The ONLY active voice for American Arab Journalists.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Israeli sitcom uses humor to shatter stereotypes of Arab citizens

Arab Labor: A humorous sitcom that turns tragedy into understanding

By Ray Hanania

The life of an Arab citizen is anything but funny. Just ask my relatives who live in several Israeli cities. Non-Jews in a Jewish world caught on the edge of the wall that separates Palestinians from Israelis.

Yet, that’s exactly the premise of a sitcom that was a hit last year and is in its second season on Israeli TV called “Arab Labor.”

The sitcom is the brainchild of Palestinian writer Sayed Kashua and produced by Israeli Danny Paran. Even in our everyday language, you might note, Arab citizens of Israeli are still spoken of as if they are not a part of the larger Israeli society.

A sizable 20 percent of Israel’s population, the Christian and Muslim Palestinians rarely get any real or substantive airtime on Israeli television, outside of the news reports which, like most Western media, portray them purely in a negative light.

“Arab Labor” is a mild translation of the sitcom’s Hebrew name, Avoda Aravit, which is slang for “sloppy workmanship,” a derisive stereotype of the Arabs of Israel.

Yet under all this, Kashua may have achieved one of the most brilliant portrayals of the challenging life Arabs in Israel face every day. And using humor, he may have presented it in the only way most Israelis are willing to see it, one filled with racism, suspicion, distrust and stereotypes that must be brought out into the open if they are ever to be one-day healed. Because healing is something Arabs and Israelis need very badly.

Kashua’s remarkably captivating series focuses on the life of one Arab, Amjad Aliyan (Norman Issa), a journalist working for a Hebrew language Israeli magazine. Around him are his wife (Bushra played by Clara Khoury), daughter (Maya, played by Fatma Yihye), his parents, the rascal-like Ismael (Salim Dau) and cautious Umm Amjad (Salwa Nakra). Dau happens to be the head of the Arab Theater in Haifa.

What is really impressive is how the insignificant in life becomes the symbol of the very significance of the relationship between Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis.

Each episode of the sitcom focuses on one underlying challenge set in the broader theater of life. The first episode cuts right to the chase when Amjad is driving through the checkpoints – remember, he is a “citizen” of Israel – and he wonders how is it that the Israeli soldiers know how to single him out and pull him aside for constant inspection. He asks his daughter to please make sure not to speak Arabic and greet the soldiers in English. And of course, the daughter, in her best formal and religious Arabic, warmly and effusively greets the soldiers, who immediately check all their papers.

But his Israeli friend explains the reason for his daily harassment isn’t the way he looks, dresses or “smells,” but rather the car he drives.

Amjad drives a Subaru, his friends notes. And Subarus are only driven by the most extreme Israeli settlers who wear a yarmulke on their heads, or by Arabs.

So Amjad determines to buy a new car, through his father, who negotiates a purchase price and sale price and his double-sided commissions.

But in the process of lampooning something as subtle as the car you drive, other idiosyncrasies of Arab-Israeli life emerge. If you wear a seat belt in an Israeli licensed plated car through an Arab village in Israel, you must be an Israeli undercover agent with the Shin Bet.

Amjad engages in an argument about another subtle but serious topic. Why are there more accidents in the Arab communities in Israel than in the Jewish communities? Because of Arab culture of the fact that Arab villages and cities get so little funding their roads and infrastructure are dilapidated and eroded, causing more accidents.

Only a person who lives this life can see these details and expertly turn them into a humorous debate about everyday life.

In another episode, Amjad hears from his father about an Arab shepherd who has on goat who, when the Israeli soldiers pull him over for inspection, uses his snout to pull out the shepherd’s ID card from the shepherd’s pocket. When they try to recreate the scene for the magazine story and photograph, the goat is shy. So they stage it, of course. And once everyone is gone, the goat does precisely what he was acclaimed to do.

And in another episode, Amjad and his wife discuss placing their young but clever daughter in kindergarten, rather than leaving them to learn about life from the wily roguish grandfather.

So, they enroll her at an Arab school which happens to be religious. The daughter doesn’t want to go to the school but decides to go to excess in her religious transformation to shock her father into removing her. He then takes her to an Israeli school, called the Peace School.

That sounds innocent enough until they are told they have never had an Arab enroll at the Israeli school. And yes, while the name is “Peace” they never expected it to mean it might attract Arab children to mix with the Jewish children.

Unheard of, and shocking.

Episode after episode draws the viewer through the maze of conflicts that make of the reality of Arab-Jewish life in Israel.

The sitcom is broadcast in Hebrew with English sub-titles that are easy to read and understand. Words are often mistranslated to disguise the more obvious racism that sometimes exists in dialect and speech patterns and habits.

But the biggest tragedy is that most Arabs will not be able to see “Arab Labor,” because there are no cable or TV systems that are of any real reach that can present this sitcom to the public in the United States or the in the Arab World.

The first season features 10 hilarious episodes from start to finish. You can purchase the DVD online at 300 minutes on 2 disks, the DVD sells for an bargain price of only $34.98. Or, you can purchase it from its American distributor, “Cinema Purgatorio”

I urge you to get it. Not to laugh at the foibles of human tragedy, but rather to understand through the only medium that permits understanding in the emotion-charged Arab-Israeli conflict, humor.

(An award winning Palestinian American columnist, standup comedian and Chicago radio talk show host, Ray Hanania is the 2009 Winner of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He can be reached at

Sunday, June 14, 2009

2009 Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award given to Ray Hanania



June 14, 2009


Laila Mehdi Hilfinger


Family of Pioneer Journalist Dr. M.T. Mehdi announces

2009 Courage in Journalism Award recipient

(Seattle) – The family of the late Dr. Mohammad T. Mehdi, a pioneer in American Arab journalism, announced this week that the 2009 Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award has been awarded to Palestinian American journalist and radio talk show host Ray Hanania.

For more than 30 years Ray Hanania has written and reported on the story of Palestine and on the lives of Arab Americans. “I am deeply honored to receive this award,” said Hanania when he got the call from Beverlee Mehdi Bolton, chair of the award committee. “Being an Arab journalist in America has always been a tough career choice. Dr. Mehdi was my hero and always cheered me on.”

