R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Let’s Find Out What it Means To Us

In his speech last Thursday in Cairo, President Obama emphasized his respect for the Muslim world. While the notion that, with superior  diplomatic skills, Obama can sweet talk fanatics like Iran’s Ahmadinejad into becoming statesmen is illusory, perhaps it is not wise to otherwise pre-judge the effect of the President’s show of respect to the Muslim world.

We have yet to see what his sentiments translate into, in terms of Iran, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, or towards Israel. So far, Obama has not put the squeeze on Israel to start making elaborate concessions in the face of terrorism, like President Clinton did, or precipitously yanked the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Most significantly, we do not yet know what his policy will be vis a vis Iran if diplomatic sanctions fail. Yes, there is cause for great concern. But we simply don’t yet know what he will do.

President Obama’s words acknowledging Muslim contributions to civilization, as well as calls for mutual respect, and recognition that all peoples yearn for basic human rights and freedoms, are lovely, not dishonest, and not dangerous. They are similar to sentiments expressed by President George W. Bush to the Muslim world on many occasions. But it may be that, with his Muslim-friendly credentials, President Obama has the ear of the Muslim world in a way President Bush did not.

It is ironic that these credentials, such as his Muslim middle name, and his religious observance as a boy in Indonesia, were among the facts his critics were slammed for noting during the campaign. But, if they can be helpful to him in reaching Muslim hearts and minds to understand that we must all move forward with genuine mutual respect, it would be an understatement to say they will come in pretty darned handy.

That mutual respect begins with an acknowledgment of that most basic of rights, the right to exist. Last night I attended a debate on the Lower East Side of Manhattan addressing the pernicious question, “Is Zionism Racism?” and heard one debater, while arguing that Zionists are racists, repeatedly characterize Israeli leaders, without irony, as “pigs.”

Encountering something like that on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I can’t say I am too optimistic about the state of the world’s evolution with regard to acknowledging Israel’s right to exist. But, I was heartened to hear, in President Obama’s speech today:

“Around the world the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries. And anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich.

Six million Jews were killed, more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless. It is ignorant, and it is hateful.

Threatening Israel with destruction or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews is deeply wrong and only serves to evoke in the minds of the Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.”

To speak this truth plainly to the Muslim world is no small thing. Because, as I was reminded yesterday evening, people who lack compassion for or understanding of Jewish history, including the history of the Holocaust, are missing a giant piece of understanding about why modern Israel was established and needs to exist.

In some cases this is an entirely willfull lack of understanding. Someone like Iran’s President Ahmadinejad, who is interested in perpetrating a new Holocaust, is probably a big fan of the last one. As are extremist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. But Holocaust denial is an ingredient in the sick stew of propaganda such extremists feed too many otherwise good people in the Muslim world, who would be inclined to live and let live, to inculcate them to hate. In calling attention to this evil, cultivated ignorance, President Obama is opening the door to addressing the real heart of the middle east conflict. If his Muslim credentials allow him to be the one to do so, so much the better.

Meanwhile, if President Obama combines these important words with policies that:

1) Demand Israeli concessions while giving Palestinian and other Arab leaders a free pass on cracking down on terrorism and genuinely preparing their people for peace (Can anyone say another Oslo?)

2) Precipitously withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and hand these regions to terrorists

3) Sit back while the fanatical theocracy in Iran acquires nuclear weapons and, worse yet, tie Israel’s hands from preventing such a nightmare scenario …

Then every free man, woman, and child on earth is in peril.

Let’s see what happens.

This entry was written by and posted on June 4, 2009 at 5:24 pm and filed under Blog. permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Keywords: , , , . Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. */?>