“Fellow Citizens of the World…”

After I criticized Obama’s Cairo speech, my brother, filmmaker Lawrence Konner, challenged me to write the speech I would like to have heard:

“Fellow citizens of the world, Assalaamu alaykum—Peace be upon you.

“As you may know, I did not learn that greeting and blessing on the plane on the way here. I learned it as an American child, in a Muslim school, in the world’s largest Islamic nation, and I offer it with all my heart.

“But although I am on the world stage, speaking from another great and ancient Muslim land, I speak as the representative of the people of the United States. In a sense, that people also represents the world, since we come from every corner of it. In fact, we include among us millions of Muslims, who have made great contributions throughout our history. If you doubt the power of American democracy, or the reality of the American dream, ask them.

“We recently elected our first Muslim congressman; long in coming, but a great step forward. He was sworn into office on a copy of the Qur’an that had belonged to Thomas Jefferson, one of our greatest founders. For more than two centuries, the hearts and minds of our people have been open to the world, including the Islamic world.

“On September 11, 2001, we were attacked on our own soil for the first time since Jefferson’s day, and in one blow we lost three thousand dead, along with some of our innocence. We were reminded that there is evil in the world, and that it often targets the United States. Yet we did not falter.

“The terrorists who attacked us came from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but our friendships with both countries strengthened. The attackers claimed to be acting in the holy name of Islam, but we repudiated that claim; my predecessor gave his first major speech about the attack from the pulpit of a great mosque in Washington. American Muslims reacted to the attack as Americans—with horror, with sadness, and above all with loyalty, and the feared backlash against them never came.

“We fought two wars in response to this and other attacks; one I supported, one I did not. But both have resulted in the liberation of moderate, decent Muslims from the grip of extremism and tyranny. As a decade before in Bosnia, American blood and treasure was spent to defend Muslims from oppression. Why?

“Because we understood from the outset that this was not a clash of civilizations but a battle between all civilization and its enemies. Historically, Islam stands proud among the world’s civilizations, including our much younger one in America.

“But we too are proud. We led the world in replacing monarchy with democracy. We lagged in the abolition of slavery, but we did it at tremendous cost, and the descendants of slaves are now taking their rightful place. We played a large part in defeating Fascism, and the largest part in defeating Communism. Have we made mistakes? Of course we have, and more than one or two. We have not been a beacon of democracy at every moment in every place, but I intend for us to be that beacon going forward.

“Make no mistake about me. I have darker skin and a stranger name than my predecessors, but I understand as they did that my first responsibility is to protect the people of the United States. I will do that with all my heart and all my skill. As Commander in Chief of the armed forces of my country, you will find me no less resolute than those who have gone before me.

“But I also have larger ears than some of them, and I use them to listen. I want to know what you are saying in Cairo, what others are saying in Beijing, Djakarta, Moscow, Paris, Rio de Janiero, and yes, in Tehran, Pyongyang and Caracas too. But in the last analysis I must and will stand for America; that is my job and my sacred oath.

“We want to walk with you on the path to democracy. We are not quite there ourselves, but no one is ahead of us, and many are behind. Let me be clear. Democracy does not just mean elections. Elections can be fraudulent, but whoever counts ballots, they are not fair unless certain other conditions of democracy are met.

“There must be absolute protection for minorities. There must be a judicial system free of bias and corruption. Women must be full and equal participants in social and political life. And basic freedoms must prevail: freedom of speech, of the press and other media, of assembly, and of religion. To ask the people of the United States to welcome another nation as a democracy just because it has held elections is to fail to understand our history and the price we have paid in moving toward these goals.

“We want to help you achieve them too, and we understand that without economic opportunity they are hard to grasp. We will help you to create that opportunity, fighting poverty and disease throughout the world. Microloans and vaccinations are greater weapons than guns, including ours, or speeches, including mine. A little girl leaning over a notebook in a safe and open school has a mind that can change the world.

“Let me turn now to a subject that is on our minds now: the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Some of you believe we must solve this first and that all other problems will be easy to solve thereafter. I reject that reasoning.

“Resolving this conflict will have no bearing on the belligerency of North Korea, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the tension between India and Pakistan, the genocide in Darfur, or the collapsing states elsewhere in Africa. It will not contain the imperial ambitions of Iran and its terrorist surrogates, nor will it make the historic friction between Shi’a and Sunni disappear. It will not curb the spread of nuclear arms.

“I am here to tell you that I recognize the suffering of the Palestinian people. I recognize the need for Israel to stop expanding settlements and to loosen travel restrictions in what will some day be a Palestinian state. But I need for you to acknowledge some things as well.

“I need you to recognize that Israel is the ancient homeland of the Jewish people, to which they have returned after millennial, unparalleled suffering in exile. I need to hear you say that Jews, who number about one for every hundred Muslims worldwide, have a right to one safe, secure homeland of their own. I need to know that you have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

“From my first day in office, I have taken stronger steps than my predecessors to address this conflict, and I will not relax until it is resolved. But I need your help, and that means more than just acceptance of a Jewish state in Israel and a future state of Palestine.

“It requires you to move forward toward true democracy in all your nations, not overnight, but with steady and sure steps. Walk with us, and we will walk with you.

“Assalaamu alaykum—May peace be upon you, upon the people of the United States, and upon all who long for and work toward peace in this wide, varied, and often dangerous world. Thank you.”

7 thoughts on ““Fellow Citizens of the World…”

  1. Mel:

    That was a great speech you wrote and its too bad Obama wasn’t able to deliver it.  Send it on to David Axelrod.  What do you have to lose?  
    Best wishes,

    Don Stein

  2. It doesnt matter what Obama said-78% of US Jews voted for him. If Ahmadinejad was the Democratic nominee, he would get 65% of the Jewish vote. He would be more popular among US Jews than Iranians, because we all know that Republicans are the party of Hitler.The fact that you have to craft an alternative speech for Obama suggests your discomfort

  3. Clement is naive to suggest that Jews would vote for a fascist just so long as he belonged to the Democratic Party.  Obama did not make the perfect speech from Cairo and Mel did a great job of illuminating ways it could have been improved from the Jewish perspective.

    Maybe Clement should look at the short comings of the Republican party before insulting American Jews as voters without a mind.  I am reminded of the shop keeper blaming the customers on not buying his products when things are bad instead of looking at his shelves to see that maybe he is selling the wrong stuff.  The Republican party is simply selling the wrong stuff.

  4. Thank you all for your comments!

    Don–I’m trying to figure out a way to get it to someone who’d actually read it. Do you know Axelrod?

    Adam–Speechwriter, maybe; president, no way! I’m far too weird, self-absorbed, heady, and flawed. Plus, I wouldn’t want such a thankless job :)

    Steve C. and Elaine–your encouragement matters.

    Clement and Steve B.–Jews have always voted to the left of their pocketbooks. Clement thinks we vote against our own interests in other ways. After reading the article called "The Big Chill" in the June 22nd Jerusalem Report I’m beginning to think my vote for Obama may have been a vote against Israel. But other sources say that Daniel Pipes and Richard Perle are not worried about this administration’s commitment to Israel, so I guess I’m not worried either. Yet. But I’m prepared to turn against Obama as I did against Carter if Obama gives me a similar reason. By the way Steve, was the Republican party selling the wrong stuff in the nine presidential elections they won since 1950? If so, they must be a heck of a sales force.