I was quite moved and impressed with Obama’s Cairo speech. Quoting the Qur’an four times, and the Talmud alongside the Bible, invoking Cordoba, and confessing publicly our role in the 1953 overthrow of Iran’s peacefully democratically elected and legitimate government- it was all such a departure from the ideology of the last administration, and so much more courageous than even many before that. I think the significance of acknowledging the past may be lost on many of the listeners, both here and in the Middle East, where the past is so well known, but it represents a willingness to speak with candor that I believe will make a huge amount of difference. Before reconciliation comes truth. Now is the moment where the world reacts to the speech. That reactions seem to be largely positive- and even when it’s not in some of the Middle Eastern blogs I’ve perused it seems like there is as much avoidance of hope for fear of being disappointed as actual criticism. But the brilliance of the speech was how it enfranchised so many subtle points of view without taking away from others.
What struck me most in the post-speech commentary was this comment in an Al Jazeera story:
Ahmad Yousuf, a senior Hamas official, told Al Jazeera that Obama’s speech reminded him of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech”.
About Obama stressing on the legitimacy of Israel, he said the Palestinians must have a state of their own before being asked to recognise another.
I don’t believe one gets rid of a Hamas by driving them into the sea, by bombing them or starving them, or by threats, or even education or propaganda. One gets rid of a Hamas by giving it political legitimacy, putting it in charge of some roads, and saddling it with a bureaucracy. Yousuf is here framing that end to Hamas as it is- admitting the possibility of political compromise where none should be ideologically possible. ‘Let us have our nation,’ he seems to be saying, ‘and we’ll let you have yours.’ That the possibility of the promise being broken exists doesn’t matter- then it’s just politicians lying. They are one good asphalt trade negotiation away from doing it anyhow.
More Perfect Union still stands to me as the greatest political speech of my lifetime, but this could have been one of the more brilliant moves in psychohistory I’ve seen in a while.