politics

Freedom, Media, Constraint & Law

So compartmentalized is our world that we can hardly tackle any major problem without treading on sacrosanct fields. But I have no credentials and I must speak.

First, what is the freedom that results in displays of arms at Town Halls and the emission of hate speech and hate graphics. It is not the internal freedom that emerges from a spiritual release from one’s burdens. It is not the freedom St. Paul speaks of when he says Christ has set us free. What is it? It appears to be an interpretation of what is permitted by right. Such freedom is necessarily confrontational. No matter how it gets dressed up, a freedom tied to a right, regardless of how preciously it is held, carries with it the statement, I have a right to do this. As such, it is necessarily contextual. It can and does involve an adjudication of rights among potentially conflicting persons and groups.

Second, what is the role of media in spreading hate speech and public displays of hate and threat. Given the “right” to do and say most anything and its extension to anyone with the capacity to publish, online or off, the answer is: it is pervasive. Hate speech and violent threats have been endemic in the U.S.  since the days of Cotton Mather and Shay’s rebellion. But now there are no brakes upon its circulation and display. We delude ourselves if we do not look this fact in the eye and acknowledge that even if we limit our participation, we will always have media that will do what we may regard as inflammatory, despicable or small-minded. The role of media does not exist. Media do what media do and delude themselves talking about their role.

What of constraint? Are there any constraints? Is boredom our ally here? People simply tiring of idiotic posturing and silly display. I would not underestimate that.  Could we hope for a growth of consensus — such as took place when we finally began to abolish smoking? We might gradually concede that the false cry in the theater has wide and obvious application to public behavior that indulges in hate and provocation.  Such constraint might include the behavior of the media. A gradual willingness to stanch the flow of  hateful material.  But here my credulity fades. I do not believe the present crisis will be so easily resolved. The genie that is being unloosed leaves too many questions unanswered.

What is society’s tipping point?

Can a progressive current gradually prevail?

Or is it likely that the back and forth between progress and repression will intensify until even thinking like this becomes impossible?

And what of law?

Shall we increase the perimeter around the President?

Shall we outlaw certain expressions as too inflammatory?

Shall we limit access to certain weapons that have no use beyond the quick killing of a whole bunch of folk in a very short time?

Such questions always suggest the tragedies that give rise to laws of restraint. But notice that these laws have had little success in turning us in a more pacific direction.

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My answer will be to support the President and do my best to convince other progressives that the most important task is not to complain loudly about the pace of change. It is to do what is called for every step of the way. Mobilize the grass roots to do the simple things that will win votes and create a body of accomplishment that will eventually convince even wingnuts that their chances of winning by condoning hate and unreason are declining, not increasing.

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There was a time when I would have cried loudly for some action from the religious community. But if there is such action today, the media must be ignoring it. If the way the middle goes is the way the nation goes, then this religious community will bear some blame if things go, in a word, south.

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politics

Full Text President Obama’s Remarks to United Nations Sept. 23, 2009

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning.  Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to address you for the first time as the 44th President of the United States.  (Applause.)  I come before you humbled by the responsibility that the American people have placed upon me, mindful of the enormous challenges of our moment in history, and determined to act boldly and collectively on behalf of justice and prosperity at home and abroad.

I have been in office for just nine months — though some days it seems a lot longer.  I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world.  These expectations are not about me.  Rather, they are rooted, I believe, in a discontent with a status quo that has allowed us to be increasingly defined by our differences, and outpaced by our problems.  But they are also rooted in hope — the hope that real change is possible, and the hope that America will be a leader in bringing about such change.

I took office at a time when many around the world had come to view America with skepticism and distrust.  Part of this was due to misperceptions and misinformation about my country.  Part of this was due to opposition to specific policies, and a belief that on certain critical issues, America has acted unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others.  And this has fed an almost reflexive anti-Americanism, which too often has served as an excuse for collective inaction.

Now, like all of you, my responsibility is to act in the interest of my nation and my people, and I will never apologize for defending those interests.  But it is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009 — more than at any point in human history — the interests of nations and peoples are shared.  The religious convictions that we hold in our hearts can forge new bonds among people, or they can tear us apart.  The technology we harness can light the path to peace, or forever darken it.  The energy we use can sustain our planet, or destroy it.  What happens to the hope of a single child — anywhere — can enrich our world, or impoverish it.

In this hall, we come from many places, but we share a common future.  No longer do we have the luxury of indulging our differences to the exclusion of the work that we must do together.  I have carried this message from London to Ankara; from Port of Spain to Moscow; from Accra to Cairo; and it is what I will speak about today — because the time has come for the world to move in a new direction.  We must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and our work must begin now.

We know the future will be forged by deeds and not simply words.  Speeches alone will not solve our problems — it will take persistent action.  For those who question the character and cause of my nation, I ask you to look at the concrete actions we have taken in just nine months.

On my first day in office, I prohibited — without exception or equivocation — the use of torture by the United States of America.  (Applause.)  I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed, and we are doing the hard work of forging a framework to combat extremism within the rule of law.  Every nation must know: America will live its values, and we will lead by example.

We have set a clear and focused goal:  to work with all members of this body to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies — a network that has killed thousands of people of many faiths and nations, and that plotted to blow up this very building.  In Afghanistan and Pakistan, we and many nations here are helping these governments develop the capacity to take the lead in this effort, while working to advance opportunity and security for their people.

In Iraq, we are responsibly ending a war.  We have removed American combat brigades from Iraqi cities, and set a deadline of next August to remove all our combat brigades from Iraqi territory.  And I have made clear that we will help Iraqis transition to full responsibility for their future, and keep our commitment to remove all American troops by the end of 2011.

I have outlined a comprehensive agenda to seek the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.  In Moscow, the United States and Russia announced that we would pursue substantial reductions in our strategic warheads and launchers.  At the Conference on Disarmament, we agreed on a work plan to negotiate an end to the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.  And this week, my Secretary of State will become the first senior American representative to the annual Members Conference of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Upon taking office, I appointed a Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, and America has worked steadily and aggressively to advance the cause of two states — Israel and Palestine — in which peace and security take root, and the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians are respected.

