “Yahweh said so” is not justification for anything. If we did everything Yahweh ever told us to do, we’d be executing homosexuals, adulterers, people who work on Saturday (oh shit, it’s Saturday right now…but I doubt God would consider blogging ‘work’) and abiding by all kinds of crazy laws about the proper way to sacrifice oxen.

Still, I won’t go so far as to join those right-wing Islamic militants who want Israel wiped from the map. Its government may be reprehensible, but so are most governments. The people are, for the most part, blameless. Most of the people want peace. They shouldn’t be punished because their grandparents decided to invade and occupy another people’s territory. That would be like saying all Americans should either leave the continent or be executed so we can give back the land to the few Native Americans who remain. No, what’s done is done and while apologies are certainly in order we have to find the best way forward.

And the best way forward is not starting World War III and relying on God to bring you victory. The best way forward is to leave God out of it altogether, to be willing to settle for less than 100% of your demands, and to actually make a good-faith effort to end this world-threatening conflict once and for all.

DISCLAIMER: Because anyone who is anti-Israel is assumed to be anti-Jew, I just want to be absolutely clear that I have the utmost sympathy for the victims of the Holocaust and I believe it was one of the worst crimes in human history. The Jews are entitled to see themselves as a victimized group because they were in fact victims, persecuted as a group and nearly annihilated as a group. However, that does not give them the right to invade and occupy the territory of a people who had nothing to do with that persecution. That would be like a group of Navajo suddenly invading Turkmenistan.

Obama’s Historic Cairo Speech

June 6th, 2009 No comments

For awhile now I’ve been meaning to write about my thoughts on Obama now that we’re a few months into his presidency and we now have a much clearer picture of what kind of president he’ll be. Presidents often step back from or abandon many of the promises made or sentiments expressed on the campaign trail, and Obama has been no exception. During the campaign, he called for reform of Wall Street, but his appointment of Tim Geithner to the post of treasury secretary has ensured that no significant change will really occur, and that the boom/bust economic cycle of Ronald Reagan will continue to make the wealthy wealthier and the middle class poorer. During the campaign, he said he would end the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy but hasn’t lifted a finger to make that change even though as commander-in-chief he could easily issue a standing order that the policy is not to be enforced until legislation to overturn it goes through Congress. During the campaign, he called for openness and transparency in government, but he won’t allow the release of more photos from American prisons depicting torture.

And most grievously of all, during the campaign he called for the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and a renewed commitment to the rule of law with regards to the treatment of POWs, but his actions have been nothing more than a P.R. campaign. Guantanamo is a symbol of America’s violation of human rights, and by closing it Obama is certainly winning points around the world, but meanwhile the detention centre at Bagram Airforce Base, which is basically just Gitmo in another time-zone, will remain open. Not only that, but for some of the prisoners still at Guantanamo, those who fall into that odd category of definitely dangerous but unable to be convicted due to lack of evidence (or inadmissible evidence because it was obtained through torture), Obama is willing to keep them detained indefinitely without a trial, lest he let them go and they attack Americans. I understand perfectly well why he doesn’t want to let any dangerous detainees go even if the law demands it—a terrorist attack by a former Gitmo detainee released by Obama is the Republican party’s wettest of wet dreams, and Obama doesn’t want to take that political risk. But by refusing to take the risk, by endorsing a policy of preventive detention, he is not only blatantly violating his oath to defend the Constitution, but he is affirming the worst of the worst of Bush’s sins—of claiming for the President the rights of a despot to hold anyone in prison for any amount of time for any reason, thus rolling the progress of human rights back several centuries. When news of this came out, I was just about ready to give up hope entirely, to abandon my already tepid support of Obama and dismiss him as just another bullshit hypocrite American president, superior to Bush only in terms of style while effectively identical in substance.

