Cyberdov Life in Riverdale, NY

March 16, 2011

Obama – what a disappointment!!

Filed under: Domestic,Foreign Affairs,Politics — cyberdov @ 2:35 pm

This cartoon says it all:

December 31, 2009

Being Gay in the Orthodox World – a response worth reading

Filed under: NYC,Politics,Torah — cyberdov @ 12:10 pm

Recently, a panel discussion was held at Wurzweiler called “Being Gay in the Orthodox World”, in which several students discussed their experiences as growing up and coming out as gay in the Orthodox Jewish community. It generated much discussion, including a response from R Mayer Twersky. One of the panelists posted a response to R Twersky’s response, which I thought was extraodinarily well constructed and well worth a read for anyone on any side of the issue.

First some background links:

Videos of original event:

Unofficial transcript of original event:

Audio of R Twersky’s response:

Unofficial transcript of R Twersky:

And now, Mordechai Levovitz’ response to R Twersky:

n my presentation at YU, I talked about how the silence and silencing on the issues of gays in the Orthodox world contributes to the suffering, shame, and isolation of gay youth, teens, and adults. For me, the goal of the panel at YU was to ignite a community-wide dialogue, where points, feelings, and arguments could be exchanged both publicly and privately. To that end, the event at YU was an unadulterated success. In the days following the event, conversations are taking place in schools, communities, synagogues, Shabbos tables, and countless websites. It turns out that people have a lot to say about this subject and our event created a space in which to finally bring it up. Every dialogue has more than one side, and while we must insist that our voices continue being heard, it is also important to allow those who disagree their space and time to respond. No one’s point of view should be censored or disrespected. This is why I applaud Rabbi Twersky and Rabbi Reiss for continuing the conversation by publicly speaking about the panel, and raising issues that must be addressed.

In this vein of dialogue and conversation, the following is a point-by-point critique and response to Rabbi Twersky’s speech (delivered to the YU Beis Medrash Dec 28th 2009). Before I continue, I want to point out that Rav Twersky is a Godol in learning and leadership. My response does not imply that I am on a comparable level. Clear and logical minds allow every rational exchange valid regardless of the vast inequalities of the persons involved. This democracy of thought is a hallmark of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s zt’l philosophy, and one that I know Rabbi Twersky respects. Consequently, I respond only to his points, and do not criticize his character or his greatness.

1. Rav Twersky mentions that the Posuk calls the Issur a Toevah, and we should not shy away from the “shock effect” of the word, and its social implications.

The Torah also calls eating shellfish a Toevah, and yet no one justifies prejudice or silencing to those who claim to want to eat shellfish. Certainly, if there were a class of many people born with a desire for no other food but shellfish, it would be discussed openly, with sensitivity and empathy. This is not to say that eating shellfish would ever be permitted in that case. This example forfeits the simple “two wrongs don’t make a right” response. If the classification of “Toevah” is Biblically used for things like eating shrimp, it is not clear that Toevah implies a justified social and ethical “shock.” Nor is it clear that talking about issues related to Toevah justifies feeling embarrassed or shamed. There are many things in the Torah that we do not understand the reasons for, yet we follow them anyway. It would be presumptuous, needless, and inconsistent to demand that Toevah demand anyone responding to gay people with disgust, prejudice, or silencing. We don’t expect this response in other Toevahs, why demand it here? This was not explained.

2. Rav Twersky compares the panelists to people openly talking about their lust for neighbors’ wives. He concludes that YU would never allow a panel of “want-to-be adulterers,” even if they focused on how hard it is to be in that situation, and the taboos that they face, growing up wanting other people’s wives.

The analogy does not work because adultery, like stealing, is a social injustice where one person threatens the property or body of another person. In marriage, two people enter a contract assuring that the wife will not sleep with any other men. Adultery implies a break of this agreement, an affront to the husband, and a “Bein Adam Lechaveyro” ethic that is being transgressed. In cases like this, sympathy and compassion for one is cruelty to the other. In Yeshiva, this is how “Achzarius” was explained in Shiur: when compassion for someone results in cruelty to someone else. This is the reason why social laws and taboos are sometimes useful. When there is a victim involved, it is appropriate for social norms to protect the weak, to enforce that no one is hurt. Similarly, this is why pedophelia, rape, and bestiality are all faulty analogies. In all those cases, one partner is unconsenting, and thus is a victim. Homosexuality is a sin between consenting adults with no victim, no safety compromised, and no one being hurt. It does not follow that the taboos and social disgust that are justifiably applied to these other cases should be applied to the Homosexual issur, and “Kal ve-Chomer,” to Gay people who despite being out, do not publicize their actions in bed.