To confront climate change, we have invested $80 billion in clean energy.  We have substantially increased our fuel-efficiency standards.  We have provided new incentives for conservation, launched an energy partnership across the Americas, and moved from a bystander to a leader in international climate negotiations.

To overcome an economic crisis that touches every corner of the world, we worked with the G20 nations to forge a coordinated international response of over $2 trillion in stimulus to bring the global economy back from the brink.  We mobilized resources that helped prevent the crisis from spreading further to developing countries.  And we joined with others to launch a $20 billion global food security initiative that will lend a hand to those who need it most, and help them build their own capacity.

We’ve also re-engaged the United Nations.  We have paid our bills.  We have joined the Human Rights Council.  (Applause.)  We have signed the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  We have fully embraced the Millennium Development Goals.  And we address our priorities here, in this institution  — for instance, through the Security Council meeting that I will chair tomorrow on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, and through the issues that I will discuss today.

This is what we have already done.  But this is just a beginning.  Some of our actions have yielded progress.  Some have laid the groundwork for progress in the future.  But make no mistake:  This cannot solely be America’s endeavor.  Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.  We have sought — in word and deed — a new era of engagement with the world.  And now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.

Now, if we are honest with ourselves, we need to admit that we are not living up to that responsibility.  Consider the course that we’re on if we fail to confront the status quo:  Extremists sowing terror in pockets of the world; protracted conflicts that grind on and on; genocide; mass atrocities; more nations with nuclear weapons; melting ice caps and ravaged populations; persistent poverty and pandemic disease.  I say this not to sow fear, but to state a fact:  The magnitude of our challenges has yet to be met by the measure of our actions.

This body was founded on the belief that the nations of the world could solve their problems together.  Franklin Roosevelt, who died before he could see his vision for this institution become a reality, put it this way — and I quote:  “The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation….  It cannot be a peace of large nations — or of small nations.  It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world.”

The cooperative effort of the whole world.  Those words ring even more true today, when it is not simply peace, but our very health and prosperity that we hold in common.  Yet we also know that this body is made up of sovereign states.  And sadly, but not surprisingly, this body has often become a forum for sowing discord instead of forging common ground; a venue for playing politics and exploiting grievances rather than solving problems. After all, it is easy to walk up to this podium and point figures — point fingers and stoke divisions.  Nothing is easier than blaming others for our troubles, and absolving ourselves of responsibility for our choices and our actions.  Anybody can do that.  Responsibility and leadership in the 21st century demand more.

In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game.  No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation.  No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed.  No balance of power among nations will hold.  The traditional divisions between nations of the South and the North make no sense in an interconnected world; nor do alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War.

The time has come to realize that the old habits, the old arguments, are irrelevant to the challenges faced by our people. They lead nations to act in opposition to the very goals that they claim to pursue — and to vote, often in this body, against the interests of their own people.  They build up walls between us and the future that our people seek, and the time has come for those walls to come down.  Together, we must build new coalitions that bridge old divides — coalitions of different faiths and creeds; of north and south, east, west, black, white, and brown.

The choice is ours.  We can be remembered as a generation that chose to drag the arguments of the 20th century into the 21st; that put off hard choices, refused to look ahead, failed to keep pace because we defined ourselves by what we were against instead of what we were for.  Or we can be a generation that chooses to see the shoreline beyond the rough waters ahead; that comes together to serve the common interests of human beings, and finally gives meaning to the promise embedded in the name given to this institution:  the United Nations.

That is the future America wants — a future of peace and prosperity that we can only reach if we recognize that all nations have rights, but all nations have responsibilities as well.  That is the bargain that makes this work.  That must be the guiding principle of international cooperation.

Today, let me put forward four pillars that I believe are fundamental to the future that we want for our children:  non-proliferation and disarmament; the promotion of peace and security; the preservation of our planet; and a global economy that advances opportunity for all people.

First, we must stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and seek the goal of a world without them.

This institution was founded at the dawn of the atomic age, in part because man’s capacity to kill had to be contained.  For decades, we averted disaster, even under the shadow of a superpower stand-off.  But today, the threat of proliferation is growing in scope and complexity.  If we fail to act, we will invite nuclear arms races in every region, and the prospect of wars and acts of terror on a scale that we can hardly imagine.

A fragile consensus stands in the way of this frightening outcome, and that is the basic bargain that shapes the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  It says that all nations have the right to peaceful nuclear energy; that nations with nuclear weapons have a responsibility to move toward disarmament; and those without them have the responsibility to forsake them.  The next 12 months could be pivotal in determining whether this compact will be strengthened or will slowly dissolve.

America intends to keep our end of the bargain.  We will pursue a new agreement with Russia to substantially reduce our strategic warheads and launchers.  We will move forward with ratification of the Test Ban Treaty, and work with others to bring the treaty into force so that nuclear testing is permanently prohibited.  We will complete a Nuclear Posture Review that opens the door to deeper cuts and reduces the role of nuclear weapons.  And we will call upon countries to begin negotiations in January on a treaty to end the production of fissile material for weapons.

I will also host a summit next April that reaffirms each nation’s responsibility to secure nuclear material on its territory, and to help those who can’t — because we must never allow a single nuclear device to fall into the hands of a violent extremist.  And we will work to strengthen the institutions and initiatives that combat nuclear smuggling and theft.

All of this must support efforts to strengthen the NPT.  Those nations that refuse to live up to their obligations must face consequences.  Let me be clear, this is not about singling out individual nations — it is about standing up for the rights of all nations that do live up to their responsibilities.  Because a world in which IAEA inspections are avoided and the United Nation’s demands are ignored will leave all people less safe, and all nations less secure.

