Southland Muslim leaders hailed President Barack Obama's speech today calling for a "new beginning" in the nation's relations with the Muslim world, saying his remarks in Cairo were a refreshing change from past administrations and offered hope for the future.
"He met more than our expectations," said Maher Hathout, senior adviser and board member of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
During his speech, Obama conceded that tensions were running high between the United States and the Muslim world, but he said those days of tension need to end.
"I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect," he said. "And one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition."
Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of MPAC, praised the president for speaking frankly about extremism and, while calling for an easing of tensions between the United States and Muslims, condemning the actions of extremists.
"President Barack Obama, I believe, really dealt a severe blow to (Osama) bin Laden and bin Laden's rhetoric, because the president today spoke about the grievances of the Muslim people, spoke about Democracy, spoke about political reform that governments need to adopt."
Obama addressed a wide array of topics, including U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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"Many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away," Obama said. "Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true."
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, gave the speech a positive review, but said his words need to be backed by action.
"It was a very important and impressive speech in an attempt to make the case for reconciliation between the Arab world and Israel," Hier said. "But the devil is in the details."
But Al-Marayati said Obama's words provided the groundwork to improve conditions throughout the Middle East.
"He talked about democracy in a way that is not condescending and is not conditional to the peoples of the Muslim world," he said. "And so we see the days of dictatorship fading in that region and the days of democracy are on the rise."