Obama’s Cairo speech, reactions

President Obama [of the USA] has given his first major speech on relations between the United States and the Muslim world. Birmingham Councillor and Respect party [in Britain] leader Salma Yaqoob gave the following response: here.

British daily The Guardian on Obama’s Cairo speech: here.

Reaction by Simon Assaf: here. By Gilbert Achkar: here.

Chris Floyd comments: here.

Andy Libson comments: here.

6 thoughts on “Obama’s Cairo speech, reactions

  1. http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=47115

    EGYPT: ‘Obama Talks Democracy, Endorses Dictatorship’
    Analysis by Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani

    “Obama’s visit was a show of support for both the dictatorial Egyptian regime and the criminal policies of Israel regarding the Palestinians,” he said. “It represents an acknowledgement of Egypt’s role in serving U.S. and Israeli policy objectives, while totally overlooking the regime’s dismal record on human rights and political reform.

    CAIRO, Jun 5 (IPS) – Egyptian officials are lining up to praise U.S. President Barack Obama’s address to the Islamic world delivered in Cairo Thursday. But local campaigners for political reform say the speech was disappointingly light on the issues of democracy and human rights.

    “Obama spoke very briefly and in very general terms on these two subjects,” opposition journalist and reform campaigner Abdel-Halim Kandil told IPS. “Despite the hype, Obama’s speech was little more than an exercise in public relations.”

    Obama arrived in the Egyptian capital amid much fanfare Jun. 4, where he delivered a seminal address aimed at Arab and Islamic audiences. The U.S. President came to Egypt via Saudi Arabia, Washington’s other main Arab ally in the region, where he spent a day meeting with Saudi Arabian leaders and officials.

    Ahead of his speech, Obama also met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Although talks were held behind closed doors, the two heads of state reportedly focused on regional issues, including the conflicts in Iraq and Central Asia, impending elections in Lebanon, and the volatile Israel- Palestine conflict.

    Obama’s much-awaited address, in which he called for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” covered a range of issues. These included the dangers of violent extremism; prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians; nuclear weapons proliferation; democracy; civil liberties; and economic development.

    On democracy, Obama declared his belief that “all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.

    “Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere,” he said. “Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.”

    Officials of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) hastened to praise the “historic” address.

    “Obama’s speech reignited hope for new U.S. policymaking,” wrote Osama Saraya, editor-in-chief of state daily Al-Ahram. Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, head of Cairo’s prestigious Al-Azhar school of Islamic learning (who is appointed by the President), declared that the address “succeeded in touching the hearts and minds of Muslims.”

    But local reform campaigners and human rights activists were considerably less impressed.

    Bahaieddin Hasan, head of the Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies, described the address as “superficial” and devoid of details. “There didn’t appear to be any concern for either democratic reform or human rights,” he was quoted as saying in the Friday edition of independent daily Al-Dustour. “This came as a major disappointment.”

    Hisham Kassem, a leading Cairo-based rights activist, agreed. “The Obama administration appears to have put human rights and political reform at the bottom of the agenda,” he told IPS. “It’s noteworthy that only 367 words of the speech out of a total of almost 6,000 were devoted to democracy and human rights. This tiny proportion appears to be an indication of Obama’s priorities.”

    Kassem said that after a full five months in the presidency, Obama “still hasn’t appointed an assistant secretary of state for human rights, while he has also done away with the Bush-era position of special envoy for human rights and political reform.”

    Kandil said that Obama’s choice of Egypt – ruled by Mubarak under a draconian state of emergency for 28 years – sends the wrong message. Saudi Arabia that Obama visited earlier lacks even pretence of democracy.

    “Obama’s visit was a show of support for both the dictatorial Egyptian regime and the criminal policies of Israel regarding the Palestinians,” he said. “It represents an acknowledgement of Egypt’s role in serving U.S. and Israeli policy objectives, while totally overlooking the regime’s dismal record on human rights and political reform.

    “The government, in crisis due to skyrocketing inflation and enormous popular disaffection, is hoping that Obama’s visit will somehow bolster its legitimacy and lengthen its dwindling lifespan,” said Kandil.

    Kandil is also coordinator of the pro-democracy Kefaya movement, which decided to boycott the event. “Instead of attending, Kefaya members staged a protest march in downtown Cairo on the eve of the speech in order to remind the U.S. President that he is visiting a dictatorship,” he said.

    Kandil said the new Obama administration differs from its predecessor “only in style and not in substance.”

