Tuesday 3 February 2009

Misinterpreting Obama's overture to Muslims

Chas quotes Charles Krauthammer on why President Obama shouldn't apologise to the Muslim world. I agree with much of what Krauthammer says, including his assertion that, in the past 20 years, the US 'has done more for suffering and oppressed Muslims than any nation, Muslim or non-Muslim, anywhere on earth': even if we leave to one side the liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan, think Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait. Not to mention Americans' general spirit of restraint and tolerance after the events of September 11th 2001:

George Bush went to the Islamic Center in Washington six days after 9/11, when the fires of Ground Zero were still smoldering, to declare 'Islam is peace', to extend fellowship and friendship to Muslims, to insist that Americans treat them with respect and generosity of spirit.

And America listened. In these seven years since 9/11 - seven years during which thousands of Muslims rioted all over the world (resulting in the death of more than 100) to avenge a bunch of cartoons - there's not been a single anti-Muslim riot in the United States to avenge the greatest massacre in US history. On the contrary, in its aftermath, we elected our first Muslim member of Congress and our first president of Muslim parentage.

But I disagree with Krauthammer's (and Chas') claim that Obama's overture to the Muslim world has been 'defensive and apologetic'. It was Ahmadinejad who demanded an apology from America: what the new US president actually offered in his inaugural speech was 'a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect'. And he coupled it with this:

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

This should be enough to puncture Krauthammer's criticism of Obama's 'self-inflation as redeemer of US-Muslim relations' as well as his sneer that the president is engaging in 'gratuitous disparagement of the country he is now privileged to lead'.

Like other anti-totalitarian progressives, I'm still waiting nervously to see how Obama's foreign policy will shape up. At this early stage, and given the deliberate pragmatism and centrism of his statements so far, I'm prepared to give the President the benefit of the doubt. But after less than two weeks of the new administration, it sounds like some conservatives have already made up their minds...


Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful and convincing post, Martin. It surely can't be right for *anyone* to think they can give a judgement on the Obama presidency after two weeks.

Roland Dodds said...

Another great post Martin, I will be linking to it.