Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Moro Leaders Laud Obama’s Speech

COTABATO, Philippines – US President Barack Hussein Obama has called for “a new beginning” in the relationship between America and the Muslim World.

“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” Obama said in a speech that delivered in the Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt last Thursday.

Obama acknowledged the contributions of the Muslims to human civilization.

He said: “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,” Obama continued.

The US President also acknowledged how colonialism “denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims,” in the speech described by Mohagher Iqbal as “perfectly made.”

Iqbal, himself an author of many books, is the chair of the Peace Panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in its peace negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

“What is still lacking is action. That will come later, hope soon,” Iqbal said.

Professor Moner Bajunaid, the executive director of the Mindanao Integrated Development (MIND) Center, Inc., a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Cotabato City lauded Obama’s speech as “well written.”

“It spells out his vision of peace in the Middle East and the world. It is well balanced, something for all parties. It is full of Quranic verses. At times the speech sounds like a lecture but somehow he balances it by pointing out Islam’s heritage to civilization,” Bajunaid further said.

On his part, Rahib Kudto, the national president of the United Youth for Peace and Development, Inc. (UNYPAD), another NGO that is based in Cotabato City, said:

“President Barack Obama is the only non-Muslim President I have known that has expressively recognized Islam as a source of knowledge and peace. He is a man of hope and unity.”

“Good but let’s see action,” was the brief reply of Jun Mantawil, the chair of the secretariat of the MILF Peace Panel, when he was asked about his comment on the speech of Obama.

Guinandang Bansilan, a retired government employee, in Kabacan town in North Cotabato, remarked: “That is the best speech (of a US president) so far. It urges the unity of the entire world."

Meanwhile, Professor Abhoud Syed Lingga, the executive director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies (IBS), in a statement he issued June 5, described Obama’s speech as “a landmark as far as relations between the Muslim world and the United States is concerned” and that “if followed by concrete actions it will certainly change the landscape of the relationship in the future.”

“Although short of specifics but the speech was the boldest, balanced and frank statement coming from a president of the United States.

“His acknowledgment of the Muslim’s contributions to human civilization and in building the American nation, as well as the suffering of Muslims under colonialism, is a good starter for fruitful dialogue between the U.S. and the Muslim world,” Lingga explained.

Lingga appreciated Obama’s “candidness in discussing the major sources of tension and what he intends to do in addressing them.”

“Specifically,” Lingga said, “what interest me are his proposals on engaging the Muslims through education, science and technology and economic development. These programs will not only benefit Muslims in Muslim-majority countries but also Muslim minorities like the Bangsamoro people.”

“The concept of creating ‘a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries’ is indeed interesting because it juxtaposes with the idea that I always hold that development of Muslim communities in the Bangsamoro homeland has to be driven by Bangsamoro entrepreneurship to be sustainable, not by programs of government and aid agencies,” further noted Lingga.

Lingga, however, clarified that Obama’s reference to “America and Islam” can be “confusing” since “the two are not the same.”

He stressed that “while America is a nation, Islam is a religion, a way of life. Defining the similarities and differences would have been clear if the term ‘Muslim world’ is used to refer to the collectivity of Muslim nation-states and the Muslim minorities.”

“Although he made the commitment that as president of the United States he will fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear but no mention as to what he will do to change the perception of around 46 percent of the respondents of the latest survey in the United States who held unfavorable view of Muslim countries,” Lingga concluded.

Catrina Malingawa, vice chair of the United Youth of the Philippines, Inc. (UNYPHIL-Women), in its Davao Oriental provincial chapter, appreciated Obama’s emphasis on respecting Muslims’ culture especially “on wearing hijab for Muslim women.”

“Islam,” according to Obama, “is part of America.”

“The Holy Koran tells us: ‘O 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,” thus, Obama concluded his speech. (Taher G. Solaiman. The author is the President of the Cotabato Center for Peace and Development Initiatives, Inc. in Carmen, Cotabato province in Mindanao.)

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