    In 2004 and 2005, the George W. Bush administration pushed Cairo hard to invite broader political participation and human rights improvements. It later backtracked on these demands after unexpected victories by the Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement in parliamentary elections.

    Kandil pointed to recent statements made by U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates as a more reliable indicator of the Obama administration’s long-term approach to the issue. Early last month, Gates, after meeting with Mubarak, announced that U.S. military assistance to Egypt would not be made conditional on Egypt’s human rights record or the pace of democratic reform.

    “Democratic change can’t be expected to come from the White House, because, ultimately, the U.S. and Israel – like the regime itself – don’t want real democracy in Egypt,” said Kandil. “They know that if fair elections were ever held, they would be handily won by opponents of U.S. policy and the American-Zionist project in the region.

    “And as for human rights, the U.S. is a constant perpetrator of rights violations in Iraq and Afghanistan – and now Pakistan – while simultaneously overlooking violations committed by Israel and its own Arab allies,” he said.


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  3. President Obama is in the way to be a modern Chamberlin
    He doesn’t require reciprocity of conciliation between West and Arabs

    North Korea, Iran don’t care what president Obama says.
    Arab countries, such as Egypt, Saudia,Syria are not democratic and are not required to change their depressing governments by President Obama

    Christians are on the run on all Arab countries , no churches can be build in Saudi and president Obama is talking about honoring the Muslims in the west- without requiring the same approach to non Muslim religions in Arab countries.

    President Obama is speaking about similar human values between Muslims and West, however he forgot to mention that modern human rights are not applicable in Arab countries.

    The Arab teaching funded by the Saudis around the world based on the Waaby doctrine is very directly against infidels- however president Obama refers that the west has to learn to be tolerant to Islam and forgot to require the same from the Arabs toward all the non Muslim cultures

    President Obrefer did’t refer to many other conflicts with a history longer and number of casualties scores higher compared to Arab Israel conflict such as:
    Kurds, Shia- Suna,Iran(Persia)-Arabs,Pakistan, India- Bangaladesh, Muslims in Thiland, Muslims in Phillipins, Muslims in China, civil wars in Algeria , Yemen, Lebanon, Polisario-Maroco ……. the list is longer
    However president Obama was very precise talking about the defending Israel.
    He forgot to require the Arab states to recognize the right of Israel and that the Arab refusal to accept Israel at all in 1948 is the rout course of the Arab Israeli problems.
    Israel will not be a modern replica of Czechoslovakia ahead of WW2.


  4. Hi Ariely,

    “President Obama is in the way to be a modern Chamberlin”

    Presumably, you mean Neville Chamberlain (there were also, eg, Joseph Chamberlain, Houston Stewart Chamberlain. All three have in common that it is Chamberlain, not Chamberlin).

    You write “Israel will not be a modern replica of Czechoslovakia ahead of WW2.” These situations are not really comparable. Chamberlain wanted nazi Germany to attack the Soviet Union, and for that sacrificed Czechoslovakia, a Soviet ally. Where is the Soviet Union in the present Middle East equation? And, where is the nazi Germany in the present equation?

    Saudi Arabia, though an oppressive monarchical dictatorship (see elsewhere on this blog) is not anywhere to being the first or second military power in the world, as Hitler Germany was in 1938. It started as a British empire client state; and now is a US empire client state (somewhat like Israel now).

    “Christians are on the run on all Arab countries”. Not true for all Arab countries. Not for Syria. And not for Iraq when Christians were one third of Saddam Hussein’s bodyguard (if your main issue is really the position of Christians (or of Jews) in Arab countries, then what did you do, or do now, against the Iraq war? The situation of Christians and Jews in Iraq is now catastrophically worse than before 2003; like the situation of women, gays, etc. etc).


  5. Christenen in het Midden-Oosten tussen islam en het Westen

    Christenen in het Midden-Oosten worden vaak gezien als voorpost van het Westen. Maar die visie miskent de eigen karakteristieken en ontwikkeling van het christendom in het Midden-Oosten. Dat zegt prof.dr. Heleen Murre-van den Berg in haar oratie op vrijdag 12 juni.

    Donkere wolk
    Wanneer het christendom in het Midden-Oosten ter sprake komt doemt vaak het beeld op van een bedreigde minderheid. Maar geweld en bedreiging zijn een uitzondering, benadrukt Murre. ‘Er hangt wel een donkere wolk boven het christendom in het Midden-Oosten, maar het christendom is er ook gewoon deel van het maatschappelijk leven.’

