Should Obama address “Muslim world” as a bloc?

January 20, 2009

President Barack Obama has just pledged to make a new start for United States relations with the Muslim world: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” he said in his inaugural address. “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

(Photo: President Obama delivers his inaugural address, 20 Jan 2009/Jason Reed)

It’s not clear what he plans to do. One idea he’s mentioned is to deliver a major speech in a Muslim country in his first year in office. There’s already a lively discussion on the web about where he should go. During his speech, CNN showed a shot of the crowd with some people holding up signs urging him to deliver the speech in Morocco.

Before this train starts rolling, it might be useful to recall that some Islam experts don’t think it’s a good idea for him to deal with “the Muslim world” as a bloc opposed to the West. Two French experts on Islam, Olivier Roy and Justin Vaisse, argued this in a New York Times op-ed piece last month. Here is the full text and below are excerpts.

Do you think it’s helpful for Obama to talk about the Muslim world as a distinct bloc?  Would he actually play into Osama bin Laden’s hands by talking about the Muslim world and the West as distinct entities? If so, what should he do?

As Roy and Vaisse wrote:

“Such an initiative would reinforce the all-too-accepted but false notion that “Islam” and “the West” are distinct entities with utterly different values. Those who want to promote dialogue and peace between “civilizations” or “cultures” concede at least one crucial point to those who, like Osama bin Laden, promote a clash of civilizations: that separate civilizations do exist. They seek to reverse the polarity, replacing hostility with sympathy, but they are still following Osama bin Laden’s narrative.

“Instead, Mr. Obama, the first “post-racial” president, can do better. He can use his power to transform perceptions to the long-term advantage of the United States and become a “post-civilizational” president. The page he should try to turn is not that of a supposed war between America and Islam, but the misconception of a monolithic Islam being the source of the main problems on the planet: terrorism, wars, nuclear proliferation, insurgencies and the like…

“The truth is, Islam explains very little. There are as many bloody conflicts outside of regions where Islam has a role as inside them. There are more Muslims living under democracies than autocracies. There is no less or no more economic development in Muslim countries than in their equivalent non-Muslim neighbors. And, more important, there exist as many varieties of Muslims as there are adherents of other religions. This is why Mr. Obama should not give credence to the existence of an Islam that could supposedly be represented by its “leaders”.


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as a muslim raised in america, i was happy to see president obama shed light on the muslim world. some muslims might’ve not like the sound of that because they might take it as if muslims are seperate from americans and rest of the world. However, being realistic about things tells me that this was an important notion. his statements i think were meant more towards the leaders of islamic countries who tend to be hostile towards the west. it was his way of telling them that he is willing to engage them if they too are willing to as he mention “unclench their fists”. it also speaks to the billions of muslims around the world to let them know the america is not agaist them and they too can influence what they expect of their leaders. hopefully he can bring a change to how he deals with the muslim world and how they deal with america.

Posted by hassan | Report as abusive

It is logical for Obama to address the Muslim world as a bloc since it has become apparent that it is impossible to differentiate radical Muslims from external countries from those radical Muslims living in the Western world among us. Would be very nice to be able to avoid racial profiling in this way…but it unfortunately is not a safe or realistic goal in today’s world at this time.

Posted by paige from bc canada | Report as abusive

As an american muslim, I was just thrilled that he mentioned muslims at all in his speech. When he has a chance to flesh it out further, I do hope he recognizes that we’re a diverse community that isn’t necessarily headed towards a clash of civilizations.

Posted by rahma | Report as abusive

I agree with the sentiment although I think Obama should have made a more open approach by not just referring to the ‘Muslim world’ but to the world outside the US in general.