Hanania is a three-time recipient of the Society of Professional Journalism Lisagor Award for Column writing and was named Best Ethnic American Columnist in America by the New America Media. He hosts the daily “Mornings with Ray Hanania” on Radio Chicago and WJJG 1530 AM, and a weekly cable television program on Comcast that reaches 145 suburban communities around Chicago. Hanania is senior columnist for the Southwest News-Herald Newspaper, writes for the, Arab News in Saudi Arabia, and is Managing Editor of

“My mother wanted me to be a doctor like many of my cousins and relatives, but as a young person I saw immediately how unfair Arabs and Muslims were mistreated by the mainstream media,” Hanania said.

The Mehdi Family established the Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award in 1999 to recognize journalists who dedicated themselves to challenging injustice in society and reflecting the principles of fairness, truthfulness and courage displayed by Dr. Mehdi, whose publication “Action Newspaper” was one of the first English and Arabic publications in the United States to speak to mainstream and American Arab issues here and abroad.

The award committee comprised of Anisa Mehdi, Janan Mehdi Chandler, Laila Mehdi Hilfinger and their mother, Beverlee Mehdi Bolton, said that Ray Hanania showed stalwart courage in a career that has spanned more than three decades, dating back to his own first contacts with Dr. Mehdi in the 1970s.

“The Mehdi family is very pleased to give this year’s award to Ray Hanania. Many in the American Arab community and in mainstream journalism know Hanania’s work well. He does not shy away from controversy, nor does he hesitate in proudly declaring his Arab heritage in his writings and in his many media enterprises,” said family spokesperson Laila Mehdi Hilfinger, a graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

“My father believed that journalism was an important profession for American Arabs and Muslims. He demonstrated that media could be a means of achieving justice, educating the uninformed, and bringing about fairness and peace,” said Anisa Mehdi, an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist. “He saw media as opportunity, not enemy.”

Hanania entered journalism in 1976, publishing an American Arab newspaper called The Middle Eastern Voice in Arabic and English. His mentor was Dr. M.T. Mehdi who encouraged him to pursue journalism not as a hobby but as a career. In 1977, Hanania joined the Daily Southtown community newspaper in Chicago and quickly became its star columnist. In 1985, he was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times. Hanania covered Chicago City Hall for both newspapers from 1977 until 1991. While at City Hall, Hanania hosted a weekend live radio talk show on WLS Radio. In 1993, he launched The Villager Newspapers, 12 community papers that were later purchased by Liberty Media. Later he launched The Arab American Voice, a newspaper to record the achievements and events of the American Arab community.

“There was one light where I could find the truth and fairness and that was in the pages of Action Newspaper which was published by Mohammad Mehdi,” said Hanania, when he got the news that he was this year’s winner. “Dr. Mehdi often called to support me in staying the course. Being an Arab journalist in America has always been a tough career choice, with all the hurdles we face in light of the conflict in the Middle East. And it remains critical now. But being an Arab journalist in America in the 1970s was an even greater challenge that exacted a high price, like threats, arson, and arrest. But Dr. Mehdi stayed the course and he was a great role model for everyone who pursued journalism and who believed that a true journalist applied principle, not prejudice to issues in our society and world. I am very humbled and proud to receive this award.”

Prior awardees include former Chicago Tribune columnist Salim Muwakkil, former Chicago news anchor Mike Mansour, the staff of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East correspondent Stephen Franklin, syndicated columnist Charley Reese, the Beirut Times Newspaper, RAWI Arab Writers association, writer Joseph Zogby, syndicated columnist John Sugg, and al-Jazeera Television.

The Mehdi Courage in Journalism award comes with an $800 prize. This year’s award is co-sponsored by the Mehdi Family, the National Arab American Journalists Association (NAAJA), and by, one of the largest American Arab journalism sites on the Internet.

“I feel my father’s work is being continued through Ray Hanania. Ray has shown the same dedication, commitment and bravery as my father. It is an honor to present this award to such a treasured and worthy journalist,” said Janan Mehdi Chandler, a Toronto school teacher.


Monday, June 08, 2009

President Obama congratulates Lebanon's voters

Office of the Press Secretary
June 8, 2009

Statement by the President regarding the elections in Lebanon

I congratulate the people of Lebanon for holding a peaceful election yesterday. The high turnout and the candidates – too many of whom know personally the violence that has marred Lebanon – are the strongest indications yet of the Lebanese desire for security and prosperity. Once more, the people of Lebanon have demonstrated to the world their courage and the strength of their commitment to democracy.

The United States will continue to support a sovereign and independent Lebanon, committed to peace, including the full implementation of all United Nations Security Council Resolutions. It is our sincere hope that the next government will continue along the path towards building a sovereign, independent and stable Lebanon.

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. Commitment to these principles of peace and moderation are the best means to secure a sovereign and prosperous Lebanon.


Saturday, June 06, 2009

Arab World reactions to President Obama's speech


Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release
June 6, 2009

President Obama's Speech to Muslim Communities around the World

Summary of Reactions

June 6, 2009

U.S. Embassies and Consulates and intelligence analysts submitted the following reactions to the President's speech in Cairo. The reactions are garnered from news reports in local new media and traditional media and from individual conversations.

Top Line

According to an online poll being conducted by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), reactions to US President Obama's 4 June speech in Cairo continue to be overwhelmingly positive, according to an ongoing online poll conducted by Maktoob Research. More than 75 percent of respondents in these countries who have taken part in the poll said they viewed the speech favorably. In addition, more than half thought⿿based on the President⿿s speech⿿that US policies toward the Arab world and toward their individual countries would improve. More than 40 percent agreed strongly that the US intends to promote the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian state, for example, while more than 50 percent strongly agreed that the US intends to promote a solution to the Iraq war that would benefit the Arab world.

Summary of Outreach

*Over 100 viewing parties, discussions, or other events were held by embassies and consulates from Bolivia to Uzbekistan.

*Posts (embassies or consulates) "tweeted" along with the speech in 7 countries. These twitter discussions continue with hundreds of people tweeting about their reactions to the speech.

*30+ posts used Facebook to enhance outreach either ahead of the event, to chat during and after the event, or to follow wall posts and status updates. The White House Facebook page has over 236,000 fans who left thousands of comments about the speech. We had over 1200 confirmed "guests" for the online event. About 1,500 people liked our video on Muslim Americans (see it <> here) with about 235 giving us a "thumbs down".