In their actions to date, the governments of North Korea and Iran threaten to take us down this dangerous slope.  We respect their rights as members of the community of nations.  I’ve said before and I will repeat, I am committed to diplomacy that opens a path to greater prosperity and more secure peace for both nations if they live up to their obligations.

But if the governments of Iran and North Korea choose to ignore international standards; if they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability and the security and opportunity of their own people; if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East — then they must be held accountable.  The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced.  We must insist that the future does not belong to fear.

That brings me to the second pillar for our future:  the pursuit of peace.

The United Nations was born of the belief that the people of the world can live their lives, raise their families, and resolve their differences peacefully.  And yet we know that in too many parts of the world, this ideal remains an abstraction — a distant dream.  We can either accept that outcome as inevitable, and tolerate constant and crippling conflict, or we can recognize that the yearning for peace is universal, and reassert our resolve to end conflicts around the world.

That effort must begin with an unshakeable determination that the murder of innocent men, women and children will never be tolerated.  On this, no one can be — there can be no dispute.  The violent extremists who promote conflict by distorting faith have discredited and isolated themselves.  They offer nothing but hatred and destruction.  In confronting them, America will forge lasting partnerships to target terrorists, share intelligence, and coordinate law enforcement and protect our people.  We will permit no safe haven for al Qaeda to launch attacks from Afghanistan or any other nation.  We will stand by our friends on the front lines, as we and many nations will do in pledging support for the Pakistani people tomorrow.  And we will pursue positive engagement that builds bridges among faiths, and new partnerships for opportunity.

Our efforts to promote peace, however, cannot be limited to defeating violent extremists.  For the most powerful weapon in our arsenal is the hope of human beings — the belief that the future belongs to those who would build and not destroy; the confidence that conflicts can end and a new day can begin.

And that is why we will support — we will strengthen our support for effective peacekeeping, while energizing our efforts to prevent conflicts before they take hold.  We will pursue a lasting peace in Sudan through support for the people of Darfur and the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, so that we secure the peace that the Sudanese people deserve.  (Applause.)  And in countries ravaged by violence — from Haiti to Congo to East Timor — we will work with the U.N. and other partners to support an enduring peace.

I will also continue to seek a just and lasting peace between Israel, Palestine, and the Arab world.  (Applause.)  We will continue to work on that issue.  Yesterday, I had a constructive meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.  We have made some progress.  Palestinians have strengthened their efforts on security.  Israelis have facilitated greater freedom of movement for the Palestinians.  As a result of these efforts on both sides, the economy in the West Bank has begun to grow.  But more progress is needed.  We continue to call on Palestinians to end incitement against Israel, and we continue to emphasize that America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.  (Applause.)

The time has come — the time has come to re-launch negotiations without preconditions that address the permanent status issues:  security for Israelis and Palestinians, borders, refugees, and Jerusalem.  And the goal is clear:  Two states living side by side in peace and security — a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.  (Applause.)

As we pursue this goal, we will also pursue peace between Israel and Lebanon, Israel and Syria, and a broader peace between Israel and its many neighbors.  In pursuit of that goal, we will develop regional initiatives with multilateral participation, alongside bilateral negotiations.

Now, I am not naïve.  I know this will be difficult.  But all of us — not just the Israelis and the Palestinians, but all of us — must decide whether we are serious about peace, or whether we will only lend it lip service.  To break the old patterns, to break the cycle of insecurity and despair, all of us must say publicly what we would acknowledge in private.  The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians.  (Applause.)  And — and nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks against Israel over constructive willingness to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and its right to exist in peace and security. (Applause.)

We must remember that the greatest price of this conflict is not paid by us.  It’s not paid by politicians.  It’s paid by the Israeli girl in Sderot who closes her eyes in fear that a rocket will take her life in the middle of the night.  It’s paid for by the Palestinian boy in Gaza who has no clean water and no country to call his own.  These are all God’s children.  And after all the politics and all the posturing, this is about the right of every human being to live with dignity and security.  That is a lesson embedded in the three great faiths that call one small slice of Earth the Holy Land.  And that is why, even though there will be setbacks and false starts and tough days, I will not waver in my pursuit of peace.  (Applause.)

Third, we must recognize that in the 21st century, there will be no peace unless we take responsibility for the preservation of our planet.  And I thank the Secretary General for hosting the subject of climate change yesterday.

The danger posed by climate change cannot be denied.  Our responsibility to meet it must not be deferred.  If we continue down our current course, every member of this Assembly will see irreversible changes within their borders.  Our efforts to end conflicts will be eclipsed by wars over refugees and resources.  Development will be devastated by drought and famine.  Land that human beings have lived on for millennia will disappear.  Future generations will look back and wonder why we refused to act; why we failed to pass on — why we failed to pass on an environment that was worthy of our inheritance.

And that is why the days when America dragged its feet on this issue are over.  We will move forward with investments to transform our energy economy, while providing incentives to make clean energy the profitable kind of energy.  We will press ahead with deep cuts in emissions to reach the goals that we set for 2020, and eventually 2050.  We will continue to promote renewable energy and efficiency, and share new technologies with countries around the world.  And we will seize every opportunity for progress to address this threat in a cooperative effort with the entire world.

And those wealthy nations that did so much damage to the environment in the 20th century must accept our obligation to lead.  But responsibility does not end there.  While we must acknowledge the need for differentiated responses, any effort to curb carbon emissions must include the fast-growing carbon emitters who can do more to reduce their air pollution without inhibiting growth.  And any effort that fails to help the poorest nations both adapt to the problems that climate change have already wrought and help them travel a path of clean development simply will not work.

It’s hard to change something as fundamental as how we use energy.  I know that.  It’s even harder to do so in the midst of a global recession.  Certainly, it will be tempting to sit back and wait for others to move first.  But we cannot make this journey unless we all move forward together.  As we head into Copenhagen, let us resolve to focus on what each of us can do for the sake of our common future.

