Obama’s Speech to Muslims

June 5th, 2009

President Obama’s Cairo speech to the Muslim world on June 4 represents a new direction in American foreign policy, but it won’t make much difference in practical terms.  As Obama said, “No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust.”

The New York Times published a full transcript of the speech.  As I read it, I found powerful statements about America’s role in the world and its relationship to other countries.  The President also made important statements that needed to be made, including a strong statement against Holocaust denial.  However, he said other things that I found troubling.

Journalist, editorial writers, and pundits have evaluated the speech in different ways, as might be expected.  Liberals and Democrats thought it was great, and conservatives and Republicans were critical.  That’s to be expected; for most of these people, ideology trumps all.  The best approach is to read the speech for yourself and make your own judgments.

I pulled a few quotes from the speech that gave me pause, or at least made me wonder what his intentions are.  In a few cases, his statements are regretable.

Violent extremists have exploited … 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. …

It seems that the appropriate word, “terrorists,” has been banned and replaced by the less appropriate and less accurate word “extremists.”  So not only have we dispensed with the war on terrorism, we’ve decided that repeated terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and U.S. interests abroad aren’t really terrorism after all. 

It also appears that Americans’ view of Islam as inevitably hostile has “bred more fear and distrust.”  Funny how that works — we view the terrorists who attack us and the religion that is their motivation negatively, and that makes them fear and mistrust us.  So what are we supposed to do, bow down before them and invite them to sing Kumbaya with us?

…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. …

I guess he means that we’re really, really sorry we reacted strongly against those who have repeatedly carried out acts of terrorism against us, including killing thousands of our citizens.  We shouldn’t have treated a few prisoners harshly to gain information from them about future attacks, and we shouldn’t have held them in a modern prison that’s better than most prisons in the U.S.  Of course, Muslim terrorists will continue brutally mistreating their prisoners and abductees, to including beheading them, as they always have.

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. …

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. …

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. …

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. …

Denial of the Holocaust is certainly “baseless, ignorant, and hateful,” and I’m pleased that the President made such a forceful statement.  But, given that a very large percentage of Muslims, probably a majority among Arabs, do deny that the Holocaust happened, or that it happened in any significant way, and given that there’s no likelihood that they’re going to change that view, Obama is pretty much wasting his time on this one.

Palestinians have been waiting in “refugee” camps for 60 years because they won’t give up their hope that Israel will be destroyed, and Arab nations have done next to nothing to help or encourage them to move on in life because they use the Palestinians to serve political purposes.  It’s simply naive to think that Arab nations are going to stop using the plight of the Palestinians and the Arab-Israeli conflict “to distract their people from other problems.”

Despite the President’s words, the Palestinians aren’t going to stop attacking Israel, and Israel isn’t going to stop defending itself.  Israel will accept a two-state solution, providing they can have some reasonable assurance of living in peace and security.  But that’s not likely to happen.  The Palestinians have turned down the offer of statehood on excellent conditions a number of times, beginning in 1947.  The truth is, and the President should know this, the Palestinians’ goal is not to live in a separate state side-by-side with Israel.  

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. …

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. …

Here’s the President as Pollyanna, with his “unyielding belief” that everyone wants what so few nations have been able to realize.  Although I’m sure Obama would choke on the term, those values are at the core of American exceptionalism.  The reason it’s exceptional is because it’s so hard to achieve, and many peoples will never achieve it.  It’s also interesting that Obama is channeling George Bush, after having apologized to a foreign audience for the actions of his country under Bush.

I guess Obama wants to follow Britain, France, the Netherlands, et al. in their acceptance of dhimmitude.  Does he want to allow Muslims in the U.S. to live under sharia law and sharia courts without regard to U.S. law, as many Muslims want and some have achieved in Europe?  Will he stand by, wrapped in fraudulent moral equivalence, as Muslim women are whipped or stoned or perhaps even beheaded for minor social transgressions?  Or, on a more trivial level, is he going to support the demand of some Muslim women to have drivers’ license and other ID photos taken with their faces completely covered?  This is what he’s talking about in practice, and he should know better.

Obama’s attitude toward Israel is particularly troubling.  Charles Krauthammer made the point in a column on June 5, The Settlements Myth:

President Obama repeatedly insists that American foreign policy be conducted with modesty and humility. Above all, there will be no more “dictating” to other countries. … An admirable sentiment. It applies to everyone — Iran, Russia, Cuba, Syria, even Venezuela. Except Israel. Israel is ordered to freeze all settlement activity. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton imperiously explained the diktat: “a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions.”

