John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Trouble with the Obama Speech

Posted on June 4, 2009

The Trouble With the Obama Speech


            It is altogether fitting that right after Barack Obama, the nation’s first Muslim President, apparently (in much the same way that Bill Clinton was the first Black President, if you get my drift), he flew off to Germany and France.


            The French and Germans have bigger problems with Islam than the U.S. and they have been having them for longer than we have.


            France has been beset by riots from its militant Muslim population for the last several years and the Germans have a huge Turkish problem.  And of course, these aren’t the only European countries with serious troubles with a restive Muslim population.  Holland and Great Britain also have had their fair share of domestic terrorism caused by unhappy Muslims.


            The President’s speech seemed to put the West and Islam on an equal footing, but that is not accurate.  In the early days of the Muslim faith, the days when they invented algebra, built beautiful buildings and made tremendous progress in health and science, they were far ahead of the west, while it wallowed in the Dark Ages. 


            But since the Enlightenment, the West has left them in the dust.  And as a civilization, the Islamic world has simply not kept pace.  


            There are many theories on why this happened.  Some say it was how the West adopted a monetary system that allowed for greater wealth creation.  Others say it was the rise of democratic institutions.  Still others believe it was the separation of church and state, and the ability of the Western world to subordinate orthodoxy to the needs of the state.  And military historians credit military improvements that created superior weaponry that gave the West supremacy.


            But for whatever reason, the West has been the home of the dominant intellectual, scientific, and military powers in the world for the last couple of centuries.


            That has bread resentment in Islamic nations.  They have resented Western colonialism, just as they have tried to find ways to get a piece of Western wealth.


            The great equalizer in the mid-20th century was oil.  We needed it, and they had it.  So, many of the Arab countries were suddenly flooded with petro-dollars, and a lot of Westerners came into contact with a society that was not ready to modernize.


            That has caused great strain within the Islamic world.  The elites tend to embrace the West (sending their children to western schools, drinking western liquor etc), while the poor tend to resent it.


            For the last 50 years or so, the West and the Islamic world have done a weird dance.  The West hurtles towards modernity; Islam remains anchored in the past.  The West, pretty much done with religious conflict; Islam, riven by a terrible division between Shia and Sunni.  The West moves forward; Islam moves towards the 15th Century.


            Before 9/11, most Americans didn’t give the Islamic world much thought.  Yes, there was anger at the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980’s. Yes, there was the crazy sheik from New Jersey.  Yes, there were the recurring tensions between the Israelis and the Palestinians (although the PLO was a secular group).  Yes, there was the first Iraq War, but that had more to do with Saddam Hussein and his invasion of Kuwait than it did with Islam.  Yes, there was frustration with OPEC on occasion.


 But it wasn’t all bad.  On occasion, we worked together.  When we armed Islamists in their battle with the Russians in Afghanistan, Muslims were our brothers-in-arms.  


            But then the Islamists attacked us on September 11th, and we became acquainted in a very quick way with the Muslim world.


            And what we saw of it, we didn’t like very much.   We didn’t like how they treated women.  We didn’t like how they treated Israel.  We didn’t like how they viewed Christians.  We didn’t like their lack of tolerance, their anger and their fanatics.


            And we were right not to like those aspects of Islam.


            For President Obama to make the case that we need to somehow understand Islam better and then everything would get better strikes me as naïve.  I think that Islamic countries need to follow the lead of Turkey and start embracing the modern age.


            They need to put their extremists out of business.  They need to change their attitudes towards women.  They need to promote religious freedom.  They need to accept that Israel has a right to exist.  They need to embrace democracy and end tribalism.


            This needs to happen in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan.  And it needs to happen quickly.


            Mr. Obama seems to think that the West picked a fight with Islam.  Au contraire, as Monsieur Sarkozy would say.  Islamic extremists picked a fight with the West (more specifically the United States, but also Europe and India for that matter).  We don’t have to apologize for our progress, our freedom, our vitality and our tolerance.  They should apologize for being so intolerant, so backwards, so inhospitable, so sexist and so racist.


              Perhaps the clash of civilizations doesn’t need to be so bloody.  But somebody needs to change, and in my view, it sure as hell doesn’t need to be us.

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