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January 21, 2009: Shifting Gears

March 23, 2009

Now that the war is ending, and after innumerable postings on its happenings, I hope to slow down just a little. Still monitoring the follow-up to the war, of course, but also beginning to look at other matters.

Today I want to offer some comments about President Barak Obama’s inauguration speech. I watched him live on TV last night, but waited until today because I wanted to first see his words in printed text.

It is a cause for celebration — for all Americans and especially for Americans of color — that a man with African heritage has made it to the top. I don’t deny this and don’t denigrate what it means.

But I said from the beginning, and certainly still feel this now, that this alone does not qualify Barak Obama. It might indeed be good to have “a” black man as president, but whether he is “the” appropriate one still remains to be tested.

As it is, he is beginning his presidency faced with incredible challenges, and I remain uneasy.


Obama said, in the course of his speech:

“To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

And I say with some degree of certainty that he is mistaken. That he believes this, worries me. For it tells me that he is measuring the radical, totalitarian leaders of the world by Western standards and values. It is a common fallacy — part and parcel of the “deep down everyone is the same” philosophy — but a fallacy it is. Cousin to the “create a better economic situation for them and they’ll stop being terrorists” theory. And it is wrong.


The new American president, it seems, doesn’t know our common enemy. Ideology — passionate, religion-based ideology — trumps building accomplishments at home. Surely Obama knows about jihad, and the supreme value of being a shahid (a martyr), blessed by Allah. Surely he has heard, “We will win, because as much as they love life, we love death.” We, the US and Israel, are not just enemies, we are the devil incarnate. And taking shots at us to weaken us matters much more than building a better society.

As incomprehensible as this is to the Western mind, this is real. It is what has motivated Palestinians to use millions in international support for offensive weapons rather than economic development. And it is what moved well-educated and affluent Arabs to take down the World Trade Center.

The safety and well-being of the Western world will depend in part on Obama’s comprehending this, and quickly. There will be no second chances.


There is something heartening about reaching out a hand to everyone. And this message of Obama’s clearly resonates with a good part of the populace. It speaks to many of an elevated moral plan, a place of conciliation. But will this work to make our very dangerous world safer, or will it simply weaken America and make it a laughing stock in certain places?

When we were fighting in Gaza, Obama said the fighting had to stop, and his approach would be to speak with Syria and Iran. From a place of great unease, I saw this as terribly naive. The leaders of Syrian and Iran would have lied to his face, and continued as they pleased. There is a time when a clenched fist and credible threats are called for.


There are disagreements among very serious people today about whether we are fighting against Islam, or radical Islam, an aberration of Islam. But the simple incontestable reality today is that in every hot spot in the world Islamists are involved. We are not finding Hindus, or animists, or Greek Orthodox at the heart of every terror attack; we are finding Muslims.

Several exceedingly knowledgeable people in recent months — I think most readily of Steve Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism and Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum — have lamented a regrettable tendency within North America and Europe to avoid identifying terrorists as Muslims, even though they are.

It has become politically incorrect to name them. We’ve acquired a new (very politically correct) term: Islamophobia. We’ll be hearing more about this from the horrendous Durban II, scheduled for April — as if identifying terrorists as Muslims is akin to or even worse than anti-Semitism.

Obama is taking special pains to be inclusive of Muslims. It did not pass unnoticed that he said, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers,” and that he used his middle name, Hussein.

But is this the time for his declaration: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect”?

I think he — declining to be a hard-nosed realist — has just made it more politically incorrect than ever to call terrorists Muslims.

But what we’ve been told is true: We cannot defeat the enemy we’re afraid to even name.




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