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Jun. 4 2009 - 10:24 am | 15 views | 2 recommendations | 23 comments

Obama’s Cairo speech is nice, but misses the point

President Obama speaks in the Grand Hall of Cairo University in Cairo Thursday. (Reuters Photo)

President Obama speaks in the Grand Hall of Cairo University in Cairo Thursday. (Reuters Photo)

President Obama’s speech in Cairo focused on the themes of brotherhood and bridging the divide between the west and Muslim world. Obama explained away the agony of the occupied by essentially arguing that all individuals resisting or angered by American occupation are radical Muslims, who think the west is modern and scary. So while it’s nice that we finally have a president that can pronounce “As-Salāmu `Alaykum,” and understands Middle Eastern history, Obama misses the point in the very same way the Bush administration kept missing the point for eight years.

Certainly, there is a small percentage of the population that has adopted radical Islam, but the majority of Muslims are moderate. Their only problem with the west is that America has been occupying or bombing large swaths of the Middle East. They’re not interested in our President’s oratory skills. They want Americans troops off their land.

“No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point,” Obama said, and he’s right. No single speech, nor any subsequent series of pretty speeches are the solution the occupied are looking for. Afghanis and Iraqis aren’t looking for speeches about religion. While it’s nice that the President reassured all of us that these military occupations aren’t holy wars, they are still military occupations in which untold numbers of women, children, and innocent men will die. 

Before Obama’s speech, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that America was “deeply hated” and only action, not “slogans,” could change that. Even as he spoke about healing these wounds, Obama defended his decision to escalate the troops presence in Afghanistan, and failed to apologize to the Iraqis for the damage inflicted upon their country. Surrounding these notions with some window dressing about all religions being part of the same rainbow won’t fool the Iraqis and Afghanis who have lost so much.

On a positive note, president Obama did acknowledge that Palestinians face a similar struggle to the one African-Americans faced during the civil rights movement, and the role played by United States in the 1953 Iranian coup. This confessional President, who humbly accepted America’s wrongs, while siding with the oppressed (but falling short of demanding Israel withdraw from Palestinian territory) seemed more like the Barack Obama whose supporters truly thought he would bring change to America. But those two concessions fail to recognize the larger issue: America is hated not for her IPods and mega-malls, but for her soldiers who occupy sovereign countries. 

Obama unnecessarily elevated the conversation to a theological debate when it belongs in the world of (his favorite word) pragmatism.  ”Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire,” Obama reassured countries currently occupied by American forces. A good way to break that “unfair American stereotype” would be to withdraw our forces. An immediate withdrawal of all US troops would not bring peace overnight, but it would place the United States and the Muslim world on the path toward reconciliation.


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  1. collapse expand

    I think you misread Obama’s point about the Palestinians, Allison. African-Americans achieved civil rights through non-violent protests, not by sending suicide bombers into Birmingham cafes or shouting “Death to the Whites”.

    As for Muslim hatred of America, it seems to me that there was hostility for many decades before the Iraq invasion. 9/11 (and the Palestinians who cheered it) came before 2003, not after. I know that leftist dogma is that it’s the fault of the Ameircans/Israelis/capitalists. But maybe it has something to do with the frustrations of a billion Muslims with a trillion petrodollars who still can’t manage to elect their leaders, feed their people or educate their kids.

    • collapse expand

      Saying all Palestinians are suicide bombers is, to put it mildly, a gross generalization. Many Palestinians are struggling through peaceful means for human rights. While there were radical members of the African-American community that believed violence in some situations was acceptable, so there are radical Palestinians that believe the same thing, though they are a small percentage of the population.

      Violence against civilians is never acceptable, in my opinion. However, I accept that in any struggle where there is the occupier and the occupied, some of the occupied will choose violence as they attempt to throw out the occupier, and some will choose peaceful means. America should make peace a viable option and not marginalize and suppress the Palestinians until some young men they feel they have no choice but to go blow up themselves along with innocent civilians.

