Blogs > HNN > Obama, the "Student of History," Needs to Go to Summer School

Jun 5, 2009 6:58 pm

Obama, the "Student of History," Needs to Go to Summer School

Near the start of his much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world, President Obama described himself as “a student of history;” by the end it was clear that he needs to get back to the classroom.

For all its well-intentioned rhetoric, President Obama's speech was, sadly, conceptually flawed, empirically challenged, and politically blind to the daily realities that drive hundreds of millions of Muslims to increasing despair.

Conceptually, the President's goal was clearly to help correct the mistaken notion shared by so many Muslims and Americans of the notion of an essential conflict between them. He even spoke of Islam, rightly, as being “always part of America.”

But such rhetoric was overshadowed by the use of language and themes that hew closely to the long-held notion of “Islam” and the “West” as being two essentially different and civilizations traveling on separate historical trajectories.

To bridge the rift between them, Obama had first to establish a deep, centuries-long tension driven by “historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate.” Islam “carried the light of learning” and “paved the way” for modernity and globalization, but it did not participate directly in their birth or development. Instead, modernity and the “sweeping change” it brought “led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.”

This idea of an essentially European modernity forcing its way into hostile Muslim territory is belied by the historical record. Indeed, the banking, credit and trading systems that fueled modern capitalism were born in Muslim-led trading systems of the Mediterranean. And where possible Muslims adopted the latest developments, from weapons to steam engines to agricultural technologies, as soon as they became available.

Yet however inaccurate, such a dualistic narrative serves an important rhetorical function in the President's larger argument. With a gap so wide, he can rightly argue that “change cannot happen overnight.” Indeed, before the speech Senior Advisor David Axelrod explained that the breach would likely take more than one administration to heal.

In fact, change could happen overnight; and the policies necessary to achieve it are simple and easily implemented—precisely because Muslims and Americans share so many of the same values when it comes to respect for democracy, human rights, and the rule of Law.

But change will only happen if President Obama takes seriously what most Muslim have long said, not merely “behind closed doors,” but in the open and to anyone who will listen.

Here I'm reminded here of President Reagan's historic speech at the Berlin Wall, almost 22 years ago to the day, on June 12, 1987, where he exclaimed: “There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace... Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

This is the kind of language Obama needed to use in his speech. He needed to demand that the autocrats and occupiers of the region end their oppression, open the doors of their prisons and tear down their walls, and allow the peoples of the region to live in peace, freedom and democracy. And he needed to put the muscle and money of US foreign policy behind those words, the same way Reagan did in confronting the Soviet Union.

First and foremost, President Obama should have announced that the United States would stop providing political, economic and military support to corrupt and brutal authoritarian regimes, without exception. This goes for occupiers like Israel (and, one could add, India in Kashmir and Morocco in the Western Sahara) and governments of key allies such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt--where thousands of activists have been harassed, imprisoned, tortured, burned and even killed by security forces without any fear US retribution, and will continue to suffer once Mr. Obama leaves.

Sadly, the President has offered little tangible support for some of Egypt's most important dissident voices, such as Ayman Nour, the one-time presidential candidate recently released from prison, who a bit over a week ago was almost burned to death by government thugs. Instead, he and his most senior advisors regularly praise Mubarak's “leadership” in an unending peace process that brings billions of dollars of aid and political support to his government, while well over 30 million of his compatriots live in dire poverty. Obama's effective silence on these issues is deafening to a generation of young Egyptians desperate to move beyond the current system and realize their natural, and national potential in a free society.

Instead of making concrete demands on President Mubarak and other regional leaders regarding freedom, democracy, human rights, and committing the US to a major shift in our policies on those issues, President Obama argued that the first step to healing the US-Islamic divide must be to “confront violent extremism in all of its forms.” What the President doesn't realize is that from the standpoint of the peoples of the Middle East, US support for governments like Israel, Egypt and other authoritarian regimes, along with our invasion of Iraq—which despite his pledge to “speak the truth” he refused to admit was wrong—have been as extreme and violent as those of militant Islam.

He should have admitted that the Iraq invasion was flat-out wrong, not merely a "war of choice," and apologized for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed and untold billions of dollars of their wealth and resources destroyed.

When it comes to Israel and Palestine, the President's words do mark a significant shift in tone from the rhetoric of his predecessors, especially his placing Palestine on equal footing with Israel as a nation deserving independence and sovereignty. But hearing them I couldn't help thinking that they constituted the speech President Clinton should have given sixteen years ago at the start of the Oslo peace process.

Back then, when there were only a bit more than 100,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, calling for a “stop” to settlements made sense. Today, with nearly triple the population and having rendered huge swaths of the West Bank permanently off limits to Palestinians, it is a decade too late. Stopping settlement construction will still leave the West Bank a mishmash of Palestinian islands that cannot form the nuclear of a sovereign state.

Nothing less than the dismantlement of the majority of settlements, bypass roads and checkpoints, will allow for the creation of a territorially viable Palestinian state. Muslim listeners to his speech understand that unless the President is willing to force Israel to choose between the settlements and continued US patronage, peace will remain impossible to achieve.

