Monday, January 26, 2009

Bridge between the East and West

The Al Arabia interview of President Obama is rocking my world, and hopefully the Arab and Muslim worlds as well. That President Obama would reach out in this way within a week of his inauguration is a very strong signal. In the words of Resa Aslan who was included among those reacting to the interview, I'm "giddy" with excitement over the possibilities.

The complexity and balance of President Obama's remarks were such a dramatic and positive change. When Obama defined his role as helping the West understand the East and vice versa, it was clear that a new and mutual era is dawning. To be sure, Obama noted that building the bridge will take time but he also offered comments reflecting the mantra that dominated his campaign for the Presidency - "yes, we can."

It will be extremely interesting to watch for the reaction through the Arab and Muslim worlds today and in the days to come. One of the most interesting reactions to watch will be that of Osama Bin Laden and his followers. As so many of those whose writings I've noted in previous blog posts have said, the days of the "war on terrorism" only gave more power to Bin Laden by firing up those who were empowered by divisive rhetoric. The rhetoric from the West now has balance and that will necessitate a response - now to wait for what it will be.

Obama's advocacy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and assignment of George Mitchell as the broker is another very positive move. I've previously held the perspective that the best thing for the U.S.A. to do is to stay out of the Israeli-Palestine issues. However, if balance in acknowledging the struggles of both Israel and Palestine is the starting place and if Mitchell's patience in diplomacy is as effective here as it was in Ireland, then there truly is hope.

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