What is the difference between the speech recently addressed by US President Barack Obama to the Muslim World during his visit to the Indonesian capital Jakarta, and the speech he had addressed to Muslims from Cairo a year and a half ago? In theory there is no great difference.
Indeed, asserting that “America is not at war with Islam”, as well as his call to “defeat [the violent extremists of] Al-Qaeda” or other radical Islamist organizations, and stressing the need to exert more effort to resolve “the issues that have caused tension” between the Muslim World and the United States, all of them are terms Obama used in both speeches. Yet in reality the difference seemed great for the public to whom the speech was addressed, as the US President had given his first speech on the background of great approval, interest and trust in him, and of high hopes in his ability to change the state of affairs in the Middle East, grant the Palestinians their rights, and stop the persecution of Arabs and Muslims around the world, as well as rein in Israel, which has in recent decades come to behave as if none would monitor its actions or hold it accountable. This time there was not the same extent of interest in Obama’s speech, just as the uproar surrounding the visit was not of the same level as that which accompanied his visit to Cairo. Lastly, trust in his ability to turn his words from mere words to practical reality has become quite weak.
In his speech in Cairo, he spoke of “mistrust” between the United States and the Muslim World, and he repeated this in Jakarta as well. Yet the difference is that some had understood Obama’s words in Egypt’s capital as reproach directed by him at both sides, meaning that the United States would put forward initiatives towards restoring such trust. Obama in Jakarta reiterated nearly the same expression, but those who heard him in the Muslim World realized that it was just an expression, by which he meant to justify his inability to achieve such trust, despite the fact that it has been less than two years since he took office. Obama in Indonesia’s capital did not speak in much detail about the Palestinian issue, merely pointing to “enormous obstacles” that stand in the way of peace and pledging to work on removing them! That is, knowing that President Obama himself had been the one to call for direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, after the rounds of indirect negotiations between the two. All of them led only to the conclusion that there would be no solution to the issue, whether negotiations are direct or indirect, as long as Israel does not stop settlement-building and does not implement UN Resolutions. So far, Obama has not been able to exert pressures in order to obtain matters such as these, and it does not seem that he can exert such pressures.
Yes, certainly Obama’s discourse and that of his administration in politics and in the media is much better for Arabs and Muslims than the language former President George Bush and his administration had used. Nevertheless, it is not with intentions and flowery talk that fateful issues are resolved, rights restored, and peace made to prevail in the world.
In terms of form, Obama in Cairo displayed more confidence, presence and brilliance, but in Jakarta this was not the case. It is true that he is the President of the most powerful country in the world, but his limited ability to cause real change in the world in a positive direction was clear, despite the flowery expressions and orderly speech. Obama will perhaps, before the end of his current term, address another speech or more to the Muslim World from the capital or capitals of other Muslim countries. Yet as the end of his term nears, there will be more justifications than initiatives, avoiding angering Israel will exceed the desire to resolve the Palestinian issue, and the issues of American society will replace any space set aside for concern with the issues of Arabs and Muslims. Thus, what remains of Obama’s first term will perhaps hold more talk and a scarcity, or complete absence, of initiatives.