Obama: To Stop Terrorism Islam Must Reconcile Itself To Modernity

In a sweeping interview President Barack Obama worries about the hijab, questions the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia, and argues that Islam must undergo a reformation if there is to be an end to Islamist terrorism.

In a blunt and lengthy discussion with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, Obama discusses America’s role in the world in general, and the problem of Islam in particular.

About the scourge of terrorism, Goldberg reports:

… in private encounters with other world leaders, Obama has argued that there will be no comprehensive solution to Islamist terrorism until Islam reconciles itself to modernity and undergoes some of the reforms that have changed Christianity.

About the growing problem of Islam in Indonesia, and Islam’s tragic effect on the cause of women’s liberation, Goldberg writes:

Obama described how he has watched Indonesia gradually move from a relaxed, syncretistic Islam to a more fundamentalist, unforgiving interpretation; large numbers of Indonesian women, he observed, have now adopted the hijab, the Muslim head covering.

In the interview, Obama, blames Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab governments for encouraging anti-American militancy, and refusing to address the problems created by Salafism and the movement’s direct connection with terrorism.

Obama also said that the Saudis and other Sunni nations should try harder to “share the neighborhood” by achieving “some sort of cold peace” with their enemies in Iran.

Commenting on the eye-opening interview, The Editorial Board of the New York Times praised Obama’s “rebuke to the Saudis,” noting:

Mr. Obama has now forced a behind-the-scenes conversation about the Saudi-American relationship into the open. Is there anything Washington can do to encourage transformative reforms? Apart from expressing critical views, even Mr. Obama, who will visit Saudi Arabia for a meeting with Gulf leaders next month, has felt a need to maintain the alliance largely along traditional lines.

In the interview, aptly titled The Obama Doctrine, Obama discusses radical Islam, declaring:

It is very clear what I mean, which is that there is a violent, radical, fanatical, nihilistic interpretation of Islam by a faction … within the Muslim community that is our enemy, and that has to be defeated.

Obama continues, challenging the entire Islamic community:

There is also the need for Islam as a whole to challenge that interpretation of Islam, to isolate it, and to undergo a vigorous discussion within their community about how Islam works as part of a peaceful, modern society.

When asked what he had hoped to accomplish with his Cairo reset speech delivered early on in his administration, Obama said that he had been trying—unsuccessfully, he acknowledged—to persuade Muslims to more closely examine the roots of their unhappiness:

My argument was this: Let’s all stop pretending that the cause of the Middle East’s problems is Israel. We want to work to help achieve statehood and dignity for the Palestinians, but I was hoping that my speech could trigger a discussion, could create space for Muslims to address the real problems they are confronting—problems of governance, and the fact that some currents of Islam have not gone through a reformation that would help people adapt their religious doctrines to modernity. My thought was, I would communicate that the U.S. is not standing in the way of this progress, that we would help, in whatever way possible, to advance the goals of a practical, successful Arab agenda that provided a better life for ordinary people.

In the interview, Obama also alludes to his reluctance to publicly use the term “Islamic terrorism.” Goldberg reports:  

Obama modulates his discussion of terrorism for several reasons: He is, by nature, Spockian. And he believes that a misplaced word, or a frightened look, or an ill-considered hyperbolic claim, could tip the country into panic. The sort of panic he worries about most is the type that would manifest itself in anti-Muslim xenophobia or in a challenge to American openness and to the constitutional order.

This is actually a good explanation for his reluctance to use the term “Islamic terrorism,” and it is too bad that Obama has not been more forthcoming with his feelings on this matter with the American people. Such disclosure would have undercut the arguments often used against him by Republican conservatives challenging his credibility on the issue of terrorism.

Bottom line: The entire interview is a lengthy but fascinating insight into the mind of Obama, and his private thoughts on the state of the world. Obama openly and thoughtfully discusses his frustration and disappointment with the Arab Spring, Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia; as well as the need for Islam as a whole to reconcile itself to the demands of modernity.

(H/T The Atlantic)

(Image via Wikimedia)
(Image via Wikimedia)
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