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The Monitor's View

In Cairo, Obama must thank moderate Muslims

Gratitude for standing up to the radicals' ideology can bring respect for the US.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / June 2, 2009

If President Obama really wants to touch the world's 1 billion Muslims in his June 4 speech in Egypt, he doesn't need to spell out a new US policy or recite American expectations of liberties for Islamic nations.

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He doesn't need to cite his middle name (Hussein) or that he spent a part of his childhood in a Muslim nation (Indonesia) or that this son of an immigrant and person of color was elected US president.

No, his most powerful message would be one of gratitude, or a big thank-you for those Muslims and their leaders who have stood up for their religion against the purposeful use of violence on the innocent by extremists, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mr. Obama can also express appreciation for countries that have resisted Iran's support of violent groups in many countries since its 1979 Islamic revolution.

Gratitude is an essential part of Islamic practice – in praying five times a day, during the fasting of Ramadan, and in the Arabic expression "May Allah reward you for the good." It is the easiest avenue for Obama to engage nations with large Muslim populations and to earn a fresh respect for the United States.

And it will open more doors for Washington to partner more closely with Islamic nations in turning back Al Qaeda and other groups that seek a unified Muslim community through terror.

Cairo is the right venue for such a message. It is the place where the ideas of today's jihadism were hatched 80 years ago with the founding of the fundamentalist group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

But the president can begin such an appreciation for moderate Muslims by citing the latest, and perhaps best example of one nation's effort to confront Islamic radicals: Pakistan's rollback of the Taliban in the Swat Valley.

Since May 7, both the Army and the elected leaders of Pakistan have shown strong political will to block insurgents from gaining further ground in their country. The retaking of Swat Valley's largest city, Mingora, last Saturday marks a triumph for a growing awareness among Pakistanis that a global struggle against Islamic terrorists isn't only the West's fight.