I woke up this morning and the first thing, I did, over breakfast, was check my feeds. About 90% of my Google Reader is clogged with news and political feeds from just about every political writer, major news blog, and mainstream media outlet you can think of. Reading the news — and assorted political blogs — consumes like 20% of my day. I can’t leave in the morning without knowing what’s going on around the country and around the world.
So I was really, really excited when I read the news this morning and found out President Obama granted his first official interview as President… to Al-Arabiya, an Arabic-language TV station based in Saudi Arabia.
The symbolic importance alone of this decision is huge. But then you have to examine what he said during the interview:
“Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries … the largest one, Indonesia. And so what I want to communicate is the fact that in all my travels throughout the Muslim world, what I’ve come to understand is that regardless of your faith – and America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers – regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams.
And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.”
During the whole campaign he downplayed his ties to the Muslim world for fear that his attackers would use it against him. Now he’s being open about it and reaching out to the most volatile, complex region of the world and offering, above all else, respect — something the past administration refused to offer. And the fact that we have a President that can even make such statements as in that first paragraph is still astonishing on its own.
The last time I got this excited about something in the media was when Colin Powell defended Muslims on Meet The Press and condemned the anti-Muslim attacks used in the election:
“Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.”
Obama, in his Al Arabiya interview, emphasized that the US will listen instead of just dictating, that the US is committed to Arab-Israeli peace, and that we care about the quality of life of all people — in Israel and Palestine and everywhere else. And the statements that he has made — and that Powell made towards the end of the election — are, I hope, indicative of a new era in US-Arab relations.
Look, I’m normally one to be kind of skeptical of politicians. I know how campaigns work. I know federal government is bogged down by all kinds of bureacracy. And I certainly don’t mean to constantly heap praise on Obama on this blog all the time — I certainly don’t agree with everything he does and I didn’t even vote for him in the primaries.
But, it’s really hard not to be optimistic about the future of the relationship between the US and the Muslim world when we have a President that is committed to honestly, respectfully, engaging the Arab world and actually making progress in the Middle East.
The most important thing he can do is what he has already begun doing: changing the tone of the conversation to one of respect.