      Of course hatred for America existed before 9/11, but the US had a presence in the Middle East before September 11th. President Obama alluded to that himself in his speech when talking about this history of American colonialism in the region. America’s history as occupier is a long, bloody tale.

      But maybe it has something to do with the frustrations of a billion Muslims with a trillion petrodollars who still can’t manage to elect their leaders, feed their people or educate their kids.

      Absolutely. Self-determination is the prerequisite for autonomy. The people of the Middle East should control their own resources so they may determine their own destinies.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    No one said all Palestinians are suicide bombers. What is clear is that the Palestinians are led by people who no have hesitation in killing Jews. Gaza is controlled by Hamas, whose avowed goal is destroying Israel (though they’ll agree to a temporary truce before continuing with the Final Solution). The West Bank is Fatah, who cheerfully murdered Israeli children for years (look up Ma’alot). Not exactly Martin Luther King singing “We Shall Overcome”, is it?

    On the one hand, you say violence against civilians is never acceptable. On the other, you say that you accept that sometimes the occupied choose violence. Which kinds of sounds like Palestinian suicide bombers aren’t so bad, or at least they’re “understandable”.

    This is not simply “occupier” vs “occupied” or “oppressor vs. oppressed”. The real question is whether Arabs will ever accept a Jewish state in the Middle East. There is a lot of evidence that they won’t. Because if they can’t blame Israel, they they have to blame themselves for their plight.

    And how does the U.S. or Israel force Palestinians to become suicide bombers? That’s a choice the Palestinians make, and they’ve made a lot of bad ones. All the talk of “armed resistance” and “liberating Jerusalem” had gotten them nowhere, anymore than it helped Huey Newton and the Black Panthers.

    The Arabs have self-determination. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have paid $5 a gallon for gas last year. There are Asian nations that have done a hell of a lot better than the Arabs with a lot less money. And when the Arabs throw off the hated colonialists, what kind of governments do they get? Iranian mullahs who execute dissidents and gays. Quadaffi and his Libyan circus. The U.S. may have toppled Iraq’s government, but no one forced the Iraqis to murder each other with such zeal.

  3. collapse expand

    If Israel were to disappear from the face of the earth, and the U.S. leaves Iraq, what exactly is going to change in the Arab world? Democracy? Human rights? Healthy economies? If the Algerians and Iranians care more about the U.S. in Iraq or the Israelis on the West Bank, then about the poverty and repression in their own nations, doesn’t that make you wonder if there are problems in the Arab world that have nothing to do with America/Israel?

    As for how many people believe in peace and the two-state solution, I think it depends on how long it’s been since the last suicide bomber or Israeli airstrike. You can always find a few Arab and Israeli intellectuals who talk about how wonderful it would be if we could all hold hands. No one listens to them in their own nations, except the Desperate Left in the West. Israeli and Palestinian kids playing soccer is sweet, but it’s not peace.

    I’d like to see peace as much as anyone else. I think Israel should end the occupation and allow a Palestinian state for the good of both sides. But it doesn’t help matters if Western liberals portray the conflict as Evil Israelis versus Heroic Palestinian Freedom Fighters.

    • collapse expand

      Who said anything about wanting Israel to disappear? I’m in favor of a two-state or one-state solution.

      As for how many people believe in peace and the two-state solution, I think it depends on how long it’s been since the last suicide bomber or Israeli airstrike.

      Where is your evidence for this claim? Our most reliable way to gauge public sentiment are the international polls, which all indicate most Israelis and Palestinians want a two-state solution.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    Do you realize what you just said? You don’t believe Israel should disappear, but you favor a one-state solution. A one-state solution is the destruction of Israel as a state for the Jewish people, where Jews aren’t (at best) some tolerated minority. The left likes to cloak this in romantic language of everyone singing “Kumbaya”, but that’s what it is. So now you have four million Israeli Jews swamped by however millions of Arabs suddenly discover their ancestors once owned land in Tel Aviv. Now the Israelis can look forward to the same tolerance shown toward Egypt’s Christian Copt minority. Can you understand why the Israelis aren’t jumping on that bandwagon?