Mr. Obama has a steep learning curve before he can hope to fulfill the lofty rhetoric of his speech in Cairo. He seems unaware that the best and perhaps only way to get the peoples of the Muslim world to support US goals such as preventing Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons, pacifying Afghanistan, and stamping out violent Islamism is to hold all the peoples of the region and their leaders, without exception, to one, easily measurable standard.

Unless his words are matched by a rapid and profound shift in the strategic calculus underlying American foreign policy, Obama's speech will be remembered as little more than “haki fadi,” or empty talk, and peace in the Middle East—and with it America's quest for a better relationship with the people of the Muslim world—will remain an illusive dream.

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More Comments:

wm arenstein - 10/16/2009

For a bit of balance, see who this LeVine really is. Go here:

DeWayne Benson - 8/15/2009

Obama was elected on promises of 'Change', however concerning most of the important promises made during candidacy, today he has quite obviously conceded to our Corp-Gov "Business as Usual" necessity.

I expect to see revolution, before "Change."

DeWayne Benson - 8/15/2009

What some appear to believe is Muslim lack in advancing (modernity), I am certain these people when hearing such foolishness look upon such wisdom with chagrin. This is tantamount to calling the Gay parade in Jerusalem as a sign of Democracy.
In fact the modernity of today is more accurately example to the pre-emptive murder began in Iraq by the Cheney/Bush-Admin, and what that deserves being called, I also am not prepared to call "advancement."

DeWayne Benson - 8/15/2009

Long ago I stopped listeming to Zionists as they hide their evil ways behind the suffering of legitimate Jewish history. No name they can falsely conjure from their twisted minds will any further effect me.

I also agree the Zionist-Gov displacement of Palestinian peoples has existed far to many decades to be resolve by a "sorry bout that."

At this point only a complete removal of the Zionist-Gov to be replaced with a true Democratic (Palestinian/Jewish) State will enable start of resolving the Israel-Palestinian problem. Much if not most of the Zionist displacement must also be terminated and voided as both illegal and immoral.

DeWayne Benson - 8/15/2009

NATO if investigated for it's "Stay Behind Militaries" involved in murder of innocent civilians in False-Flag operations, should be rotally disbanded.

DeWayne Benson - 8/15/2009

I would have to agree, however from Obama candidacy to Presidency, I've noted a 180-degree turn to denial of Palestinian needs. I would also agree that Palestinian needs should have been addressed much earlier, however I would say Palestinian suffering and displacement should have been addressed as an issue 80 years ago at least.

Elliott Aron Green - 6/17/2009

As to the American role in the Holocaust, you ought to consult the website of the David Wyman Institute in Philadelphia. The USA under the "liberal" prez FDR made it difficult for Jewish refugees to find refuge in the USA, notably sending back to Europe the ship St Louis which was full of Jewish refugees. Nor did the USA undertake military measures that could have stopped or slowed down the mass murder. Such measures were bombing the gas chambers and creamatoria, bombing the RR tracks leading to the murder camps, etc. Both British and US aircraft were capable of reaching Auschwitz after taking Sicily and southern Italy. In fact, they sometimes did bomb war factories near Auschwitz. But both powers essentially did nothing to impede the mass murders, inventing various and sundry excuses for their inaction. See Arthur Morse's While Six Million Died, inter alia, also Monty Penkower, Walter Z Laqueur, Martin Gilbert, etc.

Both powers also tried to hush up the news of the Holocaust. The BBC was particularly guilty of this, on account of a British govt decision to black out such news.

The main differences between the USA and UK regarding the Holocaust were two:
1-- the UK's help to Hitler to take over Czechoslovakia which facilitated the later attack on Poland [I refer to the Munich Pact].

2-- the UK had an obligation under international law [the mandate for Palestine from the League of Nations] to foster development of the Jewish National Home and help Jews come to live there. The UK violated this obligation, thus violating international law. Of course, the criminal state now points the accusing finger at Israel.

I believe that Pres Obama has claimed that FDR is one of his models. We may ask whether FDR is an example for him in regard to the Jews as well.

james joseph butler - 6/16/2009

eag, As long as you've decided that the Brits were "silent partners in the Holocaust" how about the Americans and the rest of the "civilized" world. Was America a silent partner of the Hutus in the 90s?

Elliott Aron Green - 6/16/2009

yes, there was such a notion by leaders of the Stern Group. It was mistaken and foolish. A representative of the SG [LEHI] was sent to Beirut circa 1939 to talk to the German consul. This contact was fruitless and no such effort was repeated, as far as I know. The LEHI's mistake was to go by the logic of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." But Britain was in some ways more an ally of Nazi Germany than an enemy, as Chamberlain showed at Munich. As to LEHI, it was a very small, unrepresentative grouping among the Jews in Israel. So how much you can prove by citing their attempt to somehow ally with Germany is not clear to me.

On the other hand, Haj Amin el-Husseini, the British-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem, and acknowledged chief leader of the Palestinian Arabs in those days, went to the German consulate in Jerusalem shortly after Hitler became chancellor in 1933 in order to offer his congratulations. Moreover, the "Arab Revolt" of 1936-39 received Nazi and Italian fascist funding and weapons.