    Interieur van de Syrisch-Orthodoxe kerk Mar Aho in Noordoost-Syrië.

    Dagelijks leven
    Het christelijk geloof is in het Midden-Oosten op allerlei manieren in het dagelijks leven aanwezig. Zo zijn er de gemeenschappelijke rituelen tijdens de diensten en op heiligendagen. Daarnaast zijn er vele vormen van individuele vroomheid, variërend van het slapen in een kerk en het bezoeken van heiligengraven tot het vragen om zegening door een monnik en het dragen van beschermende gebeden. Bovendien wordt het geloof er heel publiek beleefd, bijvoorbeeld tijdens de volksfeesten ter gelegenheid van religieuze feestdagen.

    Zaterdagavondvesper in de dorpskerk van Midin in Zuidoost-Turkije.

    Deze geloofsbeleving fascineert Murre. ‘Mensen zeggen zo vaak “als christen zou je nooit …”. Dan denk ik “kijk eens om je heen”.’ Die andere geloofsbeleving kenmerkt niet alleen de orthodoxe kerken in het Midden-Oosten, zoals de Syrische en Armeense kerken en de Assyrische Kerk van het Oosten. Ze geldt ook de vele protestantse, evangelische en pinksterkerken die dankzij missie en zending al eeuwen in het Midden-Oosten zijn vertegenwoordigd.

    Ook nu nog zijn er zendelingen in het Midden-Oosten, al opereren die ondergronds, omdat zending in de meeste landen expliciet verboden is of op zijn minst controversieel. Vooral Amerikaanse evangelische christenen bedrijven zending, maar ook Koreanen en lokale christenen. In Turkije, Iran, Israel en Syrië is ook sprake van bekering vanuit de islam tot het christendom. Dat ligt heel gevoelig, want de islamitische geloofsovertuiging geldt daar eigenlijk als onmisbaar onderdeel van de nationale identiteit en een christelijke geloofsovertuiging botst daarmee.

    De verschillende kerken wedijveren met elkaar om de aandacht van de gelovigen, en als de ene geloofsgemeenschap een nieuwe kerk neerzet, volgt de andere. Toch voelen christenen in het Midden-Oosten zich ook met elkaar verbonden, als minderheid temidden van moslims, zegt Murre. ‘Dat wil echter niet zeggen dat ze zich in een slachtofferrol laten drukken en zich als dhimmi, aan de islam onderworpen minderheid, gedragen. Christenen in het Midden-Oosten gaan de concurrentie met de islam wel aan en beantwoorden de toegenomen zichtbaarheid van de islam met nieuwe kerken.’

    Heleen Murre-van den Berg: ‘Westerse christenen zien het Midden-Oosten als onderdeel van de christelijke wereld’.

    Toch kan ook Murre niet om de afname van het aantal christenen in het Midden-Oosten heen. ‘Christenen krijgen minder kinderen dan moslims. Ze migreren ook vaker omdat ze meer mogelijkheden hebben. Ze zijn beter opgeleid en rijker, al vlakt dat verschil af. Bovendien is hun blik meer naar buiten gericht.’

    Maar ook de herinnering aan een geschiedenis van geweld speelt een rol. Murre: ‘Als er iets mis gaat zijn christenen snel de dupe, dus pakken ze snel hun koffers; ze willen niet afwachten hoe iets uitpakt.’ Die angst komt voort uit de genocide op de Armeniërs en Syrische christenen in Zuidoost-Anatolië in 1915-1916 en latere vervolgingen.

    Rivaliteit tussen islam en christendom is volgens Murre maar een van de factoren die een rol spelen in geweld tegen christenen. ‘In Irak is het percentage christenen de afgelopen jaren gehalveerd. Daar zijn vele christenen vermoord en nog veel meer gevlucht. Ideologisch gedreven groepen maken gebruik van de sociaal-economische en politieke situatie. Maar de rivaliteit tussen islam en christendom vormt de voedingsbodem voor zulk geweld. Dan kunnen alle islamitische religieuze leiders wel zeggen dat het niet mag, het gebeurt toch.’

    De positie van de christenen in het Midden-Oosten gaat christenen in het Westen aan het hart. Murre: ‘Westerse christenen zien het Midden-Oosten als onderdeel van de christelijke wereld omdat het christendom daar geboren is en het eerste recht op dat gebied heeft. Generatie na generatie christenen wordt opgevoed met een tekst die over het Midden-Oosten gaat. Als je iedere zondag in de kerk over Jeruzalem hoort en maandag in de krant over Jeruzalem leest, hoeft niemand te zeggen dat dat over dezelfde plaats gaat, ook al wordt dat apolitiek gebracht. In Nederland wordt die band vooral gevoeld met Israel, in Frankrijk met de Arabische christenen, maar het komt op hetzelfde neer.’