In todays world, conflict has been brought about by more than just a Muslim/West ideological divide – we only need to look to the conflicts over mineral resources and political power on the African continent and the various conflicts involving Russia/Georgia and China/Tibet to illustrate this. If Obama were to recognise that dealing with the complex troubles that exist between Western and Muslim elements is only part of America’s intention of being a true global citizen, it would provide a platform that would see the US as wanting to work with the world and have the world work with them – a handy sentiment to develop if we are to tackle the global issues that will affect us in the future.

Posted by Warwick | Report as abusive

Obama as a sympathiser to Muslims should have used the words I extend a hand to muslims all around the world…that would have a more democratic approach and have a similar effect…the muslim world is often viewed as the Arabian peninsula, some parts of asia and some parts of Africa….minority populations of muslims around the world dont feel part of this “Islamic region”…if those words were used he would have extended his greetings to all muslims regardless of race, location or population percentage.

Posted by map | Report as abusive

Right now, Muslims have to live with the fact that their “world” includes a kind of terrorism that hasn’t been prominent in the past. No thinking person believes that all Muslims are terrorists, or that “Islam” is some kind of political entity, any more than they believe that “the Christian world” is all one thing or represented by undesirable elements of it. Pol Pot was a former Buddhist monk, but that doesn’t mean that “the Buddhist world” consists of unspeakable people like him, does it? Perhaps we could become more aware of the potential and limitations of the spoken and written word?

Posted by Drid Williams | Report as abusive

Sitting here in USA, its easy to write a fairy tale people. I hope I will be proved wrong and your optimistic outlook of future will come true.

Remember, grown men are running the writ in muslim nations, not naïve, harassed and peaceful monks ( like those in Myanmaar) looking for rescue. There is a very limited wiggle room in their inflexible resolve about how their men(nad others) should live. They are not a homogeneous virtuous (or vitriolic) group of people. Here is some diversity for your consumption: In Saudi women cannot drive, in western Pakistan girls schools were burnt down this week by Taliban. In Iraq, after 5 yrs of liberation shias kill sunnis and both kill kurds, In India the muslim personal Law confirmed that if a muslim man utters ‘Talaaq (divorce)’ in a drunken state, its valid and should be honored (Ironically, religion forbids consumption of alcohol). The secular Indian govt. keeps away in order not to hurt muslim sentiment. In Iran head scarf is compulsory and elbows should not be shown (for women), in Turkey dress code is optional. Majority of the muslim nations are run by non democratic administrations.OK. Armed with new enthusiasm, if some of the post writers (especially the fairy tale writers) should make a trip to some of the agitating countries and try to change the mindset of these said determined leaders/followers, I will bet they will take a return flight under a week only to swear ’ never again’. I do agree we all should try to bring change, I only wish I knew how. The diversity of demands set forth by agitators in muslim countries requires nothing short of creation of a whole a new world. Also, muslims are their worst enemy. The Iran revolution massacred millions of its people; in Iraq- Iran War millions were killed; 3 million Bangladeshis were massacred by Pakistan army in 1971 war; sectarian violence kills large number of Pakistanis. Taliban kills Afghans, Pakistanis and Iranians.

Sorry I don’t expect Obama can make a difference.

Posted by AzadDP | Report as abusive

In this day and age it is sad having to refer to people by their religion.Its rather primitive and takes me back a few centuries; especially that now we consider the world to be a global village!
However having said that I do understand the need for Obama to specifically use the word Muslim as he wanted to be as inclusive as he could by mentioning it.Many people have appreciated this fact ;as it also shows in this blog too.What his message clearly meant to me however is that in addition he is going to pursue a more neutral policy/relationship with the middle east and Afganistan.The very mention of the word might have sent positive signals to many Islamic countries and many muslims around the world.
It says.” I am the new American leader and America is everybody’s friend including the muslim …..America doesnt persecute muslims ;we are only trying to weed out fundamentalism ” is what his message could have also meant.
To me however I would have liked it if STATE leaders didnt use any RELIGION to refer to any subset of people.