    As for public opinion, my best evidence is Hamas ruling Gaza and Netanyahu as Prime Minister. I accept that most people want peace, but they want it on their own terms.

    • collapse expand

      It would be essentially what they have now, but without a horrifically repressed population. In fact, it’s the only reasonable approach to peace. Otherwise, the Israelis continue to marginalize the Palestinians, and a small percentage of Palestinians continue to attack the Jews. This is the solution Israelis want, too, Michael.

      Wanting Israel “to disappear” is different than wanting the borders restructured in an egalitarian fashion so that the Jews and Palestinians can share resources and land. The former sounds very apocalyptic and scary, the latter very rational and appealing.

      This is in the interest of the Jewish people, too (and they know it.) Based strictly on the child-to-adult ratios, the Palestinians will outnumber the Jews in a generation. Now is the time to develop a fair solution to the land disputes before any more blood is shed.

      Obama has started the negotiation process with some promising words (mostly about how Israel needs to stop building settlements,) but he needs to go further and demand Israel withdraw from the occupied territory and return to the 1967 borders.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    Allison, I’m not attacking your heart, which is in the right place. But why don’t you listen to the Palestinians themselves say in the Arab press (we can chat off-blog about this, if you’d like).

    Here are some recent translations from MEMRI (yes, the guys who run it are ex-Mossad, but even the Israel-haters use the translations).

    Hamas on Jews as dogs – http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=countries&Area=palestinian&ID=SP231809

    Hamas women vow to blow up Israeli “apes and pigs” – http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=countries&Area=palestinian&ID=SP231809

    The annihilation of the Jews is a blessing – http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=countries&Area=palestinian&ID=SP208708

    • collapse expand

      Michael – Certainly, there are bigots in every community. Watch this horrible video Max Blumenthal just released to see some very bigoted and racist words from Israelis and American-Israelis regarding Barack Obama and Arabs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uxt9HwfPwPo.

      Those ideologies included in the links you posted are terrible, and they should not be encouraged, just as the ideology of the Arab as a “dirty dog” should not be encouraged.

      However, the majority of Palestinians and Jews want a two-state solution. America should mediate that process based on mutual respect, and mutual acknowledgement of Israel and Palestine’s rights to exist.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  6. collapse expand

