- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Speaking from his boyhood home of Jakarta, Indonesia, yesterday, President Obama said, “America is not, and never will be, at war with Islam.” His talking point misses the point because Islam is at war with America.

The White House billed the event as a follow-up to Mr. Obama’s June 2009 Cairo speech “attempting to soothe historic tensions between America and Muslim communities around the world.” The president reiterated the messages of his earlier address, in which he called for a “new beginning” in U.S.-Muslim relations. This new beginning, however, has run into the same old problems. After a brief burst of enthusiasm early in his first year, Mr. Obama’s approval ratings in the Muslim world have sunk to those of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who launched wars against Muslim countries.

A recent Gallup survey showed that current approval of U.S. leadership in countries in the Middle East and North Africa is “similar or lower than what it was in 2008,” in some cases “erasing gains seen after the transition from the Bush administration to the Obama administration.” A Pew Center poll released over the summer showed that trust in Mr. Obama “to do the right thing in world affairs” had fallen to 8 percent in Pakistan, which is arguably the Muslim-majority country most important to the war on terrorism.

Mr. Obama declared that “all of us must work together to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates, who have no claim to be leaders of any religion - certainly not a great world religion like Islam.” This raises the question of why the president feels he has the bona fides to discuss who is or is not a legitimate representative of the Muslim faith. During his visit to Jakarta’s Istiqlal Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia, Mr. Obama relayed a story the imam had told him, that a nearby Christian church uses the mosque’s lot for overflow parking during Christmas celebrations. He said it was an example of religious cooperation. But as he noted in his speech, “that is not to say that Indonesia is without imperfections. No country is.”


Another Christmas tradition in Indonesia - which Mr. Obama neglected to mention - is the annual round of threats and violence against Christians from the Islamic Defenders Front and other radical groups. In January, a mob of 1,000 Muslims burned down two churches in Sumatra because there were “too many faithful and too many prayers” going on. Between 2004 and 2007, Muslim radicals and local governments forced 110 Christian churches to close. If shared parking lots are the best example of tolerance in Indonesia, it has a long way to go.

Mr. Obama’s speech will not sway opinion among the world’s Muslims. They have heard his views already and made up their minds. It does serve as a reminder that the West, and the United States in particular, is not the source of the problem. This is something Mr. Obama would rather not talk about. This week in Pakistan, Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian mother of five, was sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy against Muhammad. She had been working on a farm with other women when she was asked to fetch some drinking water. Her Muslim co-workers refused to drink it because it was “unclean” after being touched by a Christian. An argument broke out, and later Ms. Bibi was attacked by a mob. This case illustrates the true complexities and depth of intolerance America faces in dealing with the world’s Muslims.

President Obama should give up his breezy, feel-good rhetoric, which is falling on deaf ears, and try talking about hard, real issues regarding Islam for a change. That would be a real new beginning.