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McManus - Ethics & Religion
June 10, 2009
Column #1,450
Obama Reaches Out To Muslims
By Mike McManus

President Obama's long-promised speech to the Muslim world was his most important speech to date, an agenda setter on many bristling issues between the West and 1.5 billion Muslims.

Obama pleased his Muslim audience by quoting the "Holy Koran" five times.   He attempted to separate "violent extremists" who "have killed Muslims" from mainstream Muslims: "The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as - it is if he has killed all mankind," he said to applause. "And the Holy Koran also says that whosever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few."

Obama knows how to ingratiate himself with whoever he speaks to, but in this case, he went overboard.  He claimed there are "nearly 7 million American Muslims," while the Gallup Poll and other experts put the figure closer to 1.6 million.  Nor did he even reference how America has gone to war to help Muslims drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and to protect Muslims from the Serbs in Bosnia.

His major goal was to jump-start negotiations between Israel and what he called Palentine.  Polls reveal that 40 percent of Arabs think there was no Holocaust.

So he charged, "Six million Jews were killed …Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful." Those words may have hit pay dirt in Iran, where President Ahmedinejad, an infamous Holocaust denier - is up for re-election on Friday.

       On the other hand he asserted that Palestinians suffer "daily humiliations" due to the occupation. "The situation for the Palestinians people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspirations for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own."

       While he said Palestinians must "abandon violence," because "it does not work," he asserted "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," to applause. "This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."

       There have been similar statements by previous presidents, but Israel was told privately they could be ignored. This President is more committed.  Netanyahu has pledged to build no new settlements, but not to halt what he calls the "natural growth" of existing ones.

       If Netanyahu gives in on this issue, his conservative coalition may fall apart.  However, the Palestinians are fragmented.  The Palestinian Authority has no authority in Gaza which is run by Hamas that is still committed to the destruction of Israel. 

       Obama is clearly more interested in having the Muslim World see an American President put public pressure on Israel for change, a President who pointedly called himself Barack HUSSEIN Obama in Cairo.

       The fact Obama did not visit Israel, next door to Egypt, was a snub. However, his visit to Buchenwald with Eli Weisel may have made a more memorable statement of his commitment to Jews.

       Equally important, Obama courageously addressed the issue of democracy in Egypt where President Hosni Mubarek has held office for 27 years and is grooming his son as successor. Obama said America does not "presume to know what is best for everyone," but he believed all people yearn "to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed, confidence in the rule of law" and government that "is transparent and doesn't steal from the people,"

       He also spoke of the need for religious freedom: "Among some Muslims, there's a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of somebody's else's faith."  His words were simple and clear. "Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together."

       Did Obama win over Muslim hearts?

       "Al-Ahram," an Egyptian newspaper, editorialized that "without exaggeration, Obama's speech will enter the annals of history as one of the most important documents illustrating the desire of the West, headed by the U.S. to accord a new stance towards Islam and the Muslims, after centuries of aggression and hostility."

However, "Al-Jazirah," a paper in Saudi Arabia, noted that George Bush "also praised our religion and Islamic culture but at the same time was eager to start wars in the Arab and Muslim lands."

Many Americans were critical of what seemed like an excessive praise for Islam.  "If you're a Christian, you don't regard the Koran as a holy book," but as false religion said one columnist.

What matters is not Obama's rhetoric, but whether he can get Jews and Arabs to agree upon a settlement fostering genuine peace.

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