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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Is It Counterproductive to Speak Kindly of Islam?

In response to an op-ed by Reuel Marc Gerecht in opposition to Obama's toned-down approach to Islam, Jeffrey Goldberg asks the question Is It Counterproductive to Speak Kindly of Islam?:
I actually find Obama's ratcheting-down of the rhetoric refreshing and possibly useful, but Gerecht makes an interesting counter-argument:
Does How do you approach the problem of Islamic militancy in the West and in the Middle East? President Obama, who has had innumerable briefings on the threats posed by al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups, has chosen to dial down American rhetoric (it was actually pretty tame under President George W. Bush) in the hope that average Muslims, wherever they may be, will view the United States as more friend than foe, and help Washington combat "violent extremism."

This friendly approach is, unfortunately, counterproductive.
So far, it's unlikely that Muslim self-criticism -- our ultimate salvation from Islamic holy warriors -- has improved under Obama. Judging by the satellite channel Al-Jazeera, a vibrant hodgepodge of all things Arab, the opposite current, fed by Western self-doubt, appears to be gaining force. By being nice, we suggest that nothing within "Islam" -- by which I mean the 1,400-year-old evolving marriage of faith, culture and politics -- is terribly wrong. By being kind, we fail to provoke controversy among Muslims about why so many Muslims from so many lands have called suicide bombers against Western targets "martyrs" and not monsters.
Goldberg's response is to ask for more proof, other than from al-Jazeera.

That's a fair enough request, I suppose. By the same token--it is Gerecht, and not Goldberg, who has offered an example to support his position. What indications can Goldberg provide to support his contention that the softball approach of Obama is better.

For that matter, how has Obama's rhetoric been more toned down than Bush, who made a point of calling Islam "a religion of peace" and differentiated between Islam and terrorism? One could argue that rather than being 'toned down', Obama has made a point of being more outspoken on Islam speaking favorably about it, starting with his Cairo speech.

I would argue that Bush was more balanced than what we see from Obama in that regard--and that may be reflected in US attitudes towards Islam then and now. That is a point raised by Instapundit:
It occurs to me that right after 9/11 we saw the beginning anti-mosque demonstrations but those quickly dissipated. Why?

Probably because right after this march, we had Bush’s WTC bullhorn speech and people started to feel confident that Bush would protect the country. With less confidence in Obama, are they resorting to self-help? It’s a long way from bacon to beheadings, of course, but a sense that the powers-that-be can’t be trusted to protect the country is dangerous and destabilizing.
Bush was as outspoken in defending Islam as he was in speaking out on, and acting to defend the US, from terrorism. Americans were reassured about the latter and therefore were open to the former.

Lacking that balance today, Obama's rhetoric on Islam--which again I do not agree with Goldberg is soft spoken--fails to give the reassurance that people need.

That is the same balance that Gerecht himself points to. The paragraph Goldberg brings immediately continues with:
Worst of all, by being considerate we fail to echo the great Muslim dissidents, deeply religious men such as the Iranians Abdolkarim Soroush and Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari, who see that something has gone very wrong within their country and their civilization.
The issue is not just to create controversy for the sake of controversy, but also to encourage and support the moderates--the real moderates--in the Muslim world, such as the ones mentioned by Gerecht as well as Sheikh Professor Abdul Hadi Palazzi.

And that is the reason why speaking kindly of Islam in and of itself is not the answer.

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