Monday, June 15, 2009

Obama and the Muslim World

I have been meaning to write for some time about President Obama's speech in Cairo and his trip to the Arab world the first week of June. First, a brief moment of relish. For me one of the most remarkable photos was that of Obama sitting to the left of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and to his right, Rahm Emanuel. I know Emanuel no longer lives in Israel. He is instead the White House chief of staff. Still you have to smile when you think about the symbolism of a Jew (and an Israeli) sitting next to Saudi Arabia's king...
Regarding President Obama's speech there is much to be said. There are positives and there are negatives. Let us first say loud and clear that Obama deserves enormous credit for traveling to the heart of Islam and speaking there words of passion and truth. Saying here is far less important than saying there words such as these. "The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer." President Bush rightly saw the world in clear, bold lines between good and evil, friend and enemy. Let us not be naive. We have enemies. Yet how we see the world is not always how we should deal with the world and so a new strategy was required. We do not know yet if Obama's new approach will produce positive results, but if the elections in Lebanon and the simmering of revolt in Iran are measures then we can allow ourselves to be cautiously optimistic. Where the speech failed was in its treatment of Israel. It was not that he called for a Palestinian state or even in the abandonment of settlements (although I would qualify settlements to include only isolated settlements--both geographically and ideologically). My disappointment was instead in his misunderstanding of Zionism. President Obama spoke of Jewish suffering as that which lends legitimacy to the modern State of Israel. I wish Emanuel had whispered in his ear the following: It is also the United Nations (remember the vote on Partition), the Bible, Jewish history, the Hebrew language. It is the fact Jewish life begins and ends in Jerusalem and the land of Israel. It has always been our focus. It was once our dream. Now it is our reality. Despite these misgivings I conclude with our prayers who wrap words of hopes in the stones of Jerusalem. Words can change worlds. Words can move mountains. Peace begins with the word shalom echoing forth from the land of Israel.

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