    A QUESTION OF JOURNALISTIC DEONTOLOGY!
    The recent appearances of the Cheneys over the media as a credible political opponent on par to the Obama administration’s policies and stances raises an issue of journalistic deontology! This is definitely of artificial making. On the one hand, we’ve got a legitimately elected President of the United States who has undergone the rigorous electoral process having to make his case to the American people and coming out successful in eliciting the policies he intends to carry out during his mandate within the confines of the American political institutional structure and process. On the other hand, we’ve got political personae (the Cheneys) who are effectively being presented by the media as a legitimate opponent on par to the Obama administration whereas they do not bear any electoral mandate whatsoever for the political views they profer and with no consequent responsiblity, stake and risk that will arise from any such mandate while the President is tied to them.
    The latest case in point, is Liz Cheney’s appearance on the Scarborough Show with her critical and undermining views of the President presented in effect as critical views to the Obama speech delivered in Egypt under the disguise of expressing her opinions. For comments/expressions of opinion on the President’s policies, her views as well as those of her father have been given such a broad artificial reception by the media that runs very contrary to the expression of opinion as we’ve come to know it. These views are rather given almost the same weight and placed on par as the political stances of a legitimately elected president with a legitimate mandate for the policies he is undertaking while the Cheney’s hold no such legitimate mandate and with no accompanying political accountability whatsoever. The issue here is that such attitude by the media is contrary to what we’ve come to expect from normal implicit democratic rules. If the Cheneys had any pretense for policies they wished to be implemented after the Bush Administration, the solution would have simply been for Dick or Liz to run for president. Since they didn’t, it is artificial for the media to strive to present them as a counterweight on par to the Obama administration’s policies well beyong what will be expected for the opinion of a simple citizen that the Cheneys are now notwithstanding their previous political roles. And by the way, by extension is it acceptable that any citizen, no matter what self-righteous pretense they might have, to be artificially given a similar counterweight role on par with the President on any policy issues of the Obama administration while not holding any legitimate political mandate for which they will be politically accountable for their stances? It can be understandable, that the Cheneys can be of direct concern when it comes to matters of direct relation to political issues having to do with Cheney’s role in the Bush administration. But to raise their views on the policies and stances the administration should take on par with the President undermines appropriate journalistic deontology because as we should all know by now “elections do matter”.
    What strikes the mind here is that the Cheneys have perfectly understood this “naïvété” of the media and are using this “media confusion about fairness” to artificially strive to extirpate Mr. Dick Cheney from accusations of introducing torture policies during the Bush Administration among other political accusations. Their strategy is very simple. Legally, Cheney can’t make it (they know that secretly). In all courts of law, so-called EITs are definitely torture practices. Besides, the facts as we know them are overwhelmingly against him and the Bush Administration, and Dick Cheney’s contradictions are extensive. The real strategy of the Cheney’s here is totally otherly: turn it “political”. First, saying torture works and was for the good of the country should elicit the fervour of many Americans. Afterall, all what is needed is that a substantial number of Americans polled buy to this argument, and then the issue’s legal underpinning may be undermined. Secondly, posing artificially as the right wing counterweight to the Obama’s administration policies elicits the impression and fervour in some quarters particularly to the right that he is making the President moderate and thus he is political useful. A look at this second political trick shows how the media has effectively been manipulated: knowing fairly well that in his administrative role the President will have to take practical and pragmatic postures with respect to the release of photos of abused detainees as well as on other policies, all what Dick simply have to do is to posit that he is against releasing the pictures and pretend to take critical policy issues postures on the right, making him seemingly a moderating influence on the President. Thirdly, the Cheneys simply have to claim that Obama is following the Bush Administration’s policies he criticized pointing to his strategies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo. In this case too, the media is manipulated as they ignore the fact that the Obama administration does not have the luxury of starting from scratch as Bush had on all these issues but rather adopts a “course correction strategy” of the situations to bring them as close as possible to what he advocates. The fact is that, the underlying strategy of Dick and her daughter is to make this three steps political trick extirpate Dick from the accusations levied against the former administration. The sad thing is that the media is “naïvely” falling for these political tricks!

  7. collapse expand

    Allison, the video of the drunken Jewish students disgusted me. No excuse. However, the issue is not who has the most racist opinions, but who has the imprimatur of an official government body. To compare some individuals spouting off with official state television (and make no mistake, both the imams and Al Aqsa television follow the Hamas party line) is mistaken, IMO. One set of bigots speak as individuals for themselves; the other reflects official government policy. The Hamas and PA charters, along with their state-run televisions and school curricula, demonize not only Israelis but Jews as a group and Hamas’ charter still calls for the total dissolution of Israel. With this in mind, and the fact that giving back Gaza resulted in bombing of their civilian population, even Israelis who favor a two-state solution have reasonable and genuine hesitations about taking steps to implement it until they see big, meaningful changes by the PA and Hamas authorities.

    • collapse expand

      Hi Cyndie – The reason I linked to a video of Jewish citizens is because Michael listed racist comments made by the Israeli press as an example of unacceptable behavior. While I agree that racism towards Jews is unacceptable, I posted the video to show that there are many Israelis who also harbor racist attitudes toward Palestinians. Of course, racism of any kind is wrong.

      Second, while I think Hamas must recognize Israel’s right to exist, the Israeli government created and implements policy against the Palestinians that is also racist, and has led to the systematic destruction of Palestinian society. Here is a particularly ironic example: Palestinians living within Jerusalem aren’t really considered citizens, and they must carry identification that states they are Palestinian, and drive vehicles with license plates that mark them as Palestinian, or second-class citizens.

