- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Unrequited love is a sad thing to watch, whether it’s a callow teenager mooning over a photograph of that cute girl in algebra class, Scarlett O’Hara pining for the elusive Ashley — or Barack Obama in relentless pursuit of the affections of uninterested Muslims.

The president seems to have left his heart in Jakarta, where he lived as a child in the late ‘60s. “Let me begin with a simple statement,” he told his Indonesian hosts, “Indonesia is part of me.” A nice sentiment, and visitors are expected to indulge in polite exaggeration in thanking their hosts. Mr. Obama continued with the usual diplomatic lies that diplomats count on nobody taking seriously, praising his hosts’ “diversity, democracy and tolerance,” citing Indonesia as a model for other countries. There was no need to go into the nation’s brutal and bloody history; the ethnic cleansing that killed up to 1 million men, women and children; the suppression of those warm and friendly folk by corrupt and oppressive regimes.

The president just can’t help himself when he gets amongst Muslims, many of whom take his treacly sentiments as telling evidence of weakness in the face of peril and provocation, proof of the “resolve” of the sappy West. He even indulged a ritual insult of the first lady, saying nothing when the Indonesian minister of communications shook Michelle’s hand at a formal reception and then apologized for the sin and shame of having touched her: “I tried to prevent it with my two hands, but Mrs. Michelle [sic] moved her hands too close to me; then we touched.” Actually, video footage shows the minister reaching eagerly for Mrs. Obama’s outstretched hand, calculating that he could get the cheap thrill of touching the forbidden female flesh that sets Muslim imaginations ablaze. Muslim men have been accused of many things, but kindness and gallantry toward women are not among them.

The next day, Michelle even put on a dowdy “Friday-go-to-meeting” dress for a Wednesday visit to the biggest mosque in Indonesia, testing whether a dowdy dress could make her look dowdy. (The dress failed.)

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visit Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Wednesday. (Associated Press)
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visit Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, ... more >

The president obviously has warm memories of his boyhood in Indonesia, and only a churl would deny his indulging a little nostalgia in recalling a golden boyhood. He took pains to remind his hosts that he is a believing Christian, but he passed up another opportunity to speak bluntly (as a Dutch uncle, you might say) to the Muslim world that mutual respect must be earned.

He could have said something like the remarks of Pope Benedict XVI, who Thursday condemned violence “in the name of God” and told Muslims they must respect freedom of worship even in their own countries. Conversations between Christians and Muslims are all to the good, the pontiff said, but this “dialogue” must be accompanied by “the freedom to practice one’s religion in private and in public.” He urged heads of state across the Middle East to “guarantee to all the freedom of conscience and religion, and of being able to bear public witness to their own faith.” (Saudi newspapers, please copy.)

Such a message from President Obama would have been the needed slap across the face to those who need it most. At the moment, Islam doesn’t appear to most of us in the West to be the “religion of peace” that presidents and prime ministers keep telling us it is; some of that “honest dialogue” they invariably prescribe might clear the air. It might even persuade some of the president’s fiercest critics that he isn’t really a Muslim at heart.

The president should remember the old American adage, “If they’ll hang you for stealing a goat, you might as well take a sheep.” Mr. Obama’s continued pursuit of romance with the Islamic world, little short of abasing both himself and his country, isn’t winning him a lot of points from Muslims at home. The Muslim response to his Jakarta speech, similar in tint and tone to his contrite apology last year in Cairo, has been “That’s nice, and so what?”

The special pleaders are clear about the price they exact for returning Mr. Obama’s respect and attempts at affection. They define “progress” as withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, shutting down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay at once, “protecting” the civil rights of Muslim Americans, and compelling the Israelis to commit suicide. Do all that, Mr. President, and we’ll love you — maybe for a whole day. But eventually you’ll probably have to put Michelle in a burqa.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.