'Crude stereotypes' must be overcome


POSTED: Saturday, June 06, 2009

In an extraordinary speech in Cairo aimed at bridging the Christian and Muslim worlds, President Barack Obama has reflected the sentiment of Hawaii legislators who have been vilified by those who equate Islam with terrorism. Upon his return to the United States, the president needs to repeat that “;America is not, and never will be, at war with Islam.”;

The vitriolic response to the Legislature designating Sept. 24 as “;Islam Day”; is a troubling indication that Americans associate international terrorism with Islam. Gov. Linda Lingle remarked on a local radio show that her office had received “;ridicule all across the country.”; She called the resolution “;just an expression of them (legislators) being out of touch.”;

In fact, a Gallup survey last year found that 93 percent of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims are moderates, and the radicals condoned the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States for political instead of religious reasons.

In his Cairo speech, Obama said it is his responsibility “;to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”; In his nearly hourlong speech, he did not utter the word terrorism, referring instead to “;violent extremists.”;

Previous Hawaii legislative resolutions have declared Buddha Day on April 8; Bodhi Day, also Buddhist, on Dec. 8; and the all-inclusive Baha'i New Year's Day of 19th-century Persia on March 21. The rancor caused by adding Islam Day to the list indicates the enormity of Obama's task of reducing hatred that crosses religious lines.

An equally difficult task will be for Obama to narrow the gap between Israelis and Palestinians through a two-state solution. Many Muslims recognize that “;Israel will not go away,”; he said, while “;many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state.”; That, he said, will require an end to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded that Israel will continue to build in Jewish enclaves in occupied territory. That means negotiations can continue with the United States being a credible arbiter.

As Obama closed his Cairo speech, “;There's one rule that lies at the heart of every religion - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”;