I’ve said before and I’ll say again — I think President Obama is a highly intelligent man with good intentions, and I hope he’s a successful president.  However, his naivete and inexperience in foreign policy are dangerous.  He needs to learn how the world really works, despite the demands of his leftist supporters, and he has to operate within that reality.  Paying lip service to America’s historic and essential support of Israel while constructing moral equivalence out of thin air and cozying up to the Muslim world can have disastrous consequences.


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19 Responses to “Obama’s Speech to Muslims”



  1. Trooper Thorn |

    It doesn’t matter what Obama says. Fanatics hate us for our free society, not the actions of the government.


  2. Kevin |

    There is a Rabbinical court in NY with limited legal standing and authority. There are Catholic courts in this country with limited legal standing and authority. Likewise there are Rabbinical and Catholic courts in Europe with varying degrees of legal authority.

    Let’s be honest here. The issue isn’t whether a religion-based court based on specific sectarian codes were to be established here. If that really were the issue then the same people crying out against the potential of Sharia courts would cry out against existing religious courts. The cry against Sharia courts is nothing more than a thin disguise for anti-Muslim bigotry.

    The fact of the matter is that the existing Rabbinical and Catholic courts in America have legal standing and authority to the extent that they don’t render any decision which is contrary to civil law. If they cross that line then their rulings get overturned. Sharia courts would be under the exact same limitations.

    In Europe the situation changes from country to country. One small example from England: Rabbinical court ruling makes mother ‘feel like a harlot’. The relevant point here being that we already know that existing religious-based courts in America operate differently than in Europe.

    Again, the cry against Sharia courts by those not crying about Rabbinical and Catholic courts is nothing more than anti-Muslim bigotry.


  3. Tom |

    You’re not being realistic, Kevin. Activist Muslims in the U.S., like in other countries, want sharia law and sharia courts that operate outside the normal laws of the country, which they don’t see as applicable to them. When there are enough mosques and enough Muslims in the U.S., the demands will grow more strident. Politicians besotted with diversity and steeped in leftist ideology will cave in. If we let them.

    Jewish and Catholic church practices don’t approximate what Muslims demand. Nice try though, again.


  4. Carla Axtman |

    Fanatics hate us for our free society, not the actions of the government.

    If that’s the case, then at least under Bush–those fanatics had their way.

    Given the abridging of the rights of American citizens and the crazy undermining of law by the Bush Admin, we lost a good portion of that free society.

    Frankly, the “they hate us for our freedoms” notion is a rather shallow and simplistic bumpersticker rhetorical device that does little in the way of explaining the issues involved here.

    On a completely different note…The Quiet Man is my favorite movie of all time…so the name “Trooper Thorn” definitely made me smile. :)


  5. Kevin |

    We know that Heradi Jews beat woman for not dressing conservatively enough, just like their Wahhabi Muslim peers are fond of doing. Both sects have a proven history in the Middle East of doing exactly that.

    According to your rightist rational-ization, if we allowed Heradi Jews to increase in numbers here in America then there might come a point when they’d overwhelm us by sheer numbers and we’d all be reduced to living under their extremely harsh religious edicts.


  6. Lisa |

    One of the red flags for me was the use of the word “extremist” vs “terrorist” in both the president’s speech as well as SECSTATE Clinton’s interview with Greta Van Sustern. Extremist is such a vague terminology. Do we go to war with extremists? How do we define an extremist? Interestingly, defense budgets as I write are retitling line items to adjust. How do we define the threat? Do we react to extremists as a group with just a different opinion? This is frightening.


  7. Harvey |

    Obama’s speech (I read it) raised many points that will signal to all of Islam that we want friendship and cooperation not violence. That doesn’t bother me — its a good goal!

    I don’t, however, like his false comparisons of America and Islam:

    “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.”

    Here he is favorably comparing “America” to “Islam”; America the independent nation and Islam the religion. To begin with, America is a free and independent nation (at least it was before Obama) whose citizens elect their representatives, and Islam is a religion that is controlled by Imams whose interpretation of their Koran and of the murmurings of Mohammed are the strictly enforced law and code of conduct. That ends the comparison right there Mr. President. There can be no comparison — especially if “justice” was the initial basis.

    Its clear to me (not just from this speech but from what he has said since he began running for president) that Obama is not a man who I want as my president. I want my president to focus on making America strong and fiercely independent. I don’t want my president kissing the buttock of the Muslim world and turning the US into another England where the Englishman is now an endangered species. I love this country as it was — it doesn’t need an International retrofit.


  8. Tom |

    Carla,

    I understand that one of the routine criticisms of the former administration is this “abridging of our rights.” But let’s get real — what rights did you lose? How did it affect your life? Other than causing some ideological angst, I’m certain the answer is that it didn’t at all. Multiply that by about 300,000,000 million, less a handful of people who were, or were suspected of being, terrorists, and you see how bogus this mantra really is. The truth is, what little was done was in our national security interest, and the previous administration was remarkably successful in preventing terrorism. I know it’s hard, but it’s time to get over it and move on.

