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An Open Letter from the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies to President Barack Obama on the Occasion of His Cairo Speech to the “Blacks” of the Twenty-first Century

June 2, 2009

Mr. President,

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) hopes that your speech to the Arab and Muslim worlds will contain practical steps to uphold your administration’s stated intention to seriously deal with the problems that have inflamed resentment and fostered a sense of humiliation among peoples, individuals, and ethnic and religious minorities in this area of the world, all of which have undermined the United States’ moral standing in the region.

CIHRS would like to take this opportunity to raise a few issues with the US administration as it reconfigures its relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Firstly, you took an admirable step in your last speech in Turkey when you affirmed that “The United States is not at war with Islam”.  It is now time for the US administration to translate this general statement into concrete actions that show that the United States has indeed renounced its wholesale hostility to and suspicion of Muslims and Arabs.

For example, the appropriate measures could be taken to end the discriminatory, degrading practices endured by Arabs and Muslims at American airports, for the message that these practices send stands at odds with your declaration in Turkey.  Indeed, the message communicated is “We consider you all enemies until proven otherwise.”

Secondly, the new US administration must realize that the failure of the previous administration to address the Palestinian issue fairly and justly has been the primary source of an increasing sense of humiliation among the Palestinian people and other peoples in the Arab and Muslim worlds.  Certainly the new administration’s adoption of the right of the Palestinian people to an independent state side by side with Israel is a step in the right direction, but your administration must translate this general principle into real-life policies, first and foremost by abandoning America’s absolute political and diplomatic support for Israel and the war crimes and aggression committed by the this state, the sole remaining example in the world today of a racist, colonial occupation.  Your administration must adopt decisive and immediate policies to stop the expansion of settlements, which swallow more land every day and thereby make the two-state solution you advocate impossible.

Thirdly, giving respect and support for human rights and democratic freedoms in this area of the world is the principal avenue by which to foster a sense of dignity for peoples in the Arab and Muslim worlds who are no different from other people in the world.  While we affirm that the destiny of these peoples ultimately depends on their own struggles and sacrifices to achieve these rights and liberties, an American foreign policy that embodied and represented human rights and democratic values and ended US support for allied authoritarian regimes in the Arab and Muslim worlds would give a substantial boost to these struggles, given that the majority of ruling regimes in this region are much more sensitive to the international community’s views than they are to public opinion in their own countries.

Mr. President, your parents and grandparents endured assaults on their dignity because of their color and ethnicity, in a world dominated by a racist ideology that considers certain people undeserving of the same rights as whites.  Peoples in this region are still held prisoner to similar false excuses propagated by autocracies which use claims of political, cultural, or religious particularity that are grounded in the same racist philosophy to deny their citizens — as individuals and ethnic or religious collectives — the rights enjoyed by other collectivities and individuals around the world.

The International community’s collusion with these claims is not free of the same racist mentality that African Americans suffered from nearly a century ago.  The Arab and Muslims worlds are the best place to test your insight that “We must reject the false choice between security and values”.

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