President Obama’s “A New Beginning Speech” touched on seven important topics.
1. Confronting extremism the United States position is to continue to fight those who pose a threat to the national security of the United States. This fight will not just consist of using the military but will also involve economic and infrastructural aid. The United States will spend over four billion dollars a year between Afghanistan and Pakistan above current military aid. This aid is for the softer side of counter-insurgency by providing governance, jobs and services people are it is hoped less apt to join the extremist organizations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In another effort to ease tensions in the Muslim world the drawdown and withdrawal of United States will be completed by 2012. Also the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay Cuba which is a sore spot with the Muslim world will be closed by 2010. This is combined with the order to stop using torture as an interrogation method is hoped to give some moral standing back to the back to the United States.
2. The Israeli / Palestinian situation; it is the firm belief of the United States that the only solution to the ongoing conflict is a two state solution. The goal of this solution is for peace and security for both countries. The Israeli / Palestinian conflict is a major source of tension in the Muslim world and feeds not only anti-Israeli feelings but anti-American ones as well. The United States will pressure Israel to stop settlement building and expansion as this violates previous agreement. Also the United States will put the pressure on Israel to make sure the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is ended and allow for the development of the West Bank. Putting the pressure on the Israelis to make things right is popular in the Muslim world. The Israelis are seen as the aggressors in this conflict and this new policy of not backing Israel 100 percent will hopefully end some of the anger towards the United States this situation causes. If a two state solution can be reached then a major source of tension in the Middle East can be ended.
3. Nuclear Weapons specifically in regards to Iran the United States maintains that Iran and any other country has the right to peaceful nuclear power. In saying this, the United States remains firm that Iran should not acquire nuclear weapons as this could destabilize the entire area and cause a nuclear arms race in the Muslim world. This is especially true with the great divide between Iran which is a mostly Shiite Muslim state surrounded by mostly Sunni Muslims. The United States is willing though to meet with Iran to attempt to ease the tensions that have existed since the Iranian revolution.
4. Democracy: The United States will support any freely elected government if they respect all of their citizens. The United States will no longer impose democracy on another country and understand a nation’s and people’s right to choose their own form of government. This goes against past United States policy of attempting to export democracy. This will also help to ease tensions in the Muslim world and ease fears of a new form of Imperialism.
5. Religious tolerance: The United States will continue to support religious freedom at home and abroad. In doing so will also promote the tolerance of other religions in Muslim lands with the hopes that and understanding can be reached so that all faiths can live together in peace. This is to ease fears about a war against Islam and the hope that Muslim countries can learn to tolerate other religions as well.
6. Women’s rights are a contentious issue in Muslim countries because of religious restrictions. The United States will help support any Muslim country in its development of educational and economic programs for women. This could open up a whole segment of the Muslim community to opportunities they have not had before to better themselves and their countries.
7. Economic development and opportunity: The United States will foster more economic development on Muslim countries through more globalization and integration in the world community. This will be done in respect to Islamic culture and traditions to help ease shock of the different cultures of the world on Muslims. The United States will work with the Middle East to develop the countries in the area economies beyond fossil fuels. This is to be done to provide sustainable economies and to provide work for a larger part of the population. This can also be used to fight extremism.
The new policies of the United States are to be used to combat religious extremism and to provide an opportunity for the Muslim world to become more integrated with the rest of the world.
Challenges to this new beginning are many starting with the extremists Osama bin Laden released a video on June, 3 2009 preempting President Obama’s speech. The Video was in response the recent Pakistani offensive against the Taliban in the Swat valley and elsewhere. In this speech bin Laden states that “...by ordering Zardari and his army to prevent the people of Swat Valley from instating Islamic law, by means of killing, fighting, bombing, and destruction. This led about one million Muslims – women, children, and the elderly – to flee their villages and their homes, and they have become homeless refugees living in tents, after having led honorable lives in their homes.
This simply means that Obama and his administration have sown new seeds that will increase hatred and vengeance towards America. These seeds as are many as the number of refugees from Swat Valley and the tribal areas in north and South Waziristan, as well as the number of their sympathizers. By this, Obama is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, increasing the enmity of the Muslims, as well as the number of fighting enemies, and initiating prolonged wars. The American people should prepare to continue to reap what the leaders of the White House are sowing, in the years and decades to come (Al-Qaeda Leader Osama Bin Laden Attacks US President Obama: The American People Will Reap What the White House Leaders Are Sowing ). This speech is meant to cause more stir up more anti-American feelings in the Muslim world. Osama bin Laden and his ilk want to convince the Muslim world that the West and America is fighting a war against Islam. This video brings up two very important points one the Muslim on Muslim fighting going on as Pakistan tries to reign in extremism and secondly touches yet again on the Israeli / Palestinian situation.
In addressing the Israeli / Palestinian conflict President Obama’s speech while received well by some on both sides of the conflict there are differing opinions on the initiatives put forward. Mahmoud Rahahi, an official of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza, criticized the speech. "President Obama asked Hamas to stop the rockets, at the same moment, he did not speak of anything about 1,500 Palestinians killed in the last invasion of Israel in Gaza," he said (Lee). President Obama was critical of the Palestinians and their use of terror against Israeli civilians. Another aspect of the conflict is the Israeli side. President Obama’s speech seems to put the responsibility on Israel to end the conflict. An Israeli settler Aliza Herbst said Mr. Obama's speech will not bring peace. "I think we have to face, the Israelis in general will have to face a very very difficult situation in the international community. It has been difficult. I think as a result of Obama it will be more difficult," she said (Lee). The speech has not addressed the needs of everyone in the conflict and could in fact cause even more conflict between Hamas, The Palestinian Authority, and Israel.
Globalization has been seen as a sticking point in the Muslim world and attempting to force even more on them may have a negative backlash. Recent polling has shown that a majority of Muslims feel their civilization is under attack. A 2003 Pew Research Center poll found that 61 percent of the near east felt that cultural imports were good however 79 percent felt that their way of life needs protecting (Rourke-Boyer). Western culture primarily from the United States is seen as the enemy of Islamic culture. . Traditional societies across the world have experienced the corrosive effects of globalization on deeply held social, cultural, and religious identities. Which has sparked violent antagonism to Western led modernization and its preeminent symbol: perceived U.S. cultural and economic imperialism (Kilcullen). To try and push even more globalization without sensitivity to the Muslim culture invites only more backlash against the West and the United States. . Al-Qaeda and the people and groups it supports are lashing out and claiming to protect Islam against the cultural imperialism of the West brought on by globalization. This could lead to even more violence not only against the United States but Muslim countries attempting to integrate more fully into the world.
The New Beginning speech has a lot of good ideas and touched on the hot button topics in the Muslim world. However without firm action on the part of the United States the West and the Muslim world speeches will have no effect and the conflict of civilizations will still exist.
"Al-Qaeda Leader Osama Bin Laden Attacks US President Obama: The American People Will Reap What the White House Leaders Are Sowing ." 3 June 2009. The Middle East Media Research Institute. 13 June 2009
Huntington, Samual P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 1996.
Kilcullen, David. The Accidental Guerrilla. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Lee, Elizabeth. "World Reaction Mixed on Obama's Cairo Speech." 5 June 2009. Voice of America. 13 June 2009 http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-06-05-voa1.cfm?rss=religion.
Rourke-Boyer. International Politics on the World Stage,7 Ed. . The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2008.