Those who criticize Obama’s speech as “just words,” would be well advised to look at history.
In a scene reminiscent of JFK in Berlin and Ronald Reagan exhorting Gorbachev to “tear down the wall,” Barack Obama has taken the initiative with the culture impasse between the West and communities across the Muslim world.
His speech in Cairo has set a new benchmark for leadership:
Not only did he manage to state his case with firmness and resolve, he was able to break through the years of mistrust by standing and acknowledging the truth on both sides.
His sincere yet calm delivery struck the right chord with the people in the streets of Cairo. So says Annelle Sheline, a Cairo-based American journalist:
In a taxi, I asked the driver for his opinion, and he launched into a
happy spiel in heavy Cairene about Obama wanting peace and trying to
make all the countries of the world work together. When I asked if this
was possible, he responded that there had never been a president like
Obama in the US, and therefore, “Aiwa, mumkin” (Yes, it’s possible).
His strategy was to understand that the imagination of the people resides in the South-West Quadrant of the Intuitive Compass™. He examines the hopes of the people in the street, and addresses them.
Sheline tells us that Dalia Mogahed, the executive director of Gallup’s Center for Muslim Studies had outlined the three points indicated by polls that Muslims wanted to hear.
Respect from the United States for the religion of Islam and for Muslim cultures.
No more unilateral action, but cooperation between equal partners.
Address the policies of the United States that have angered Muslims on key issues, including Palestine, Iraq, Guantanamo, etc.
Without respect no trust can be established – without trust little creativity and substance can unfold; without equality there is no real long lasting effective change; and, without integrity and introspection there is no growth. Obama’s speech touched on each one of these cornerstones.
Obama seized the initiative and brought the voice of reason back to the table. The President is, like it or not, a living symbol – and nothing is more
powerful than symbolic action in an atmosphere of suspicion and
hostility. The Times reports:
Barack Obama must have said something right if Osama bin Laden, Ayatollah
Khamenei of Iran and the Jewish settlers on the West Bank all lined up to
denounce his speech to the Arab and Muslim worlds.
For too long, the dialog on the future of the Middle East has been dominated by extreme voices. Obama’s speech spoke directly to the aspirations of the common man. He humanized America, by opening up and sharing his personal story.
Words are the weapons of change. Just ask Ted Sorensen.
And now, we see signs that the “Obama Effect” may be sweeping across the Middle East. Iran’s election too, has become a referendum for change.
Earlier, we saw Obama’s overtures in Turkey. The political commentators who were concerned that Barack Obama‘s visit to Turkey was high on style but low in substance may not be as right they believe they are. Their view is focused on the North-East Quadrant of the Intuitive Compass™ – they are focused on measurable results and timelines.
Let’s look at a historical snapshot of public opinion in Turkey, courtesy of Gallup:
Question: If the U.S. can’t get any respect in Turkey, a “secular” democracy, how can they achieve any progress in the Arab world at all?
Flashback: The last attempt at winning the “hearts and minds” of the Muslim world ended in shambles when Bush’s fellow Texan and close friend, Karen Hughes, walked away from the job in total failure. And before her there was the Charlotte Beers‘ propaganda show.
All of which makes President Obama’s short trip to Turkey even more spectacular. He accomplished in two days what the PR-experts couldn’t accomplish in eight years, and he didn’t waste a billion dollars.
How, you ask?
Watch this video of Obama talking to the youth:
These are the same students, who according to to Rupert Murdoch‘s Wall Street Journal, have, for the past eight years,”fostered deep anti-American sentiments exacerbated by an unpopular war in Iraq and a perception that the U.S. is biased toward Muslims.”
What we are witnessing in Obama is the promise of authentic leadership which speaks directly to the heart of people. The most powerful leader of the most powerful country in the world stood in the center of a circle of Turkish students in a university to address their concerns. The circle = cooperation, the center = respect, and addressing concerns = the truth.
With his speech in Cairo, Obama knocked down the psychological wall which separates western culture and the mindset of Islam – now the work at hand is to reach across the wall and shake hands for a brighter future for all. That will happen through the concrete actions people take in the weeks and months ahead.