James Forsyth James Forsyth

Obama misses the problems behind the problems

Obama’s speech to the ‘Muslim world’ in Egypt was full of necessary fictions. But more substantively it set out what Obama sees as seven areas where progress must be made if tensions are to be eased: the fight against violent extremism, Israel / Palestine, Iran’s nuclear ambition, democracy, religious freedom, womens’ rights and economic development.

Missing from the speech was a clear appreciation that violent extremism comes out of an extremist ideology. Violent extremism cannot be defeated until the ideology that lies behind it is tackled. It was also, to my mind, a mistake to relegate democracy to fourth place in Obama’s list. In anything other than the short term, relations between the United States and the ‘Muslim world’ — a term that obscures also as much as it reveals — cannot improve until the Muslim world is more democratic. While the Muslim world is ruled by autocrats, they will always seek external forces to blame for their failures.

P.S. The prose in this speech did not reach the heights of some of Obama’s others. But the homage to Kennedy’s inaugural in the closing lines was a neat touch:

“The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth.”

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