And this leads me to the final pillar that must fortify our future:  a global economy that advances opportunity for all people.

The world is still recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  In America, we see the engine of growth beginning to churn, and yet many still struggle to find a job or pay their bills.  Across the globe, we find promising signs, but little certainty about what lies ahead.  And far too many people in far too many places live through the daily crises that challenge our humanity — the despair of an empty stomach; the thirst brought on by dwindling water supplies; the injustice of a child dying from a treatable disease; or a mother losing her life as she gives birth.

In Pittsburgh, we will work with the world’s largest economies to chart a course for growth that is balanced and sustained.  That means vigilance to ensure that we do not let up until our people are back to work.  That means taking steps to rekindle demand so that global recovery can be sustained.  And that means setting new rules of the road and strengthening regulation for all financial centers, so that we put an end to the greed and the excess and the abuse that led us into this disaster, and prevent a crisis like this from ever happening again.

At a time of such interdependence, we have a moral and pragmatic interest, however, in broader questions of development — the questions of development that existed even before this crisis happened.  And so America will continue our historic effort to help people feed themselves.  We have set aside $63 billion to carry forward the fight against HIV/AIDS, to end deaths from tuberculosis and malaria, to eradicate polio, and to strengthen public health systems.  We are joining with other countries to contribute H1N1 vaccines to the World Health Organization.  We will integrate more economies into a system of global trade.  We will support the Millennium Development Goals, and approach next year’s summit with a global plan to make them a reality.  And we will set our sights on the eradication of extreme poverty in our time.

Now is the time for all of us to do our part.  Growth will not be sustained or shared unless all nations embrace their responsibilities.  And that means that wealthy nations must open their markets to more goods and extend a hand to those with less, while reforming international institutions to give more nations a greater voice.  And developing nations must root out the corruption that is an obstacle to progress — for opportunity cannot thrive where individuals are oppressed and business have to pay bribes.  That is why we support honest police and independent judges; civil society and a vibrant private sector.  Our goal is simple:  a global economy in which growth is sustained, and opportunity is available to all.

Now, the changes that I’ve spoken about today will not be easy to make.  And they will not be realized simply by leaders like us coming together in forums like this, as useful as that may be.  For as in any assembly of members, real change can only come through the people we represent.  That is why we must do the hard work to lay the groundwork for progress in our own capitals. That’s where we will build the consensus to end conflicts and to harness technology for peaceful purposes, to change the way we use energy, and to promote growth that can be sustained and shared.

I believe that the people of the world want this future for their children.  And that is why we must champion those principles which ensure that governments reflect the will of the people.  These principles cannot be afterthoughts — democracy and human rights are essential to achieving each of the goals that I’ve discussed today, because governments of the people and by the people are more likely to act in the broader interests of their own people, rather than narrow interests of those in power.

The test of our leadership will not be the degree to which we feed the fears and old hatreds of our people.  True leadership will not be measured by the ability to muzzle dissent, or to intimidate and harass political opponents at home.  The people of the world want change.  They will not long tolerate those who are on the wrong side of history.

This Assembly’s Charter commits each of us — and I quote — “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women.”  Among those rights is the freedom to speak your mind and worship as you please; the promise of equality of the races, and the opportunity for women and girls to pursue their own potential; the ability of citizens to have a say in how you are governed, and to have confidence in the administration of justice.  For just as no nation should be forced to accept the tyranny of another nation, no individual should be forced to accept the tyranny of their own people.  (Applause.)

As an African American, I will never forget that I would not be here today without the steady pursuit of a more perfect union in my country.  And that guides my belief that no matter how dark the day may seem, transformative change can be forged by those who choose to side with justice.  And I pledge that America will always stand with those who stand up for their dignity and their rights — for the student who seeks to learn; the voter who demands to be heard; the innocent who longs to be free; the oppressed who yearns to be equal.

Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside. Each society must search for its own path, and no path is perfect.  Each country will pursue a path rooted in the culture of its people and in its past traditions.  And I admit that America has too often been selective in its promotion of democracy.  But that does not weaken our commitment; it only reinforces it.  There are basic principles that are universal; there are certain truths which are self-evident — and the United States of America will never waver in our efforts to stand up for the right of people everywhere to determine their own destiny.  (Applause.)

Sixty-five years ago, a weary Franklin Roosevelt spoke to the American people in his fourth and final inaugural address. After years of war, he sought to sum up the lessons that could be drawn from the terrible suffering, the enormous sacrifice that had taken place.  “We have learned,” he said, “to be citizens of the world, members of the human community.”

The United Nations was built by men and women like Roosevelt from every corner of the world — from Africa and Asia, from Europe to the Americas.  These architects of international cooperation had an idealism that was anything but naïve — it was rooted in the hard-earned lessons of war; rooted in the wisdom that nations could advance their interests by acting together instead of splitting apart.

Now it falls to us — for this institution will be what we make of it.  The United Nations does extraordinary good around the world — feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, mending  places that have been broken.  But it also struggles to enforce its will, and to live up to the ideals of its founding.

I believe that those imperfections are not a reason to walk away from this institution — they are a calling to redouble our efforts.  The United Nations can either be a place where we bicker about outdated grievances, or forge common ground; a place where we focus on what drives us apart, or what brings us together; a place where we indulge tyranny, or a source of moral authority.  In short, the United Nations can be an institution that is disconnected from what matters in the lives of our citizens, or it can be an indispensable factor in advancing the interests of the people we serve.

We have reached a pivotal moment.  The United States stands ready to begin a new chapter of international cooperation — one that recognizes the rights and responsibilities of all nations.  And so, with confidence in our cause, and with a commitment to our values, we call on all nations to join us in building the future that our people so richly deserve.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)

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President Obama’s NAACP Speech — FULL TEXT

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO THE NAACP CENTENNIAL CONVENTION

Hilton New York
New York, New York

7:00 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:   Thank you.  What an extraordinary night, capping off an extraordinary week, capping off an extraordinary 100 years at the NAACP.  (Applause.)

