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ON THE PATH TO DIPLOMACY

In an interview broadcast on Tuesday on the major Arab-language network, Al-Arabiya, President Barack Obama pledged his role as a bridge builder between America and the Muslim world. For many Muslims in this country and abroad, his offer to listen -- and listen early in his presidency -- is a welcome change to the status quo. The world responded very positively to President Obama's gesture to gather people and solve problems with mutual interest and respect.

 

"My job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives," the President said in the interview. He added, "My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy."

 

That Obama's first presidential interview was with a major Arab network and that it was a substantive discussion about repairing the broken relationship with the Middle East and the larger Muslim world speaks volumes about the seriousness with which this Administration is seeking to make amends and lead others in ushering in an era of peace.

 

Foremost on the minds of millions of Americans and Muslims is how the U.S. will respond to the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as well as the larger, yet-unanswered question of reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Though Muslim Americans are optimistic that the country has a president who is more understanding of the Muslim world, they must remember to take ownership of the change they seek, for two reasons: first, to shape the discourse of which they are the subjects; in other words, to speak for themselves instead of allowing others to do so on their behalf; and second, to authenticate the movement toward Middle East peace from the ground up, ensuring that support for policy change at the grassroots level can withstand future leadership change in Washington.

 

The movement for Middle East policy change emerged in strength during Israel's three-week offensive against Gaza and shows no sign of stopping. The pleas for humanitarian aid, calls for congressional lobbying days, and the countless media pieces that have questioned Israel's disproportionate attacks on civilian infrastructure have helped bolster the movement and usher in a new tone on this issue.

 

America and American Muslims are faced with an opportunity to create the change they envision. President Obama has made the Palestinian-Israeli issue a top priority for America, unlike President Bush who did not direct his advisors to engage on the issue with any urgency until late in his tenure. The stakes are high at this juncture of history, but our efforts -- past, present, and future -- are not in vain. At a time when America's highest elected official has declared his willingness to listen and is asking for the country's input, let us all push ourselves to capture the moment and be our own best advocates.

[CONTACT: Government Relations Director Safiya Ghori, 202-547-7701, safiya@mpac.org]

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