Then I watched the speech he gave in Cairo. I wasn’t expecting to be impressed by it. In fact, I expected to be somewhat bored by it as I’ve often been while watching other speeches he’s given on issues such as the economy. But this speech was not only completely riveting from beginning to end (foreign policy is just inherently far more interesting to me than economics anyway), but it was actually downright inspiring. For someone who spends a great deal of time dwelling on the question of whether humanity will ultimately destroy itself or come together in common interest, to witness this moment in history actually gave me some hope that maybe, just maybe, it will be the latter.

Before explaining myself, I want to address the most basic and common objection I’ve been reading online, both from columnists and journalists reporting on the reactions of Muslims around the world, which is that it may have been a nice speech but words ultimately mean nothing without the actions to back it up. Of course, it is completely true that actions are more important than words, but in many cases words do matter, especially when spoken by the most powerful man in the world. Bush’s words certainly mattered when he called the Global War on Terror a “crusade”, describing it as a “clash of civilizations”. That set the tone for 7 years of jihad, of violent Islamic radicals easily recruiting angry young men into their ranks to fight a Holy War against the Evil American empire, led by a man who, in his own words, was on a “crusade” against Islamic civilisation.

But now along comes Barack Hussein Obama with his middle name and his background of life experience within the Muslim world, saying:

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 I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.” That is what I will try to do – to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Obama understands that this is only a speech, and that he can’t expect the Muslim world to just forget and forgive America’s transgressions just because the president quotes the Koran a few times. That’s why I don’t think it’s fair to criticise the speech because it was only words—of course it was only words: it was a speech. The goal was nothing more than to set a new tone, to open up a dialogue between the current administration and the Muslim world, and to demonstrate to Muslims around the world that just as Islam is not the stereotype of a violent fanatical religious cult bent of the destruction of all things good and decent, nor is the United States the stereotype of an evil empire bent on world dominance and the elimination of all local cultures and traditions. Those who fault Obama for merely talking about improving the relationship between East and West are missing the whole point—in order to improve the relationship you have to start by talking.

And as the speech demonstrated, Obama is willing to talk. He raised every major issue, every “source of tension” between America and the Islamic world, when most American presidents wouldn’t go near them—at least not until near the end of their second term. Obama took the biggest risk of his presidency so far by addressing these points: by announcing his positions openly in front of the world as opposed to keeping them behind closed doors, he opens himself up to be measured by history in terms of how well he lives up to the promises he made and the sentiments he expressed. Just as Americans are measuring him in terms of how his actions as president measure up to his words on the campaign trail, the world will ultimately measure him in terms of how his actions in the Middle East measure up to the aspirations he expressed in this speech.

I will now comment on each issue he raised, starting with the most obvious obstacle standing in the way of peace—violent extremism:

America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

This is essentially Obama’s explanation for America’s current actions in the Middle East, and it’s one that most reasonable Muslims can probably accept. Personally, I don’t believe that our presence in Afghanistan is making us safer, but I don’t have all the facts so I don’t know. And while I believe that the first duty of the President is to protect the Constitution (it was Bush who expressed the notion that the president’s primary responsibility was the safety of the American people), this at least serves as a legitimate, consensus-seeking explanation for our actions, as opposed to Bush’s “You’re either with us or against us” rhetoric.

Obama also drew a distinction between Afghanistan as a war of necessity and Iraq as a war of choice. And again, while I believe that Afghanistan was also a war of choice, this is something I’m glad to hear our president say to the Muslim world. He also repeated his commitment to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by 2012, thus inviting himself to be held accountable by the Muslim world and by history if he fails to live up to this pledge.

Secondly, Obama turned to the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, first ensuring he maintain the support of the Jewish community by invoking the Holocaust and imploring Muslims to stop blindly hating Jews, but then bravely expressing the other point of view:

It is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

As someone far more sympathetic to the Palestinians than the Israelis, I was extremely happy to hear the American president speak like this, and not to shy away from the word “occupation” when describing Israel’s actions. But it’s not the words themselves that fill me with hope, it’s the simple fact that he’s saying them now, at the beginning of his presidency, while most would wait until nearing the end of their second term to go near this problem, lest they invite historical judgment based on their success or failure in brining peace to middle east. Because the odds are so overwhelmingly tilted towards failure, the president has demonstrated extreme testicular fortitude by jumping right in at the beginning of his presidency, basically saying to the world, “I take responsibility for this—if peace between Israel and Palestine fails during my presidency, I will own that failure.”