*An estimated more than 20,000 people received information about the speech or quotes from the speech through SMS text messages.

*On our <> YouTube site, the President⿿s speech has been viewed over 550,000 times. The <> Muslims in America clip received: Arabic 10k hits, Pashto 4k hits, Punjabi 25k hits, Persian 11k hits, other languages 45k. 7 posts linked posted YouTube videos on their websites or linked to the WH video of the event.

*In Sierra Leone, the Embassy funded viewing events through 11 cinema centers so that 1,000 people would be able to watch the event who would not have otherwise been able to.

*In India, approximately 200 million Indians listened to or watched the speech live.

*Many posts hand delivered copies of the speech to Imams, politicians, and other community leaders.

*5 Ambassadors chatted online with groups watching the event

Interesting Anecdotes:

"Obama spoke clearly about the universal values we share⿦People appreciated the phrases and lines taken from the Holy Quran. Hopefully, this is not lip service only, but will be followed up with concrete action. Unfortunately, as Obama knows, achieving his goals will be difficult, because there are but few saladins in this era who genuinely want to make Palestine a holy land for all human kind, instead of one religion only." -Dalail, head of Muhammadiyah in North Sumatra, Medan, Indonesia (June 4)

The Consul-General in Sydney gathered 40 Muslim community leaders and national media to watch the speech at her residence. Sydney⿿s Muslim community is normally divided with little mixing across among the Turkish, Lebanese, and Indonesian majority groups, but President Obama⿿s speech brought them together, together with a Jewish leader the CG invited.

"I like that Obama emphasized that every nation has the right to pick its own system of government."-graduate student in China at speech-viewing program (June 4)

Manila: the day of the speech, during her trip Zamboanga in southwestern Mindanao, Ambassador Kenney talked about that evening⿿s speech to a group of 116 sixteen-to-nineteen-year-olds participating in the Cultures Across Mindanao (CAMP) youth camp, which builds understanding and peace advocacy among teenagers of different religions and cultures in Mindanao.

Eritrea: Students at an Embassy viewing were happy with the emphasis on democracy and the equality of all human beings. They were pleased with President Obama⿿s readiness to resolve disputes and differences peacefully and to engage in dialogue as opposed to violence. Some, however, felt that choosing the venue of Cairo was an endorsement of Egyptian⿿s human rights records and government. Some expressed that President Obama should have selected a venue that is in turmoil such as Somalia.

In Mexico, commentators echoed calls for actions to follow the good words of the speech, but even those could be surprisingly positive ⿿ left-wing Mexican La Jornada tempered its reaction in an editorial: "this reconciliation cannot be accomplished through a speech regardless how brilliant it was. But this change of tone makes it possible to imagine [a new era] where Bush⿿s catastrophic heritage is transcended.

In Afghanistan, we hosted events in Kabul, Herat, and Jalalabad featuring online post-speech discussion using Adobe Co.Nx. Another post-speech panel featuring fifty religious leaders and students focused on the responsibility of Afghans to respond to Obama⿿s message with responsible actions.

In Pakistan, three events in Karachi and Lahore produced positive post-speech discussion on major networks and newspapers. Commentary was very positive in recognition of the "new tone from Washington" but underscored the need for actions that match the rhetoric.

More details in key regions/countries

Afghanistan: U.S. missions hosted events in Kabul, Herat, and Jalalabad featuring online post-speech discussion using Adobe Co.Nx. A post-speech panel featuring fifty Afghan religious leaders and student focused on the responsibility of Afghans to respond to Obama⿿s message by outlining what they want for their society and a relationship with the West. The panel discussion was taped by national television carrier RTV and will air this weekend. The speech was carried live by BBC and RTV; Pasthun language Shamshad TV and Arianna-TV (Dari) will air the speech again this weekend.

*BBC Afghan Service carried the speech live with translation. VOA⿿s Radio Deewa and RFE/RL⿿s Radio Azadi both carried the speech audio live with subsequent discussion and call-in shows. Afghan reaction in those broadcasts was positive.

*State-owned RTA (national TV) aired the speech live and had exclusive coverage rights to film the subsequent panel discussion at the Government Media Information Center. It will broadcast the event in its entirety this weekend.

*Pashto language Shamshad TV and Dari language Arianna will both air the speech on Friday, both of which were made possible the timely delivery of translations.

*Advertised President Obama⿿s Speech through both Facebook (500+ fans) and Twitter (300+followers).

*New media updates and messages to national and international press included advertising and links for IIP⿿s SMS texting service, the CO.NX webchat, and Embassy Kabul⿿s webchat directly after speech.

*A post-speech webchat with Deputy Ambassador Ricciardone, Assistant Ambassador Mussomeli, and Political Chief Alan Yu answered over 40 questions from over 100 participants including those linked electronically at Lincoln Centers.

*Kabul⿿s MIST team sent SMS messages to 236 young Afghans who expressed interest in receiving information on feedback sheets from the McCurry exhibit and PD publications; invited audience to send their reactions via text message.

India: In India, home to 150 million Muslims, reaction was swift and effusive. Our missions in New Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai hosted viewing events, panel discussions, and conducted post-speech interviews with all the major Indian media. Our Public Affairs Officer in New Delhi hand-delivered a copy of the speech to the Sufi Imam, which became its own media event, featuring laudatory remarks for the President and a group of Qwaali singers praising God and the "righteous leader President Obama." It is estimated that more than 200 million Indians witnessed first-hand the speech or coverage of a discussion or event connected to the speech.

*All Indian TV channels and networks went live with President Obama⿿s speech, including the national broadcaster Doordarshan (viewership: 450 million), Aajtak (viewership: 31 million) NDTV 24X7 (viewership: 16 million), NDTV India (viewership: 26 million), Zee TV (viewership: 20 million), Star TV (viewership: 24 million), Sahara TV (viewership: 11 million), CNN-IBN (20 million) and TIMES NOW (20 million).

Lebanon: Media outlets covered the President⿿s speech extensively, despite intense attention on Sunday⿿s parliamentary election. Newspapers front-paged the speech with long segments printed in full. All outlets, excluding, as is to be expected, Hizballah⿿s Al Manar, were impressed with the skillful language and sensitivity to Muslims. Outlets highlighted the reference to Maronites in Lebanon, interpreting it as indicating Maronites are a minority, a sensitive issue here. Several commentators and editorialists raised concerns about achieving the aspirations discussed in the speech.

