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Asia Times: Obama’s speech to the “Muslim world” will merely help the Islamic extremists

An editorial column in yesterday’s Asia Times warns President Barack Obama that his much hyped “address to the Muslim world” to be delivered at Cairo University tomorrow will do more harm than good.

The writer argues that since there is no such thing as a “Muslim world” – any more than there is some kind of unified “Christian world” – Obama is merely helping to boost the Muslim extremist position by pretending there is. And by choosing Cairo for such an “address to the Muslim world,” Obama is compounding his mistake, the writer explains.

(Above: A Palestinian shopkeeper sells lots of Obama mugs yesterday in “impoverished” Gaza City)

Below I have pulled out some extracts from this lengthy piece:
Why should the president of the United States address the “Muslim world,” as Barack Obama will do in Egypt this Thursday? What would happen if the leader of a big country addressed the “Christian world”? Half the world would giggle and the other half would sulk.

There is no such thing as a Christian world, of course; there hasn’t been since the Great Schism of 1054, even less so since the Reformation. Europe’s nations agreed at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 to subordinate the confessional to political sovereignty.

America, the new model of a nation, kept church separate from state. To utter the words “Christian world” would persuade the Muslim world that a foul conspiracy was afoot, perhaps a new Crusade…
What does it mean to address the “Muslim world”? As a matter of practice, the Muslim world is just as fractured as the Christian world, even more so in the absence of any religious authority like the Catholic Church, which claims doctrinal authority over a billion people…
To speak to the “Muslim world” is to speak not to a fact, but rather to an aspiration, and that is the aspiration that Islam shall be a global state religion as its founders intended. To address this aspiration is to breathe life into it…
Obama, the White House press office told reporters last week, will address among other issues the Arab-Israeli issue. What does it imply to raise this issue in a speech to the “Muslim world”? Nearly 700 million of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims live in Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, countries which share no linguistic or cultural affinities with the Arabs, and have only religion in common. They have no strategic interest whatever in the outcome of war or peace in the Levant. Their only possible interest is religious. Does the United States really believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is religious in origin? …
It is quite possible for the state of Israel to live in peace with nation-states whose population is mainly Muslim, to be sure. Israel has done so since 1975 with Egypt and Jordan, and has until recently maintained excellent relations with Turkey. Until the Ruhollah Khomeini revolution of 1979, Israel was an ally and arms supplier of Iran. As a matter of national interest, many Muslim-majority countries may seek peaceful and even friendly relations with the Jewish state, irrespective of what the dictates of Islamic theology might be. Rather than addressing nations with national interest, though, Obama is addressing Muslims, over the heads as it were of majority-Muslim nation states.
Even though the Koran mentions Jerusalem not once (against 832 times in the Hebrew Bible and 161 times in the New Testament), later Muslim tradition makes Jerusalem a Muslim holy place. No Muslim religious authority in Asia or Africa can or will rule that Islam can tolerate a Jewish state in Palestine with its capital in Jerusalem. There are a few Muslim voices in Europe and the US favorably disposed to co-existence with the Jewish state, but they are whispers against the roar of an ocean…
By addressing the “Islamic world” from Cairo, Obama lends credibility to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and other advocates of political Islam who demand that Muslims be addressed globally and on religious terms – in contradistinction to nationalists such as Mubarak. Rather than buttress a loyal ally, Obama’s speech undermines him on his home ground. That is a lose-lose proposition…
For more comment on Obama’s “Speech to the Muslim world,” please see here.

Tom GrossTom Gross is a former Middle East correspondent for the London Sunday Telegraph and the New York Daily News.

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