Of course, there was good reason for Jews to oppose the British who were silent partners in the Holocaust. Indeed, already in the 1930s, the British were trying to prevent Jews from coming to Israel when Jews needed a refuge. The UK was violating its commitment to the League of Nations to foster development of the Jewish National Home by keeping out Jews when the Jews most needed a home.

james joseph butler - 6/15/2009

eag, I know you know that the Stern Gang attempted to ally with the Nazis against the British in Palestine.

Elliott Aron Green - 6/14/2009

Let's really be fair to the Ottoman Empire. It's obvious that they had absorbed some modern technologies into their execution of policy. For instance, execution of the Armenian genocide was facilitated by Ottoman use of the telegraph and railroads in carrying out that policy.

That can be considered a first, even a trail-blazing act. When the Germans, allies of the Ottoman Empire in WW I, executed their own genocide of Jews, they were following in a path trod by others before them. Of course, Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary collaborated in the Armenian genocide at the time. That gave them valuabe experience for the future.

Elliott Aron Green - 6/14/2009

jjb, you don't know or you forget that the Arabs and other Muslims oppressed/persecuted Jews as dhimmis -the lowest, most oppressed of dhimmis-- for more than 1000 years. The Arab nationalist movement also collaborated in the Holocaust. Don't you know about the Holocaust role of Haj Amin el-Husseini, mufti of Jerusalem?

I'm glad that you mention the Armenian genocide. Do you know who slaughtered them? It was Muslims, not only Turks. By the way, the Zionist leader in Israel, Aaron Aaronsohn, and his NILI espionage group supplied copious information about the Armenian genocide to the British during WW One. Aaronsohn even wrote a report for the British entitled Pro-Armenia.

Did you know that both Arab and Turkish scholars, such as Zeine N Zeine and Ziya Gok Alp, considered the Ottoman Empire to be an Arab-Turkish empire, not merely a Turkish empire, due to --inter alia-- the prevalence of Arabs in the imperial governmental service?? These included Husseinis and Khalidis [related to Rashid Khalidi, Obama's old pal] from Jerusalem and Abdul-Hadis from Nablus.

Elliott Aron Green - 6/14/2009

Modernization is one of those very sticky words. Just what does it mean? The Ottoman Empire and other Muslim powers, focussed as they were on military conquest, were very interested in the military aspects of modernization. Lewis, I believe, makes clear that Western military advisors were brought into the Ottoman Empire in the first half of the 19th century. French military advisors were active in Egypt in the same period under the reign of Muhammad Ali.

On the other hand, if modernization means freely enabling science and unfettered scientific inquiry, as well as equal rights for every individual who ought to become a citizen instead of a subject, as in the traditional dispensation, then the Muslim powers were not interested in modernization. Indeed, the Tanzimat reforms of the Ottoman Empire increased equality between Muslims and non-Muslims. However, many Muslims did not accept this near equality to kufar, to non-believers, and nurtured strong resentments against this equalization policy [which we might call, in reference to the American experience, a policy which produced "uppity dhimmis"] which burst out into mass murderous violence on several occasions in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly in the case of the Armenian genocide. As far as I know, the Ottoman empire was the only Muslim state which even moved closer to granting equality to non-Muslims before WW One, although Persia/Iran seems to have done so later under the Shah. It should be needless to say that Khomeini's regime turned back the clock on dhimmi equality of rights.

Elliott Aron Green - 6/14/2009

The Kingdom of Jordan is an independent Arab state in part of "Palestine", that is, in part of the internationally designated Jewish National Home. I do not seek to overthrow the Kingdom of Jordan, nor would I object if this kingdom changed its name to "Palestine," although I consider this very name an insult to Jews due to the circumstances of its application by Emperor Hadrian to the province that the Romans formerly called Judea [up to the Bar Kokhba revolt, 135 BCE].

For the sake of peace, it would be better for any Arab political entity west of the Jordan river, in Judea-Samaria or the Gaza Strip, to be an autonomous entity without the capacity to threaten the peace of Israel or any other part of the world. Such an autonomous entity would be mandated to develop its economy and cultural life in cooperation with Israel and Jordan and would lack the military means to threaten them or other lands. As to the numbers of Arabs living in Judea-Samaria and the Gaza Strip, they are substantially smaller than the number cited Omar, if he was referring to those areas.

N. Friedman - 6/11/2009


I wrote: "He says that, due to the initial interaction of Muslims with Western Europeans (at a time when Western Europeans were the ones far behind), the elite opinion among Muslims (i.e. in the Ottoman Empire) ..."

I should have pointed out that this viewpoint, which Lewis says was widespread and long lasting, began at the time that Arabs were dominant - meaning, early on in Islamic history.

N. Friedman - 6/11/2009


Bernard Lewis' major work on the topic is The Muslim Discovery of Europe. He does not say that Muslims were not interested in modernizing. He states that, at least from the very last years of the 17th Century and, in particular, from the early 18th Century on, the Ottoman Empire was obsessed with modernizing. That is also a theme of Lewis' most famous book, The Emergence of Modern Turkey.