The speech dominated the mass media of the Middle East in a truly unprecedented manner. It was carried live by all major 24 hour Pan-Arab news networks, Israeli networks, Western-operated Persian networks, and even the Iranian-operated 24 hour Arab news network Al-Alam. Not surprisingly, Hizballah-operated Al-Manar TV, HAMAS-operated Al-Aqsa TV, Iranian national television, and Syrian national television failed to carry the speech live. However, Pro-HAMAS Al-Quds TV carried the speech live and translated in full. The full transcript of the speech was printed in dozens of newspapers throughout the region including the top two Pan-Arab newspapers out of London, Al-Hayat and Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.

Pakistan: Three events in Karachi and Lahore produced positive post-speech discussion on major networks and newspapers. Commentary was very positive in recognition of the "new tone from Washington" but underscored the need for actions that match the rhetoric.

*Consulate Lahore hosted twenty editors, religious leaders, political figures, academics, and businesspeople for viewing and discussion. Guests all agreed it was a good, sincere speech, but called for actions that reinforce the message. One 20-year old attendee called it "the most appropriate confidence-building measure America could give the world."

*American Consulate General Karachi hosted a group of 78 for a live presentation of the speech and post-speech discussion at the Consul General⿿s Residence, including students from Karachi University, members of Rotract (youth affiliate of the Rotary Club), religious clerics, journalists and media representatives, exchange alumni and members of the business community, with an emphasis on young people. The audience was encouraged to complete feedback forms and website link set up to share their thoughts and observations on the speech. PAS distributed the IIP publication, "Obama in His Own Words;" many requests for additional books.

*Karachi also organized a viewing and discussion at the Lincoln Corner in Karachi. Fifteen students and volunteers of Jinnah University for Women and the Young Social Reformers attended the program. The speech was well received by the students and their overall impression was positive. IIP publications "Freedom of Faith" (an e-Journal) and "Mosques of America 2009" calendars were distributed to the audience.

Palestinian Territories: Palestinians warmly welcomed President Obama⿿s June 4 Address, applauded his outreach to Muslims and praised his specific comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians felt the President used the "right language" and struck a blow at extremists, such as Al Qaeda. Palestinians applauded the President⿿s repeated use of "Palestine" and his recognition of Palestinian suffering since 1948, but want more specifics on the steps he will take to realize a Palestinian state. Young Palestinians expressed this frustration more strongly than did those of an older generation. Students said they will only be confident of U.S. support when they see new actions on the ground. Older Palestinians were more willing to be patient as the Obama administration tries to achieve results. Official Palestinian Authority and PLO reactions were positive, welcoming the President⿿s strong commitment to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. HAMAS said !
the speech reflected a "tangible change in ⿦rhetoric and policies" but that it was "full of contradictions."


Thursday, June 04, 2009

President Barack Obama speech to Cairo University and the Muslim World



Cairo University
Cairo, Egypt

1:10 P.M. (Local)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much. Good afternoon. 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. And together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I'm grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. And I'm 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. (Applause.)

We meet at a time of great 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 11, 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. All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.

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

I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on 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. I know there's been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other 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 Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." (Applause.) That is what I will try to do today -- 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.

Now part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I'm 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 at 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 -- 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 -- (applause) -- 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. (Applause.)

I also know 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, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they've excelled in our sports arenas, they've 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 Koran that one of our Founding Fathers -- Thomas Jefferson -- kept in his personal library. (Applause.)

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. (Applause.)

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. (Applause.) 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."

Now, much has been made of the fact that an African American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. (Applause.) 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 -- and that includes nearly 7 million American Muslims in our country today who, by the way, enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average. (Applause.)

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state in our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That's why the United States 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. (Applause.)

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. When innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. (Applause.) 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.

And this is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of 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 to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared. (Applause.)

Now, 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 as 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. (Applause.) 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 Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice; we went because of necessity. I'm aware that there's still some who would question or even justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: Al Qaeda 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.

Now, make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military -- 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 now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

And that's why we're partnering with a coalition of 46 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 -- but 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 Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as -- it is as if he has killed all mankind. (Applause.) And the Holy Koran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. (Applause.) 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.

Now, we also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's 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've been displaced. That's why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend on.

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. (Applause.) 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. And I have made it clear to the Iraqi people -- (applause) -- 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. And that's 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 of our troops from Iraq by 2012. (Applause.) 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 or forget our principles. Nine-eleven 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 traditions and 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. (Applause.)

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, it is ignorant, and it is 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 60 years they've 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. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. (Applause.)

For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It's easy to point fingers -- for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about 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. (Applause.)

That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. And that is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires. (Applause.) The obligations -- 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 it 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 neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is claimed; that's 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 to recognize they have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, 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. (Applause.) This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop. (Applause.)

And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. 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 a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

And 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 we will say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. (Applause.) 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 been shed. 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 the 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 -- (applause) -- as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer. (Applause.)

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 in fact 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've 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.

I recognize 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's 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 nation holds nuclear weapons. And that's why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. (Applause.) 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'm hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy. (Applause.)

I know -- 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 by 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. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere. (Applause.)

Now, 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're out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. (Applause.) So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would 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.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Barack Obama, we love you!

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) 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 worshiped 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 and the heart and the soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it's being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there's a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of somebody else's faith. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld -- whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. (Applause.) And if we are being honest, 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's why I'm 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 can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

In fact, faith should bring us together. And that's why we're forging service projects in America to bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That's 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. (Applause.) I know –- 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. (Applause.) 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. (Applause.) 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. And 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. (Applause.)

Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence into the home. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and change in communities. In all nations -- including America -- this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we lose control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities -- those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradictions between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies enormously while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

And this is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf states have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century -- (applause) -- and in too many Muslim communities, there remains underinvestment in these areas. I'm emphasizing such investment within my own country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas when it comes to this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America. (Applause.) At the same time, we will encourage more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in online learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.

On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create more jobs. We'll open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new science envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, grow new crops. Today I'm announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on 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's 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, to 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's one rule that lies at the heart of every religion -- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. (Applause.) 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 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." (Applause.)

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. (Applause.)

