Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Quickies: An Israeli Speaks The Unspeakable

     Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren’s new book has Washington in a lather, but his recent article in Foreign Policy is having nuclear impact:

     Understanding Obama’s worldview was crucial to my job as Israel’s ambassador to the United States. Right after entering office in June 2009, I devoted months to studying the new president, poring over his speeches, interviews, press releases, and memoirs, and meeting with many of his friends and supporters. The purpose of this self-taught course — Obama 101, I called it — was to get to the point where the president could no longer surprise me. And over the next four years I rarely was, especially on Muslim and Middle Eastern issues....

     How did the president arrive at his unique approach to Islam? The question became central to my research for Obama 101. One answer lies in the universities in which he studied and taught — Columbia, Harvard, and the University of Chicago — and where such ideas were long popular. Many of them could be traced to Orientalism, Edward Said’s scathing critique of Middle East studies, and subsequent articles in which he insisted that all scholars of the region be “genuinely engaged and sympathetic … to the Islamic world.” Published in 1978, Orientalism became the single most influential book in American humanities. As a visiting lecturer in the United States starting in the 1980s, I saw how Said’s work influenced not only Middle East studies but became a mainstay of syllabi for courses ranging from French colonial literature to Italian-African history. The notion that Islam was a uniform, universal entity with which the West must peacefully engage became widespread on American campuses and eventually penetrated the policymaking community. One of the primary texts in my Obama 101 course was the 2008 monograph, “Strategic Leadership: Framework for a 21st Century National Security Strategy,” written by foreign-relations experts, many of whom would soon hold senior positions in the new administration. While striving to place its relations with the Middle East on a new basis, the authors advised, America must seek “improved relations with more moderate elements of political Islam” and adapt “a narrative of pride in the achievements of Islam.”

     In addition to its academic and international affairs origins, Obama’s attitudes toward Islam clearly stem from his personal interactions with Muslims. These were described in depth in his candid memoir, Dreams from My Father, published 13 years before his election as president. Obama wrote passionately of the Kenyan villages where, after many years of dislocation, he felt most at home and of his childhood experiences in Indonesia. I could imagine how a child raised by a Christian mother might see himself as a natural bridge between her two Muslim husbands. I could also speculate how that child’s abandonment by those men could lead him, many years later, to seek acceptance by their co-religionists.

     Muslim or not – and I consider the “jury still out” on this matter – Obama is plainly more aligned with Islamic values and the Islamic world than he is with any other sector of Mankind, including America. More, Obama’s immersion in the thought prevalent in academia caused this alignment. Keep that in mind the next time you hear someone refer to academia as a source of guidance on Middle Eastern affairs.

1 comment:

  1. >> the Kenyan villages where, after many years of dislocation, he felt most at home <<

    The whole point of the natural born citizen requirement was to avoid this very situation - a president without a natural attachment to America.

    ReplyDelete

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