When trying to decide on what to write about in my first Terry entry, I knew I wanted to cover an event that represented, in some tacit, discreet and (mawkishly) sentimental kind of way, my interests and passions as a whole. My hopes were answered with this:
In case you haven’t heard about and/or seen it already, President Barack Obama gave a speech yesterday in Cairo University aimed at redefining (or, at least, signaling the redefinition of) the United States’ relationship with the Islamic world. Referencing the Qur’an and the Hadith, invoking his ties and experiences with Islam “on three continents”, and condemning illegal settlements in Gaza, Obama was set on conveying a message of friendship, kinship and reassurance. Judging by the frequent applause (and the occasional “we love you!”), the speech was, if anything, a rhetorical success.
If you happen to follow the White House on Twitter, Facebook or MySpace, you might also have noticed a flurry of updates aimed at raising public awareness of the speech. In addition to posting a video of U.S. ties to Muslim communities on its blog and issuing regular Twitter, Facebook and (free) cell phone text message updates, the White House also posted a transcript of the speech in 13 different languages soon after the President left the podium. In an internet where even Fidel Castro has a blog (not to mention North Korea’s Twitter), this was to be expected from a staff that has been credited with revolutionizing elections and politics through their embrace of online media (just ask Hillary Clinton).
What fascinated me, however, was the intended audience of both the speech and the White House’s online effort. A majority of the world’s Muslims live east of Pakistan. Most of the points raised by Obama (Palestine, Iraq, Iran, etc.), however, concerned not the ‘Islamic world’ per se, but the Arab world and Iran.
This is important because, interestingly enough, a majority of the Arab world consist of countries where the majority of people are below the age of 30. The same goes for Iran. Whether Obama likes it or not, in attempting to mend ties between the Arab world, Iran and the West, he is ultimately approaching a group of societies that is, at least demographically, young.
I guess the question one can then ask is this: are there lessons that were learned during the president’s run for office in 2008 that the White House might apply to this situation and, if so, will the Obama meme – one of the most well-spread and well-received memes of our lifetimes – work on the scale of (sub)continents? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
I suppose you might ask why I care.
I could give you the typical answer, and say that we live in one of the most culturally dynamic and interesting times in history. I could also tell you that, as a future History/Econ major that is helplessly obsessed with anything politics, religion and philosophy, I’m prone to finding global trends where (at times) there are none. Or, I could tell you the truth and say that I’m just curious. That seems to be a theme here at Terry.
My name is Nick, I am a second-year Arts student at UBC, and I am your new humanities blogger. Lovely.
EDIT: The New Yorker now has an excellent piece up about ‘The Obama Effect‘.