END 2:05 P.M. (Local)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Obama's press secretary gives overview of Obama speech to Middle East

Office of the Press Secretary
(Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
For Immediate Release
June 3, 2009


Marriott Filing Center
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

7:20 P.M (Local)

MR. GIBBS: Thank you guys for coming. We'll do this in a couple of different waves. First I will have Ben Rhodes come up and walk you guys through a little bit of the structure of the President's speech tomorrow, with a full understanding that the President is still working on the text. Next we'll have Denis McDonough walk you through a readout of the President's meeting with King Abdullah today. And then at the conclusion of that we'll take some questions.


MR. RHODES: Thanks. Well, as Robert said, the President is still working on the final text of the speech, so we'll get that when we have it. But he tends to work on these things to the wire.

Just to talk a little bit about what the structure of the speech is -- the President really sees this as an opportunity to continue a dialogue he's had since his inauguration -- you saw that in his Al Arabiya interview, in his Nowruz message, in his speech in Turkey, among other things -- to really start a new chapter of engagement between the United States and Muslim world.

Now, the foundation of that engagement as he sees it is the ability to engage each other on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interests. And in that light, he feels it's important to speak very openly and candidly about the very full range of issues that have caused some tensions between the United States and the Muslim world, and then also present a great deal of opportunity for partnership in the future.

To begin with, I think he'll take on directly some of the misperceptions that may have emerged as well as some of the differences that have emerged. I think he'll acknowledge the need for us to get to know each other better. As he has said, he'll, for instance, discuss the relationship between Islam and America within America, particularly in light of the contributions of American Muslims.

But then what he will do is really go through in a very thorough way a broad range of issues that have been at the forefront of the agenda: violent extremism and the threat that it poses, and what America has done in response; the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan and what we're doing there, and what we hope to do in the future in partnership with Afghans and Pakistanis. He'll discuss Iraq, both what we have done there and what we are doing in the future, again, to transition to Iraqi responsibility for Iraq. He'll discuss of course the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the broader Arab-Israeli issue, and acknowledging the fact that this has been a very important source of tension and passion for people of all faiths within this region and around the world, and he will discuss in some detail his view of the conflict and what needs to be done to resolve it. He will discuss both what that means in terms of Israelis and Palestinians and the United States and the Arab states, as well.

Then there's a broader set of issues that have also been -- or presented both causes for tension in the past but partnership in the future that have to do with areas such as democracy, human rights, and related issues to that. And so I think you'll see a forthright discussion in those areas.

And finally, though, the President is very committed to the positive partnerships that can be developed not just on the issues that I just discussed, where he thinks there's actually a very broader convergence of interests than has often been acknowledged or is often reflected in the debate, but also on issues that really matter in people's lives, in terms of economic development, in terms of education, in terms of health, in terms of science and technology; and the fact that as he said in Turkey, this can't just be what we're against; it has to be what we're for and what we can do together. And I think you'll see some concrete steps towards developing partnerships in these areas so that we can deepen engagement between the United States and Muslim communities, and point towards opportunity for all of our people.

And so that's really the broad framework of the speech. There's obviously a lot more that will be contained within that. There's a lot -- I don't want to preview the details of what he'll say on some of these more pressing challenges. I'll obviously leave that to him; he's far more equipped to do it. But that gives you a sense of it.

And there's been some interest in the process of the speech. The President has obviously been focused on the speech for a long time, dating back to the campaign. I will again, though, highlight that he's been focused on it as a part of an engagement, not an engagement in and of itself. So this is one step, not the final step. There will be further communication to come, just as we've already done a number of things.

But in terms of this speech, what he was very clear with us was to cast a wide net both within the U.S. government and outside of the U.S. government. So we talked to a broad range of experts in the government, but also in Washington and beyond. He was very adamant that that include Muslim Americans; there's a great number of Muslims who work in very important positions in the U.S. government on some of these issues. And he got engaged in this at a very early point and has basically provided all of the vision for what should be in the speech and a lot of the content. And for the last week he's really just been frequently holed up with his draft and editing it very heavily.

So we've benefitted from a broad range of views; we know the interest that is in the speech and we believe that we've reached out and tried to hear from and understand a lot of the views that are out there. But at the end of the day, the President has personally also been very invested in this, and I think you'll see that in the speech he gives tomorrow.


MR. GIBBS: Let me just bring Denis back in here to give you a readout of the meetings thus far.

MR. McDONOUGH: Thanks, Robert. And thank you, Ben.

The President and the delegation arrived in Saudi Arabia this afternoon at the airport and were greeted by a full official welcoming ceremony. From that we went to a series of delegation meetings, one at the airport very briefly, and then another at His Majesty's Farm. The meetings there consisted of a delegation meeting followed by a working lunch, including the entire delegation; then another short delegation meeting that was covered by the pool that I think you all saw. And then after a short break, the President and His Majesty went into a meeting, one on one, which I just confirmed is still going.

So obviously, as Robert suggested over the course of the last couple of days, the purpose of the visit is to stop in and see a very strategic and critical ally of the United States, to discuss a range of issues as it relates to energy, as it relates to Middle East peace, as it relates to Iran and other matters, and as much as anything, to underscore our shared interests in the region, as well, as Ben just talked about, the continuing effort the President has been undertaking here since the inauguration to reenergize a dialogue with the Muslim world.

The one thing I can report -- I'll be able to report more I think after we have a readout once the meeting finished, but it did start at about 5:00 p.m. and I think now it's 7:30 p.m. or so local, so it still continues, and we'll give you a further readout on that when it finishes up.

MR. RHODES: I should just add one more thing. As I went through the checklist in my head -- and it's really tough when Denis comes up here and I realize how short I must be at this podium -- but Iran, he'll also discuss the issues of nuclear proliferation and our ongoing efforts to engage the Islamic Republic of Iran on those issues.

MR. GIBBS: So with that we'll take a few questions. Yes, ma'am.

Q I have one for Ben and one for Denis, if that's okay.

MR. GIBBS: Sure.

Q Ben, when you talked about how the President is going to talk in some detail about what each of the parties should do in Mideast peace, does that mean that he's going to talk specifically about settlements with respect to Israel and the Arab states, giving more money to the Palestinians, and get down in the weeds like that?