The main problem is that such was not the only trend. In fact, there was a harsh reaction against modernizing - in some cases, with very good reason, as I shall note at the bottom of this comment -, most particularly to the extent that it undermined human dignity, tradition and privileges.

And, the need to modernize required, to be successful, adopting of a more scientific way of thinking, something that was also vehemently and, to an important extent, successfully resisted. And, there were internal political reasons that worked against modernizing, including the objection of the clergy, the military and, in some instances, Sultans (e.g. Abdul Hamid II). But, where modernization was implemented to the extent such occurred, it allowed the Sultan to act as a nasty tyrant, no longer limited by the long established limits on his power - since modernization washed those limits away.

One problem, according to Lewis, was one of adopting the new methods of thinking too little and too late and, on top of that, the modern way of thinking did not sufficiently sink into popular culture - and, to be blunt, still has not sufficiently sunk into popular culture in much of the Arab regions -.

He says that, due to the initial interaction of Muslims with Western Europeans (at a time when Western Europeans were the ones far behind), the elite opinion among Muslims (i.e. in the Ottoman Empire) that largely formed - opinion that held for many hundreds of years - was one of contempt for Western European civilization and its capabilities. That contempt led, to considerable degree, the Ottoman Muslims to underestimate and, for a long time, ignore the significance of the rise of developments in Europe including, most particularly, the new sciences and the changes in the social and political arrangements that accompanied the new sciences. He also notes that the interest that existed was, for a very long time, primarily directed at obtaining martial technology, not at embracing the logic of the new sciences that allowed for military advances.

He also notes - and I think this is certainly correct - that the non-Arab regions of the Ottoman Empire were denied the printing press (for Muslims, in any event) until the 18th Century (and, even thereafter, with fits and starts) and that Muslims in the Arab regions were denied the use of the printing press until the 19th Century. Not to put too fine a point on it but modernization really does require the printing press.

One has to look at trends. Clearly, there was some amount of science and modernization in the Ottoman Empire. On the other hand, that was not the rule; it was the exception. Of course, modernization undermined the limits of power that traditionally held in the Ottoman Empire. And, that created real tyranny. That no doubt fed reaction against modern ways.

That this reaction was a trend is also noted in Elie Kedouri's interesting book, Islam in the Modern World and Other Studies, where he shows the horrors that modernization wrought on Arab Muslims, whether or not in regions controlled by the West. Modernization meant the loss of rights, status and dignity to the average person.

Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/10/2009

i don't think foreigners are as buzzed as you assume. at least not in the muslim world. the local papers in arabic are much more critical than what is being reported in the us media about the muslim reactions to the speech.

Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/10/2009

bernard lewis is utterly, 190% wrong on the idea that muslims did not accept modernization. it can not be said more strongly. the accusation has no more empirical validity than the claim that god created the earth in 6 days, or that the holocaust never happened. either lewis stopped reading the literature around 1967, or he knows better and continues to argue this in order to advance his clash of civilizations thesis.

the literature on muslim modernization is extremely vast and covers detailed analyses of primary sources from ottoman empires, north africa, palestine, syria, mughal empires, safavid and qajar empires, etc etc.

more broadly, the work of andre gunder frank, ken pomeranz, bin wong, janet abu lughod, salim tamari, huri islamoglu and many others provides the larger context for modernization in the arab world. i talk about it in detail in my first book, 'overthrowing geography.'

james joseph butler - 6/10/2009

Pres. Obama wasn't elected to "change". Voters don't want a change they want a tune up. And if the technician is as attractive and clever as our Pres, yes HE can.

Thus while Prof. LeVine is certainly right regarding the most logical not to mention humane, save $ and lives, strategy for America to pursue in the Middle East it won't happen because we are all prisoners of convention. Obama for all his sui generis ness is just the smartest kid in his class. He recognizes power and works with it. Obama has also internalized Jewish suffering as have most educated Americans because our media keeps its' hideous sin alive. So while there are countless other examples of persecution and indifference to suffering the public is indifferent because they're uninformed. Armenian Americans tried to have Congress pass a resolution critical of Turkey's genocide against the Armenians. It was halted, Turkey had more pull than the truth. The Holocaust Museum was built on the Mall in DC before the American Indian Museum was. Mubarak serves Israel and America so he can stay. Saudi oil likes America.

Obama is so much better than W that Americans and foreigners are buzzed, at last we've got a person up to the job. But the kind of change that the Middle East, and health care for that matter, needs requires a different America.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/10/2009

Evidently Mr Green is for an Israel over all of historical Palestine; an opinion to which is as entitled as those who deny ANY Israel over ANY part of Palestine.
Which leaves us with a simple question: what does he propose to do with the Palestinian Arabs presently still residing in what they consider to be their homeland; some 5-5.5 (?)million persons??
Dare we hope for a candid answer!

