What Islam Is, and Isn't
I thought Obama’s Islam speech was pretty good, as are most of his speeches. True, there wasn’t a lot of content there, but those types of speeches rarely have much in the way of substantive policy. The goal of this speech was to tell Islamic nations that the United States is not their enemy, and I think Obama succeeded.
One line in his speech stood out. Obama said “my experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't.” That’s very true—America should know what it is dealing with. It’s also something Obama ignored throughout his speech. In reality, Islam is significantly different from the version present in Obama’s speech.
Obama explained that he knew “civilization’s debt to Islam.” Islam has contributed its share to the West, and the Muslim world was a great center of science at one time, but really, modern civilization doesn’t owe very much at all to Islam. Our modern culture evolved from the Middle Ages and feudalism through the Renaissance and Enlightenment down to the present day. The primary influence during the Middle Ages was Christianity, the primary influences on the Renaissance were ancient Greece and Rome (that’s why they call it the Renaissance; “Renaissance” means “rebirth”), and reason and science were the basis for the Enlightenment.
Islam has made contributions to civilization—most obviously, they call our numbers “Arabic” numerals for a reason. But a glance at the modern word doesn’t really show much in the way of Islamic influence, and the Muslim influence there was essentially died out five hundred years ago.
Obama also made the claim that “America is not at war with Islam.” Let’s face it—it is, or at least Islam is at war with America. Take a look at a map of the Middle East, which is where the vast majority of Muslim countries are. (Two non-Middle East Muslim countries are Indonesia and Albania, neither of which are particularly unfriendly towards America.) The countries that make up the Middle East are: Egypt, Turkey, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine (defined as those states that are independent of Israel but not controlled by another country). Of those, seven (Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Qatar, and Turkey) can be considered friendly towards the United States. The other eight—which include most of the powerful states in the region (the friendly nations, with the exceptions of Pakistan and Turkey, are almost powerless in the region) either have governments that are openly hostile to the United States and Israel or have significant anti-American sentiment among their population.
The most influential Muslim in the world is probably Osama bin Laden. The second is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Both are anti-American. The most powerful Islamic countries are probably Iran, Egypt, and Pakistan. Iran is an American enemy, Egypt is neutral but certainly no friend, and Pakistan, while an ally, is at the brink of collapse.
Not all Muslims hate America. But the ones that matter do. Moderate Muslims exist—but they don’t speak out. The men (and it’s only men) who have influence in Muslim countries are anti-America and anti-Israel. If the majority of Muslims do not in fact hate America (and it is very possible that this is the case), then they are a very silent majority. Islamic power, and the most vocal of the Muslim intelligentsia, are solidly against America.
Should Obama have included all this information in his speech? Of course not—it would be stupid to offend the people he is trying to attract. But he should realize what Islam is, and what it is not, and react accordingly.
Obama’s path to popularity in American and Europe has been very easy. But his philosophy may be much less popular in Muslim countries, and he should not count on his charm and biography to carry him through there.