In his June 4 speech at Cairo University, President Barack Obama said “Palestinians must abandon violence. . . . Hamas must put an end to violence . . .”
Now I strongly believe that Palestinians should abandon violence, and that includes Hamas. But what struck me in the speech is that no one else was asked to abandon violence; only the Palestinians.
President Obama nowhere in the speech demanded that Israel abandon violence. And nowhere did he promise that the United States would abandon violence. In fact, he spent a significant part of the speech justifying the U.S. war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States is still, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said on April 4, 1967, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today . . .”
I agree with President Obama’s statement in his speech “that violence is a dead end.” But if it is, why ask only one party to abandon it and why not abandon it ourselves?
I don’t think President Obama is even conscious of the inherent contradictions in what he said. Our society is so used to using “violence” (and “terror”) only to refer to actions by the marginalized that a mainstream politician like the President isn’t even thinking of the actions of Israel and the United States in terms of violence. This shows how distorted and sick thinking is in our society and in other privileged societies.
Later in the speech, the President said “we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments . . .” It isn’t spelled out explicitly, but the context makes it clear that what he is really saying is that the United States is justified in refusing to talk to the democratically elected Hamas because it is not a peaceful government. And despite the univeral sounding language, he is really only referring to one government, and he does not apply the same standard anywhere else.
The President strongly defended our ties to Israel even though their government is by no stretch a peaceful government - it kills far more innocent civilians than does Hamas (and it does so generally with U.S.-supplied weapons). And I think it is safe to say that the President would not take well to other governments refusing to deal with his Administration until it abandoned violence.
The contradictions I am pointing out here seem quite obvious, and yet I have yet to see another commentary that mentions them. I think addressing these contradictions is critical if we are to get to the point of realizing what the President correctly called “God’s vision” where “The people of the world can live together in peace.” Realizing the vision requires that the powerful as well as the marginalized turn from the ways of violence and domination.