Finally, coming out as gay is not practically like publicly admitting an attraction to a married woman. Coming out for me meant not denying it when people asked me. Coming out means not lying to your unsuspecting dates, or worse, your unsuspecting fiancee or wife. Coming out means telling your parents what you are going through. Coming out means telling your friends how hurt you are when they use offensive words like “faggot.” Coming out means talking openly and truthfully with your rabbis. Coming out means not living a secret “double life,” where you must daily deceive your friends, family, and loved ones. None of this is comparable to publicizing your lust for a married woman.

3. Rav Twersky asserts that there is no such thing as a Jew “having an orientation.”

Whether anyone has “an orientation” is debatable and ultimately more of a semantic argument, which was not raised at the panel. I am a Jew, and I feel that I have an orientation, because I have no romantic interest whatsoever in women, and I have this potential interest for men, and many people feel similar to me. Now, I may be delusional about this, who knows? Maybe other people know better about what my orientation is or isn’t. What is undeniable is that we suffer because many in our Orthodox community assume that we do indeed have an “orientation” and that this orientation is enough to kick us out of camp/Yeshiva. This “orientation” is enough to cause parents to force their children into questionable and dangerous “therapy,” or worse, to kick us out of their homes. This “orientation” is enough to ruin my sister’s shidduchim. It’s very easy to say that there’s no such thing as a Jew “having an orientation” when you refuse to hear the stories of those who suffer because they are thought to be gay, or confess it to someone.

So let’s not call it “an orientation”; why then was I kicked out of camp? Why was I kicked out of Yeshiva, why did my sister lose countless Shiduchim due to me? I certainly was not sexually active as a child? And I certainly am not the only one. This experience is common to a whole group of people. A category of people, if you may. These stories happened to many kids who are similar to me (orientation or not). This puts us in a category of people with a shared experience. Halacha does deal with categories of people based on their similarities. People with certain mental illnesses are treated as a category. People with certain physical differences are treated as Halachic categories. People who go through certain experiences are treated as in Halachic categories. So what do we call all these kids who were the victims of this type of cruelty, prejudice, and embarrassment? I call them gay, but you can call them whatever you like; the fact is that we exist, and that this ignorance goes on. Questioning whether we should categorize people by orientation is avoiding the issue, doesn’t help anyone, and is frankly not something that a rabbi can answer. The question is how, as a community, we can take ownership of some of the prejudice and cruelty, and help minimize the suffering of this real subset of people.

4. Rav Twersky asserts that everyone has issues, the only people who “need to know” about these issues are the people closest to us, but no one should look to publicize these issues.

For the panel’s purposes, the issue is not the orientation, or desire for homosexual romance. The issue was the negative responses, cruelty, isolation, social stigmas, silencing, family abuse, and punishment that the Frum world actively bestows upon us. The reason why we to appeal to the community is because it is the community that is allowing this extra suffering to take place by ignoring, denying, and silencing what actually happens. Would Rav Twersky admit that people with issues should tell the people who it affects? Well, this affects every single Stern girl. We are being told to date them. We are being told not to be fully honest with them about our sexuality. Does Rabbi Twersky think that when we hear our friends or Rabbis use hurtful words against us, that we should still keep quiet because people do not need to know our problems?

Publicizing suffering when the community can make a difference has many precedents in Orthodox Judaism. We used to be silent about the suffering of the mentally ill. We used to be silent about abuse and molestation in our community. We used to be silent about drug use and kids at risk. We used to be silent about the suffering of Agunot. All of this silencing is something that Rabbi Twersky’s arguments seems to applaud. He is almost nostalgic about a time when people did not talk about these things openly. I don’t think most Orthodox Jews believe that our community has been harmed by publicly talking about our mentally ill, abused, at risk, or Agunot. In fact, I think most Jews agree that this openness has helped to make our community stronger and more holy. The argument against publicizing suffering lest we embarrass ourselves didn’t hold up against these other issues, and doesn’t hold up against the prejudice against and silencing of gays in our community. If our community can make a difference in people’s lives by being more sensitive, without compromising Halacha, then it is our duty to do what we can as a community to minimize the suffering within. This is why it is appropriate to make a public appeal for sensitivity.

