Barack Obama’s message to the Muslims provides a specimen of what passes for liberal higher wisdom with unique Obamian twists. So much good commentary on it has already appeared, including that of Paul Mirengoff here, I wish only to record a few tentative reactions and impressions, subject to correction and refinement, in the spirit of Toby Harnden’s “10 mistakes in Cairo.”
1. If Obama were General-Secretary of the United Nations, the speech might have been passable. Coming from the president of the United States, it was an embarrassment. Obama runs down the country he represents while puffing himself up as a transcendent figure. He humbles the United States while glorifying his personage. This aspect of the speech seemed to me indecent.
2. Despite the cosmopolitan sheen in which Obama enveloped the speech, his conception of an address to the Muslim world seems blinkered. Obama speaks from a perspective consistent with Islamic belief. Thus his address to the “ummah” — a big thing to al Qaeda — and thus his endorsement of the Muslim account of the founding of Israel as a catastrophe for the Arabs of the Palestinian mandate.
3. Obama is an obsequious apologist for Islam. Put this in the category of “truths'” that are not exactly self-evident: “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.” Bush’s critics falsely accused him of “cherry-picking” intelligence to justify the war against Saddam Hussein. Obama cherry-picks from the “Holy Koran” to present Islam as a religion of peace.
4. The speech engages in striking linguistic and historical revisionism. As for linguistic revisionism, for example, “terrorism” drops from sight, to be replaced by “violent extremism in all its forms.” Why?
5. As for historical revisionism, for example, Obama professed to “know that Islam has always been a part of America’s story,” referring — though one would never know it — to America’s war against the Barbary pirates. (Andrew McCarthy has more here.) If Islam has always been a part of America’s story, it is because Islam’s war on American has always been a part of America’s story. Does Obama know what he is talking about, or does he feel free to take great liberties with the truth?
6. Without naming him (why not?), Obama introduced Minnesota’s own Rep. Keith Ellison as a marvelous example of the toleration of Islam in America. Rep. Ellison is symbolic of many phenomena. I had my say about him in “Louis Farrakhan’s first congressman.” Perhaps one day some enterprising journalist will ask the president or Ellison himself what branch of Islam can be reconciled with the Democratic platform on abortion rights, homosexual rights, the rights of women and the like.
7. Obama’s homilies on Arab/Muslim — well, let’s come right out and say it — terrorism are baffling. Take this one: “Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed.” What is he talking about?
8. Obama juxtaposes the founding of Israel out of the Holocaust with the claim to Palestinian statehood out of Palestinian Muslim and Christian suffering. I think this can fairly be considered an obscene comparison. Obama’s emphasis on Israeli settlements reflects his adoption of the belief that the war of the Arab terrorists on Israel can be resolved through a territorial adjustment short of the abolition of Israel. He seems unfamiliar with the founding tenets of Hamas and Fatah.
9. The speech seems to me comparable to Jimmy Carter’s Notre Dame speech declaring that America had overcome its inordinate fear of Communism. Obama declares that in his person America has overcome its inordinate fear of Islam. Beyond the old Carter message of American weakness and prostration, Obama also presents himself as defender of the faith: “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear[.]” This is exceedingly strange.
10. Obama intends to do nothing meaningful about the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons, though he intends to squeeze Israel mightily on its perceived security needs. In Obama’s hands America’s special friendship and alliance with Israel are to be discarded in favor of a strategy elevating America’s standing in the Arab/Muslim world.
Coming in at 6,000 words, Obama’s speech pursued several themes that I have left unaddressed. Watching the speech induced in me what Donald Westlake describes as “that thousand-yard stare that suggests therapy is no longer an option.” My judgment may be off in highlighting or emphasizing the points above, but they seem to me the most notable (with the exception of the citation of Ellison, which was of special interest to me).
Whatever is praiseworthy in the speech seems to me to have been overwhelmed by its intellectual, moral, historical and prudential failures. These failures suggest that the speech is an offering, to borrow Churchill’s words, from “a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”