Posted by dejavous_male | Report as abusive

He can… but it would not make sense. Muslim bloc as such is not one entity. It constitutes multitudes of cultures and even sub-sects. I think he should follow the regular trend of addressing countries, rather than a specific religion!

Posted by Jerry | Report as abusive

I agreed with Obama extend his hand to the Muslim world. Yes there are many other groups but his is NOT the president of the world, need no to address Georgia/Russia or China/Tibet problem. We have problem with Muslim since 9/11 attack, and Bush has angered the Muslim world, our disastrous middle east policy can only generate more terrorism not less. Military is not the answer, hatred is not the answer, it’s time to make up with the Muslim. Whatever internal problem within Muslim country such as woman’s right have nothing to do with American people. We are not world police and hope Obama won’t see himself not worship interventionism.

Under Bush’s propaganda, some Americans and most Muslims misunderstand each other. We too often forgot we are all victims of politicians secret agenda. They use our patriotism to back their worst deed.

If American and Muslim world can not be brother, at least we can live peaceful along side with each other without hate.

Posted by SueG | Report as abusive

azadDp made a great effort to list all the wrong doings by the “muslim world”. if u want to start listing all the disfunctionalities of the muslim world vs the rest, then let’s list all the wrong doings by the west. starting with the creation of israel, which robbed millions of palestinains of their homeland and has affected the middle east forever. how about the capitalistic economic ideaologies that have exposed that the world’s markets have been a huge scheme by the rich elite that have left the world broke. how about the problem of christian priests and the large number of them who cann’t seem to keep thier hands of young children. how the western invasion into afghanistan and iraq that have cause the deaths of hundreds and thousands of people and displaced millions. how about the western nations exploitation of africa and its resources that have left nations into state of civil and tribal wars. even with all these negative factors, this doesn’t mean that the west is a collection of the greatest evils in the world. for all their faults, they still have great ideals that can help the world. the same goes for the muslim world. the problem is and you ignorantly chose to ignore this is that the west supported people like saddam hussein, bin laden, taliban, continues to support extremist producing countries like egypt, pakistan, saudia arabia, and jordan. so how are you blaiming the “muslim world” when the west is just as guilty for supporting these type of behaviors?? if anything this has left muslims facing problems from their own “leadership” as well as western policies. i just reading up on the facts and learning history properly might actually enhance your understanding of how things really are instead of making things up.

Posted by hassan | Report as abusive

Very wrong question.

Does anyone ask “Is Obama going to address “the Buddhist world” as a bloc?

Does anyone ask “Is Obama going to address “the Hindu world” as a bloc?

Does anyone ask “Is Obama going to address “the Christian world” as a bloc?

The title and discussion are very indicative of liberal backing for Islamofascism.

People of all faiths have problems the world over. Projecting Islamists as one block is part of this Islamist aggression.

Wake up people!

Posted by Non-Muslim | Report as abusive

I hope the new US President starts seeing the cause to the problem rather than the problem itself. US is the recent one to witness terrorist activities. US government has no one to blame but themselves. US government has been selling and supplying weapons to many countries (probably for charity and making world a better place, I guess!). Many countries across the globe have been facing terrorist activities for decades. All of a sudden when US witnessed such terrorist activities in their own country, they felt as if they are the most terror affected country on the globe. They feel that they have the right to judge and act against any organization or nation. On the other hand, when other nations face terrorist activities, US intervenes and suggests a dialogue process to resolve the issue. US government policy seems like that of a businessman who sidelines the ethics in the process maximizing profit. It’s high time that US introspects about its foreign policy.

Posted by abc | Report as abusive

Yes! it is correct to consider muslims as a separate bloc but with same rights, integrity, esteem and respect as for his own bloc.

Posted by Peace | Report as abusive

The World outside of the U.S., yes the muslims need to be addressed as “bloc” not so much for the benefit of the muslims, but the benefit of the U.S. Since its image under the Bush43 admin has taken such a huge bashing, the quickest route to restoring that is to address the muslims as one, since they all claim to be that way, as a political and relgious body, it is my perception, that they would appreciate that.