      How ironic that a Jewish state has worked toward creating a class of second-rate citizens that are marginalized and harassed on a daily basis. This is policy from the state – Israel – not from a small group of private citizens. Also, it is the state, not simply a group of citizens that has implemented the settlement expansions and the war in Gaza.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  8. collapse expand

    Allison you makes what I feel is a mistake a great many American (non-jewish) liberals make. While you acknowledge in one breath that there is sin on all sides, in the next breath you dismiss the sins of the Palestinians as being insignificant because of their underdog status is the conflict. By doing so you lay all blame at the feet of Israel, and give the Palestinians a free pass. It’s grossly unfair to Israel, and shows a complete lack of empathy for the Israeli position.

    • collapse expand

      Brian – I’ve never said that. Of course I sympathize with Israelis who become victims of terrorism. What I’ve repeatedly said is it’s never acceptable to kill civilians. When Palestinians kill Jewish civilians, that’s unacceptable. Have the Palestinians wronged the Jews? Of course, some have. But the Jews have also wronged the Palestinians.

      I was talking to a friend of mine (who is Jewish, though I don’t think that makes him a uniquely qualified expert :) ) about this today. He sympathizes greatly with the Palestinians, and thinks they should have the right of return. But what he hopes they’ll “move past” is the urge for revenge. He doesn’t think the Palestinians will ever “be square” completely with the Jews because Israel is here to stay, and they have to work out a land agreement to stop the horrible violence in the region.

      Revenge is unacceptable, but peace is an admirable goal. Peace can only be based on mutual respect, and that entails mutual acknowledgement between the Jews and Palestinians of the others’ rights to exist. Obama will be in a unique position as a catalyst for peace. Let’s hope he seizes that opportunity.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  9. collapse expand

    “Have the Palestinians wronged the Jews? Of course, some have. But the Jews have also wronged the Palestinians.”

    Notice how you state your case, “some Palestinians” no such qualifier when you refers to the crimes committed by “the Jews”. This Jew has never wronged any Palestinian. Sorry Alison but I think your language throughout this entire thread betrays a bias and is mostly about finger pointing and not finding a solution. And btw, the terms Jews and Israeli are not interchangeable.

    • collapse expand

      Brian, I’m replying to you in a casual comment section. Nitpicking over the omission of a single word seems silly. And the highlighted quote you chose doesn’t contain the word “Some,” so I’m a little confused as to what point you’re trying to make. And of course I’m referring to Jewish Israelis and not Palestinians living with Israel that aren’t afforded basic human rights.

      I’m saying there’s been great suffering on both sides, but the mainstream media has had a history of ignoring the suffering of the Palestinians, though encouragingly that has been changing in America.

      The only way to move toward peace is to acknowledge the pain and hopes of both sides and work toward an agreement. Silly arguments about “who hurts more” will get us no where. And attacking individuals for showing sympathy for Palestinian casualties is as cruel as attacking individuals for being distressed by Israeli casualties. All human beings are equal, so any human death should be morned equally.

      I’m glad we finally have a President who acknowledges Palestinian suffering (along with words of loyalty to Israel). I think that will be a great asset for Obama when it comes time to negotiate for peace.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  10. collapse expand

    And one last thing, terrorism is an attack against a nation or concept, not just the particular individual who happens to fall in harms way. As much as the Palestinians deserve to live with dignity, the Israelis deserve to live without fear of the bus they are about to get on blowing up.

  11. collapse expand

    You see I think part of the problem here is that you assign the motives of the Israelis as being racist, without acknowledging there may be legit security concerns backing up those policies (and yes I know some are overboard and I have problems with them too) For instance the license plate policy, in an era of car bombing there is a very valid reason that cars are easily identified as to who has access to parts of a country that are in dispute. I don’t think it’s a matter of labeling people as “second class”.

    • collapse expand

      It’s impossible to categorize the cases of bulldozing Palestinian homes in the name of expansion and killing Palestinian children under “security.”

      Additionally, it’s deeply troubling to see the policy of treating Israeli Palestinians as second class citizens implemented by a Jewish state, particularly because the Jews were first treated as second class citizens in Germany before the horror of the Holocaust. How ironic that Israel, a state created for the Jewish people in the hopes of avoiding another travesty of human rights, are now oppressing Palestinians.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  12. collapse expand

    Some of the things said on this thread are just nonsense. I just mention a few, that Allison might have missed.