    Oorspronkelijk christendom
    Daarnaast gelden christenen in het Midden-Oosten ook als vertegenwoordigers van een oorspronkelijk christendom, vertelt Murre. ‘Uit onvrede met het eigen westerse christendom wordt het oosterse christendom geromantiseerd. Dat zou het christelijke karakter beter bewaard hebben dan het vervallen westerse christendom. Klassiek oriëntalisme eigenlijk.’

    Aankondiging voor de wereldjongerendagen met de vorige Paus op deur in Nazareth.

    Oosterse christenen worden kortom vooral gezien als een instrument om hogere doelen te bereiken: de bekering van joden en moslims, de herovering van het Heilige Land of de terugkeer naar een oorspronkelijk christendom. Ze zijn een voorpost van het Westen. De westerse identificatie met het oosterse christendom wordt versterkt door het gevoel bedreigd te worden door de aanwezigheid van moslims. Maar de identificatie is wederzijds, zegt Murre. ‘Omgekeerd kijken de christenen in het Midden-Oosten naar hun geloofsgenoten in het Westen en verwachten hulp en steun van hen.’

    Westerse christenen die een gevoel van verwantschap verwachten met hun geloofsgenoten in het Midden-Oosten wacht soms ontluistering, zegt Murre. De kerken in het Midden-Oosten hebben meer gemeen met elkaar dan met hun evenknieën in het Westen. ‘Christenen in het Midden-Oosten lijken in sommige opzichten meer op de moslims daar dan op de christenen hier. Wat mensen hier stoort aan moslims zou hen daar storen aan de christenen.’



  6. http://dissidentvoice.org/2009/06/obama%E2%80%99s-cairo-speech-a-rhetorical-shift-in-us-imperialism/

    Obama’s Cairo Speech: A Rhetorical Shift in US Imperialism
    by Deepa Kumar / June 13th, 2009

    “In short, the U.S., like all empires, has always sought to disguise its real aims behind fine-sounding phrases and goals. While Obama’s speech is a step forward in that it eschews the hate-filled Islamophobic rhetoric of the Bush regime, it does little for the real Muslims and Arabs who continue to face discrimination, harassment, rendition, torture, war and occupation.

    To address these problems, a reinvigorated antiwar movement should use Obama’s rhetoric to build a struggle that can champion the rights of Arabs and Muslims around the world, and hold Obama accountable to his own words.”

    Barack Obama’s Cairo speech heralds a shift from the Islamophobic rhetoric of the Bush regime, but not from the long-term aims of the U.S. empire.

    Predictably, Barak Obama’s speech in Cairo came under hysterical criticism from the right. Sean Hannity screamed that Obama gave “sympathizers of 9/11” a voice on the world stage, Charles Krauthammer derided the apologetic tone, and Sen. James Inhofe called it “un-American.” At the same time, Bill O’Reilly called the speech a “big success,” and David Horowitz wrote that conservatives should support Obama on this.

    What explains this strange schizophrenia among conservatives?

    At root, Obama’s Cairo speech heralds a decisive shift in the rhetoric of U.S. imperialism. It marks a recognition that the virulent Islamophobic rhetoric of the Bush regime has failed, and that it is necessary to begin a process of rebuilding the U.S.’s image in Muslim-majority countries.

    But if the speech marked a rhetorical shift, it did not chart new ground in terms of U.S. foreign policy. Instead, it signals the reemergence of liberal imperialism, packaged deftly and skillfully through the person of Barack Hussein Obama.

    Sections of the conservative bloc recognize the need for this shift. 9/11 presented the neoconservatives with an alibi to unleash their vision of U.S. foreign policy. They seized this unprecedented opportunity to launch a program that would reshape the Middle East and establish a new Pax Americana. Ideas that were considered off the wall by the Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations, such as the “clash of civilizations” thesis, became dominant.

    So all-encompassing were these ideas that even sections of the left accepted the notion that Muslim-majority nations were mired in backwardness, and that these nations, as well as domestic Muslim communities, needed to be modernized by an enlightened West (note, for instance, the arguments about bringing democracy to Iraq, banning the hijab under the guise of secularism, etc.). The lack of a principled anti-racist position within the mainstream antiwar movement then had serious consequences for Arabs and Muslims.