Obama spoke directly to the perpetrators of violence on both ends, and delivered my favourite line of the speech when he said:

It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

It is one of the most simple, most obvious, and yet most often ignored truths in history—violence against innocents is never justified. No matter how noble your cause, if you seek to advance it through means like firing rockets indiscriminately, kidnapping people and chopping off their heads, throwing acid on the faces of little schoolgirls, or let’s say, holding people in prison indefinitely without the opportunity to stand trial, you have sacrificed your moral authority and your side no longer has any more of a right to prevail than your enemies. More than anything else he said, this part of Obama’s message must be taken to heart by everyone involved in these conflicts, including Obama himself.

Obama continued by addressing nuclear weapons, explaining why it would be dangerous for the region and the entire world if Iran acquired such a weapon and thus began an arms race in this volatile region, and confronted head-on the charge of hypocrisy that immediately follows from such a claim. He renewed America’s commitment to elimination all nuclear weapons including its own, thus further inviting history to judge him based on how well he lives up to this pledge.

One of the most eloquent passages came during his discussion of democracy. After acknowledging the controversy over America’s imposing of democracy in Iraq by clearly stating that no system of government can or should be imposed on a nation by any other, he said:

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

This is spoken with humility and respect, and is exactly the kind of thing I would want my president to say on behalf of myself and all of the American people. He does not insist that American-style democracy should be adopted by everyone, but only expresses the conviction that we all share the belief that people ought to have a say in the way they are governed, and should be free as possible to speak their mind and to live as they choose. Again, Obama would do well to listen to his own words when it comes to issues such as gay marriage or Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, as even in America there are groups of people who still don’t have the freedom to live as they choose.

The fifth issue Obama addresses is religious freedom, saying little more than that everyone ought to be free to believe as they choose. Of course I agree, but I don’t think Obama goes far enough in condemning religious intolerance. Indeed, he was much more generous to the Islamic faith in general than I would be—there are just as many Koranic verses condoning violence and intolerance as there are supporting peace and understanding—but I’m not dumb enough to expect or to hope that the American president get into any kind of theological debate. Had Obama said anything that might have been perceived as the least bit critical of Islam as a religious faith, his entire goal in reaching out to the Muslim world have been undermined. It’s a shame that this is the case, and it underscores how difficult it will be to work with nations and governments still adhering to such a stringent belief system, but Obama said only as much as he could say on the subject.

Obama also took a lot of criticism by not going far enough in talking about his sixth point—women’s rights. He merely pointed out that our daughters have just as much to contribute to society as our sons, and that countries where woman are well-educated are far more prosperous than those where they are oppressed. Of course it would have been a lot more satisfying had he strongly condemned this oppression, but Obama knows that when it comes to women’s rights issues, he must tread very carefully or he will alienate an entire segment of the Muslim population that would perceive his denouncement of their patriarchal beliefs as an attack on their religion and culture. So as much as I may despise the way women are treated in these cultures, I must accept the need for the president not to press this point too hard too early on.

Obama’s final point had to do with globalisation, and I believe he once again sent exactly the right message:

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and changing communities. In all nations – including my own – this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we will lose of control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities – those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

This is exactly the fear we all have about globalisation, and an issue I will no doubt witness firsthand as I travel the world during these changing times. How much uniqueness of culture will be retained from country to country? Will travelling the world feel less and less like seeing different and exotic lands and more and more like seeing only different departments of the same worldwide multinational corporate empire? It’s already the case that you can’t go anywhere that doesn’t have a McDonald’s, and that saddens me, but it would be nice to believe Obama’s assertion that “There need not be contradiction between development and tradition.” We’re still at the relative beginning of this period of worldwide coming-together, and its ultimate effects on local cultures and traditions remains to be seen.