Elliott Aron Green - 6/10/2009

As a matter of principle, settlements are fully justified and opposition to them is tantamount to anti-Jewish racism. Judea-Samaria and Gaza are parts of the internationally designated Jewish National Home [San Remo 1920, League of Nations 1922, UN Charter 1945 (Article 80)]. The 29 November 1947 partition recommendation did not change this status of those areas, nor did the 6-Day War.

Further, there is nothing in international law forbidding Jews from moving into Judea-Samaria and Gaza and living in those places, which are anyway parts of the Jewish National Home. To be sure, international law is often misrepresented by interested parties, falsely citing Geneva Convention IV as forbidding people freely moving to "occupied territory." However, the territory is not "occupied" by Israel and if it were, Geneva IV does not forbid Jewish settlement. Israelophobes lie.

Now if Prof LeVine does not like settler states, which is how he likely describes Israel, then he [and Mr Edwards too] ought to consider leaving the USA which is the most significant settler state in the world, and give it back to the Indians. The Jews' relationship to the Land of Israel is hardly the same as that of most Univ of California professors to the formerly Native American lands where they live.

On the other hand, I agree with Prof LeVine that Mr Obama needs a great deal of education in history, particularly that of the Middle East.

art eckstein - 6/10/2009

I'll let readers decide whether I have strongly substantiated my points, quoting precisely from Omar's own postings, and whether Omar is either (a) lying about himself or (b) deluded about himself.

Omar makes his accusations of evil intent and lying, as always; he never backs those serious accusations up with evidence. This is why NF and I have taken to demanding specific evidence from Omar--a demand that time after time has embarrassed him.

I think that his rhetoric reflects the fact that in Omar's section of Muslim society, emotion--especially anger--is viewed as a satisfactory substitute for evidence.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/10/2009

Once again you fail to substantiate your allegations ie you fail to show that what you alleged is true.
That leaves us with one and only one conclusion about the veracity of your words and your integrity.
You attempt to wigle out of your proven inability to document your words by changing the specific point under discussion .
However in this particular case of CHOICE ( what you alleged I wrote and what I actually wrote about it/ all here in one place for all to see) you are caught red handed with a quote of your own choice that unequivocally demonstrates that your usual method of extrapolation has degenerated into outright fabrication !

art eckstein - 6/9/2009

What we have established is that the continued Palestinian refusal to come to a compromise is indeed a CHOICE (emphasized by you, Omar), and not a natural response to trauma.

It is not a natural response to trauma, for other peoples have suffered far worse, and have moved on. This was not only a point strongy made to you by Friedman and me, but by Fahrettin, who was speaking from the Turkish perspective.

In addition, other peoples have suffered far worse, and do not resort to genocidal terrorism.
When you refer to old men and women, children, and babies as "civilians" in quotation-marks, that says it all. Hence the Tamil Tigers refused to help either Al-Qaeda or the Palestinians "because we don't blow up children in Pizza Huts".


1. Palestinian refusal to come to a political compromise (characterized by Omar as a special patriotism and devotion), and the Palestinian preferred employment of genocidal terrorism (which, as Pres. Obama says, does not result in the legitimacy of claims but the opposite), is therefore a phenomenon not to be "naturalized" as a natural response to the Nakbah.
a. This is because others have suffered worse, and on a greater scale, and moved on;
b. This is because others have suffered worse, and on a greater scale, and have not resorted to genocidal terrorism.
2. Palestinian refusal to come to a political compromise, and Palestinian taste for genocidal terrorism, must therefore be problemitized, not naturalized. It is (yes, Omar, as you say) a CHOICE. It is therefore analytically correct to ask the pointed question: where do such destructive and self-destructive choices come from in Palestinian culture?
a. Omar's answer, again, was that Palestinians, in contrast to other peoples who have suffered similar or worse traumas, have a special patriotism and devotion. That's one way of putting it: that they are nobler than other peoples.
b. But there are other, far less positive, ways of putting it: that, for internal cultural reasons, they have turned into a degenerate death-cult, whose preferred method of operation is attacks on innocent civilians, the message being genocide.
c. Remember here, Omar, what Fahrettin wisely said to you on this topic.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/9/2009

What about CHOICE Prof?
Was that about "genocidal terrorism" as you alleged today or about " never to give up their rights"???? as your own quotation indisputably shows.
PRAY answer this simple question, Prof!!! What about CHOICE???

Your own selected quotation tells all there is to tell about your method of fabrication, baseless allegation and objectivity.
You are NOT only multiawarded Prof you are also truly amazing.
Incredible indeed!

art eckstein - 6/9/2009


Does "all that entails" in your posting above include blowing up old people at religious services, blowing up buses filled with schoolchildren, blowing up university cafeterias, shooting 6,000 rockets from Gaza at a town (Sderot) populated by Jewish refugees from Muslim Morocco?

On May 28, 2008 (posting #123154), Omar indicated that "all the colonialist community", including "civilians" (a term which Omar put in scare quotes) were, in his opinion, legitimate targets of Palestinian "resistance".

As I said at the time (Post #123155):

I assure you, Omar, that I will never allow you to live down your putting scare-quotes around "civilian" causalties when referring to dead babies, children, women.