    I agree that this business of hating us for our freedoms, an awkward Bushism, doesn’t mean much. What some Muslims really hate non-Muslims for is that we aren’t Muslims. Add to that the desire to move away from their own failed societies to the comfort and opportunity of Western countries, with the demand that we permit them to replicate those failed societies, and you have the problem.

    The name “Trooper Thorn” tinkled a distant bell in the back of my mind, but I couldn’t remember where it came from. Now I know — the ring name of the boxer Sean Thornton (John Wayne) in The Quiet Man. And, pray tell, what was the final line Maureen O’Hara whispered to John Wayne?

    Kevin,

    Your attempt at establishing moral equivalence between ultra-Orthodox Jews and Muslim terrorists is a reach way too far. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have been in the U.S. for well over a century, and while they live in insular communities and keep pretty much to themselves, they are law-abiding. That’s generally true in Israel also, despite isolated incidents like the one you referenced, which pales in comparison to routine Muslim excesses. Frankly, I would welcome more Jews in the U.S. because their creativity and hard work contributes positively to any society they are part of, depite ever-present anti-semitism.

    Lisa,

    I’m with you on the implications of “downsizing” the terrorist threat by calling them “extremists.” Words have meaning, and I don’t like the direction this is taking us.

    Harvey,

    I agree that comparisons of America and Islam are bogus on many levels, beginning with the apples-and-oranges problem. Same with the comparison of Palestinians with blacks in America, which was also in the speech. However, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, Obama may not be the president you want, but he’s the president you have. He deserves respect and support, in addition to hope that he has the intellectual flexibility to learn and adapt to reality.


  9. Harvey |

    Tom,

    Yes, Obama is the president “we have” but he’s also the president we can’t afford. As for respect and support — these are always to be earned — they don’t come with a position unless the person in question provides your paycheck and then they are only superficial. Obama has earned neither my respect or my support.

    Our ONLY hope right now is to gather the forces and work to put some REAL checks and balances on Obama in 2010 by electing people who do not support his schoolboy approach, i.e., dragging America into a position where it is no more than an equal partner in the mishmash known as the world community. America is better than that and right now we have a president who is working hard to compromise America’s Constitution, principles and very future. I refuse to accept that and go quietly into Obama’s dark night.

    A concerted effort by the American voters to dilute his power in 2010 and elect a REAL AMERICAN in 2012 may be seen by the world as a threat and that’s OK; better they see us as a threat than they see us as the country with a president who has no respect for his own country’s people, traditions or sovereignty.

    I seriously don’t hold out much hope for America; its people are weaker and more dependent on the government than they have ever been — and now they have elected a government with leaders who want to use that weakness to gain even more power. It will take another national disaster like 9/11 to break that pattern of behavior — no one wants to see that happen but we are right now providing the impetus for it. It isn’t those Muslims who are listening to Obama and thinking “Wow, what a great guy!” that we have to worry about; it is those Muslims and other America haters around the world who see him as a weak link and a opportunity to bring the “great Satan” down that we need to worry about.

    Bottom line: Respect and support, NO! I’ll respect him and support him if he begins acting like an American who is proud of his country and wants to see it become stronger.


  10. Tom |

    Well, Harvey, I think you’re fundamentally wrong. Our democracy provides plenty of room for political disagreement, but once the votes are cast it’s essential that we join together in support of, and show proper respect to, the elected leader.

    Perhaps the difference is that I have faith in the strength and resilience of our institutions of government. Presidents are transitory, and none has even come close to bringing the system down.


  11. Larry |

    I agree with Harvey,Obama is not what I consider the best for the job. I don’t feel I owe him any special consideration. He has demonstrated a lack luster respect for the nation he represents.


  12. Lisa |

    With Obama you have to be cognizant of what he doesn’t say as much as you listen to what he does say. He will never talk about the the good deeds of the USA because he wants to set the stage for the goodness to shine forth during his watch. He wants to be the savior who changed the world.


  13. Carla Axtman |

    Harvey:

    Here are your rights–assuming you’re an American (and mine) lost under the Bush Administration:

    First Amendment: “Free Speech Zones”–http://www.amconmag.com/article/2003/dec/15/00012/

    Fourth Amendment: The Patriot Act’s “Sneak and Peak” provision allows the federal governments to enter your home, search, and leave without telling you for up to six months. It’s expanded the government’s powers under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act to get warrants for wiretaps from special courts, not subject to the same oversight as typical courts. The NSA’s data mining program which includes warrantless wiretapping flouts even that little court oversight.