So Chairman Bond, Brother Justice, I am so grateful to all of you for being here.  It’s just good to be among friends.  (Applause.)

It is an extraordinary honor to be here, in the city where the NAACP was formed, to mark its centennial.  What we celebrate tonight is not simply the journey the NAACP has traveled, but the journey that we, as Americans, have traveled over the past 100 years.  (Applause.)

It’s a journey that takes us back to a time before most of us were born, long before the Voting Rights Act, and the Civil Rights Act, Brown v. Board of Education; back to an America just a generation past slavery.  It was a time when Jim Crow was a way of life; when lynchings were all too common; when race riots were shaking cities across a segregated land.

It was in this America where an Atlanta scholar named W.E.B. Du Bois — (applause) — a man of towering intellect and a fierce passion for justice, sparked what became known as the Niagara movement; where reformers united, not by color, but by cause; where an association was born that would, as its charter says, promote equality and eradicate prejudice among citizens of the United States.

From the beginning, these founders understood how change would come — just as King and all the civil rights giants did later.  They understood that unjust laws needed to be overturned; that legislation needed to be passed; and that Presidents needed to be pressured into action.  They knew that the stain of slavery and the sin of segregation had to be lifted in the courtroom, and in the legislature, and in the hearts and the minds of Americans.

They also knew that here, in America, change would have to come from the people.  It would come from people protesting lynchings, rallying against violence, all those women who decided to walk instead of taking the bus, even though they were tired after a long day of doing somebody else’s laundry, looking after somebody else’s children.  (Applause.)  It would come from men and women of every age and faith, and every race and region — taking Greyhounds on Freedom Rides; sitting down at Greensboro lunch counters; registering voters in rural Mississippi, knowing they would be harassed, knowing they would be beaten, knowing that some of them might never return.

Because of what they did, we are a more perfect union.  Because Jim Crow laws were overturned, black CEOs today run Fortune 500 companies.  (Applause.)  Because civil rights laws were passed, black mayors, black governors, and members of Congress served in places where they might once have been able [sic] not just to vote but even take a sip of water.  And because ordinary people did such extraordinary things, because they made the civil rights movement their own, even though there may not be a plaque or their names might not be in the history books — because of their efforts I made a little trip to Springfield, Illinois, a couple years ago — (applause) — where Lincoln once lived, and race riots once raged — and began the journey that has led me to be here tonight as the 44th President of the United States of America.  (Applause.)

Because of them I stand here tonight, on the shoulders of giants.  And I’m here to say thank you to those pioneers and thank you to the NAACP.  (Applause.)

And yet, even as we celebrate the remarkable achievements of the past 100 years; even as we inherit extraordinary progress that cannot be denied; even as we marvel at the courage and determination of so many plain folk — we know that too many barriers still remain.

We know that even as our economic crisis batters Americans of all races, African Americans are out of work more than just about anybody else — a gap that’s widening here in New York City, as a detailed report this week by Comptroller Bill Thompson laid out.  (Applause.)

We know that even as spiraling health care costs crush families of all races, African Americans are more likely to suffer from a host of diseases but less likely to own health insurance than just about anybody else.

We know that even as we imprison more people of all races than any nation in the world, an African American child is roughly five times as likely as a white child to see the inside of a prison.

We know that even as the scourge of HIV/AIDS devastates nations abroad, particularly in Africa, it is devastating the African American community here at home with disproportionate force.  We know these things.  (Applause.)

These are some of the barriers of our time.  They’re very different from the barriers faced by earlier generations.  They’re very different from the ones faced when fire hoses and dogs were being turned on young marchers; when Charles Hamilton Houston and a group of young Howard lawyers were dismantling segregation case by case across the land.

But what’s required today — what’s required to overcome today’s barriers is the same as what was needed then.  The same commitment.  The same sense of urgency.  The same sense of sacrifice.  The same sense of community.  The same willingness to do our part for ourselves and one another that has always defined America at its best and the African American experience at its best.  (Applause.)

And so the question is, where do we direct our efforts?  What steps do we take to overcome these barriers?  How do we move forward in the next 100 years?

The first thing we need to do is make real the words of the NAACP charter and eradicate prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination among citizens of the United States.  (Applause.)  I understand there may be a temptation among some to think that discrimination is no longer a problem in 2009.  And I believe that overall, there probably has never been less discrimination in America than there is today.  I think we can say that.

But make no mistake:  The pain of discrimination is still felt in America.  (Applause.)  By African American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and a different gender.  (Laughter.)  By Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country.  (Applause.)  By Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion simply because they kneel down to pray to their God.  (Applause.)  By our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights.  (Applause.)

On the 45th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, discrimination cannot stand — not on account of color or gender; how you worship or who you love.  Prejudice has no place in the United States of America.  That’s what the NAACP stands for.  That’s what the NAACP will continue to fight for as long as it takes.  (Applause.)

But we also know that prejudice and discrimination — at least the most blatant types of prejudice and discrimination — are not even the steepest barriers to opportunity today.  The most difficult barriers include structural inequalities that our nation’s legacy of discrimination has left behind; inequalities still plaguing too many communities and too often the object of national neglect.

These are barriers we are beginning to tear down one by one — by rewarding work with an expanded tax credit; by making housing more affordable; by giving ex-offenders a second chance.  (Applause.)  These are barriers we’re targeting through our White House Office on Urban Affairs, through programs like Promise Neighborhoods that builds on Geoffrey Canada’s success with the Harlem Children’s Zone — (applause) — that foster a comprehensive approach to ending poverty by putting all children on a pathway to college, and giving them the schooling and after-school support that they need to get there.  (Applause.)

I think all of us understand that our task of reducing these structural inequalities has been made more difficult by the state and structure of our broader economy; an economy that for the last decade has been fueled by a cycle of boom and bust; an economy where the rich got really, really rich, but ordinary folks didn’t see their incomes or their wages go up; an economy built on credit cards, shady mortgage loans; an economy built not on a rock, but on sand.

