The Cairo speech has come and gone, an American president preaching the Golden Rule to the Muslim world, trying to walk a fine line between faith and reason through murderous beliefs and irrational hatreds.
Parsing what Barack Obama said will keep “experts” busy for some time, but the words were less exceptional than the act, an American leader presenting himself as both the product of and the bridge between two seemingly irreconcilable cultures.
“I am a Christian,” he said, “but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.”
How will this be heard? By the suspicious Middle East as an exploitive outsider insinuating himself into their world and by suspicious Americans as confirmation of Obama’s otherness that was the subtext of opposition to him during the presidential campaign?
In proposing a range of new contacts between the two cultures, the President is betting that faith and reason can be fused into an instrument of good will to overwhelm distrust and enmity.