Islam is in direct need of a “Renaissance and Reformation”. Christianity, did many barbaric things in God’s name, until enough people started to become educated more and more and in embracing the political aspect of the church used that as a stepping stone to develop other things, such as science, art, medicine and engineering and research and science.

For the last 1200 years, Islam has been dying a slow death from an intellectual point of view. It has created no pure new knowledge for the world. It has contributed little or no invention to the matrix of human knowledge. Mankind has received no benefit from Islam since then. All matters of invention were created from Christen, Jewish, Hindu and other societies.

It is for this reason that Islam, because it has become so retrograde, in that it is not embracing the endeavors to advance humanity, but endeavors to increase its memberhood, by force, coercion, “dawa”, having many children. Now there are many educated muslims, but all their education and where they went to be educated is all created by the Western Nations, which are from a knowledge point of view, taking humanity forward. Not even in a million years, could an Islamic nation create a space program, as the static nature and the stagnancy it imparts on the mind is like a mental prison, killing any sort of creativity to spurn creation.

Although is Islam is increasing in numbers, it is decreasing in Intelligence and increasing in its ability to radicalize and create hate. There appears no central authority in Islam to impart modernization of thought.

Because intellectual regression is happening and the rest of the world is moving forward, there will be huge collision course in the near future between the Kaffir societies and non-kaffir societies. It is hoped that this can be stopped by reforming Islam.

Reforming Islam would mean, recognizing the things in Islam, which do not work today in a modern world. Things like treating non-muslims differently, this concept of Jihad, equality for women, no marriage of women until 18, no divorce by saying “Talaq” three times and so on….and finally, Islam must embrace the human form, and this is the most important thing of all. Once human beings embrace the human form, an infinite cascade of imagination spews like a well from the mind. This is well documented in Renaissance in Italy and works in India, Persia, China, where much human advancement has come. Most of all, entitled hatreds must be stopped, especially hatreds towards Jews. All the Mosques must stop preaching hate, even implied hate towards non-muslims, as this creates an “us” and “them” separation, which grows hatred in the minds of children.

But this central authority must impart those things, which the West finds abhorrent and start to admit to themselves that certain concepts in their teachings do not fit in a modern context and actually work to stop Islam from progressing into the modern world.

Until common core values, which the West finds to take for granted and the Muslim world finds absurd (like democracy, secularity, rights of women, rights of non-muslims,etc) are found to start being more commonplace in the Muslim world, there will always be a clash between the Modern Age and the Dark Ages.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

Obama will always be a more cosmopolitan & cultured President than some redneck cowboy hick;however his “Muslim world” reference was simplistic & a simplification that Westerners can understand.
For Muslims like me,the idea of a united Muslim world is pure fallacy…look at how many wars we have fought amongst each other…Iran/Iraq,Iraq/Kuwait,Kurdistan issue,Afghanistan/Pakistan & even the Shia-Sunni schism.

Right now,we are way too divided for anyone to refer to us as the “Muslim world”…the only place where that phrase is used repeatedly is in the naive Western media

Posted by Qasim Awan | Report as abusive

…People of all faiths have problems the world over. Projecting Islamic as one block is part of this Islamist aggression….

— No blocs go world wide terrorizing people showing off that this is a pure religion of the world.

Every Religion is pure to it’s followers that doesn’t mean you go kill non-Muslims in the name of Islam.
Obama’s ‘Muslim World’ is just a simple to distinguish the secular countries, multi-ethnic countries from Islam propagating countries.

“They do not and never understand unless specifically pointed as Muslims”

Posted by Blogger | Report as abusive

He should realize what an opportunity he has to help return America to a fee self reliant constitutional republic and begin obeying the constitution and everything will start to fall in place.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

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Posted by ashrf | Report as abusive