Exclusive: Obama’s Speech Was a Missed Opportunity (Part One of Two)
by N. M. GUARIGLIA
June 10, 2009
At the beginning of his highly anticipated speech in Cairo, President Obama urged Americans and Muslims alike to “say in public what we say in private,” and to speak “openly [about] the things we hold in our hearts… that too often are said only behind closed doors.”
It is too bad Obama did not live up to this standard throughout the duration of the speech. Time and again, Obama told the Islamic world what it wanted to hear, not what it needed to hear. In doing so, Obama reinforced false premises, trespassed into dangerous rhetorical territory, and missed a golden opportunity to take firm philosophical control of an all-important ideological war that wages to this hour.
Despite calling for “mutual interest and mutual respect,” President Obama kept holding the Muslim world to a lower standard in order to score persuasion points.
Let’s start with the reference to his middle name, Hussein, for example. Americans understandably see strategic advantage in Obama’s Islamic-orientated background and racial ancestry. His ethnicity, in other words, can conceivably “win over” the fence sitters in the Islamic world.
Yet doesn’t this excuse Muslim prejudice? Isn’t winning hearts and minds in the fashion cheap and the opposite of tolerance? Who else in the world is allowed to openly embrace the election of a foreign leader based solely on the color of said leader’s skin? Could we imagine Americans responding with widespread adulation to the election of a Caucasian in Egypt or a Christian in Saudi Arabia? Will Joe Biden’s America — or Mitt Romney’s or Hillary Clinton’s — revert back to its Great Satanism?
President Obama would have been far wiser, and his words far more enduring, if he had instead tried to convince the Muslim world to appreciate the United States both when our leaders do and do not look like him.
Obama’s statement that “tension has been fed by colonialism [which denied] rights and opportunities to many Muslims” was equally foolish. Once upon a time, only the likes of Osama bin Laden invoked the specter of colonialism. Now President Obama is adopting this talking point, even though the United States has never been a colonizing power — a point even Obama acknowledged during the speech. To concede that age-old injustices are contemporary legitimate grievances is not only asinine history, its precarious leadership. Yet again, it allows the Muslim world to hold itself to a lower behavioral standard.
Rather than reaffirming Jihadist propaganda, President Obama could have reminded the Muslim world that Western leaders do not — and would never be allowed to — cite the 400-plus years of Islamic conquest that preceded colonialism as justification for modern-day military interventions. No serious European or American leader would ever think of referencing centuries-old historical grievances to validate actions in the here and now. No one in Western society would tolerate such exploitation from their leadership, which is all the more reason why we should never grant our theocratic enemies this privilege, either. Underscoring al Qaida’s claims, Mr. Obama, will never undermine them.
Likewise, the history in the speech was terrible. While Obama said, “Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society,” he did not mention all of the Israeli attempts to do so. There was no mention of the Madrid conferences, or the Camp David accords, the 97 percent deal turned down by Arafat, Oslo I and II, the Hebron Agreement, the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum, or the Taba diplomacy.
He did not mention the half-dozen wars started by the Arab world with the intention of liquidating the Jews. He did not mention Israel’s historic withdrawals — southern Lebanon, Gaza, etc. — that usually preceded further Islamic attempts to destroy Israel.
Rather than talking to Muslims about the “displacement brought about by Israel’s founding,” he could have reminded his audience that Palestine was the ancient home of Jewish peoples, and was subsequently conquered by Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Franks, Arabs, Ottomans, and the British Crown.
Rather than placating Hamas and telling Palestinians, “Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed,” Obama could have highlighted a few decades’ worth of examples where Palestinian violence did succeed in extracting the U.S. taxpayer’s dollar — and then he could have strongly said that such bribery-through-violence will be put to an end during his presidency.
Rather than telling the audience what it wanted to hear about Palestinian “humiliation” under “occupation,” Obama could have instead reminded the Muslim world that their opposition to occupation is selective. Where were the protests of Egypt’s occupation of Gaza? What about Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank, or Syria’s occupation of Lebanon, Morocco’s of Western Sahara, and Indonesia’s of East Timor? When it comes to Islamic occupation, nobody in the Muslim world says anything to anyone, anywhere.
As for atrocities committed against Palestinians and Muslims, Obama could have asked where the outcry was when Damascus bulldozed the city of Hama, flattening more than 10,000 innocents. He could have asked where the outrage was when Jordan green-lighted Black September, killing upwards to 25,000 Palestinian nomads. He could have inquired where the indignation was when Kuwait ethnically cleansed a third of a million Palestinians, or why none of the Arab world’s 22 dictatorships grant Palestinians as many rights as Israel does.
To paraphrase Dr. Walid Phares, President Obama’s speech was the first time a world leader addressed a religion — the “Islamic world” — in this fashion. Mark Steyn expands on this view in a recent column:
It’s interesting how easily the words “the Muslim world” roll off the tongues of liberal secular progressives who’d choke on any equivalence reference to “the Christian world.” When such hyperalert policemen of the perimeter between church and state endorsed the former but not the latter, they’re implicitly acknowledging that Islam is not merely a faith but a political project, too.
Islam is the belief-system of over one-sixth of the planet, and rather than address the incompatibilities between radical Islam and modernity, President Obama spent an inordinate amount of time talking about the Palestinian plight and Israel’s shortcomings. It was a missed opportunity.
Part Two will publish Thursday.