Deconstructing the much-hyped address of President Barack Obama to the Muslim world from Cairo is not difficult.
This is because the subtext is plainly obvious that if America is sufficiently contrite for the errors of the previous administration then the damaged relationship with the Muslim world since 9/11 might get repaired.
There is, however, no reason for America to be contrite. Muslims, on the contrary, need to be thankful for the generosity of the American people in times of their need and for the sacrifices endured in recent years to bring freedom from tyranny and strife to Muslims in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.
But gratitude is a word quite alien to the contemporary Muslim world, as are the meanings of tolerance and respect for people of other faiths in countries where Muslims are a majority.
It is quite proper to speak to the Muslim world while recognizing it is hugely diverse ethnically, layered with cultural differences and competing interests among states.
Obama’s speech instead was primarily about the Middle East and, more specifically, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is as if the concerns and challenges for the Muslim world in the present century might be reduced to the demands of settling this conflict.
The Muslim world is not the Middle East and Arabs with their specific problems barely constitute a fifth of the world’s Muslim population, which exceeds one billion. Some two-thirds of the Muslim world’s population is to be found in four countries – Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not, however, of central concern to the teeming population of the Muslim world and has little to do with Islam. It has been made into a crutch by Arabs to make excuses for their failure in facing the demands of the modern world and of blaming others for their self-inflicted misery.
Moreover, the conflict that began with Arab rejection of the 1947 UN partition of Palestine is revealing of the extent to which politics in the region is soaked in the most virulent form of anti-Jewish bigotry and perversion of Islam.
The truth about why this conflict has raged for so long is simple. On the one hand, Israelis have shown their resolve to live and flourish as a people returned to their ancient home despite the odds. On the other, a sufficient number of Arabs remains uncompromising and diabolic in their goal of using whatever means at hand to eliminate the Jewish state.
Obama cited several verses from the Qur’an demonstrating familiarity with the sacred text of Islam. This was commendable while reminding his audience of the universality of their faith.
The verse Obama needed to quote – if he were truly honest both in disclosing his knowledge of the Qur’an and in speaking to Muslims – is God’s admonishment that He does not change the condition of any people unless they change what is in their hearts.
It is incumbent upon Muslims to demonstrate their belief in peace – when faith is weak or missing from their hearts, as the Qur’an had warned Muhammad about those around him – and by their conduct give proof of tolerance and respect for others.
In the meantime prudence requires the non-Muslim world remain at least minimally wary of Muslims and their politics.