MR. RHODES: I mean, what I'd say is, without, again, preempting the speech, the key issue is that the fundamental issues that have been at the core of the conflict are ones that he will address. You know, he's addressed settlements in recent days; he's addressed the question of the role of the Arab states; the obligations, frankly, of all sides. So what you'll see is a robust discussion of how to make progress and how to finally break this stalemate.

And with that, I'll let his words tomorrow speak for themselves. He's not, as we said, presenting any detailed plan, but he is addressing, again, in a very robust way, what he thinks needs to be done on all sides, and also, frankly, just how he personally views the conflict. So with that, I think I'll leave the rest for tomorrow.

Q How is that not a plan, though? I mean, what's the distinction in his mind between talking specifically about what each side should do and talking about a plan for peace?

MR. RHODES: Well, again, without getting into too much, some of these things are things that have already been agreed to; they're things that are responsibilities that -- under the road map, for instance. So that's how I would draw that distinction. I mean, in a sense that these responsibilities will lead to peace, he will be addressing how to achieve peace. In the sense that he's going to revise dramatically those responsibilities, that's what I'd put aside.

Q And then quickly for Denis. Did the President make any progress or raise with the King the issue of working on Taliban extremism in Pakistan and the issue of the Yemenis at Guantanamo?

MR. McDONOUGH: Again, I don't want to prejudge. We haven't had a chance to debrief with the President since the meeting is still going on, but those were certainly among the issues that he was intending to address.

The bottom line I think -- and this goes to Ben's question -- and the speech -- is, just your question, Jennifer, underscore -- your questions underscore that this is a very broad dialogue that the President is going to continue to engage in in the speech in Cairo tomorrow; that it started with his first televised interview being with Al Arabiya. It continued obviously with outreach around the Nowruz message; the speech and the student discussion in Ankara and Istanbul.

So this is a very robust and wide-ranging discussion that's been going on now for some time. Obviously your question about -- Israeli-Palestinian question and issues is a part of it but it's not all of it. And so I think what Ben and the President are working on together is a very robust set of issues that continues a very broad dialogue. And I think he's looking very much forward to it.

Q Does the administration have any reaction to the bin Laden tape and the timing of it? What does it say about whether al Qaeda has been squeezed by the President's outreach? And in Turkey the President said he would present some specific programs on health care, education, and trade for the Muslim community. Can we expect that in the speech tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS: Let me handle the first part, and then I'll turn the second part over to someone else. Obviously we've seen news reports of the message but not had an opportunity to review it in its entirety. I think the reports we've seen are consistent with messages that we've seen in the past from al Qaeda, threatening the U.S. and other countries that are involved in counterterrorism efforts.

But I don't think it's surprising that al Qaeda would want to shift attention away from the President's historic efforts and continued efforts to reach out and have an open dialogue with the Muslim world.

MR. RHODES: Just to your second point, he will be addressing some specific initiatives in areas like health and education and development, and he'll be doing so from the standpoint, again, of so much of the discussion, when it comes to the set of issues we've talked about here today already, sometimes overlooks the kind of tangible issues that matter in people's lives. When you discuss mutual interests between the United States and the Muslim world, as the President has, that of course pertains to issues of peace and security, but it also pertains to opportunity and innovation and the ability for people to pursue a better life.

And I think he's committed to exploring ways to not present -- I mean, committed to exploring partnerships; that are initiatives that won't just be the United States doing something, it will be opportunities for the United States to partner with Muslim communities, Muslim-majority countries, to make progress on issues like health, education, economic development. So it's really a sense of concrete partnerships that can be undertaken to make a difference and to also both increase opportunity for people, but also that's a key part of building bridges and broadening the engagement so that there's engagement at a broad level of society and people, and not simply, again, the very important other issues but also the additional things that really matter in people's lives.

MR. GIBBS: Before I take another question, there's one thing I meant to outline in the beginning that I want to just go through for people -- I was asked this I believe either yesterday or the day before -- but just some of the efforts that our government was undertaking to ensure as many people around the world were exposed to what the President's remarks tomorrow. So let me go through a couple of different efforts.

Out of the State Department, callers worldwide can register to receive free text messages of the speech in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and English on

Q Can you repeat the languages again?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, and I've got -- it's Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and English. Callers will receive text messages during the speech and have the option to reply and give feedback to the State Department. The State Department will collect and post feedback on the Web site that I just gave you. Obviously this speech will be Webcast on There will be links to fully translated transcripts of the speech in 13 different languages, which we'll give you in a second.

In addition to that, I mentioned this -- sort of the aspect of social networking -- the full speech, the speech excerpts and videos with translations, where applicable, will be pushed not only on the White House's YouTube site, but on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter accounts. And just to give you a sense of the impact that something like Facebook can have, Facebook is the largest social network in Muslim countries, reaching close to 20 million users. For instance, there's 10 million in Turkey, 4 million in Indonesia, 1.2 million in Egypt. We will create a special event page where subscribers can receive text messages and do live chatting during the speech and watch the video online. And Facebook is doing a promotion of the event in Muslim countries.

And that is obviously in addition to -- I know networks in a number of countries around the world are going to show the speech, or plan to show the speech live with real-time translation.


Q Robert, there's a report in an Israeli newspaper suggesting that the President stopped into meeting with the Israeli Defense Minister at the White House yesterday -- I think he was meeting with General Jones. Can you talk about what he said? Because this paper is claiming that the President suggested there was some sort of ultimatum that within four to six weeks he wanted the Prime Minister to come forward with new positions on two-state solution as well as settlements. And there's a perception that you're pressuring the Israelis right now, so can you talk about that?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, let me have Denis --

MR. McDONOUGH: Thanks, Robert. Thanks, Ed. I haven't seen the report but it doesn't sound exceedingly accurate. The President did stop by a meeting in General Jones' office yesterday for about 12 minutes, discussed a range of issues -- I think we sent a readout on that yesterday -- that include obviously the Israeli-Palestinian issues, larger Arab-Israeli peace efforts, the role that Senator Mitchell is playing, concerns about proliferation of technology -- nuclear technology -- and other matters.

But the idea that there was some kind of ultimatum given is not accurate. The fact is that I think what the President is trying to do is create some space for commitments that have already been made in the road map and elsewhere to be fulfilled. He was very clear on that during the visit of President Abbas last week. I think those of you who work where we work every day heard that, as it relates to incitement, as it relates to security, as it relates to governance.

