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Anthropological Reflection on President Obama speech in Cairo

June 10, 2009

The American President Barack Obama visited Egypt few days ago in order to give a speech to the Muslim world from Cairo University. What draw my attention in his speech as an anthropologist is that the speech itself shows that the contributors who created it did great efforts. I would say that a lot of anthropological work is done to make such speech has a great impact on its audiences. It reveals that the writers, if one can say, of this historical speech, worked on constructing it with deep understanding of both the Muslim nations and their states.

The speech obviously shows a great knowledge of the Muslim nation’s culture, tradition, mind, worry, history, religion, belief, and hope. In addition, it shows a well understanding of what should be avoided when talking about the states of the Muslim nation particularly in discussing un-favorite topics directly, such as democracy and human rights. It is needless to say that President Obama’s previous personal experience with the Muslim world, in his early days, gave the speech further flavor and sort of positive impact along with his mastering skills in giving speeches, and his previous academic background which he did refer to often during the speech. There is a famous phrase says if you want the power to listen to you, you should talk in a language that the power understands. From this perspective, regardless if the Muslim nation and their states are powers or not, he did talk in a language that the Muslim nation in particular and their states in general understands. Using verses from Quran in different contexts, starting his speech with the Islamic greeting Al-Salamo-Aleekom peace be upon you, and using his middle (biological father) name Hussein reveal that there is sort of anthropological insights contributed in such a speech. In sum, if this speech had some positive impact on enhancing the image of United State among Muslim nation, I think this is because of these reasons.

In this speech, by Obama’s usage of violent extremists when referring to terrorists instead of seeing the general Muslim nation as terrorists, I wonder if this de-stereotypization has an impact on the American nation and other non-Muslim nations, that watched his speech, to stop stereotyping Muslims as terrorists!

Here where you can watch the entire speech
Here where you can read the entire speech in text
Here you can watch a video about President Obama’s visit to the Egyptian Pyramids, where he sees self in the site!
Here where you can find a video of his visit to Sultan Hassan Mosque in Cairo

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