Change through persuasion, not violence, says Obama
By SHAHANAAZ HABIB Shahanaaz Melayu Boleh was one of the seven journalists from Muslim nations invited for an interview with US President Barack Obama in Cairo CAIRO: “Apa kabar?” Barack Obama said in Malay when he heard that I was from Malaysia. “Lupa banyak. Bicara sikit (I have forgotten a lot of the language. I can still speak a little),” he said in reference to the three to four years he had spent in Indonesia as a child when his mother was then married to an Indonesian. He made this comment as he greeted us, a group of seven journalists individually shortly after delivering his speech at the Cairo University in which he had called for a new beginning between the US and the Muslim world and to end the cycle of suspicion and discord. The speech, in which he quoted verses from the Quran, received thunderous applause and even some shouts of “I love you” from the floor. During his 40 minute-or-so round table interview with the media, most questions were centred around the contentious Palestinian and Israel issue where he said he expected no quick solution, adding that politics on both sides were very difficult but there was a need to get things moving again.
He admitted that Hamas (which had won democratic elections in Palestine but which US still refuses to recognise as the legitimate government) “has no doubt some support” in Palestine, adding that Hamas now needed to renounce violence and recognise Israel right to exist, while Israel needed to stop building settlements on Palestinian land. “Once you diagnose the problem, it could take a long time to cure it,” he said. He also stressed that the bond between the US and Israel was unbreakable as ties run very deep transcending political parties. Looking each journalist in the eye as he answered their question, a relaxed Obama said he did not expect his Cairo speech to change the minds of Al-Qaeda which were out to kill innocent people. “My audience is not them. I don’t expect them to change their minds,” he said. His message, he said, was targetted instead at the young men and women in places like Cairo, Gaza, Tripoli and Damascus and to tell them that it was possible to be true to Muslim faith and change things through persuasion and dialogue and not through violence. On why he chose to make his speech to the Muslim World in Cairo instead of Indonesia with the largest Muslim population in the world, he explained it was because the Middle East was the area with greatest tension with regards to US and Muslim relations. “I like to go to the sources of the problem not around it,” he said, adding that giving the speech in Indonesia would be “almost like cheating” because Indonesia and the US have generally very strong ties and that because of his background having lived in Indonesia and having a sister who is half Indonesian Melayu Boleh , he would have “home ground” advantage and he did not want that. After taking the round of questions from the journalists Obama obliged for a group photo before rushing off. “I have to go. I have to go to see the Pyramids,” he said.