And so the President, in that same vein, I think was also clear with Prime Minister Netanyahu on his visit, and in the short meeting yesterday with the Defense Minister Barak, underscored our interest in a range of issues. But, again, the idea of an ultimatum of that sort is not accurate from the meeting, but not also accurate from what the President is trying to accomplish.

MR. GIBBS: Jake.

Q I have a couple questions, Robert. One, what do you hope the average man on the street in a Muslim country will take away from the President's speech tomorrow?

And then for Mr. Rhodes. Does the President plan on mentioning at all his father's Muslim roots in the speech tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS: Let me let Denis do the first one, I think, just in terms of the man on the street.

MR. McDONOUGH: I think you've heard the President talk about in the course of the last couple of days that he wants the Arab and Muslim worlds to get to know a little bit more about America, wants America to get to know a little bit more about the Arab and Muslim worlds. I think the takeaway will be in the best circumstances an audience that recognizes that we, the United States, and they have mutual interests in a range of issues as it stems from extremists who have killed thousands of Muslims -- innocent Muslims, just as they did thousands of Americans, including on one day in September when all they wanted to do was go to work; will underscore our shared interest in the dignity of all people, the opportunities that they have as it relates to health and education.

But the bottom line is I think what they'll hear is, as Ben suggested, a good deal of truth-telling about our range of issues and concerns, as well as our common and mutual interests across the board.

MR. RHODES: And all I'd say on the other question is simply that the President will be making a broader point that, in some sense -- and this relates to what Denis said -- in some sense, we've let differences drive a lot of relationships instead of the things we hold in common. And we've also let artificial categories emerge -- divisions -- and Islam in America, for instance, can't be divided by definition because Islam is a part of the American story through American Muslims.

And of course, the President's family demonstrates that there are many Americans, as he said in Ankara, who are either Muslim or have Muslims in their families or can trace their lineage to Islam. So that is a part of a broader point that, again, there's more convergence of experience and interest than has been acknowledged in the past at times, and that we need to build off of that common ground in order to make progress on this set of issues.

Q Robert, one question for you, and then one for Denis. In terms of the outreach that you've done to make sure that people hear the speech, obviously this White House has done a lot of that at a number of events. Would you describe what you've done in this case to be extraordinary and above what you've done for previous efforts?

And for Denis, could you tell us a little bit just about what the President's message was on energy and anything you can about the early feedback from the first meetings on that subject?

MR. GIBBS: On the outreach question, I mean, obviously I think we have a fairly sophisticated, in general, outreach program that uses some of these tools. But I think it's very -- I would very much characterize the efforts that are being undertaken here as far broader; again, through either setting up special links on these social networking pages to draw -- to not just draw people into see the speech, but also to discuss it. Obviously throughout the world embassies are reaching out to the media in their countries to assure them that translations will be available. Obviously in I think in bigger countries in the world you'll see the speech actually broadcast live.

So there's a tremendous amount of outreach. I think I would -- at this point, too, I think this would be a good place also to caution -- and I did a little of this in the last couple of days -- and that is, both the President, the entire foreign policy team, and everybody that's been involved in this speech -- I think obviously the speech of tomorrow is important, but it's also important to realize that this is one of many events in a continuing dialogue that the President believes not only should happen but, in all honesty, must happen to continue to make progress on many of the issues that Ben outlined that the President will discuss tomorrow.

This is not a one-time event. Obviously, as Ben outlined, there have been points throughout his first few months in office that have noted his outreach. This is obviously a bit more high profile, but it is part of that continued dialogue that has to take place. All our problems and all of our outreach efforts are not going to either be solved or culminated in one speech. And I think that's the way the President certainly looks at it.

Denis, do you want to do the --

MR. McDONOUGH: Sure. I would just -- I'll just piggyback a minute on Robert's point, I mean, both as it relates to traditional media. I think what we've been struck by is the extent to which there is a demand at our embassies to get access to the speech. So, for example, as we've worked on languages into which we ought to have this translated, there's been a lot of demand from embassies throughout the Arab and Muslim/Islamic world, which really stretches from Morocco to Indonesia, to have it translated into languages in those countries.

And so there's a lot interest in it, for the fact that this is a very broad set of issues that people are interested in, but also because it's been an ongoing process, as Robert underscores. We've also learned by doing a little bit here, so we're identifying new social networking sites like Orkut, for example, which is a networking site that's particularly popular and accessed in South Asia. So we're learning kind of as we go along here.

As it relates to the readout of the meeting, I'm just not going to get into any particular specifics until we have a better sense of how the one-on-one meeting went.

MR. GIBBS: Chip.

Q Back on bin Laden, you said that this is largely consistent with past messages, but some of the analysts have said that the language of this that is directed at the American people, threatens the American people, is a step beyond what he has done before, since President Obama has been in office. How would you -- what would you say to the average American who sees or reads these words, and given his history, finds them chilling if not frightening?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Chip, again, I haven't had -- we haven't had a chance to analyze the full message. But I think Americans have seen these types of threats before. I don't -- from the reports we've seen, these seem very consistent with what has happened in the past. And again, I would reiterate I think this is much more of an effort to upstage and to try to become a part of a story seeking a different way.

Q Can you give an assurance to Americans that there's nothing to fear here?

MR. GIBBS: I can give the American people every assurance that everything is being done to protect them and to protect our homeland, as we've done since we took office.


Q There are reports that the U.S. has urged Cairo University to invite members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other human rights groups. Can you talk a little bit about --

MR. GIBBS: Yes, Denis can talk a little bit about it.

MR. McDONOUGH: Thanks for the question. Thanks, Robert. The fact is, I think as we talked to many of you last Friday night, that we wanted to make sure that the speech -- that the President in his speech had an opportunity to speak to the full range of political representation in Egypt and really across the Muslim world. So the process by which invitations are made is that we from the States had folks that we were interested in making sure were invited; the embassy obviously in Cairo played a leading role in identifying people to invite; I think the Egyptian government had people that they would like to see -- wanted to see invited.

And so it's hard for me to disaggregate who was -- who invited which specific group of people. I got an email earlier today from somebody asking if we had pressed for the inclusion of a particular group. I think the bottom line is that the President wants to have an opportunity to speak to the broad range of political representation in Egypt, but really across the region.

