President Barack Obama continues to astound the world with his thoughtful acknowledgments of other cultures during a time that is sacred and meaningful to them. He has published an official White House video, wishing those who honor Diwali as a time for remembrance (Holiday), a Happy Diwali and Saal Mubarak. In this video, President Obama educates the American people and anyone else who chooses to listen, on the history of Diwali. He explains that Diwali is a celebration of the Festival of Lights and states that it is a time “when some of the world’s great faiths celebrate the triumph of good over evil.” He speaks on behalf of the American people, wishing peace to everyone. President Obama invites us to move beyond our differences and to look at our humanity, to move past our denominations, religions and cultures, and remember those who are not privileged to worship and speak freely of their own choosing. He adds that this should be a time for contemplation, acknowledging those who are less fortunate and urges us to join together to make a habit of reaching out to those in need in an effort to advance world peace.
As reported by MSN News, President Obama bows with Hindu Priest Sri Narayanachar Digalakote, after lighting a diya (oil lamp) in commemoration of Diwali, in the East Room on October 14, 2009.
Whether you like President Obama or not, whether you question the sincerity of this gesture or not, you must admit that his message was a call and an answer to hope and respect. This message was not one that the American government has conveyed so literally and deliberately in the past. While President Bush was the first American President to introduce Diwali at the White House in 2003, it is my understanding that President Bush was always absent for the festivities and a cabinet member was left to preside over or light the diya in representation of him. More information about Bush’s regard and support of acknowledging Diwali in the US can be found at The Association of Indians in America website. President Obama is the first American president to attend a Diwali celebration and light a diya in full commemoration of the sacred holiday. What is different about Bush’s approach vs. Obama’s regarding Diwali is that Obama allowed us in, he invited the American people to get on board and share in the meaning of Diwali, if we so chose to, as a gesture of cultural movement rather than something that was done as a “technical” check off of his to-do list. This is a significant point to make. Further, he elected this moment, this celebration, as another opportunity to drive home his message of peace, emphasizing the need to build bridges of communication and empathy and not those of ignorance and separation, he encouraged contemplation and not segregation. It was a powerful move on the president’s part and I assure you, the meaning of the American flag represents something greater today, at least for a portion of Jains, Sikhs and Hindus and some Americans as well, than it did before Obama’s speech. No other President has openly respected and acknowledged other faiths and called them great because there was always a purported belief or a stigmatization that carried a label of dishonor. The perception was that the honor of some other country, faith, or culture denied or denigrated your own, but that belief is founded on a faulty premise and today President Obama was an example of this truth.
For those of you who did not see the speech, I have embedded it below for your convenience.
What are your feelings and thoughts on this? Let’s talk about it.