That’s why my administration is working so hard not only to create and save jobs in the short-term, not only to extend unemployment insurance and help for people who have lost their health care in this crisis, not just to stem the immediate economic wreckage, but to lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity that will put opportunity within the reach of not just African Americans, but all Americans.  All Americans.  (Applause.)  Of every race.  Of every creed.  From every region of the country.  (Applause.)  We want everybody to participate in the American Dream.  That’s what the NAACP is all about.  (Applause.)

Now, one pillar of this new foundation is health insurance for everybody.  (Applause.)  Health insurance reform that cuts costs and makes quality health coverage affordable for all, and it closes health care disparities in the process.  Another pillar is energy reform that makes clean energy profitable, freeing America from the grip of foreign oil; putting young people to work upgrading low-income homes, weatherizing, and creating jobs that can’t be outsourced.  Another pillar is financial reform with consumer protections to crackdown on mortgage fraud and stop predatory lenders from targeting black and Latino communities all across the country.  (Applause.)

All these things will make America stronger and more competitive.  They will drive innovation, they will create jobs, they will provide families with more security.  And yet, even if we do all that, the African American community will still fall behind in the United States and the United States will fall behind in the world unless we do a far better job than we have been doing of educating our sons and daughters.  (Applause.)

I hope you don’t mind — I want to go into a little detail here about education.  (Applause.)  In the 21st century — when so many jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or more, when countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow — a world-class education is a prerequisite for success.

There’s no two ways about it.  There’s no way to avoid it.  You know what I’m talking about.  There’s a reason the story of the civil rights movement was written in our schools.  There’s a reason Thurgood Marshall took up the cause of Linda Brown.  There’s a reason why the Little Rock Nine defied a governor and a mob.  It’s because there is no stronger weapon against inequality and no better path to opportunity than an education that can unlock a child’s God-given potential.  (Applause.)

And yet, more than half a century after Brown v. Board, the dream of a world-class education is still being deferred all across the country.  African American students are lagging behind white classmates in reading and math — an achievement gap that is growing in states that once led the way in the civil rights movement.  Over half of all African American students are dropping out of school in some places.  There are overcrowded classrooms, and crumbling schools, and corridors of shame in America filled with poor children — not just black children, brown and white children as well.

The state of our schools is not an African American problem; it is an American problem.  (Applause.)  Because if black and brown children cannot compete, then America cannot compete.  (Applause.)  And let me say this, if Al Sharpton, Mike Bloomberg, and Newt Gingrich can agree that we need to solve the education problem, then that’s something all of America can agree we can solve.  (Applause.)  Those guys came into my office.  (Laughter.) Just sitting in the Oval Office — I kept on doing a double-take.  (Laughter and applause.)  So that’s a sign of progress and it is a sign of the urgency of the education problem.  (Applause.)  All of us can agree that we need to offer every child in this country — every child —

AUDIENCE:  Amen!

THE PRESIDENT:  Got an “Amen corner” back there — (applause) — every child — every child in this country the best education the world has to offer from cradle through a career.

That’s our responsibility as leaders.  That’s the responsibility of the United States of America.  And we, all of us in government, have to work to do our part by not only offering more resources, but also demanding more reform.  Because when it comes to education, we got to get past this whole paradigm, this outdated notion that somehow it’s just money; or somehow it’s just reform, but no money — and embrace what Dr. King called the “both-and” philosophy.  We need more money and we need more reform.  (Applause.)

When it comes to higher education we’re making college and advanced training more affordable, and strengthening community colleges that are the gateway to so many with an initiative — (applause) — that will prepare students not only to earn a degree, but to find a job when they graduate; an initiative that will help us meet the goal I have set of leading the world in college degrees by 2020.  We used to rank number one in college graduates.  Now we are in the middle of the pack.  And since we are seeing more and more African American and Latino youth in our population, if we are leaving them behind we cannot achieve our goal, and America will fall further behind — and that is not a future that I accept and that is not a future that the NAACP is willing to accept.  (Applause.)

We’re creating a Race to the Top fund that will reward states and public school districts that adopt 21st century standards and assessments.  We’re creating incentives for states to promote excellent teachers and replace bad ones — (applause) — because the job of a teacher is too important for us to accept anything less than the best.  (Applause.)

We also have to explore innovative approaches such as those being pursued here in New York City; innovations like Bard High School Early College and Medgar Evers College Preparatory School that are challenging students to complete high school and earn a free associate’s degree or college credit in just four years.  (Applause.)

And we should raise the bar when it comes to early learning programs.  It’s not enough just to have a babysitter.  We need our young people stimulated and engaged and involved.  (Applause.)  We need our — our folks involved in child development to understand the latest science.  Today, some early learning programs are excellent.  Some are mediocre.  And some are wasting what studies show are by far a child’s most formative years.

That’s why I’ve issued a challenge to America’s governors:  If you match the success of states like Pennsylvania and develop an effective model for early learning; if you focus reform on standards and results in early learning programs; if you demonstrate how you will prepare the lowest income children to meet the highest standards of success — then you can compete for an Early Learning Challenge Grant that will help prepare all our children to enter kindergarten all ready to learn.  (Applause.)

So these are some of the laws we’re passing.  These are some of the policies we are enacting.  We are busy in Washington.  Folks in Congress are getting a little tuckered out.  (Laughter.)  But I’m telling them — I’m telling them we can’t rest, we’ve got a lot of work to do.  The American people are counting on us.  (Applause.)  These are some of the ways we’re doing our part in government to overcome the inequities, the injustices, the barriers that still exist in our country.