    It is therefore important that we begin our assessment of Obama’s speech by acknowledging the shift away from Islamophobic rhetoric.

    Rejecting the “clash of civilizations” argument, Obama emphasized the shared common history and common aspirations of the East and West. Whereas the “clash” discourse sees the West and the world of Islam as mutually exclusive and polar opposites, Obama emphasized “common principles.” He spoke of “civilization’s debt to Islam” because it “pav[ed] the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment,” and acknowledged the contributions made by Muslims to the development of science, medicine, navigation, architecture, calligraphy and music.

    Obama then took on many of the myths that became commonplace after 9/11. Breaking with the notion that Islam is inherently violent, Obama emphasized, several times, Islam’s history of tolerance. He quoted from the Koran to show that Islam does not accept violence against innocent people, and pointed to the tolerance shown by Muslims in Spain during the violent period of the Christian Inquisition.

    He observed that Indonesia, Bangladesh, Turkey and Pakistan — all Muslim-majority states — had elected women to leadership roles and added that “the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life.” He thus cast aside the notion that the enlightened West inherently recognizes women’s rights.

    He rejected the widely held view that women who wear the veil are “less equal,” stating that this should be a woman’s choice. And he argued against actions taken by Western nations to dictate what Muslim women should wear, stating: “We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.”

    Obama subtly acknowledged the U.S.’s double standards. He admitted that the U.S. had acted contrary to its “ideals” by instituting torture. He also noted that one nation should not pick and choose who should have nuclear weapons, a reference to the U.S.’s opposition to Iranian nuclear ambitions and its lack of criticism of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

    He further admitted to the U.S. role in the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953, and to the ways that colonialism and the Cold War thwarted aspirations in other parts of the world. Marking a shift from the traditional one-sided emphasis on Israel’s problems, he described the Palestinians as a dispossessed people.


    Yet as significant as these comments are in challenging the racist and Islamophobic rhetoric under the Bush regime, Obama’s policy in the Middle East and South Asia does not signal a break with the policies of previous administrations. While there are minor points of difference with the Bush administration, Obama’s foreign policy stays within the broader framework of US imperial aims in the region.

    Consistent with previous Democratic and Republican presidents going back to 1979, Obama views Iran’s independence from, and resistance to, U.S. dominance in the region as a problem. While he has called for a halt to further settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, he champions a toothless two-state solution that emerged in policy circles in the U.S. in the early 1990s — and he says nothing about dismantling existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

    In Iraq, he proposes to withdraw U.S. combat troops while leaving about 50,000 troops still in the country to maintain U.S. control. And in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Obama “Af-Pak” strategy has only increased U.S. troops and involvement in Afghanistan and created a massive refugee crisis in Pakistan, all to further its oil/natural gas interests and geopolitical aims in the region.

    What Obama’s speech represents is a repackaging of U.S. imperial aims in liberal terms. It heralds a new rhetorical approach built on the ashes of the now widely discredited cowboy diplomacy of the Bush era.

    This is why the speech earned praise from even right-wing hacks like David Horowitz. In an article titled, “Fellow conservatives, admit it: Obama gave a great speech,” Horowitz argues that Obama deserves support because he defended U.S. policy in relation to Israel and the Iraq and Afghan wars. Republican Sen. Richard Lugar similarly dismissed criticisms from Republicans, calling the speech a “signal achievement.” Speaking about the Middle East peace process Lugar stated that the speech tried to “strike some of the right notes rhetorically,” while it would have little impact materially.

    Indeed, Horowitz and Luger are not alone in seeing the usefulness of such a rhetorical shift. Over the last few years, in response to the plummeting U.S. image around the world, and in Muslim-majority countries in particular, a section of the political elite has sought to find new approaches to bolstering America’s image.

    One such effort got underway in January 2007 under the leadership of former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, former Deputy Secretary of State (under Bush) Richard Armitage, and others. The group published a document titled, “Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World,” which received high praise from political figures like Lugar, Howard Berman and Leon Panetta, and former generals like Anthony Zinni, among others.

    The “Changing Course” document states in its opening pages that distrust of the U.S. in Muslim-majority countries is a product of “[p]olicies and actions — not a clash of civilizations.” It goes on to argue that to defeat “violent extremists,” military force is necessary but not sufficient, and that the U.S. needs to forge “diplomatic, political, economic, and cultural initiatives.” The report urges the U.S. leadership to improve “mutual respect and understanding between Americans and Muslims,” promote better “governance and improve civic participation,” and help “catalyze job creating growth” in Muslim countries.

