I usually avoid overt political comment but my experience watching President Obama's Thursday, 19 May, 2011, speech directed to the Middle East was a bit of an awakening. I viewed it while winding down from my daily workout in the Clubhouse. There were two TVs going - one on sports and the other on CNN. As the time for the broadcast approached, I asked my friend, Raymond, to turn up the sound so that I could hear better. I also thought that some of the other dozen or so people from various cultural and national backgrounds might be interested. I watched and listened carefully while the rest of the room went on about their workouts, talking, laughing, and attending to each other - hmmh? What's the message?
President Obama's remarks addressed a broad spectrum of issues in the Middle East and northern Africa - revolutions, economics, unstable governments and their treatment of their citizens, and finally the Israel and Palestine question. Unfortunately, as I've grown to understand this area of the world, the question of Israel and Palestine should have been at the beginning, not the end. The reason that people didn't listen was because the West has repeatedly been unwilling to recognize this fact. While President Obama is the first U.S.A. President to ever utter the words "return to pre-1967 territorial lines," Isreal's response of "no way," coupled with the other issues of access to Jerusalem and the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland, loom as dark clouds on the horizon.
Countries in the Middle East and northern Africa are struggling to birth new governments. If they end up being democracies, they quite possibly will be Islamic republics. How will the U.S.A. respond if this comes to fruition? What I hope is that Americans will understand that the vast majority of Muslims are reasonable people and there is nothing wrong with a government declaring a state religion. Afterall, what have Italy, France, Great Britain, and many other countries done and quite comfortably as well? The declaration of a specific religion does not mean that those of other religions cannot worship - I attend a Christian fellowship in Qatar and it is not, and never has been, a problem. But the U.S.A. has to understand the risk that, should it not find a way to deal with the Isreal versus Palestine question, it opens the door for Islamic conservatives to wield greater power in these new Islamic-influenced governments, thus resulting in governments that will be difficult for the U.S.A. to embrace.
Sadly enough, President Obama's hands are tied by the politics of America; he offered a moderate position designed not to alienate pro-Israeli supporters too much. Considering Israel's immediate response, imagine what would have happened had Presidennt Obama asked for more. And how will the American public come to understand that the history of U.S.A. and other western interventions on Isreal's behalf, all the time ignoring the occupation of land and choking it out of existence, is at the core of it all? I am saddened that Obama's options are so limited and I am saddened that those in the gym on Thursday evening had grown so skeptical that they didn't even take the time to listen.