5. Rabbi Twersky says that we don’t create categories of Jews who suffer.

We create categories of Jews who suffer all the time. We have the category of the Agunah, who by no fault of her own is bound by Halacha that she may never be romantic again. Her suffering is heard. Her suffering is publicized. Her suffering is responded to. Besides Agunot, the orthodox community should be praised for its work to respond to other categories of Jews who suffer, whether they be “kids at risk,” the physically and sexually abused, or the mentally or physically challenged. Even though we may not be able to heal or solve the actual condition, we have created great organizations specifically dedicated to lessening the suffering of these people and their families. It is poignant to remember that at one point in time publicizing these “problems” seemed embarrassing to families and the Jewish community. Now, Jewish organizations that help these people are lauded as the highest form of Chesed.

6. Rav Twersky accuses sympathy of being manipulated here to create legitimization.

Sympathy or discussion alone is not the same as legitimization. This distinction is key and is apparent. In addition, while actions can be legitimized or illegitimized, people and their stories exist as true, just by nature of them having taken place and existing. I don’t need anyone to legitimize who I am, or how I feel. This is merely the truth. While it is true that some mistakenly use sympathy to legitimize actions, at the YU event, it was explicitly stated by the panelists they they don’t seek their actions legitimized. In fact, our homosexual actions (or lack thereof) were never discussed. The issue of legitimacy is a red herring. It is not what is being asked for, nor is it the impression that people who were at the event were left with. The issue is what our community can do to minimize their part in contributing to the suffering of their people.

7. Rav Twersky says that sympathy can be overdone in cases where Rachmanus is exaggerated.

The “appropriate” level of compassion, without exaggeration, can only be measured if one opens his ears and eyes to the reality of the suffering. If one refuses to hear the stories, the suffering, the cruelty and the isolation that we experience, how can one claim to know when Rachmanus is exaggerated? One cannot claim to know the appropriate levels of empathy without opening his mind up to the Metzius of the suffering.

8. Rav Twersky claims that the following Proposition 2 is currently under great debate from mental health professionals: Prop. 2 is that this (being a gay person) represents a unique heroic struggle to conform to the Issur in the Torah.

I don’t know anyone, even reparative therapists, who denies that for people who suffer from unwanted Same Sex Attractions, conforming to Halacha is a heroic struggle. Who is anyone to say that it is not a struggle for the gay person to conform to Halacha? It is a monumental struggle. It is unique only in the way that conforming to Halacha may require one to forfeit all romantic and sexual pleasure, for he has no other outlet. Certainly, this struggle does not justify the breaking of Halacha, but the struggle does justify the personal heroism of the Jew who, despite his inclinations, conforms. I think most Jews would agree that the gay person who chooses to stay abstinent and conforms to Halacha IS A HERO. This hero has nothing to be ashamed of. This struggle and heroism is not disputed by mental health professionals, nor is it really disputed by almost anyone. I am not sure what Rav Twersky is referring to when he says that this Prop is subject to great debate.

It could be that Rav Twersky made a careless error and was referring to his Prop. 1, when stating that it is still under great debate in the mental health world. Prop. 1 is that some gay people are hopelessly irreversible and wired that way. In this case, he is half right about the latter part. Concerning the reversibility of homosexuality or the “curing” of a homosexual into a heterosexual, the APA stance is clear that it does not work and can be damaging. More importantly, even the leaders among reparative therapists admit that for a significant percentage of homosexuals, therapy can not yield reparative results. So there is no debate among mental health professionals to the fact that for many homosexuals, homosexuality is irreversible.

As to the second point, that they are “wired that way,” this is debated and still unknown. Studies show that genetics, hormone balance, womb environment, and early childhood development all play a correlative role in the development of the homosexual. The important point is that regardless of whether one is born gay, turns gay in the womb, or develops to be gay because of early childhood experience, none of this says anything to whether it can be changed. There are many environmental conditions that are irreversible. I’m not sure how the “wiring” comes into play in the ethical arguments. Certainly, while the “nature, nurture, or both” question is still up for debate, there isn’t a debate among mental health professionals about whether gays “choose” to be gay. There is unanimous agreement that there are many gays who do not choose to be gay, and are gay despite any conscious choice. So the existence of homosexuals whose sexuality is “irreversible,” and who did not choose to be homosexual in any way, is not a matter of debate. Their existence is medically, socially, and scientifically accepted as fact. Consequently, both Prop. 1 (with respect to it not being a choice and the exception of the “wired” wording) and Prop. 2 are not debated, and are both reasonable and scientifically justifiable assumptions. Even in his own speech, Rav Twersky does not attempt to argue against the validity of these propositions.

