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June 5, 2009

Obama Speech Draws Strong Reactions

Analysts and leading evangelicals are reacting pretty strongly to specific concerns about President Obama's "speech to the Muslim world" in Cairo on Thursday, including his definition of democracy, persecution by Muslims, support of Israel, and use of religion to support his goals.

National Review Online asked religious freedom activist Nina Shea, "Is there an 'Arab world' approach to religious freedom?"

She responded:

None of the Arab countries is ranked as "free" in the Center for Religious Freedom survey, though the degree of repression varies. Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia are the worst, while Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, and Oman are relatively better. All restrict minorities in varying degrees, and virtually all officially sponsor anti-Semitism. And all are intolerant of and punish apostates, heretics, blasphemers, and those who "insult" Islam. This has resulted in repressing converts from and critics of Islam as well as writers, scholars, artists, journalists, democracy activists, reformers, women's rights proponents, and others who exercise the right to free speech. This has contributed to the political, intellectual, and economic stagnation of this part of the world, as observed in the U.N.'s Arab Development Report.

Freedom House issued a statement applauding Obama's commitment to democracy. However, American Values President Gary Bauer, writing for Human Events, thought that Obama's stance for universal values was too broad:

Somewhere lost in all of the hype over Obama's outreach to the world is a sense that he stands most proudly as the American President. It's time for the president's soaring rhetoric to be applied in support of this great nation and its Judeo-Christian heritage.

Bauer also criticized Obama for neglecting to mention persecution by Muslims. Prior to the speech, Bauer had hoped that Obama would address the persecution of Christians in many Muslim countries. Bauer noted Obama singled out Saudi Arabia as a good example of "interfaith dialogue" even though last March the State Department placed the country on its list of severe violators of religious freedom. Bauer was disappointed that Obama worked harder to "ingratiate himself to Muslim leaders" than to criticize their faults:

[T]he president could have said so much more. The suppression of basic human rights is a fact of life throughout much of the Islamic world, and Muslim nations make up a large percentage of the State Department's list of the world's most severe violators of religious freedom. That list includes Saudi Arabia, and its dictator, King Abdullah, whose "counsel" Obama sought earlier this week in a trip to Riyadh.

Some in mainline Protestant circles found much to like in the Obama speech.

Reverand Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), specifically praised Obama's use of the phrase "interfaith dialogue." The ECLA press release noted "the president's acknowledgment of the difficulty Palestinians - including Palestinian Christians - face because of the Israeli occupation. He said Obama challenged those who deny the Holocaust and called for Hamas to recognize Israel."

At Israel's Jerusalem Post, David Horovitz analyzed Obama's speech, and the applause he garnered, as a hopeful sign for Obama's goal for "a new beginning," but was less encouraged by Obama's repetition of his goal for peace through a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.

Watching from here, his even-handed attribution of blame for the failure of peace efforts to date was jarring indeed. "For more than 60 years," the president declared, the Palestinian people "have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead."

To which most Israelis, having now witnessed even Ehud Olmert's ultra-generous two-state terms being derisively brushed aside by Mahmoud Abbas, would retort: "And whose fault is that?"

Horovitz also expressed concern regarding the president's "strikingly brief" discussion of Iran. In the speech, Obama repeated the stance he indicated on Tuesday to The Washington Post that Iran has "legitimate" use for nuclear power, so long as it's meant for energy not weapons. The issue is of particular concern for Israelis - who consider Iran's quest for nuclear power an heightened threat to their survival - and Gary Bauer has frequently raised the alarm in the conservative community regarding both Iran's and North Korea's intentions, saying that "it will take more than eloquent words to compel America's enemies to behave." The Christian Science Monitor has questioned whether Obama's hands-off stance toward North Korea's nuclear ambition could embolden Iran.

Finally, Obama's use of quotes from the Quran, along with his frequent references over the past week - and in the speech itself - to his personal experience with the Muslim faith, has also attracted attention. From the CatholicPRWire, columnist Chris Benguhe observed that compared to the way Obama "unequivocally supported Islam and the Muslim faith" in his speech in Cairo, his support of Christianity at Notre Dame last month was less apparent. Benguhe appreciated that the president acknowledged the importance of religious freedom, and added:

But now I wish our president would show the same respect and consideration for the religious convictions and sensitivities of us Christians here at home in his own country, and I really wish he would acknowledge how important Christianity is to this nation.


Obama could nail himself to a cross and he'd still not make the religious right happy. Just talking to Muslims as equals -- rather than enemies -- is going too far in their eyes, I suspect.

We occupy Iraq and Afghanistan by force of arms and back Israel to the hilt, but yet their major concern is persecution of Christians?

We have got major bridge building to do in the Middle East, and Obama's speech was a good start.

Obama is far from perfect (as we all are), but advocating for peace and love is as Christian as you can get.

Some brothers and sisters on the Right are trying hard to find any fault, but they need to look in the mirror themselves.

Not sure that the concerns raised in these quotes were motivated by religion so much as by policies. Arguing on a religious basis is one thing - in that case, it's more appropriate to chide based on 1 Corinthians 13 - but Christianity is not a cover-all for foolish politics. For instance, is it wise (regardless of whether one is a righty, lefty, Evangelical, or Catholic) to treat a political leader such as King Abdullah as though his history of persecution does not define his future politics? Is it wise to gloss over the Palestinian government's previous responses to the two-state solution idea by suggesting they will magically feel better about Israel if only Israel would quit making them mad?

The president's speech was a mix of soaring idealism and glaring naivete. To see my thoughts about it, go to my website, www.stanguthrie.com.

I sure do wish that Christiantiy Today would address the watered down Godpel being preached in many churches today and stay our of politics.

Gary Bauer's nationalism is utterly foreign to the gospel. One could scour the Bible for a lifetime and never find it.

Bauer has sometimes maligned "hyphenated" Americans, insisting that those who were (for instance) Mexican-Americans were somehow too compromised to be quality citizenship material.

But Christian-Americans need not only divided loyalties, but a loyalty to Christ that utterly dwarfs loyalty to Caesar. Is there room for such in Bauer's America?

I suppose the sermon on the mount also reflected "soaring idealism and glaring naivete". It's more than a bit naive to think the President is naive; he cut his political teeth in Chicago

I thought President Obama's speech was just fantastic. Now let us see some just and fair middle-east policy. Time to end this Imperial adventure and save the Republic (at least what is left after the Neo-con nightmare of the last 8 years). If we don't change direction soon, history and the judgement of God will not be kind to us. As Chalmers Johnson says, "Nemesis is eagerly awaiting her date with America."

Obviously President Obama struck a good balance in his speech for he has stirred up both sides pretty much. I am a born again, Bible believing, conservative and I want to commend our President for seeking such balance and assure him of my prayers and respect.

I commend CT for getting involved in politics, although I think it is just reporting the reactions and not politicking. The great paradox in our world appears to be that everyone has a right to speak his mind, and expect to get an audience, except the born again believer. Odd world we live in where the only exception to the right to freedom of speech appears to be those who are in principle holding the moral compass.

Why on earth does CT continue to bow down at the Gary Bauer altar? It is good to see a bit of reader "push back" against all of the neo-con madness that has so pervaded the so called church, recently.