Tuesday was a great night for America.
As political leaders become more polarized among engrossed congressional gridlock, Tuesday’s State of the Union reminded Americans that we have a lot to be proud of.
President Obama’s speech called upon the great words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “unarmed truth and unconditional love” and painted the picture of “real” Americans. “I see it in the protester determined to prove that justice matters…I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers.”
Low-income workers, dreamers, veterans, social justice activists, minorities, gays and lesbians— if nothing at all, President Obama’s riveting address reminded us that what makes America great is our diversity. Diversity in our religions, races, genders, languages, experiences all culminating to our unique group identity that encompasses what we call the melting pot of this great nation.
“President Obama exuded an immense amount of confidence in his accomplishments and the current state of America,” says Riham Osman, the communications coordinator at the Muslim Public Affairs Council. ”
“The optimism he expressed for the future of our country was refreshing, particularly at a time where many Americans feel discouraged by the global security climate with the rise of groups like ISIS,” Osman says, echoing her enthusiasm for President Obama’s final State of the Union.
While President Obama’s captivating speech reclaimed a sense of hope among many Americans, Osman says she wished there was more to the President’s final address.
“I think with this being President Obama’s last SOTU, I would have liked to hear him comment on specific issues like police brutality and the refugee crisis in Syria because these are both issues that made tremendous headlines throughout the past year,” Osman says.
To President Obama’s credit, first lady Michelle Obama invited Dr. Refaai Hamo, a native Syrian who claimed international headlines when he was featured on Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York series. While social media cheered for Hamo’s attendance at the State of the Union, President Obama could have said more to demystify some of the hateful rhetoric spewed about the Syrian refugees by many politicians. Republican Senator and Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz even went to the extent to claim that only Christian Syrian refugees should be allowed safe haven in the United States.
Perhaps most notable to the Muslim community was when President Obama attacked Islamophobia head on, citing particular attacks like two California mosques vandalized days after the San Bernardino shooting.
“When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country.”
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump made remarks in late 2015 calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Needless to say, Muslims were furious. The Trump campaign later explained the ban would be temporary “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on” which didn’t bring any comfort to Muslim Americans who’ve proven a track record of contributing to the fabric of American values.
American Muslims are leaders in politics, medicine, cybersecurity, arts, sports and so much more. President Obama’s words emphasized that when we become divisive and attempt to tear each other down, we end up, as Pope Francis eloquently said, “imitating the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers.”
In a recent interview with Middle East Policy Analyst Wardah Khalid, she emphasized the important role diplomacy plays in U.S.-Middle Eastern relations.
“As someone concerned with foreign policy, I appreciated that he mentioned the need for congress to vote on the AUMF against ISIS, but the reality on the ground shows he’s proceeding without it,” she says. “Also, there weren’t many specifics on the ISIS strategy going forward other than ‘we’ll take them out like we did bin Laden.’ It was very military focused and neglected to emphasize the diplomatic strategies available to weaken the terrorist group.”
In some ways, President Obama’s final SOTU address was indicative of his entire presidency. His continued emphasis on climate change, national security and calls for gun control reform were among some of the soundbites from Tuesday night’s SOTU. The calls for a more inclusive and welcoming America will wholeheartedly resonate in the hearts of many Americans.
“President Obama’s mentioning of embracing different Americans is what attracted people to his campaign in the first place, so that was very powerful,” Khalid says.
While President Obama’s days in the Oval Office are numbered, his speech left Americans with a hopeful and optimistic outlook that the state of our union is still strong.
Read President Obama’s full transcript here.