    “As for Muslim hatred of America, it seems to me that there was hostility for many decades before the Iraq invasion. 9/11 (and the Palestinians who cheered it) came before 2003, not after.” – Michael Peck

    The Palestinians cheered September 11th? Really? Really? Because I’m pretty sure September 11th was condemned by countries of the middle east. Mind you, that sympathy didn’t last after we started bombing civilians in Afghanistan…wait, I wonder if there is a connection…

    “With this in mind, and the fact that giving back Gaza resulted in bombing of their civilian population, even Israelis who favor a two-state solution have reasonable and genuine hesitations about taking steps to implement it until they see big, meaningful changes by the PA and Hamas authorities.”

    Giving back Gaza was a propaganda move by Israel. While they were supposedly giving it back, they simultaneously added more settlements to the west bank. It’s kind of like giving someone a gift while you steal their wallet.

    “And one last thing, terrorism is an attack against a nation or concept, not just the particular individual who happens to fall in harms way. As much as the Palestinians deserve to live with dignity, the Israelis deserve to live without fear of the bus they are about to get on blowing up.” – Brian

    Actually no. Terrorism is the targeted attack on civilians to achieve a political aim. Like September 11th or Dresden. Incidentally who has killed more civilians in the last 10 years, Palestinians or Israelis?

    Also for the people who act like Israeli actions are for security reasons. I have a simple question, you are aware that they have nuclear weapons right? You are aware that the United States is their ally?

    You guys therefore understand that any country that attempts to destroy Israeli would be blown of the face of the planet? Now you could say that leaders of Hamas, being religious, would be willing to committ suicide. If one accepts this, there is the other question. How would Hamas destroy Israeli? They don’t have any have a functioning government, let alone nuclear weapons. Do you think Hamas would actually maintain power long enough to get nuclear weapons and use them? Do you think Israeli wouldn’t blow them off the face of the earth if they tried to make nuclear weapons? Or do you have some conspiracy theory about Iran giving them nuclear weapons?

    Israel security is a lie so they can justify their illegal occupation and expansion. Kind of like we attacked Iraq because we were afraid that they were going to attack us! It’s simply absurd. No mid-east government would dare attack Israel.

    Also Allison, you say: “Obama will be in a unique position as a catalyst for peace. Let’s hope he seizes that opportunity.”

    Chomsky said something on this topic, that those who wish for the United States to be a more active part of the peace process, don’t seem to realize that the reason there hasn’t been peace is because the United States.

    Now maybe it’s just cynicism, but Chomsky just wrote a new essay that addresses Obama’s Cairo speech. Basically saying that it doesn’t mean much. You can read it here: http://chomsky.info/articles/20090607.htm

    • collapse expand

      Chomsky said something on this topic, that those who wish for the United States to be a more active part of the peace process, don’t seem to realize that the reason there hasn’t been peace is because the United States.

      This is based on the assumption that the US will pursue peace as it did during the Oslo Accords (which it might, I’m not saying it won’t.) What I was saying is that Obama is in a unique position because the negotiation process hasn’t happened yet. If he wishes, he can be the fairest, most egalitarian negotiator ever to guide the peace process. Of course, that entails demanding Israel dismantle its illegal settlements. Will he do that? No one can know for sure. More and more Americans are learning about the Palestinian plight, so shifting public attitudes might inspire Obama to get tough with the Israelis.

      Funny you should mention Chomsky’s essay. I talk about it on my show, Citizen Radio in this week’s episode (end shameless plug :) ) Oh, and a disclaimer for Citizen Radio: We use naughty language.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    I co-host Citizen Radio, the alternative political radio show. I am a contributing reporter to Huffington Post, Alternet.org, and The Nation.

    My essay "Youth Surviving Subprime" appears in The Nation's new book, Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover beside esssays by Ralph Nader, Joseph Stiglitz, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Naomi Klein, who I'm told are all important people.

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