By Zafar Siddiqui, Engage Minnesota
President Obama’s speech in Turkey might as well go down in history as the speech that changed the course of history in modern times. I feel a thrill run down my spine as I remember casting my first ever vote for our President. In fact, I feel honored to be a contributing factor of this history-making President who, during his first foreign trip, showed the humane, considerate, respectful, engaging, compassionate, honorable, and truly positive side of our country. He showed the world something that has been missing for the past decade.
President Obama is exactly what our country needed. Someone who could speak the language of hope, mutual respect, and do this in all sincerity. During his recent tour of Europe, he gave a reason for the fence-sitters to cross to our side. They had been ignored and he gave them attention.
“The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam” is the message that the Muslim world and also the extreme elements in our own country needed to hear clearly and forcefully, and I believe President Obama was as forceful as one could be in driving home this message. The ill conceived wars, short-sighted foreign policies, and irresponsible/hateful statements from high ranking officials from the Bush administration were threatening to solidify this misconception.
Seeking broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect is the right way forward. The 1.5 billion Muslim world is diverse, resourceful, and young. As the only superpower of the world, we will greatly benefit by engaging nearly 1/4 of humanity on common grounds. His emphasis on “will listen carefully” and “will bridge misunderstandings” is a sure fire way to take on the issue of extremism anywhere in the world.
His mention of American Muslims in such glowing terms as “The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim- majority country — I know, because I am one of them.” This should set the tone for President Obama’s administration, including the Justice department, that Muslim Americans enrich our nation and are partners in safeguarding peace and should not be subject to intimidation and harassment.
For long, our nation has pursued policies that were not steeped into a deeper understanding of the Muslim world. We have seen disastrous results of such policies. Now we have a President who is the most flexible and resourceful of bridges to bridge any gap. He can tell the world with confidence that he understands what he is talking about.
The journey to establish trust and mutual respect is arduous and full of challenges. However, this is a journey that needs to be undertaken both by our country and the Muslim world. The future of civilization rests on this journey. There could never have been a better launching pad than Turkey to usher us into this “golden age” for human civilization!
Zafar Siddiqui is an American Muslim residing in Blaine, Minn.