Obama Walks the U.S.-Muslim Minefield
If the polls can be believed, President Obama will not get much credit from his political opponents and many other Americans for his attempt to reach out across the great divide in US-Muslim relations. Nor will he receive the benefit of the doubt from Muslims whose paranoia and suspicion of Washington predates the administration of George W. Bush by decades.
But the president shouldered the task of reaching out to the Muslim world for sound and necessary reasons. It seems a pity that not too many on either side are listening.
The president's speech to the Turkish Parliament on the last leg of his foreign trip was realistic and respectful, but it also contained a vision of cooperation beyond fighting the war against Islamic extremism:
I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds us has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. Let me say this as clearly as I can: the United States is not at war with Islam. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical in rolling back a fringe ideology that people of all faiths reject.
But I also want to be clear that America's relationship with the Muslim work cannot and will not be based on opposition to al-Qaeda. Far from it. We seek broad engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, bridge misunderstanding, and seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. And we will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over so many centuries to shape the world for the better -- including my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country -- I know, because I am one of them.
The fact is, President Obama is taking on a thankless and probably futile task in trying to build a bridge of understanding across the chasm that exists between the U.S. and the Muslim world. Although uniquely situated due to his family background, he will make little progress, because the reasons for U.S.-Muslim tensions are two-sided. There is only so much he can do. And the Muslim world seems unwilling or unable to come to grips with its radicals, who the vast majority believe are evil but who are intimidated to speak up due to the violent reaction from the extremist co-religionists who disagree with moderates.
The United States has gone to war to protect or free Muslims from tyranny several times in the last few years. Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq are place names where American blood has been shed and American treasure spent to save the lives of Muslims. Through our efforts (imperfect as they have been at times), we allowed a self-determination for citizens of those countries not seen in many other places in the Muslim world. It is disappointing that President Obama did not remind Muslims of this; it's a shame he did not proudly list these accomplishments and dare the anti-American Muslim press to criticize him.