Q -- (inaudible) -- toward Israel for the countries in the Middle East and the neighbors of Israel? And what does he specifically expect from them to move the peace process forward? For Denis.

MR. McDONOUGH: You know, I just want to underscore again that this is one piece of a much broader picture that the President will be addressing tomorrow; albeit an important one, but just one. But I think you heard it in the President's meeting with President Abbas and obviously from day one when the -- the first day the President reported for duty in the Oval Office, he picked up the call and called the leaders of this region to discuss with them the range of issues that are at play in the peace process.

So specifics, I'm not going to get into many of those, but I think there are some things that certainly make sense, including obviously support for the Palestinian Authority and its ability to extend its writ of governance, support for opportunity for Palestinians and so forth.

So we'll hear some more about that tomorrow, but we'll also hear more about that from Senator Mitchell in his efforts, and certainly Secretary Clinton has been leading the charge on this, as well.

Q Do you foresee the President inviting Muslim leaders, political leaders specifically from Arab countries to America in the coming months or the next year or so as part of his effort to --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that -- we've already begun to do some of it. Obviously he's spoken to leaders on the phone throughout his time, and I do believe -- I believe this will be -- this is something that the President will continue to do throughout his time in office. Again, the speech shouldn't be seen as a one-time event. Just as you go from the Al Arabiya interview and now, I think it is very safe to assume that moving forward, the President will want to strongly build on the foundation that has been laid, but to understand that one speech is not enough; that we've got much more outreach to do and many more meetings to do. And I think that will be a focus of his administration.

Let me go to Chuck and I'll come back.

Q Robert, back to -- it seemed as if you were sort of intimating that you guys think it's an empty threat. I mean, how seriously think this threat --

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I haven't seen the whole thing. I don't think the rhetoric on the tape seems markedly different from what I've seen in the reports, and I don't think the motives and the timing are all that surprising.

Q So you're not being dismissive of it? I mean, it just seems like --

MR. GIBBS: I'll let you characterize what I just said, but it wasn't a long quote. I'd prefer just to go ahead and use that.

Yes, ma'am. END 8:14 P.M.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Committee to Protect journalists offers issues for Obama to address in Middle East speech

Committee to Protect Journalists
330 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001 USA Phone: (212) 465‑1004 Fax: (212) 465‑9568 Web: E-Mail:
Mohamed Abdel Dayem, program coordinator
Phone: (212) 465-1004, x103; E-mail:

Mariwan Hama-Saeed, research associate
Phone: (212) 465-1004, x104; E-mail:

As Cairo speech nears, concerns for Obama

June 1, 2009

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Via facsimile 202-456-2461

Dear Mr. President,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing ahead of your scheduled speech in Cairo on June 4 to bring to your attention important matters that are crucial to the long-term success of your stated goal of engaging the people—and not just the regimes—of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

In a few days, hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims will be listening to you with a mix of skepticism and hopeful anticipation. I would like to suggest concrete steps that you and your administration can take to bring U.S. policy in the region in line with the country’s unwavering commitment to press freedom and free expression, not just at home but also across the globe.

The overseas detention of journalists without due process has markedly damaged U.S. prestige worldwide and especially in the Muslim world. It is likely that it has also contributed to an overall increase in imprisoned journalists by authoritarian regimes that have used this policy as a pretext for sidelining critical journalists in their own countries. To date, 14 journalists have been held by the United States for extended periods of time without adequate legal consideration in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. One remains in custody.

Reuters freelance photographer Ibrahim Jassam was detained by U.S. forces at his home just outside Baghdad on September 2, 2008. A November 30 Iraqi Central Criminal Court decision found that there was no evidence to hold Jassam, and an order that U.S. forces release him was rejected by U.S. military authorities, who concluded that he “continued to pose a serious threat to the security and stability of Iraq.” The military did not provide evidence to corroborate that finding. In correspondence dated February 9 of this year, Chief of Public Affairs Major Neal Fisher told CPJ that Jassam “is awaiting release [are] the other remaining approximate 14,800 detainees” in accordance with a “ranking based on their assessed threat” level. Fisher could not provide more detail as to when that would take place.

The prompt release of Ibrahim Jassam, the last remaining journalist in U.S. custody, and a firm commitment that any journalists detained in the future will be guaranteed a timely judicial review would send a clear message to the people of the Muslim world that the United States has brought a difficult chapter of history to an end and is upholding its stated commitment to press freedom.

Since 2003, at least 16 journalists have died and an undetermined number have been seriously injured by U.S. fire in Iraq. CPJ research indicates that the U.S. military has investigated less than a handful of these deaths, and has absolved troops of wrongdoing in all of them. The substantive results of these cases, such as the 2003 strike on Al-Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau that killed correspondent Tareq Ayyoub, have not been made public.

U.S. military authorities should conduct thorough investigations into all instances of journalists killed by U.S. fire. The results of these investigations must be made public and their conclusions should be integrated into the military’s operational procedures. Such a step is not only beneficial for future U.S. military objectives, it is also an essential element in winning over the masses of Muslims who have been disillusioned by the real or perceived lack of accountability for journalist and civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. CPJ’s own report into a U.S. tank shelling of the Palestine Hotel in 2003, which killed Spanish cameraman Jose Couso and Ukrainian cameraman Taras Protsyuk, concluded that an apparent breakdown in operational command and control was a contributing factor.

President Obama, when we wrote to you in January just before you assumed office, we asked you to ensure that as U.S. troops find themselves increasingly engaged in fighting foes that move among the civilian population, they are trained to accommodate the presence of journalists who have a legitimate right to cover the conflict. Far too often CPJ gets reports from local journalists in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq of verbal and sometimes physical abuse and detention by U.S. troops.

As you know, the Middle East and North Africa have some of the most repressive environments for journalists in the world. Journalists in Egypt, for example, must endure numerous implicit and explicit threats to their safety and physical integrity to bring news of corruption, mismanagement, and negligence to their audiences.

We commend you for your statement on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, in which you said that the United States “sound[s] the alarm about the growing number of journalists silenced by death or jail as they attempt to bring daily news to the public.” We ask that you reaffirm this commitment when you travel to the heart of the Arab world by seeking the release of journalists unjustly jailed merely for doing what their colleagues in the United States do every day: Report the news as they see it.

Joel Simon Executive Director