Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Obama speech to Muslims: beyond a rhetorical shift

Posted by worriedlebanese on 05/06/2009

Indonesia Obama MuslimsI read Obama’s Cairo speech twice yesterday and just viewed to it on Youtube, from beginning to end; and it still had the same effect on me. Between the time I read it, and the time I saw it, I had skimmed through many editorials commenting it. But this hadn’t altered my views on it. It is by far one of the most impressive PR stunts that I have ever witnessed. Barak Obama had succeeded in extending to the Muslim communities worldwide the message he gave to Americans during the presidential campaign. He sold them “change they could believe in”.

Many things could be said about the American President’s speech in Egypt, and indeed, many things have been said about it. However, what seems to be extremely important is the liberal approach that he has espoused to discuss Islam. Instead of referring to the Muslim World or addressing Muslim countries, Obama preferred to talk on one hand about Islam as a religion, one that should be treated in the very same way other religions are treated, and on the other hand about “Muslim-majority countries”. Now this expression is rather new to me. It’s obviously  preferable  to the expression “Muslim countries”, because it insists that the “muslim” character comes from the fact that the population is mostly muslim, it’s not a character of the state. Furthermore, the expression “muslim majority” hints that there could be a non-muslim minority in those countries… This expression is undoubtedly a non-essentialist and liberal one. It reflects the way religion is seen in America: it is recognised as an important social feature, but one that doesn’t have a direct tie with the government because of the principle of separation of church and state (first amendment: establishment clause and freedom of religion).

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