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Ray Hanania
Ray Hanania
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Obama's Message to the Muslims Not Getting to the Right Audience


President Obama knows his original speech to the Muslim world last year from Cairo did not do much good, so he decided to try it again in Jakarta, Indonesia, hoping to improve relations and ignite some enthusiasm for peace among Muslims.

Although Obama repeated the same message of reaching out with mutual respect and understanding to Muslims during his Jakarta appearance that he gave last year in Cairo, it hasn't worked any better now than it did then.

Ironically, Obama had originally planned to give his famous Cairo Speech in Jakarta. Yet, that was always Obama's problem. He gave the wrong speech to the wrong audience.

What Obama doesn't realize is that there are two Muslim worlds. There is the Arab Muslim World and the non-Arab Muslim World, and there are tensions between both. The "Muslim World" is only 22 percent Arab, but the Arab World is 98 percent Muslim.

Extremists, like the al-Qaida terrorists, operate on the fringes of the non-Arab Muslim World, though most are Arab. Cairo is the largest of the Arab countries, and Jakarta is the largest of the Muslim countries.

While Arabs view issues like the Israel-Palestine conflict as central to their grievances, Muslims view the same conflict as but a stepping stone toward a largesse of impossible to resolve issues separating the West and Islam.

The Arab World and the Muslim World have their differences, but they all agree that no matter how genuine Obama's desire to achieve peace, he is powerless in the face of the growing right-wing movement that has overtaken America.

Obama repeated in Jakarta much of what he said in Cairo. But Cairo was a poor choice then. Once the proud capital of Arab nationalism, Cairo today is a pauper living off the welfare and charity of American foreign aid dollars and taking orders, as Obama does when it comes to Middle East issues, from the U.S. Congress.

Obama's speeches in Cairo and now in Jakarta have been met with pushback and skepticism, the primary products in the Arab and Muslim worlds. He never said his speeches were intended for Arabs. He called them his speeches to the Muslim World.

If it did anything, Obama's speeches — saying in both cities that he was speaking to "Muslims" — probably helped contribute to an acceleration in the rapid deterioration of Arab nationalism, the idea that despite their 22 different nationalities and hundreds of ethnic divisions in those countries, Arabs are Arabs and they stick together.

Well, that died with Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1970s.

Instead of giving his "Muslim Speech I" in Cairo and now his "Muslim Speech II" in Jakarta, Obama should have packed his bags, returned to Washington, D.C., and delivered a "Come to Jesus" speech to the U.S. Congress.

Until the U.S. Congress delivers a speech to the Muslim World, I doubt the United States will change much. Already, the Republican conservatives — a polite word these days for demagogues — have begun circling the wagon, drawing a larger line between Israel and everyone else.

Although the Democrats are also pro-Israel, they are more reasoned about it — and they can support compromise and little issues like halting the expansion of illegal settlements as a natural price to pay for a final and lasting peace that would give Israel long-term security.

The Republican plan for Israel is to continue to pander to American Jewish voters and donors, reject any and all forms of compromise, and scream at the Arab and Muslim world, using the issue of the ground zero mosque as their starting point.

Obama's real problem isn't convincing Muslims or Arabs to love America or Western culture. They do. They're just mad about the imbalanced U.S. policies that favor Israel even over the rule of law. They also fear and hate al-Qaida as much as we do in America.

Obama's real challenge will be to convince Congress to stop meddling and blocking the Arab-Israeli peace process. He needs to convince Congress, and most Americans, that peace in the Middle East will resolve most of America's problems in that region and in the Muslim World.

But that means forcing Israel's government to stop expanding illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian lands and embracing a peace accord that recognizes two sovereign states, one Israel and one Palestine.

That's going to be a tall order. Obama must realize it's probably easier to convince Arabs and Muslims that the United States is trying to be fair than it is to tell Congress that being fair better serves the national interests of this country.

To find out more about Ray Hanania, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit



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