In closing his speech, Obama returns to the loftly, high-minded rhetoric he is so famous for, the kind of rhetoric that gave me hope in his presidency in the first place. Returning to the question of whether there is any chance for the long-term survival of humanity, I remember Bush’s warning about the “axis of evil” and how it seemed to me at the time that catastrophic destruction was inevitable. Now I sit and watch the American president standing in front of the world and using rhetoric that I thought was only used by high-minded idealists such as myself, imploring the world to think about itself in from a much broader point-of-view, for humans to think of themselves as part of a collective much greater than all of us individually:

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

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. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples – a belief that isn’t new; that isn’t black or white or brown; that isn’t Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It’s a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions. It’s a faith in other people, and it’s what brought me here today.

As a child I imagined a president who would unite the world in peace. The prologue to my book describes such a man, but even in my book I only imagined he would appear on the world stage after some kind of disastrous third world war and many centuries of chaos. But to see Obama standing there and using these words, I could not help but think that perhaps there is a chance for us to avoid that catastrophe and start coming together in peace right now, at this moment in history.

The essence of Obama’s message to the rest of the world is simply this: Grow up. Abandon your juvenile beliefs and your petty grudges. Think about the long-term consequences of your actions. Understand that you are responsible for the people lower than you in the social or political power structure, and operate with their interests in mind instead of just your own. Most importantly, consider the world you are leaving behind for your children, and how if you are unwilling to put the past behind you and extend an open hand to those that have offended you in the past, you are dooming your children to repeat the cycle of violence that you are perpetuating.

Finally, I will end with a reflection on Obama’s pronouncement that the heart of every religion, the Golden Rule, is essentially a “faith in other people”. He did not say “faith in a higher power” and this I believe is probably the most significant philosophical proposition in his speech. I’ve read no commentary about that particular line so it’s safe to say that its significance was missed by the media, and I believe more attention should be paid to it.

Faith in a higher power entails a lack of responsibility on our part to do any of the things Obama calls on us to do. If Allah demands the destruction of Israel, that’s the end of the story. If God intends to ends the world in fire and brimstone and save Christians alone, it’s pointless to even try to extend an olive branch. Faith in a higher power leads to a concern only for those in your circle, whether it’s your family, your local community, your nation, or your religion. When you place your faith in a higher power, your central purpose in life is to do whatever you believe is necessary to gain the favour of that higher power, often at the expense of those you belief are in disfavour. Faith in a higher power is anathema to the success of humanity.

Faith in other people, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. A faith in other people entails an unspoken agreement among all human beings to take responsibility for the welfare of all others. Whether or not God exists, it is up to us to determine the course of our own destiny. We must do what we can within our own sphere of influence to make the world a more just and peaceful place, and have faith that others are doing the same thing within their own spheres. Faith in other people is essential to the success of humanity. Without it, we’re only sitting back and waiting for civilisation to destroy itself. If we don’t believe we have the ability to overcome the challenges we face, that we don’t have the capacity to tear down the walls that divide us and embrace our common interests, then we never will.

So it remains to be seen whether Obama’s words will have a real effect on the attitudes of the rest of the world towards the United States and towards humanity in general. I am not so starry-eyed and naïve that I believe there is any strong likelihood of success, of any realisation of Obama’s vision of “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” but I do appreciate that the most powerful man in the world is expressing such a vision. No other candidate in the 2008 race would have been so bold.

As I often say, we are standing at the most crucial hinge moment in human history, a time period from which we will either spiral into complete economic, environmental, and violent disaster, or rise to meet the challenges we face and reshape humanity under the principles of freedom, sustainability, and peace. Because those who actually hold power tend to have little interest in these principles, I believe our chances are slim. However, because the masses of people throughout the world do tend to believe in these principles, and because people like Barack Obama are out there promoting them, I no longer believe we are inevitably doomed. As much as I despise some of the choices he has made since entering office, I think that in the long-term when we look back at the Obama administration and consider the speech he gave this week in Cairo, we may just see that he was in fact the right man with the right message at the right time.