President Obama on Monday laid out a vision of restoration between the U.S. and the Muslim world, hearkening back to the days before the 1979 revolution in Iran and all that Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism has wrought since then.
Obama will no doubt get an earful of criticism from some for doing his first TV interview with the Middle East station Al Arabiya, which has a D.C. bureau.
But reading the transcript of the interview, it’s obvious that Obama’s choice to do his first interview with the Arab station was a symbolic down payment on the central message he wanted to communicate.
The message, essentially, is this: The Arab world, and Muslims in particular, matter to the Obama administration. That was not a message that most Arabs heard from President Bush, despite his attempts to communicate it.
“And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives,” Obama said in the interview, taped last night.
In a line sure to appear soon in your e-mail inbox, as part of a new round of “Obama is a Muslim” rumors, the president touted his personal experience with Islam.
“I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries,” he said, referring to the years he spent as a young child in Indonesia.
Obama emphasized that he wants his rhetoric to be “a language of respect” for Muslims and the broader Middle East, and said repeatedly that his initial stance, and that of his Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, will be to listen.
“What you’ll see is somebody who is listening, who is respectful, and who is trying to promote the interests not just of the United States, but also ordinary people who right now are suffering from poverty and a lack of opportunity,” Obama said, in a line that is sure to displease the likes of John Bolton.
The president said he would also “follow through on our commitment for me to address the Muslim world from a Muslim capital,” though he did not say whether it would be within his first 100 days or not.
Obama’s vision for restoring good relations between America and the Muslim world, he said, rest also on correcting Muslims’ view of the U.S.
“My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” he said. “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power.”
“The same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that. And that I think is going to be an important task.”
Critics will no doubt say that this is a naive attempt to change the reality on the ground. The Islamic revolution has happened and there’s no going back.
Obama obviously thinks differently. This will be an fascinating test of his presidency.
— Jon Ward, White House Reporter, The Washington Times