By Liali Albana
June 29, 2009
With the June 20th interview with Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, President Obama became the first US President to speak directly with a Pakistani media outlet while still in office. The occasion marks a huge shift from previous administrations in dealing with the Muslim world. When Obama talked about a new kind of dialogue with Muslims, it’s nice to know that talking directly to one of the most important Muslim countries in the world was on his radar. All in all, this is definitely a positive first step to placing the Muslim community on an equal level of conversation.
During the interview with Dawn reporter Anwar Iqbal, President Obama reiterated what he said earlier this month in Cairo: “One speech is not going to transform policies and relationships throughout the Middle East or throughout the world…what I wanted to do was to describe very clearly that the United States not only respects Muslim communities around the world but that there’s an opportunity for I think a new day, where there’s mutual understanding, mutual tolerance.”
The message that reverberated in his interview with the Pakistani media was that the Muslim world is capable of protecting its own boundaries, accountable to its own citizens, and respected by the US as having un-questionable sovereign power. With this and other recent speeches, President Obama has made a noticeable paradigm shift from the previous administration’s “us” vs. “them” attitude. He sees the US as a supportive partner to the Muslim world and recognizes the fact that Muslims want to root out extremism as well.
Obama went on to praise the Pakistani-American community of physicians, lawyers, and business-people for the strides they have made for the country, particularly as entrepreneurs. Obama, who had close Pakistani friends in college, also pointed out his affinity for Urdu poetry, and his mad skills as a Pakistani chef:
“Keema…daal…you name it, I can cook it,” said the President.
Of course, we all know that both in America and abroad, Muslims have been making significant and important strides within their respective communities, not to mention making some pretty amazing food. In recent years however, these accomplishments had fallen to ears that were deaf with preconceived notions of negativity and fear. In countries with corrupt and struggling heads of state like Pakistan, it is difficult to make progress on a political level alone. The media, in fact, is often the only forum that comes close to voicing the opinions of its people.
The conversation that Obama made with Dawn has therefore provided yet another dewdrop of hope from his camp, that not only can a positive Muslim message continue to be voiced, but also – finally – heard.