9. Rav Twersky assumes that if one asserts the validity of both Prop. 1 and Prop. 2, then the message being sent inevitably is that gay people do not have to comply with Halacha? Thus, the message of the panel at YU, despite any proclamations to the contrary, implied that gay people are not bound to Halacha.

Logic does NOT tell us that if we accept Prop. 1 and 2 as valid, then we are forced to accept the conclusion that gays are exempt from Halachic compliance. Just because a Halacha requires a heroic effort to comply with, and one may not be able to change themselves to make this effort easier, it does not follow that one is exempt from having to deal with the said Halacha. There are many hard and uneasy Halachot that we are bound by. Agunah is the best example of a Halacha that, to our notions of ethics, seems unfair. Why should this innocent woman be condemned to a single life of isolation for the rest of her days? Why can’t the Rabbis do anything to change this? Even though we all ask these questions, we still ask the Agunah to heroically comply to a Halacha that seems cruel and outdated. The Orthodox world understands that just because a prohibition is hard does not mean that a Posuk can be uprooted or ignored. Rav Twersky’s assumption, that accepting Prop. 1 and 2 inevitably leads to promoting a message of Halachic violation, is unfounded in reason or logic.

In addition, it assumes that the students of YU and the greater Orthodox community do not understand that there is no logical argument that compels one to think that Halacha must be changed if Prop. 1 and 2 are accepted. Not only does the Orthodox community understand this (albeit, they struggle with it, as they do concerning Agunah), this message was also repeated by Rabbi Blau at the outset of the panel discussion, as to not confuse anyone into making this irrational assumption. While it is true that great Orthodox rabbis like Rabbi Norman Lamm and Rabbi Chaim Rappaport have used Halachic formulations like “Ones” or “Tinok She-nishba” respectively in dealing with the Halachic response to some homosexuals, that Halachic discourse was beyond the scope of the panel’s purpose, and was explicitly proclaimed as such.

12. Rav Twersky asserts once again that the message of proclaiming Prop. 1 and 2 is that I no longer have to comply with what the Torah calls “Yehareg Ve’al Ya’avor”?

This still does not follow and is still without basis, no matter how many times it is repeated by Rabbi Twersky. This message was not implied, not delivered, not intentioned, and not said. This message is instead a straw man that Rav Twersky has created so that he can tear down and then criticize this panel as a Chillul HaShem.

It should be noted that mentioning that this issur is one of “Yehareg Ve’al Ya’avor” does not prevent the community from a Halachic outpouring of sympathy and need for public discourse. The brain death/organ donation debate is also one that deals with a “Yehareg Ve’al Ya’avor” sin of murder. However, in that case, it is discussed and debated, and both sides are publicly empathized with in the Frum community. We understand that even though the Issur is grave, the practical manifestation of the Issur in brain death requires sympathy, rabbinical debate, and community support either way. So the graveness of an Issur does not preclude a public discourse, rabbinical analysis, or a community’s sympathy.

13. Rav Twersky points out that the Rav used to speak about the concept of defeat and surrender, and that the fact that “I want it” does not mean that it has to be doable or Halachically feasible, and that this mindset is operative on the panel.

The panel and the panelists never once mentioned, intended, or implied anything about how much they want to do something, or how because of this desire they expect that it must be doable. This is once again a manufactured message, based on creating a straw man which is easier to knock down, this time using Rav Soloveitchik zt’l in the process. Invoking the Rav to argue against a point that no one is making does not make sense and is arguably misleading. The content, purpose, and message of the panel were about things like how we as children are subject to prejudice, how we are pressured to lie during dating, and how coming out to parents and family is made unnecessarily hard by the prejudices, taboos, and repercussions reinforced by the Frum community. The focus was on what the community could do to alleviate their part in contributing to the suffering of already vulnerable people. The Rav’s words or arguments were never disagreed with.

