Anyone expecting Barack Obama's speech 'to the Muslim world' to really alter the terms of debate round US role in the world looks like being disappointed.
Obama makes some of the right noises: he greets the audience with 'assalaamu alaykum'; he praises advances in Muslim culture, science and education; and he quotes from the Koran.But the core of the speech, carefully written and balanced by probably an army of speechwriters and diplomats, reflects the casual rejection of the concerns of millions - both Muslim and non Muslims - who opposed George Bush and who continue to oppose Obama insofar as he follows Bush's policy.
The issues addressed are laid out in logical order: wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Israel and Palestine; nuclear weapons; democracy; religious freedom; women's rights and economic development and opportunity. It might seem a bit rich to many Egyptians, and those from elsewhere in the region, for Obama to stress 'all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind...confidence in the rule of law..government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people..the freedom to live as you choose'. After all they live in a country where democracy campaigners, lawyers, strikers ..and yes, Muslim activists, are regularly imprisoned, repressed or tortured under the rule of the arch ally of the US, Hosni Mubarak. Which rather helps to put into perspective religious freedom.
In every instance Obama is understanding, thoughtful..but defends the status quo. Western economic development is hailed as the way forward, without any acknowledgement that capitalist economic expansion has left whole parts of the world behind, not least in the oil rich Middle East.
Education for girls and more money for development are promised, but so they have been before, most publicly when, after the invasion of Afghanistan which cost 10,000 Afghan lives, Tony Blair promised that, 'we will not walk away' from the problems of rebuilding the country. Now, tens times as much is spent on the military in Afghanistan as on reconstruction - and most of that never benefits ordinary Afghans, who live in one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
There is no mention of the history of the US and its allies, in backing Israel in the Middle East, in carving up Asia and the Middle East as part of the western empires.
All the problems between the US and the Muslim world are explained as 'misunderstandings', or as due to the actions of 'violent extremists.' This doesn't explain why 'misunderstandings' have grown so substantially since the US became a major imperial power during the 20th century. The lack of empathy is shared not just by Muslim dominated countries but throughout Latin America, much of Asia and Africa and indeed in much of Europe. And where did the 'violent extremists' come from? Forty years ago, the main US enemy was the Vietnamese. Anyone who organises against the US is dubbed an extremist. 'Islamic extremists' have only developed since the increasingly aggressive foreign policy carried out by the US in the Middle East and south Asia.
The speech may contain fine words, but it promises nothing new that can address the real concerns of those who have heard US promises before, but who have seen very different consequences. Troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and an end to the arming and funding of Israel, would do more to address these concerns than a thousand speeches.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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