I knew there’d be more to say about Obama’s speech. How could there not be, when I wrote in the heat of my first response, and when I had not yet read what others were saying. Sharing a couple of important takes, and reserving the right to comment still further after Shabbat:
Daniel Pipe’s comments are incisive. Obama, he said, cited the figure seven million Muslims in the US. But this figure, according to numerous studies, is three times too high.
Where did Obama get it then? Islamist organizations such as CAIR and the Islamic Society of America use this figure.
Says Pipes, “Obama’s accepting their version amounts to a giveaway, a cheap way to win the approbation of Islamists.”
Are we surprised?
A deeply serious and highly informed take comes from B. Ramam (thanks to Judith N.) who was with the Secretariat of the government of India, and is now director of the Institute for Topical Studies. He is an expert on terrorism. From his latest paper:
President Barack Obama’s address at the Cairo University on June 4,2009, which was billed in advance by his staff as a historic message of goodwill and reconciliation to the Islamic world, had a limited audience. Though projected as an address to the Islamic world, it was largely an address to the Arab world and focused largely on issues of interest to the Arabs.
…The Arabs constitute a minority in the Islamic world. Non-Arab Muslims living in countries such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia constitute the majority. The issues, which agitate them, are different from the issues which agitate the Arab world. Osama bin Laden understands this better than Obama and his advisers. That was why in his audio message released through Al Jazeera a day before Obama’s Cairo address, bin Laden focused on issues of immediate concern to the non-Arab Muslims in the Af-Pak region such as the large-scale displacement of Pashtuns from the tribal areas of Pakistan. By focusing on their plight and by holding the Americans responsible for it, he sought to make it certain that the anti-American anger in the Af-Pak region will increase rather than decrease.
Obama’s address seemed to have been constructed around the belief that the Muslims constitute a monolithic community and that their actions are motivated by certain issues of common concern to all the Muslims of the world. This is a wrong belief. The Muslims are not a monolithic community and there is no common thread uniting the anger motivating the Muslims in different countries and different regions. There are Muslims and Muslims and issues and issues.
If Obama wanted to address the Muslims of the world, Cairo was the wrong place from which to seek to do so. There was a time when Egypt was seen as the beacon of the Arab world. It is no longer so. Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda organizations project Egypt and its leaders as apostate. President Hosni Mubarak is a very unpopular Arab leader. Obama going to Cairo to deliver the address is seen by large sections of pro-Al Qaeda and pro-Taliban leaders as a leader of the American infidels traveling to the country of apostates to deliver an address to the Muslims from a platform provided by the apostates.
…The impact on the world of global jihad will be very little. Their views towards the US have been formed as a result of years of brainwashing in extremist mosques and madrasas. They are not going to change as a result of a beautifully-drafted speech beautifully delivered before an audience carefully assembled by the so-called apostates.
…The impact on the ordinary Muslims outside pockets of urban elite will not be significant. Ordinary Muslims are not so naïve as to be impressed by a couple of quotations from the Holy Koran. Muslims outside India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia are not enamoured of democracy. They have nothing against authoritarian rulers, provided they care for the ordinary Muslims. Mubarak is not an example of a caring ruler. Among Muslim rulers blessed and supported by the US, there is hardly anyone whom one can call caring for the common Muslims. The ordinary Muslims will judge the US by the company it keeps in the Islamic world than by the speeches of Obama.
…[The speech] may not help the US much in the Islamic world. The use of soft power to counter pernicious ideologies coming out of the Islamic world is important. They have to be countered in a more subtle and sophisticated manner through personal interactions, dialogue in small groups, radio and TV programmes, Internet chats etc. A Cairo-style address is not suited for this purpose…