14. Rav Twersky asserts that the vast majority of people who supported and attended the event meant well, but didn’t realize what the event was going to be and what actually would take place in the event. Had they known, they would have not been supportive.

What is it that Rav Twersky thinks that people assumed the event would be, and then were proven wrong by what actually took place? What happened at the event that we didn’t think would happen? All the panelists just talked about their stories of growing up in the Frum world. What it was like to date women, deal with parents and friends, get kicked out of camp or yeshiva, and go to reparative therapy. The event confirmed compliance with Halacha, and the veracity of the Torah. No one talked about sexual activity, nor changing Halacha. What is it that Rav Twersky is referring to that happened at this event, that people didn’t realize would happen? This is unclear and unexplained. It is a tactic to rewrite what actually happened so that his critique of the event can sound plausible. The event is on video and can easily be viewed on the Internet. The facts speak for themselves.

15. Rav Twersky affirms that there is a line for appropriate sympathy for discreet individuals dealing with this issue, but not when the issue is dealt with in a non-discreet manner.

Discretion is warranted and appropriately demanded when speaking about private matters like sexual activity, or personal actions that explicitly violate Halacha. Certainly, a public forum is not appropriate for people to discuss what they do or want to do in the bedroom. But I cannot state it more boldly: that is not what happened at this event. One would be hard-pressed to argue that one requires discretion when discussing communal prejudice against them. Do I need to be secretive about the fact that 10-year-old kids are being kicked out of camp merely for admitting that they are attracted to guys? Do I need to be secretive about the fact that reparative therapy did not work for me, nor did it work for any of my friends who struggle with being gay? Do I need to be secretive about how hard it is to maintain a relationship with my family because I know that the community ostracizes them because I won’t deny that I am a homosexual? These issues are communal issues that don’t involve inappropriate or offensive details.

To say that these issues require discretion in order to earn compassion is a paradoxical argument. Compassion is exemplified by the ability of a person to speak about who he is, and not be socially punished for it. The problem is the taboo and the silencing, and his solution is more silencing. The problem is isolation, and his solution is being more alone. Rav Twersky uses a moderate word like “discretion” to imply that someone who does not lie about his life, or someone that tells over the evils done to him by prominent members of schools and camps, not only does not deserve sympathy, but should be punished with ill repute. Misplaced discretion is another term for silencing and isolating. Discretion about private acts and Biblical proscriptions is certainly warranted; no one is arguing against that. However, discretion about the role that the community plays in exacerbating the suffering of the most vulnerable is an affront to communal introspection and Tikun Olam.

16. Rav Twersky asserts that the way this “Chillul HaShem” unfolded was that the event was billed and carried out as “Being Gay at YU.”

First of all, the event was billed and carried out as “Being Gay in the Orthodox World.” Being that Rav Twersky is specifically referring to the wording as the source of a reflection, it would behoove him to get the wording right. There are gay people in every yeshiva, from the far right to the far left. JQY has gay members from Lakewood, Monsey, Square Town, and just about every black-hat yeshiva in Israel. It is a reflection on YU only with respect to the fact that there are also gay people at YU. This may embarrass Rav Twersky, but that doesn’t take away the facts. Each community is responsible for addressing the suffering within. The fact that YU was willing to look inward and listen to its community members suffering only reflects that YU’s ears and eyes are open. I’m still not sure why constitutes any “Chillul HaShem.”

The use of the phrase “Chillul HaShem” is particularly disturbing. Being that Rav Twersky never rigorously argued why this event would constitute such a grave Halachic category, I can only assume that he is basing it on the earlier part of his speech. If the comparison to adultery fails, the idea that the message was to deny or violate Halacha is baseless, and the need for discretion actually only applies to the act or the violation, then what is the reason this event was a Chillul HaShem? No one talked about any forbidden act on the panel. No one talked about their sex life. No one demanded a changing or ignoring of Halacha. The subjects were the extra-Halachic prejudices, silencing, and pressures that the community may be responsible for. This was a community examining what they may be responsible for, and how to ensure that no one again suffers needlessly. Why would Rav Twersky not explain and argue in detail why he describes this event as a Chillul HaShem?

