Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Friday, June 05, 2009

In Response to Obama's Address from Cairo

The hype was certainly present for Obama's June 4th speech from Cairo. Obama, whose speech was directed towards the Arab-Muslim world, seemed to be reciting many Obama-isms that were present in his campaign, 'Our commonalities are bigger than our differences, let's forge a better future.'

Now that my summary is complete, I have good news and some bad news. Which do you want first? The good news first? Ok.

What was positive in Obama's speech (specifically in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian issue) was his acknowledgment of the suffering of the Palestinian people, Obama even mentioned the occupation.

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. 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.

That's more truthful than most U.S. politicians are, so that's a good start. I also appreciated when Obama made the connection between humanitarian crises in Gaza and the West Bank, and a lack of security for Israel.

And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank.

The bad news: contrary to much analysis of the speech I heard, I do not believe that Obama changed the course of U.S. Policy towards the Middle East. The rhetoric Obama expressed towards Israel was the same as under the Bush Administration.

The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. It is time for these settlements to stop.

I remember Condoleeza Rice saying this at least 268 times. Important to note is the way that this statement does not question the legitimacy of current settlements. It seems the Obama will only talk to Netanyahu if Israeli settlements continue to expand. The current Israeli settlements, housing half a million people, are seemingly legitimate according to the United States. The fact that all Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and 94 Israeli settlement outposts are illegal under international law and Israeli law, apparently doesn't mean anything. The reality is that the 'time' for these settlements to stop was long ago. It's too late to stop settlement expansion.

The point that most angered me was Obama's statements about Palestinian resistance.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights...It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. 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.

I agree, resistance through violence is wrong, and it only contributes to the cycles of hatred and violence. Yet, Obama failed to mention Israel's assault on Gaza. I don't find killing nearly 1,000 children, destroying universities, mosques, and UN facilities to be particularly courageous or above reproach. Violent Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, assassination, imprisonment, home invasion, collective punishment, bombing of civilians, and restriction of movement is wrong. But similarly, Israeli occupation, assassination, imprisonment, home invasion, collective punishment, bombing of civilians, and restriction of movement of Palestinians is wrong, it's morally reprehensible and unacceptable.

Obama states that, “violence is a dead end,” but he doesn't state this universally. As I have shown, Obama was unwilling to say that violence is a dead end for the Israeli military. Does Obama believe that an assault on civilians in Gaza is an opportunity for progress, instead of a dead end. Even more alarmingly, Obama seems to be stating that violence is not a dead end for Israel nor for the United States. Earlier in his speech, Obama spoke in defense of the United States' continued and increased occupation of Afghanistan. And last time I checked, the occupation of Afghanistan was consistently resulting in violence. But Mr. Obama, you just said, “violence is a dead end.” So it seems that you decide for whom violence will be a 'dead end?' It seems that violence is always a 'dead end' for the 'other' and for the 'enemy.' On the other hand, violence committed by the United States is never a 'dead end.'

Another of Obama's statements earlier in the speech caught me unsettled.

Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice.

Mr. President, war is always a choice. Bombing insurgents and civilian populations is not a necessity. I think what you meant to say is that responding to violence, hatred, and terrorism is not a choice. The choice lies in how we will respond. Will we contribute to the cycle of violence and hatred? Or will we move towards reconciliation, justice, and thus, life.

4 comments:

Julia said...

Hi, Sam... we've never met, but I'm a friend of Joe Wyse and he said he thinks you went to a Nazarene school (Point Loma? I went to Olivet), which was exciting to me 'cause I didn't know if there was much participation in CPT from the Naz world. (I was there on a delegation in March, and I have several friends, also former Olivetians, who are interested in CPT.) Anyway, thanks for this post - it's an excellent analysis of the way things are, and I couldn't agree more with everything you said. You and the other peacemakers are in my prayers - God be with you in your work!

Samuel Nichols said...

Hey Julia. Thanks for the note. I did go to PLNU. Good to hear there are some other Nazarenes involved in peacework. There aren't too many, but there are some.

Hosey said...

Thanks for the post, Sam (we met briefly in At-Tuwani, I was working with Sabeel at the time). Really well said! I'll link to this on my blog.

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