But all these innovative programs and expanded opportunities will not, in and of themselves, make a difference if each of us, as parents and as community leaders, fail to do our part by encouraging excellence in our children.  (Applause.)  Government programs alone won’t get our children to the Promised Land.  We need a new mind set, a new set of attitudes — because one of the most durable and destructive legacies of discrimination is the way we’ve internalized a sense of limitation; how so many in our community have come to expect so little from the world and from themselves.

We’ve got to say to our children, yes, if you’re African American, the odds of growing up amid crime and gangs are higher.  Yes, if you live in a poor neighborhood, you will face challenges that somebody in a wealthy suburb does not have to face.  But that’s not a reason to get bad grades — (applause) — that’s not a reason to cut class — (applause) — that’s not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school.  (Applause.)  No one has written your destiny for you.  Your destiny is in your hands — you cannot forget that.  That’s what we have to teach all of our children.  No excuses.  (Applause.)  No excuses.

You get that education, all those hardships will just make you stronger, better able to compete.  Yes we can.  (Applause.)

To parents — to parents, we can’t tell our kids to do well in school and then fail to support them when they get home.  (Applause.)  You can’t just contract out parenting.  For our kids to excel, we have to accept our responsibility to help them learn.  That means putting away the Xbox — (applause) — putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour.  (Applause.)  It means attending those parent-teacher conferences and reading to our children and helping them with their homework.  (Applause.)

And by the way, it means we need to be there for our neighbor’s sons and daughters.  (Applause.)  We need to go back to the time, back to the day when we parents saw somebody, saw some kid fooling around and — it wasn’t your child, but they’ll whup you anyway.  (Laughter and applause.)  Or at least they’ll tell your parents — the parents will.  You know.  (Laughter.)  That’s the meaning of community.  That’s how we can reclaim the strength and the determination and the hopefulness that helped us come so far; helped us make a way out of no way.

It also means pushing our children to set their sights a little bit higher.  They might think they’ve got a pretty good jump shot or a pretty good flow, but our kids can’t all aspire to be LeBron or Lil Wayne.  (Applause.)  I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers — (applause) — doctors and teachers — (applause) — not just ballers and rappers.  I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court Justice.  (Applause.)  I want them aspiring to be the President of the United States of America.  (Applause.)

I want their horizons to be limitless.  I don’t — don’t tell them they can’t do something.  Don’t feed our children with a sense of — that somehow because of their race that they cannot achieve.

Yes, government must be a force for opportunity.  Yes, government must be a force for equality.  But ultimately, if we are to be true to our past, then we also have to seize our own future, each and every day.

And that’s what the NAACP is all about.  The NAACP was not founded in search of a handout.  The NAACP was not founded in search of favors.  The NAACP was founded on a firm notion of justice; to cash the promissory note of America that says all of our children, all God’s children, deserve a fair chance in the race of life.  (Applause.)

It’s a simple dream, and yet one that all too often has been denied — and is still being denied to so many Americans.  It’s a painful thing, seeing that dream denied.  I remember visiting a Chicago school in a rough neighborhood when I was a community organizer, and some of the children gathered ’round me.  And I remember thinking how remarkable it was that all of these children seemed so full of hope, despite being born into poverty, despite being delivered, in some cases, into addiction, despite all the obstacles they were already facing — you could see that spark in their eyes.  They were the equal of children anywhere.

And I remember the principal of the school telling me that soon that sparkle would begin to dim, that things would begin to change; that soon, the laughter in their eyes would begin to fade; that soon, something would shut off inside, as it sunk in — because kids are smarter than we give them credit for — as it sunk in that their hopes would not come to pass — not because they weren’t smart enough, not because they weren’t talented enough, not because of anything about them inherently, but because, by accident of birth, they had not received a fair chance in life.

I know what can happen to a child who doesn’t have that chance.  But I also know what can happen to a child that does.  I was raised by a single mom.  I didn’t come from a lot of wealth.  I got into my share of trouble as a child.  My life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.  When I drive through Harlem or I drive through the South Side of Chicago and I see young men on the corners, I say, there but for the grace of God go I.  (Applause.)  They’re no less gifted than me.  They’re no less talented than me.

But I had some breaks.  That mother of mine, she gave me love; she pushed me, she cared about my education; she took no lip; she taught me right from wrong.  Because of her, I had a chance to make the most of my abilities.  I had the chance to make the most of my opportunities.  I had the chance to make the most of life.

The same story holds true for Michelle.  The same story holds true for so many of you.  And I want all the other Barack Obamas out there, and all the other Michelle Obamas out there — (applause) — to have the same chance — the chance that my mother gave me; that my education gave me; that the United States of America has given me.  That’s how our union will be perfected and our economy rebuilt.  That is how America will move forward in the next 100 years.

And we will move forward.  This I know — for I know how far we have come.  Some, you saw, last week in Ghana, Michelle and I took Malia and Sasha and my mother-in-law to Cape Coast Castle, in Ghana.  Some of you may have been there.  This is where captives were once imprisoned before being auctioned; where, across an ocean, so much of the African American experience began.

We went down into the dungeons where the captives were held.  There was a church above one of the dungeons — which tells you something about saying one thing and doing another.  (Applause.)  I was — we walked through the “Door Of No Return.”  I was reminded of all the pain and all the hardships, all the injustices and all the indignities on the voyage from slavery to freedom.

But I was reminded of something else.  I was reminded that no matter how bitter the rod, how stony the road, we have always persevered.  (Applause.)  We have not faltered, nor have we grown weary.  As Americans, we have demanded, and strived for, and shaped a better destiny.  And that is what we are called on to do once more.  NAACP, it will not be easy.  It will take time.  Doubts may rise and hopes may recede.

But if John Lewis could brave Billy clubs to cross a bridge — (applause) — then I know young people today can do their part and lift up our community.  (Applause.)

If Emmet Till’s uncle, Mose Wright, could summon the courage to testify against the men who killed his nephew, I know we can be better fathers and better brothers and better mothers and sisters in our own families.  (Applause.)