Instead, it seems he uses the title “Chillul HaShem” in the spirit of name-calling. It adds nothing to the argument, is never rigorously defended, and just serves to assert that something bad happened, when nothing bad was ever described. It is this type of name-calling that actually exemplifies the need for events like the panel. A sense of personal embarrassment or uncomfortableness is not the same thing as “Chillul HaShem.” Just because the truth that we exist in YU, or in your shul, or in your family, causes you personal shame, does not make it a “Chillul HaShem.” This is an example of rationalizing personal insecurities into Halachic concepts.

Rav Twersky may be uncomfortable with gay people, and he has every right to be. However, masking this discomfort and embarrassment with strong rhetoric like “Chillul HaShem” is uncalled for. If the title of “autism” embarrasses a parent, it is not the autistic child’s fault. If people persecute you because they know that your child is different, the fault lies in the people who are cruel, not the child who never chose to be this way. What is worse is that Rav Twersky asks students to also feel this shame, embarrassment, and anger. Is he thinking about the gay people who are sitting there scared and alone in the Beis Medrash listening to his speech? Is he sensitive to how those most vulnerable may be hurt by his language and tone? This insensitivity is part of what makes being gay at YU so hard. In our next panel, we could literally use Rav Twersky’s comments as one of our stories about ways in which some rabbis needlessly add salt to our wounds by lacking sensitivity about this issue. His word usage implies that he of all people could have benefited from attending the YU event. One cannot be sensitive if one refuses to hear, see, and get to know the person suffering. I know that I plan to sit and discuss these issues with Rav Twersky in person, in order to begin work in this endeavor. I hope other Frum gays will too.

17. Rav Twersky asserted that two of the four presenters actually spoke about actual Mishcav Zachar.

This is either an absurd fabrication, a gross misreading of the text, an unfortunate delusion, or an outright lie. Mishcav Zachar, as interpreted by the Talmud and Rishonim, is clearly the act of anal intercourse. No one on the panel spoke about, referred to, or even brought up this act. The transcripts and videos are transparent and speak for themselves. Please look up the videos on under the words “YU gaypanel.” The assumption of the panel was that this act is explicitly forbidden and must be refrained from. There is no place in any of our words that would lead one to assume that any panelist took part in such an activity. I assume that Rav Twersky made a terribly careless error here, because the alternative is blatant Motzi Shem Ra about fellow Jews, which would actually be a gross Chillul HaShem!

18. Rav Twersky criticized the event for generating applause and not having any “ma’cha” (vocal opposition).

However, he told his followers not to come to the event, not to ask questions, not to hear things for themselves and then make decisions later. Rav Twersky, and all the other rabbeim, were invited to speak and be heard and responded to at this event. Yet, all refused. It is ironic and rationally confusing to advocate ignoring/boycotting an event and then to criticize the event for not having any voices of opposition heard.

-Mordechai Levovitz

December 2, 2009

Kvish 443 – a must see!

Filed under: Foreign Affairs,Politics — cyberdov @ 12:51 am

Pretty sophisticated political commentary.

And Sue  thought there is no left in Israel any more…

November 15, 2009

How dishonest Republicans are trying to block efforts to any kind of health care bill

Filed under: Politics — cyberdov @ 9:21 pm

I highly recommend this NY Times op-ed piece, by a principled, middle-of-the-road Democratic Congressman.

November 10, 2009

In Flanders Fields – for Rememberance Day

Filed under: Politics — cyberdov @ 8:55 am

(Hat tip –

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Courtesy of Bee MacGuire
Obtained From TheMcCrae Museum of The Guelph Museum

McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” remains to this day one of the most memorable war poems ever written. It is a lasting legacy of the terrible battle in the Ypres salient in the spring of 1915. Here is the story of the making of that poem:
Although he had been a doctor for years and had served in the South African War, it was impossible to get used to the suffering, the screams, and the blood here, and Major John McCrae had seen and heard enough in his dressing station to last him a lifetime.

As a surgeon attached to the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, Major McCrae, who had joined the McGill faculty in 1900 after graduating from the University of Toronto, had spent seventeen days treating injured men — Canadians, British, Indians, French, and Germans — in the Ypres salient.

It had been an ordeal that he had hardly thought possible. McCrae later wrote of it:

“I wish I could embody on paper some of the varied sensations of that seventeen days… Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not have been done.”