I'm keeping my word.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/9/2009

I have sent today a letter to the Editor of the New York Times in which this article appeared about it.

Not to jeopardize my chances of having it published, flimsy as it already is, I refrain from reposting it per NY Times conditions.

omar ibrahim baker - 6/9/2009

On the one hand I must thank the Professor of many and varied awards for enabling me to retrieve so quickly my words.

On the other I urge readers to consider what I had to say about CHOICE as in the following copy and paste quotation:
(" baker on October 19, 2007 at 2:03 AM
…….However the only thing that I have to tell you in this respect re CHOICE is that the Palestinian people including of course Palestinian refugees have consciously made their CHOICE:NEVER to give up on their rights in their homeland Palestine with all that that entails…."

AND about CHOICE :

what the Professor alleges: “ ….did not engage in genocidal terrorism in response, Palestinian genocidal terrorism is a CHOICE (the word is capitalized by Omar),… “
in :
(Re: Dreamy History (#134928)
by art eckstein on June 8, 2009 at 10:33 AM ) above.

I could never come up with a better example of the way he reflects?,fabricates, writes and what he alleges.
Thanks again Prof!

omar ibrahim baker - 6/9/2009

Mr Mocker

Paradoxically both Lewis and Levine are right each in his own way and according to his own understanding and his own vision and interpretation of Arab/Moslem culture and of his own likes and dislikes .

Moslem antipathy to both "modernity" and "sweeping changes" that Professor Lewis refers to, and as a Zionist avidly lauds, are understood to be by the Arab/Moslem world as:
A- To and From Professor Lewis
1-Modernity: duplication and adoption of Western modes of life and social values.
That is rejected for the simple, conscious and subconscious, reason that they do reflect the ALIEN Western culture and heritage and NOT the indigenous Arab/Moslem culture and heritage as they should .
It is, on the one hand, a reaction to and inevitable outgrowth of the rejected Western colonialist/imperialist/Zionist legacy and on the other a reflection of the strong belief that we can have/develop our own "modernity" that would reflect our own culture .

The "modernity" referred to here relates, almost exclusively, to culture/legacy sensitive issues such as "social/family" life and values and, to a lesser degree, "political" life and values.

It certainly does not include its objective, as distinct from culturally subjective, aspects as for the fruits of physical sciences, technology etc. which are of universal application.

2-Sweeping changes as defined and desired by the West and Professor Lewis are equally rejected for being
a-A form of "foreign intervention" in our internal affairs, rejected per se, and
b-For being tailored in a manner, the majority suspects, that ultimately and primarily serves Western interests and does NOT reflect Arab/Moslem aspirations.
Patently the rejection of both when coming from the West and as enunciated and reflected by Professor Lewis is, primarily, a reflexive attitude that betrays the LOST/ABSENT confidence between our two worlds .
(For what it is worth those among us advocating both or either are charged of being "westernized”; a far from flattering trait and more of an accusation.)

B-To and From Professor Levine
The way Professor Levine reads is that his writings spring from a hate less, non biased, non racist knowledge of Arab/Moslem history and an objective understanding of Arab/Moslem culture and a sane respect for their aspirations.
He understands and uses both expressions in this objective context which is, patently, at a great variance from Lewis’ but that also substantially reflects Arab/Moslem interpretation of both terms..

1-Modernity means doing away with all old discarded values and practices and development and adoption of culturally sensitive , heritage respecting and progress achieving alternative values .
2-Sweeping changes : of what is perceived by the Arab/Moslem worlds , and NOT by the West, to be impediments to their progress and necessary to bring about their major goals as perceived by THEM and not as thought to be, or as predetermined, by an alien West.

Obviously each of the two professors sees and interprets things, affairs , causes Arab/Moslem according to his own individual outlook and understanding of Islam and of Arab/Moslem culture and aspirations as filtered through his own hatreds, political affiliation and biases or his own bias free objective historical and contemporary outlook.

Larry DeWitt - 6/9/2009

The question is relevant because you are accusing Obama of a shallow reading of history; I am suggesting it is your reading that is shallow.

To take your glib example of the Berlin Wall: you are implicitly buying into the myth that Reagan’s “tear down this wall” activism was the key to this historical event. You want Obama to utter some sort of similar passionate indictment of the status quo in the Middle East. No doubt, that would make you feel emotionally gratified—and it would accomplish precisely nothing.

The Berlin Wall fell as the end of an historical process that was the entirety of the Cold War. The Wall fell because the patient, long-game, strategy of America in the Cold War actually paid off in the long run. That’s how real change happens in history—in the absence of violent revolutionary outbursts.

It seems Obama has a much better grasp of history, with his diplomatic, evolutionary, approach to the Middle East than you do with your political-activist fantasies.

No doubt, political activism of the sort you urge is a part of how the world changes for the better. And if you want to be a political activist, be our guest. But you should not confuse your activism with your reading of history. When you do so, you generate false history—as you have done in this essay.

art eckstein - 6/9/2009

June 9, 2009 NY TIMES

The Exodus Obama Forgot to Mention


PRESIDENT OBAMA’S speech to the Islamic world was a groundbreaking event. Never before has a young, dynamic American president, beloved both by his countrymen and the nations of the world, extended so timely and eager a hand to a part of the globe that, recently, had seen fewer and fewer reasons to trust us or to wish us well.

