Saturday, June 6, 2009

Obama's Speech: Edited Truth, Half Truth, Deception

President Obama's speech in Cairo was warmly received by his Egyptian hosts. He and the press hailed his address as a qualitative break from prior American policy towards the Muslim world. An honest look at the historical record would have given the American people and prior administrations credit due for a nuanced view of the Islamic world. Previous administrations differentiated between those in Muslim countries who are tolerant of other faiths and behave peacefully to those in Islamic countries who espouse violence .

On every occasion that George Bush spoke about terrorism he took pains to differentiate between terrorist strains of Islam and more tolerant Islamic governments and forms of faith. Even after 9/11, Americans refrained from reprisals against Muslims living in America. There is a commitment of all Americans across party lines and at a grass roots level to tolerance of religious minorities. For Obama to present himself as introducing this to American life is willfully misleading.

Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups do not operate completely separate from respected Islamic governments. Much of their money comes from "protection" money paid with the implicit understanding that the Saudis will be left alone and only "infidels" targeted. The messy question of the Al Qaeda money trail would have messed up the "feel good" tone of Obama's speech. This was definitely expedient but hardly courageous.

Obama's Cairo speech was addressed to the entire Islamic world. I counted the total words in the White House official text. I used a word counter to check the length of the speech and its various portions to establish a sense of proportion and emphasis with which to weigh the speech. This is one prism through which the address can be evaluated that sheds an interesting light on the world view guiding the Obama administration.

Obama's speech was 5771 words. One of the first things I looked for was the issue of religious freedom in the Muslim world. There have been suicide bombings of Shiite mosques. Churches are banned from Saudi soil. Hindu girls in Pakistan are raped and forced to convert to Islam. Coptic Christian girls in Egypt regularly suffer the same fate. Police response is usually one of complicity. Obama devoted one section of his speech to religious freedom. How would a member of a religious minority view the Obama speech? Did the speech give them hope that their complaints would be given attention and a high priority?

There were 338 words in the section of the speech devoted to religious freedom. Sixty-four words focused on religious freedom in Muslim countries. Eighty-one words dealt with religious freedom for Muslims in America. The words dealing with religious freedom in Muslim lands were a perfunctory nod to religious minorities that have endured violence and persecution with varying degrees of government complicity. Most of what Muslims in America endure is social prejudice which though humiliating is not violent or murderous. The laws of the country vigorously protect all minorities. The emphasis in Obama's speech on Muslims in America and their civil rights does a grave injustice to real and pressing problems in the Islamic world.

The section of the speech dealing with Israel and its Arab neighbours was 1018 words out of the total of 5771. In two paragraphs, Obama came very close to putting the issue of the Palestinians on the same level as the Nazi genocide in Europe. Readers can judge for themselves from the following two paragraphs.

"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."

The speech said nothing of Jews who had been living in Arab countries for centuries who were violently dispossessed and expelled from Arab countries. It said nothing of Arab collaboration in the Nazi genocide and the Mufti of Jerusalem urging Hitler to murder Jews lest they come to Palestine. It also said nothing about discrimination in the Arab world against Arabs who fled Israel in 1948 and their descendants.

The Palestine Authority could have encouraged investment and infrastructure development. They could have encouraged PA residents to work in Israel and return in peace to their homes. They could have built confidence by refraining from aggression against Israel and by stopping state sponsored incitement on PA television. They chose not to do so. Obama did a good job of making Arab opponents of Israel happy. He did so by distorting and concealing the truth.

Obama expended 350 words in addressing Iran's nuclear aspirations. He skirted past history by nodding to it and expressing a desire not to be " trapped in the past". He buried the following foolhardy statement about nuclear weapons in the speech.

"No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. "
What is he saying about Iran's race to get the atomic bomb? They have openly expressed their desire to wipe out Israel. They have poured tens of millions of dollars into training and arming Hezbollah which is to Israel what hamas is to the US. A psycho or a felon is not allowed in most places to own a gun. The Iranian government has maintained and acted upon an obsession with wiping out Israel and destabilising Lebanon. This is reason enough to block them from getting their hands on nuclear weapons. Stating this truth openly did not fit well into a fuzzy "feel good" speech.

Democracy and women's rights got 371 and 228 words respectively in Obama's speech. Obama did his best to speak in generalities that would offend no one. I could easily imagine Obama telling someone at a party that their zipper is down without actually saying it.

" Technology has revolutionised the world of fashion in the modern age. Men and women in the 19th century wasted valuable time with buttons and laces. The invention of the zipper as we know it today by Gideon Sundback in 1913 saved countless hours for those who use them. But in replacing buttons it imposed upon all who use them the responsibility to be mindful to take a needed moment to make sure that the zipper is closed. Modesty in both men and women is deeply rooted in our culture. The invention of the zipper has crated new challenges in this area. All should be mindful to rise to these tests borne of technological advancements in the world of fashion."
Generalities might work with someone who forgot to zip his fly. People who kill daughters for wearing pants or countries that imprison and torture dissidents need a more direct approach. Polite hints have their time and place. Political dissidents, Christians and women need a more direct assurance that their needs and difficulties are recognised.

Obama spoke a lot about America's commitment to development in the world. It would be good for Muslim countries to start investing in development rather than in fomenting strife. There has been some effort in this area, but on a per capita basis, the Saudis, the Kuwaitis and other wealthy Arab countries lag behind the US in their assistance to developing nations.

Obama's speech was well written. It was a well crafted rehash of old thinking seasoned with a new naivete. With 9.2% unemployment, I hope that Obama can come up with ideas and solutions to America's economic problems that are more original than the thinking in his Cairo speech. Watching an Obama speech can be a stirring experience when his teleprompter is properly maintained. Reading the same speech is a far more sobering experience. Obama told his audience what they wanted to hear. Unfortunately, what Obama said in Cairo was at least as significant as what he left unsaid.

Obama signed off his speech with quotations from the Koran, the Talmud and the Christian scriptures. As I look back on the patch work of half truths and omissions throughout his speech, I am reminded of an old Yiddish proverb which states "A half truth is a whole lie." Sphere: Related Content

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