If three civil rights workers in Mississippi — black, white, Christian and Jew, city-born and country-bred — could lay down their lives in freedom’s cause, I know we can come together to face down the challenges of our own time.   (Applause.)  We can fix our schools — (applause) — we can heal our sick, we can rescue our youth from violence and despair.  (Applause.)

And 100 years from now, on the 200th anniversary of the NAACP — (applause) — let it be said that this generation did its part; that we too ran the race; that full of faith that our dark past has taught us, full of the hope that the present has brought us — (applause) — we faced, in our lives and all across this nation, the rising sun of a new day begun.  (Applause.)

Thank you,  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

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politics

Nashala’s Story — Back Story from Obama Cairo Speech

Nashala’s Story — Back Story from Obama Cairo Speech

READ ALL OF NASHALA”S STORY ON THE WHITE HOUSE BLOG

In 2004, Nashala Hearn was beginning sixth grade in Muskogee, Oklahoma. At the time, the 12-year-old began wearing a hijab – a Muslim headscarf – to school. While not all Muslim girls wear headscarves, some Muslims interpret the Islamic requirement of modesty to require the headscarf.

After wearing the hijab to school for several weeks without incident, Nashala was told by school officials that her headscarf conflicted with the school’s “no hats” policy, and that she could not continue to wear it.   She and her parents told school officials that wearing the hijab was required by her faith and that she could not stop wearing it. When she continued to come to school wearing the headscarf, she was suspended from school twice.

Nashala’s decision to wear a headscarf was protected by the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and religious freedom.   Public primary and secondary schools, as well as public colleges and universities, should be open to all members of the public, regardless of their faith. Students should not face discrimination or harassment because of their faith background, beliefs, religious expression, or distinctive religious dress.

And so, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division stepped in to protect Nashala’s rights to equal protection of the law to wear a hijab.
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President Obama In The Middle East with Full Text of His Cairo Speech

President Obama In The Middle East with Full Text of His Cairo Speech

This page will provide all relevant links regarding the President’s Trip.

LATEST HUFFPO REPORT WITH VIDEO


SETTING THE CAIRO SCENE FROM SWAMPLAND

CLICK HERE FOR LINKS TO HIS CAIRO SPEECH AT THE WHITE HOUSE SIDE

COMMENT TROVE: Yglesias | Swamp | Politico

From the White House Site:

The history of the relationship between America and the Muslim World is deeper and more complex than the common perception might suggest. Thomas Jefferson taught himself Arabic using his own Quran kept in his personal library, and had the first known presidential Iftaar by breaking fast with the Tunisian Ambassador at sunset. President Dwight Eisenhower attended the dedication ceremony of the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. on June 28, 1957. President Bill Clinton issued the first presidential greeting for Ramadan, appointed the first Muslim American ambassador, M. Osman Siddique, to Fiji, and sent the first presidential Eid al-Adha greeting to Muslims. And one year after President George W. Bush placed the Holy Quran in the White House library in 2005, Representative Keith Ellison took the oath of office on the same Quran owned by Thomas Jefferson two hundred years before.

With his speech in Cairo, the President will lay another marker, addressing America’s relationship with the Muslim World in the heart of the Middle East. Whereas the past years and decades have deepened the rift in that relationship, the President will seek a new start by opening up a serious, honest dialogue to find areas of common interest where we agree, and new ways of communication where we do not. By continuing unprecedented outreach to the Muslim World, the President is strengthening national security and opening up new opportunities to address some of the problems that have seemed so intractable over recent years.

CLICK FOR THE ORGANIZING FOR AMERICA BLOG LINK FOR THE PRESIDENT’S SPEECH

FULL TEXT OF PRESIDENT OBAMA’S CAIRO SPEECH

I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt’s advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.

We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. 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. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

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; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Quran tells us, Be conscious of God and speak always the truth. That is what I will try to do – to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America’s story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims. And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Quran that one of our Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson – kept in his personal library.

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words – within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: Out of many, one.

Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores – that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.

That does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: we must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America’s goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaida and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaida killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. 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.

That’s why we’re partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America’s commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths – more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Quran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.

We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $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. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future – and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq’s sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor 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. We will help Iraq train its Security Forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.

So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers – for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them – and all of us – to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

At the same time, 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. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel’s legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together … as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed — peace be upon them — joined in prayer.

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically- elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America’s interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.

I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshipped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of another’s. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld – whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt.

And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

Indeed, faith should bring us together. That is why we are forging service projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That is why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah’s Interfaith dialogue and Turkey’s leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into Interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action – whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

The sixth issue — the sixth issue that I want to address is women’s rights.

I know, and you can tell from this audience, that there is a healthy debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal. But I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality.

And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well- educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now let me be clear, issues of women’s equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, we’ve seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead.

Meanwhile, the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life and in countries around the world. I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons.

Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity, men and women, to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal. And I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice.

That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim- majority country to support expanded literacy for girls and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address, but we have a responsibility to join together to behalf of the world that we seek, a world where extremists no longer threaten our people and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes, a world where governments serve their citizens and the rights of all God’s children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together. I know there are many, Muslim and non-Muslim, who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn’t worth the effort, that we are fated to disagree and civilizations are doomed to clash.

Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There is so much fear, so much mistrust that has built up over the years. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith in every country. You more than anyone have the ability to reimagine the world, the remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart or whether we commit ourselves to an effort, a sustained effort to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It’s easier to start wars than to end them. It’s easier to blame others than to look inward. It’s easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is one rule that lies at the heart of every religion, that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

This truth transcends nations and peoples, a belief that isn’t new, that isn’t black or white or brown, that isn’t Christian or Muslim or Jew. It’s a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It’s a faith in other people. And it’s what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written. The Holy Quran tells us, Mankind, we have created you male and a female. And we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.

The Talmud tells us, The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.

The Holy Bible tells us, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

Thank you. And may God’s peace be upon you. Thank you very much.

Thank you.

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