As important, Mr. Obama did not mince words. Never before has a president gone over to the Arab world and broadcast its flaws so loudly and clearly: extremism, nuclear weapons programs and a faltering record in human rights, education and economic development — the Arab world gets no passing grades in any of these domains. Mr. Obama even found a moment to mention the plight of Egypt’s harassed Coptic community and to criticize the new wave of Holocaust deniers. And to show he was not playing favorites, he put the Israelis on notice: no more settlements in the occupied territories. He spoke about the suffering of Palestinians. This was no wilting olive branch.

And yet, for all the president’s talk of “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world” and shared “principles of justice and progress,” neither he nor anyone around him, and certainly no one in the audience, bothered to notice one small detail missing from the speech: he forgot me.

The president never said a word about me. Or, for that matter, about any of the other 800,000 or so Jews born in the Middle East who fled the Arab and Muslim world or who were summarily expelled for being Jewish in the 20th century. With all his references to the history of Islam and to its (questionable) “proud tradition of tolerance” of other faiths, Mr. Obama never said anything about those Jews whose ancestors had been living in Arab lands long before the advent of Islam but were its first victims once rampant nationalism swept over the Arab world.

Nor did he bother to mention that with this flight and expulsion, Jewish assets were — let’s call it by its proper name — looted. Mr. Obama never mentioned the belongings I still own in Egypt and will never recover. My mother’s house, my father’s factory, our life in Egypt, our friends, our books, our cars, my bicycle. We are, each one of us, not just defined by the arrangement of protein molecules in our cells, but also by the things we call our own. Take away our things and something in us dies. Losing his wealth, his home, the life he had built, killed my father. He didn’t die right away; it took four decades of exile to finish him off.

Mr. Obama had harsh things to say to the Arab world about its treatment of women. And he said much about America’s debt to Islam. But he failed to remind the Egyptians in his audience that until 50 years ago a strong and vibrant Jewish community thrived in their midst. Or that many of Egypt’s finest hospitals and other institutions were founded and financed by Jews. It is a shame that he did not remind the Egyptians in the audience of this, because, in most cases — and especially among those younger than 50 — their memory banks have been conveniently expunged of deadweight and guilt. They have no recollections of Jews.

In Alexandria, my birthplace and my home, all streets bearing Jewish names have been renamed. A few years ago, the Library of Alexandria put on display an Arabic translation of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” perhaps the most anti-Semitic piece of prose ever written.

is strange that our president, a man so versed in history and so committed to the truth, should have omitted mentioning the Jews of Egypt. He either forgot, or just didn’t know, or just thought it wasn’t expedient or appropriate for this venue.

But for him to speak in Cairo of a shared effort “to find common ground ... and to respect the dignity of all human beings” without mentioning people in my position would be like his speaking to the residents of Berlin about the future of Germany and forgetting to mention a small detail called World War II.

André Aciman, a professor of comparative literature at the City University of New York Graduate Center, is the author of the memoir “Out of Egypt.”

N. Friedman - 6/8/2009

Mr. Mocker,

You might read Professor Lewis' book, The Muslim Discovery of Europe, in which his views on the impact of modern science on the Muslim regions is treated at length. By contrast, What Went Wrong? is not a detailed study.

Judging from the materials you cite, I think that Professor LeVine does not posit so different a view than Lewis on science in the Muslim regions. Read what you quoted again.

Paul Mocker - 6/8/2009

If I recall correctly from my reading of "What Went Wrong?" by Bernard Lewis, he argued that Islamic countries did not accept modernization and related advances from Europe.

But Mr. Levine asserts the opposite in this article when he writes, "Instead, modernity and the “sweeping change” it brought “led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam." and his subsequent paragraph.

I am a student of history so I ask in earnest: Who is right? Am I missing something in either of these arguments?


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/8/2009

your question is irrelevant. how often has anyone done the right thing? if that's your criterion, then why should anyone ever push for people to be treated better and for the world to be run more morally.

the reality is, if he doesn't do this, then the anger, and the violence that derives from it, will continue. there is no other way. the question really is, what are americans willing to do to push obama, whom i'm sure as an old community organizer would like nothing more than to tell these guys to democratize if they want the continued support of the US, to do the right thing.

michael lerner, editor of tikkun, once explained that when he met with bill clinton in 1993, when he was briefly the clinton's 'guru,' he laid out a whole list of progressive programs for him to pursue, and clinton looked at him and said (i'm paraphrasing), 'if you want me to do these things, you need to put millions of people in the streets to push for them. i can't pull the american people along behind me. they need to be out in front to make these kinds of changes.' of course, he was right, we all just sat back and waited for him to do the right thing, which is precisely what he couldn't do given the incredible pressures of the status quo on him without large scale public clamoring for him to do so. let's hope the same thing isn't repeated under obama.

Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/8/2009

i think that's all of our hopes. he must know that just stopping settlements, for example, won't do the trick. but i don't see how changing the bar--first saying merely stop, then later saying, 'oh, sorry, in fact you have to withdraw,' is going to work better than being honest upront. israelis aren't stupid. they know what the reality is and that peace won't be possible with the vast majority of settlements intact. most of the ones i know, even the moderate/slightly right wing ones, would prefer obama just push them to get it over with than continue to drag it out for years on end.

art eckstein - 6/8/2009

As Omar wrote on Dec. 9, 2006, in explaining why those who had suffered worse than the Palestinians and on a larger scale than the Palestinians, did not engage in genocidal terrorism in response, Palestinian genocidal terrorism is a CHOICE (the word is capitalized by Omar), based on special patriotism and devotion, which is what separates the Palestinians from all other traumatized groups--who evidently don't have that special patriotism and devotion. That is, Palestinian genocidal terrorism is "a war of choice".

To which, a devastating response can be found in Obama's Cairo speech:

"Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves [i.e., a situation far WORSE than the Palestinians have suffered]] and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end.

It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered."

Larry DeWitt - 6/8/2009

So the solution to all the problems in the Middle East is:

"He needed to demand that the autocrats and occupiers of the region end their oppression, open the doors of their prisons and tear down their walls, and allow the peoples of the region to live in peace, freedom and democracy."

Oh, is that all?

And in your own deeply learned reading of history, how often has this kind of thing happened?

Bob Edwards - 6/8/2009

Thank you for a very well put critique on the middle-east speech. I suspect that the US president knows full well that what you have written is true; however, what you are witnessing is the reality of the anchor of american politics which must be dragged along. The speech of Reagan was simple by comparison, because the entire US body politic was sympathetic to its content, so you should not make such a comparison.

Jane Doe Conservative - 6/6/2009

spare me. Some of us would like an end to the apologies. It's ridiculous. There is absolutely nothing different from Obama here - he is always full of rhetoric and flowery speeches and much of the time they are outright lies. For some reason American's buy into his lies and believe everything he says. Hell, Oprah doesn't have any eyelashes left. You will know them by their works.
How about this. Recognize Israel as a legitimate state and start from there? Then it simply becomes a discussion of boundaries. Spare me your ethnic cleansing hypotheses as well. Baseless.

Arnold Shcherban - 6/6/2009

NATO has lost its meaning and moral right to its existense long ago.
Mr. President, tear this block!

omar ibrahim baker - 6/6/2009

Definitely new in words and tone, certainly very old and déjà vu in substance.
In a way more of a "Make Up" job of an old figure than of a new figure.
Where it really matters: absolutely nothing neither new nor positive.
*Re Palestine /Israel
-Lip service to Two States
-Negative to expansion of settlements; nothing about settlements per se , nothing about the Wall, nothing about borders of the Palestinian state, nothing about Jerusalem and the old running ,and presently ongoing, Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign
-Nothing about the REFUGEES and their inalienable rights in their homeland.
Sum Up: rehash of Bush policies of consistent pro Israel and unwavering anti Palestinian.
* Re Iraq:
-No apology for the dismemberment of the country
-No apology for the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of civilians killed and displaced
-No apology for Abu Ghraib and Black Water
-Nothing about reparations for the crimes of a "war of choice"!
Sum up: a belated concurrence to Bush/Wolfowitz/Cheney policies.
* Re Iran:
-OK to an Israeli nuclear arsenal
-NO to an Iran with nuclear know how and potential mini nuclear arsenal
Sum Up: Israel to remain regional supreme military power.
Overall Sum Up:
Nice words that will fool only the gullible and win over only the already won.
Reconfirmation of a USA consistent pro Israel anti Arab/Moslem strategic outlook.
NET YIELD: probably negative and counter productive .

Obama’s reconfirmation of the US/Israel unbreakable bond and special relationship , though nothing new about it, is equally a reconfirmation of the unbreakable enmity between the Arab/Moslem worlds and the USA!
No matter how he justifies it to himself Israel to us, Arabs/Moslems, is a foreign implant that DISLOCATED, DISPOSSESSED, SUBJUGATED the indigenous Arab Palestinian people, both Moslems and Christians, from and in their HOMELAND and denies Palestinian refugees their Right of Return to their homes in their homeland, their right to repossess their legitimate properties and their right to self determination in their homeland .
Should the existence of Israel on usurped land, to Obama and the USA, be an acceptable exchange for the long suffering of Jews and the fulfillment of their quest for a “homeland” THAT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE TO US!
We will NOT accept to be the party made to atone for the sins of the World, particularly the WEST, nor will we accept to be the sacrificial lamb to assuage western remorse for the Holocaust.
By implanting Israel in Palestine the West pitted the Arab/Moslem worlds and Israel/Judaism in an eternal conflict hoping to stand aside and watch the scene unperturbed.
That will not be as events have shown and as the future will show more clearly.
That was a grave mistake for which the three parties will pay heavily with us being the innocent party made to pay for the crimes of the WEST.