    The call to action stated that it would be vital for the next president to talk about improving relations with Muslim majority countries in his or her inaugural speech, and to reaffirm the U.S. “commitment to prohibit all forms of torture.” Obama has carried out these and other suggestions, and the Cairo speech reflects many of the themes raised in this report.


    Yet behind this liberal veneer of promoting “better understanding” and “mutual respect” is a report that in no way, shape or form attempts to “change course” on U.S. foreign policy objectives. Instead, it simply urges the use of more subtle and diplomatic means to achieve these aims.

    It states that the U.S. should engage Iran while insisting that it conform to non-proliferation standards; create a path for a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine; promote political reconciliation in Iraq and specify the U.S.’s long term goal; and renew an international commitment to stem the resurgence of extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In short, it promotes the goals of U.S. imperialism, but through means that mark a shift from the arrogant and unilateralist ways of the Bush regime.

    It is no wonder then that Obama’s speech received a lukewarm reception in Muslim-majority countries. While some have understandably welcomed Obama’s gesture of goodwill and respect, many have expressed skepticism, asking Obama to match his words with deeds. The sentiment expressed in many newspaper editorials, and by ordinary people, is one that challenges Obama to change course in terms of foreign policy.

    This should come as no surprise given the history of U.S. propaganda in Muslim-majority countries and the healthy skepticism that has been built up against it. To counter the influence of the Soviet Union and present the U.S. in a positive light, the U.S. developed an intensive propaganda strategy that included the use of posters, radio programs, books, pamphlets, intervening in school curricula, etc.

    For instance, one short story distributed in Iran was about two boys, one who studied hard and was industrious, and the other who chose communism. Unsurprisingly, the latter met with an untimely death in a street demonstration, while the former prospered. Some of the more comical efforts include the USIS office in Iraq distributing posters of the Soviet Union depicted as a “greedy red pig,” complete with a hammer and sickle for a tail!

    U.S. Cold War propaganda emphasized the Christian and religious roots of the U.S., in contrast to the godless atheism of the USSR. Concretely, this meant, for instance, the use by the U.S. embassy in Iraq of posters that featured photographs of Washington D.C.’s Islamic center, meant to depict the U.S. as an inclusive and tolerant nation. When Obama talks of a mosque in every state of the U.S., he is simply using already tried strategies.

    Some of the key themes of Cold War propaganda in the Middle East involved portraying the U.S. as a beacon of freedom and democracy for the world, as a peace-loving nation, and as a friend of Islam in the “common moral front” against the USSR.1 Yet this propaganda could only be so effective, since the U.S.’s actions in toppling democratically elected regimes and supporting Islamists told a different story.

    We in the U.S. need to develop a similar skepticism of imperial rhetoric. Liberal imperialism has a long history in the U.S. Starting with the Spanish-American War, political elites have argued that U.S. interventions in various countries were for humanitarian goals.

    The U.S. claimed to be liberating the Cubans from Spain, yet they simply took over the reigns of power from the latter. Woodrow Wilson championed the right of nations to self-determination, but conveniently applied it only to the break-up of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires in his “fourteen points” program.

    FDR claimed to be championing democracy during the Second World War, yet African Americans did not have the right to vote under Jim Crow laws. JFK claimed to want to “help” Third World countries to develop economically and to foster democracy, and created the Peace Corps for this purpose. Yet he sent more troops into Vietnam, and attempted to overthrow Castro through the “Bay of Pigs” invasion.

    In short, the U.S., like all empires, has always sought to disguise its real aims behind fine-sounding phrases and goals. While Obama’s speech is a step forward in that it eschews the hate-filled Islamophobic rhetoric of the Bush regime, it does little for the real Muslims and Arabs who continue to face discrimination, harassment, rendition, torture, war and occupation.

    To address these problems, a reinvigorated antiwar movement should use Obama’s rhetoric to build a struggle that can champion the rights of Arabs and Muslims around the world, and hold Obama accountable to his own words.


    1. The material in this and the last two paragraphs are taken from National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 78, US Propaganda in the Middle East — the Early Cold War Version edited by Joyce Battle. [↩]

    Deepa Kumar is an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Rutgers University. She has written many articles on Islamophobia, and Middle East and South Asian politics. She is currently working on a book titled Allies and Enemies: U.S. Foreign Policy, Political Islam, and the Media. Read other articles by Deepa.


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