Barack Obama has been attacked ever since he hit the national scene for being a good orator. The cynical wing nuts couldn’t make a case against him for his ability to communicate, so they accused him of being nothing but talk. But as we’ve seen in Cairo on Thursday and at Buchenwald on Friday, words can make a difference. With German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel by his side, Obama gave a soaring speech about how important it is to fight the spread of evil.
“This place teaches us that we must be ever vigilant about the spread of evil in our times. … We have to guard against cruelty in ourselves ….,” he said.
“And it is now up to us, the living, in our work, wherever we are, to resist injustice and intolerance and indifference in whatever forms they may take and ensure that those who were lost here did not go in vain.”
Most moving was the talk by Elie Wiesel, who imparted his experience watching his father die at Buchenwald, and how his inability to do more to help is father in his last moments have lived with him always. And Wiesel made the significant point that we have a long way to go, given what’s been happening all these years later.
Of Buchenwald, Wiesel said, “The world hasn’t learned.” If the world had learned, he said, his voice breaking, there would have been “no Cambodia, no Rwanda, no Darfur, no Bosnia … will the world ever learn? That is why Buchenwald is so important.”
The president has shown how important language is to convey widening understanding; to inspire; to unite. After all, a president’s job isn’t only to spearhead policy; leadership involves motivating, showing understanding and, yes, empathy. Noteworthy is that, in Cairo, Obama used the word “extremism,” but not “terrorism.”
There was no mention of “terrorists” or “terrorism,” just “violent extremists.” There was the suggestion that Israeli settlements are illegitimate and the assertion that the Palestinians “have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.” There were frequent references to the “Holy Koran” and echoes of Muslim phrases.
Obama went beyond quoting from the Koran; he signaled true understanding of a foreign culture.
Most striking to many Muslims was Obama’s use of the phrase “May peace be upon them” when referring to Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. It is a term of respect and reverence that Muslims use when referring, in speech or in writing, to such figures, and rarely is used by non-Muslims.
At a time when American men and women continue to make the ultimate sacrifice in Muslim nations, we have a president who is unquely qualified to send the messages we need to convey.Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2009 Liberaland