4 June : Reaching out to the 1.5 billion Muslims around the globe, President Barack Obama on Thursday called for a "new beginning" between the US and the Islamic world by ending the "cycle of suspicion and discord" and confronting "violent extremism" together.In a much-awaited speech at the University of Cairo in Egypt, Obama said "America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Islam has always been a part of America’s story."
Starting his address with traditional Islamic greeting "assalaamu alaykum", which drew a huge round of applause from the jam-packed hall, Obama said "we meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world."
He conceded that "more recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations."
"I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect," the US President, on his first visit to Egypt, said.
Elaborating on "some specific issues" the US and the Muslim world will have to face together, he said "violent extremism" in all of its forms will have to be confronted.
The first African-American President of the United States noted that he was a practising Christian, but his father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims.
"And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear."
He asserted that the same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America too.
"Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire," he said.
Observing that "no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust," he, however, emphasised the need for sustained effort to listen to and learn from each other and to seek a "common ground".
He maintained that America will continue to "relentlessly confront violent extremists" whose "actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings".
Obama quoted from the holy Quran to say that "whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind."
Asserting that America does not want to keep its forces in Afghanistan, he said, "We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case."
At the same time, he acknowledged that "military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan".
"That is why we plan to invest USD 1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced," Obama said.
"And that is why we are providing more than USD 2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon," he said.
Obama arrived in the Middle East yesterday, greeted by a new threat message from al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, who said the US President has provoked the Muslim world by asking Pakistan to crack down on the Taliban in Swat Valley and stopping the imposition of Sharia law there.
The US President said "Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism -it is an important part of promoting peace."
Turning to issue of Iraq, he said "we will honour our agreement with Iraq’s democratically-elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012."
America will support a secure and united Iraq "as a partner, and never as a patron", he added.
Underscoring he will "personally pursue" the two-state outcome to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, he said "Palestinians must abandon violence" and "Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s."
"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," he said.