One death particularly affected McCrae. A young friend and former student, Lieut. Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, had been killed by a shell burst on 2 May 1915. Lieutenant Helmer was buried later that day in the little cemetery outside McCrae’s dressing station, and McCrae had performed the funeral ceremony in the absence of the chaplain.

The next day, sitting on the back of an ambulance parked near the dressing station beside the Canal de l’Yser, just a few hundred yards north of Ypres, McCrae vented his anguish by composing a poem. The major was no stranger to writing, having authored several medical texts besides dabbling in poetry.

In the nearby cemetery, McCrae could see the wild poppies that sprang up in the ditches in that part of Europe, and he spent twenty minutes of precious rest time scribbling fifteen lines of verse in a notebook.

A young soldier watched him write it. Cyril Allinson, a twenty-two year old sergeant-major, was delivering mail that day when he spotted McCrae. The major looked up as Allinson approached, then went on writing while the sergeant-major stood there quietly. “His face was very tired but calm as we wrote,” Allinson recalled. “He looked around from time to time, his eyes straying to Helmer’s grave.”

When McCrae finished five minutes later, he took his mail from Allinson and, without saying a word, handed his pad to the young NCO. Allinson was moved by what he read:

“The poem was exactly an exact description of the scene in front of us both. He used the word blow in that line because the poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind. It never occurred to me at that time that it would ever be published. It seemed to me just an exact description of the scene.”

In fact, it was very nearly not published. Dissatisfied with it, McCrae tossed the poem away, but a fellow officer retrieved it and sent it to newspapers in England. The Spectator, in London, rejected it, but Punch published it on 8 December 1915.

November 5, 2009

New Book Review – “Start-up Nation”

Filed under: Business,Foreign Affairs — cyberdov @ 3:30 pm

An interesting review (in The Atlantic) of a book about Israel’s success as an R&D and innovation center. Not a ‘pro-Israel agenda’ book at all, but one with profound implications for the developing world. Sounds like a book well worth reading.

June 22, 2009

A Pragmatic Basis for Middle East Peace?

Filed under: Foreign Affairs,Politics — cyberdov @ 1:28 pm

Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic has a piece about the converging interests of Israel and the Sunni Arab states.

The very idea of an Sunni/Jewish axis seems preposterous, of course, but stranger things have happened. The real takeaway from this article is that most of us (I refer to myself here) have very little understanding of some of the deeper geopolitical currents in the middle east (or anywhere else, I suppose).

I hope that is not true for those in government who are responsible for dealing with these things, but I fear that they my be as superficial and clueless as the rest of us…

June 16, 2009

Obama writes a note…

Filed under: Domestic,Politics — cyberdov @ 9:00 am

Classy guy, with a sense of humor to boot!

June 4, 2009

Obama in Cairo

Filed under: Foreign Affairs,Politics,Uncategorized — cyberdov @ 12:46 pm


What a breath of fresh air!!!!

Well worth a read.

Here’s the full text, courtesy of Der Spiegel (,1518,628538,00.html):

I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt’s advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.

We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.” That is what I will try to do – to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America’s story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, “The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.” And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson – kept in his personal library.

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words – within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: “Out of many, one.”

Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores – that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.

That does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: we must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America’s goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

That’s why we’re partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America’s commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths – more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.

We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: “I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future – and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq’s sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq’s democratically-elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012. We will help Iraq train its Security Forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.

So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers – for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them – and all of us – to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel’s legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America’s interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in whichno nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.

I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of another’s. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld – whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

Indeed, faith should bring us together. That is why we are forging service projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That is why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah’s Interfaith dialogue and Turkey’s leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into Interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action – whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

The sixth issue that I want to address is women’s rights.

I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now let me be clear: issues of women’s equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and changing communities. In all nations – including my own – this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we will lose of control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities – those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradiction between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

This is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf States have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century, and in too many Muslim communities there remains underinvestment in these areas. I am emphasizing such investments within my country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas in this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America, while encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in on-line learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.

On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek – a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God’s children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many – Muslim and non-Muslim – who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn’t worth the effort – that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country – you, more than anyone, have the ability to remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward; to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples – a belief that isn’t new; that isn’t black or white or brown; that isn’t Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It’s a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions. It’s a faith in other people, and it’s what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us, “O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”

The Talmud tells us: “The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.”

The Holy Bible tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God’s peace be upon you.

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