Thank You from a Hyphenated American

By Rami Nashashibi - June 5, 2009

By profession I am, in part, a community organizer from the Southwest Side of Chicago and like our president knows, we are the type of folk who maintain a healthy and necessary level of skepticism when it comes to the way we relate to political power.

Yet, I also believe, even if I can't always live up to, the spiritual and transcendent power of humility, honesty and gratitude and in light of President Obama's speech in Cairo Thursday there is indeed a lot to be thankful for.

I say it's time that the cynics within and among us observe a moment of silence and admit, quietly if necessary, that President Obama's New Beginning speech was an extraordinary and courageous step towards greater understanding, reconciliation and peace. It was still only one talk, one day, and one step but it was one hell of step and for that I am thankful.

More Jewish, Christian, Muslim perspectives on Obama's Speech

I, like many Americans, am a composite of multiple overlapping identities and it is through the distinctiveness of each identity that I would like to publically express some gratitude:

As an American, I am thankful to be well-served by a President who powerfully communicated and even more importantly humbly demonstrated the lofty virtues and principles of this nation. There is no greater way to express how democracy can challenge a society to live up to and one day ultimately realize the unfulfilled ideals of those principles than through the very presence of our President Barack Hussein Obama. In tone, posture, substance and nuance President Obama did more to challenge and undermine the detractors of American Democracy across the Muslim world in 57 minutes than anything I have witnessed in my life time.

As an American Muslim, I am grateful that I have a President who publically acknowledges and celebrates the presence and role of a diverse American Muslim population positively impacting all spheres of life here in the US. In addition to citing the presence of over seven million Muslims and 1200 Mosques, Obama spoke implicitly of his historic interactions with the many African American Muslims living, organizing and working on Chicago's South Side; he also more directly cited his concern for post 9/11 polices unfairly targeting segments of the American Muslim community.

As part of a Global Community; As someone who identifies with my fellow Muslim across the world, I would like to express profound gratitude to a President who made tremendous efforts to show deference to the historic and cultural contributions of Islam while punctuating his speech with multiple and well thought-out references to the Quran, Prophetic Tradition and Islamic history. Moreover, President Obama directly alluded to and challenged the xenophobia and intolerance that certain European societies have regarding their Muslim minorities. When it comes to Islam, I am also as grateful for what President Obama did not say. He never once conflated Islam or Muslims with terrorism. Islamic was never used as an adjective to describe violence or extremism and nothing close to the divisive and grossly offensive neologisms like "Islamo-facists" ever surfaced throughout the entirety of his speech.

As an Arab; As a person who was born and has lived across the Arab world I am thankful that our President selected Cairo both to affirm his desire to speak directly to the "Arab street" and to challenge the autocratic natures of these regimes. He provided such a challenge within relative parameters of what was possible on such a trip and within a speech attempting to do so much.

As a Palestinian I am deeply grateful that President Obama acknowledged the suffering of Palestinians and the need for Israel and the world to be attentive to and accountable for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. I am deeply grateful that President Obama acknowledged the tragedy of Palestinian people scattered across refugee camps and the daily humiliation for those living under military occupation in the West Bank. I am also grateful that he challenged the Israeli government to freeze settlement construction while agitating Palestinians to question what the killing of innocents on buses, schools or even settlements has done to erode moral authority for the larger Palestinian cause. I am in agreement with and appreciative of our President's reminder that the historic suffering of the Jewish people and their need to live in peace and security is real, and to minimize or deny that in any way only detracts from moral fortitude of our claims.

Yes, later we will truly see how much of this new vision for America's relationship with the larger Muslim world and Islam is realized through definitive and deliberate action. But for now I choose to simply be content in my gratitude for a great moment and even greater possibilities.

Rami Nashashibi has been serving as the Executive Director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) since its incorporation as a nonprofit in January 1997. He is currently a Sociology Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago.

1/1/2000 5:00:00 AM