    Fifth Amendment: On July 17, 2007 Bush issued an executive order authorizing the Treasury department to seize any and all property belonging to individuals who “pose a significant risk” of committing violent acts that undermine the “peace or stability” of Iraq. This includes U.S. residents.

    Sixth Amendment: The removal of habeus corpus. Obviously the right to face one’s accuser is a fundamental right under a democratic government. Bush completely dumped on it: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=3582

    I can actually keep going..but you get the idea.


  14. Tom |

    Carla, I think you’re responding to my question about what rights you as an individual lost and how it affected your life. The answers are none and it didn’t. A close examination of your list shows that unless you were a terrorist or a serious terrorism suspect, little of it applied to you. That’s virtually everyone. And checks and balances remained in place, as events proved.

    Habeas corpus doesn’t refer to the right to face an accuser; basically, it gets people out of custody unless legal cause or charges justify their detention. This was an issue in a handful of cases and didn’t approach “dumping” on the right.

    The government has always been able to do most of what you’re talking about with warrants, and it still can. The fact that some warrants are issued by special courts because of the use of classified information isn’t new, either. The “warrantless wiretapping” you refer to generally wasn’t “wiretapping” and was legal under established rules.

    The fact is, the Bush Administration protected us from another domestic terror attack for over seven years. What little they did in pursuit of that goal is trivial.

    Bush is gone, Carla. Get over it. Focus on Obama because much of what you refer to is still in effect. Let’s just hope he can be as successful as Bush was.


  15. Carla Axtman |

    Tom:

    The abridging of our civil rights absolutely effects us. If I choose to protest my government, my free speech rights are undermined by free speech zones. If the government chooses to monitor my calls and correspondence, they can–even for political reasons, and I would have no idea. Nor would I have recourse if I found out. Warrantless wiretapping is not something that’s been around for awhile, Tom. And no, it’s not legal and never has been under any “established rules”.

    The fact is, that the Bush Administration undermined the very freedoms and liberties that this country is supposed to be about. That isn’t “protecting” us. In fact, it’s the opposite.

    If I walk up to you and slap you..and then walk away…should you just “get over it” because it’s over? Of course not. What the Bush people did is frankly, criminal. And they should be held to account for it.

    If Obama doesn’t rectify it, then he should be held to the same account.


  16. Tom |

    Carla, I think the problem is you’re stuck on the supposed horrors of the Bush Administration. Amazing, isn’t it, that the country is still intact and we’re still toddling along even though Bush, the bitterly hated destroyer of freedoms and democracy, is gone. On top of that, Obama is going to follow pretty closely along the same path in many ways, although I doubt that you’ll be so upset.

    The kerfuffle over “warrantless wiretaps” is largely partisan nonsense. It generally wasn’t wiretaps anyway, and it isn’t that great a departure from procedures in place before Bush. Among numerous sources, read this.

    There are many, many facts associated with these matters that you’ll never know anything about, nor should you. That’s life in the real world. But remember — over seven years without a domestic terrorist attack, and several major plots foiled. Obama will be lucky to establish that kind of record.

    Free speech zones, like so many other things you’d like to pin on Bush, were around long before him. They’re also constitutional. They may have been used more in recent years, but there’s been more significant threat, too.

    If Bush & Co did anything criminal, you can bet your booties that the Democrats will somehow manage to get them indicted and brought to trial. Political vengeance is the name of the game these days for the left. The most that’s going to happen, though, is a couple of lonely fall guys may get skewered, like Scooter Libby at the end of that stupid political investigation which found no laws broken in the Plame business.

    I realize that deep hatred of George Bush has come to define the lives of some people. To this day they fume and fulminate about Bush over their breakfast Wheaties, their lunchtime tofu burgers, and their vegetarian dinners. Really, it’s time to get over it. It’s done with. He’s back on the ranch. Move on.

    That’s it, I’m done. You can have the last word! :)


  17. Carla Axtman |

    Carla, I think the problem is you’re stuck on the supposed horrors of the Bush Administration. Amazing, isn’t it, that the country is still intact and we’re still toddling along even though Bush, the bitterly hated destroyer of freedoms and democracy, is gone. On top of that, Obama is going to follow pretty closely along the same path in many ways, although I doubt that you’ll be so upset.

    I think we disagree fundamentally on the country being “intact”, Tom.

    That’s it for me on this one, too. I think with that big of a divide on this between us, the details are just too much.


  18. doris |

    Carla, I’m with you and I’d probably pay to see you slap Tom!


  19. slein |

    Muslims hate everyone that is not Muslim.
    i read somewhere that when ancient Mongolian annihilated a Muslim state in central Asia, historians of countries around it recorded the event as a step forward in human’s civilization.


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