Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Muslim Problem

Ben Smith relates an interesting Tweet from Tim Pawlenty: “To improve USA’s relations with peaceful Muslims, Obama should tout our relief efforts in Pakistan floods; not defend Ground Zero mosque.” Well, that would be nice, but highly unlikely.

Pawlenty got me thinking about why it is that Obama does not conceive of Muslim outreach as an opportunity to inject some much needed accuracy and balance into societies saturated with anti-Israel and anti-American propaganda and which lack a free press. Why did he not, for example, in his first video valentine to the mullahs and the Iranian people, explain the blood and treasure we have expended to defend Muslims? Why does he prefer to commiserate with Muslim leaders (who all too often wallow in victimology) rather than champion the cause of Muslim human-rights activists and democracy promoters? Why didn’t he confront Palestinian rejectionism in his Cairo speech?

There are a couple of possible explanations. First, he is, we re-learn every day, a garden-variety leftist. The narrative of Third World victimhood and Western oppression is one he finds comfortable, notwithstanding its inapplicability to a variety of settings. (In his Cairo speech Palestinians were transformed into enslaved African American slaves, who, of course, were not repeatedly offered their own state.)

The other, suggested by a reader, may also be true: he learned about the “Muslim World” not from his childhood in Indonesia but from extremists, like former PLO-spokesman Rashid Khalidi, who have “educated” Obama for years about the Palestinians’ plight, attributed to American indifference and Israeli “oppression” rather than their own refusal to renounce violence and to the cynical manipulation of Arab states. Obama himself acknowledged the deep influence on his thinking:

His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases. … It’s for that reason that I’m hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation — a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid’s dinner table,” but around “this entire world.”

Now, these are not mutually exclusive explanations. Whatever the root causes or motivations, over the last 18 months we’ve seen that Obama has been spectacularly unwilling to confront radical Islamists (even to call them that) and all too anxious to promote sentiments in the Muslim community which are counterproductive both for those trying to battle against the forces of radicalism and for the U.S. For someone who fancies himself as the Explainer in Chief with regard to Islam, he certainly could use some fresh thinking.