Belmont Club

America the dutiful

Six hours ago, Le Monde quoted Barack Obama as saying that the US is one of the largest Muslim countries on the planet:

Les Etats-Unis sont “l’un des plus grands pays musulmans de la planète”, a souligné mardi 2 juin sur Canal+ le président américain, Barack Obama, qui doit prononcer jeudi au Caire un important discours de réconciliation en direction du monde musulman (voir l’interview de Barack Obama sur Canal+ ici).

Les Etats-Unis et le monde occidental doivent apprendre à mieux connaître l’islam ; d’ailleurs, si l’on compte le nombre d’Américains musulmans, on voit que les Etats-Unis sont l’un des plus grands pays musulmans de la planète”, a-t-il dit.

“Quelle que soit leur confession, ce sont ceux qui construisent et non pas ceux qui détruisent qui laissent derrière eux un héritage durable”, a-t-il poursuivi. “Je pense qu’il y a un véritable conflit actuellement entre ceux qui soutiennent que l’islam est irréconciliable avec la vie moderne et ceux qui pensent qu’au contraire l’islam a toujours su évoluer en même temps que le progrès”, a-t-il ajouté.

Après ses étapes en Arabie saoudite et en Egypte, le président américain doit se rendre en Allemagne puis, samedi en France, où il participera aux commémorations du débarquement allié du 6 juin 1944.

Ci-dessous, un extrait de l’interview de Barack Obama diffusée sur Canal+. Le président américain s’exprime sur le crash aérien du vol Rio-Paris.

I can’t translate it personally, but the Google machine translator yields this text. The video is here, and although there’s French dubbing, you can hear President Obama’s English responses in the background and he does appear to say what the machine translation yields. The NYT’s Caucus now has the story too.

The United States is “one of the largest Muslim country on the planet,” said June 2 Tuesday on Canal + U.S. President, Barack Obama, who must decide Thursday in Cairo a landmark speech of reconciliation towards the Muslim world ( see Barack Obama’s interview on Canal + here).

The United States and the Western world must learn about Islam, and indeed if we count the number of American Muslims, we see that the United States is one of the largest Muslim country the planet, “he said.

“Whatever their faith, those who build and not destroy those who leave behind a lasting legacy,” he continued. “I think there is now a real conflict between those who argue that Islam is irreconcilable with modern life and those who believe the contrary, Islam has always evolved along with the progress”, at – he added.

After its stages in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the American president is scheduled to visit Germany and then Saturday in France, where he will participate in the commemorations of the Allied landings on 6 June 1944.

Below is an excerpt from the interview with Barack Obama aired on Canal +. The U.S. president spoke about the crash of flight Rio-Paris.

In the preceding post, I noted how the other lesson — that Islam should learn from the United States — has been somewhat more toned down than it should be. By choosing to give his speech in Egypt, an authoritarian Middle Eastern country, instead of a more moderate country like Indonesia, he runs the risk of accidentally conveying the sense that democracy is on the back burner. What message does President Obama wish to project when he says “Les Etats-Unis sont “l’un des plus grands pays musulmans de la planète”?  Is it of Islam as the future of America or America as the future of Islam? The President’s speech seems innocent enough, but emphasis is important. Didn’t he say, “don’t tell me that words don’t matter?”

In the interview, President Obama says one of the goals his trip is to foster dialogue between the West and the Muslim world. Maybe some communications strategist or public diplomacy consultant has advised “rebranding America” as the sort of place Muslims can identify with. That way it will be an easy sell. What better way to do it than by saying, ‘America is one of the biggest Muslim countries on the planet’. Ich bin ein Mussulman, or however you say it. That won’t necessarily fly; it doesn’t seem to work too well for India, which has a genuinely huge Muslim population. But there’s a hidden danger. His audience can say right: just look at how advanced and rich America is, and it’s one of the largest Muslim countries on the planet. See nothing is broken in Islam. America is proof. There comes a point when rebranding may become misleading packaging.

Update: Those looking for the exact transcript of what Barack Obama said in his interview with Laura Haim, without having to listen past the heavy French dubbing of the video link above, will find it at this White House link. The relevant passage reads:

Q I’m sure they will appreciate that, sir. Thank you so much for them.

Tomorrow we’re leaving for the Middle East. It’s going to be your first trip there. What do you want to achieve with this trip?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we’re going to be traveling to Saudi Arabia; I’ll be having discussions with King Abdullah. And then we’ll travel to Cairo, in which I am delivering on a promise I made during the campaign to provide a framework, a speech of how I think we can remake relations between the United States and countries in the Muslim world.

Now, I think it’s very important to understand that one speech is not going to solve all the problems in the Middle East. And so I think expectations should be somewhat modest.

What I want to do is to create a better dialogue so that the Muslim world understands more effectively how the United States but also how the West thinks about many of these difficult issues like terrorism, like democracy, to discuss the framework for what’s happened in Iraq and Afghanistan and our outreach to Iran, and also how we view the prospects for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Now, the flip side is I think that the United States and the West generally, we have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam. And one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslims Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. And so there’s got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples.

It’s at the 2:26 time mark in the video link above if you want to listen to it yourself.

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