Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama Speaks to Islam - Part I

Earlier today, President Obama spoke to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt. (See the White House for full transcript In many ways he should be commended for his speech. He appeared to achieve his primary goals of assuaging mainstream Muslim anger towards the US and opening a ‘new’ dialogue between the West and Islamic world. He spoke tactfully to address mutual issues and brighten the Islamic world’s view of America. Furthermore, his discussion on democracies made some very strong points. To be intellectually honest, his successes must be praised.

However, there were a number of instances where his previous foreign policy gaffes and his harmful and misguided views of international relations seeped through. There were at least three major areas where his language was most unfortunate. First, Obama continued his regrettable apologetic tone and America criticism. Second, he was overly critical of Israel. Finally, he reemphasized a poor nuclear policy. These three issues will be discussed in the following three blog entries.

As he has done in the past, Obama overplayed America’s supposed mistakes and wrongs. While he was certainly not as intense as in past speeches, his words were embarrassing and degrading towards America. Throughout his speech, Obama claimed that he wanted to paint a picture of America and Islam on equal footing, as two brothers that had a shared and sometimes painfully history, but ultimately needed and wanted to work together. This is a fair and just goal and one that is appropriate if properly executed. However, Obama frequently appeared to put greater emphasis on the West’s alleged mistakes and misdeeds than Islam’s. For instance he began to address the historical relationship between Islam and the West by expounding on historical misdeeds completed by the West.
We meet at a time of great 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 coexistence 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.
He then seemingly attempted to show the Muslim harms committed against the West. He said,
“Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims.” It is important to note that this is explained only as violent minority. Obama’s attempt at painting a picture of two equally culpable parties fails. In his eyes, the West, as a whole, has harmed Islam; while only a few members of Islam have harmed the West. This unfortunately continues the slamming of America in order to appease the world community.

He continued to disparage America in his discussion of Iraq. As compared to his discussion of Afghanistan, Obama portrayed Iraq as an unfortunate disaster that should never have happened. This streak of self-criticism continued with his discussion of post-9/11 policies. He stated,
The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and 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.
For some reason, Obama thinks it is prudent to consistently point out polices that he, alongside his new anti-American, and Islamic friends dislike. He seems more interested in being popular and liked, than doing the right thing. Even if he is right (which he isn’t) regarding Iraq or Guantanamo, continually harping on them does no good. He has recognized this to some degree by thankfully deciding not to release the latest rounds of photos. However he continues unhelpful and unnecessary discussion and disparagement of the US.

All of this leads to a world view of America as weak and morally reprehensible. If Obama truly thinks that there are mutual misdeeds, then he should equally outline them both (or just avoid saying anything). However, by stating the message that both parties are to blame and then only displaying one side’s supposed wrongs sends a drastically different message. It reeks of regret and weakness, and fails to truly talk openly as supposedly desires. The job of the President is to protect America, not to criticize and undermine our world position. Unfortunately Obama can’t seem to help himself.

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