by Elad Benari
Following last week’s midterm elections in the United States in which his Democratic party lost its majority in the House of Representatives, President Barack Obama seems to be once again reaching out to the Muslim community.
In a speech he gave on Wednesday during his official visit to Indonesia, Obama emphasized that the U.S. is not at war with Islam but acknowledged that it is hard to eradicate “years of mistrust” as he called it.
During the speech, which he gave in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, Obama said: “Relations between the United States and Muslim communities have frayed over many years … I have made it a priority to begin to repair these relations. I have made it clear that America is not, and never will be, at war with Islam. Instead, all of us must defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates, who have no claim to be leaders of any religion — certainly not a great, world religion like Islam.”
Obama brought Indonesia, where he spent four years as a child, as a powerful example of being both an emerging democracy working to develop its economy and a Muslim nation that is tolerant of other religions at the same time.
Obama’s Indonesia speech was an update to his Cairo speech in June of 2009, during which he called for a “new beginning” in U.S.-Muslim relations. In the same speech he said that he will put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to stop terror and on Israel to cease a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria, adding that he will personally pressure for an end to the “occupation” that he said has caused displacement to the Arab population in Israel for 60 years.
While Obama’s speech in Jakarta was welcomed by Indonesian religious leaders and analysts, they added that he has not yet matched rhetoric with concrete action.
Cholil Ridwan, head of the Ulemas Council, Indonesia’s highest Islamic authority, told Reuters: “If there is real action to go with what he said then that’s what we wish for. But often there’s not a 100 percent correlation between what he says and what he does. Hopefully in future he can change that and implement a different attitude. If he really believes Israel is not being helpful toward the peace process then he should stop giving them so much aid.”
Egyptians were similarly skeptical regarding Obama on Wednesday.
“It’s all speeches — in the end the same American politics, and Jewish politics, continues,” Cairo resident Mohamed Abdel told Reuters. “This is why nothing since Obama’s Cairo speech has translated into action with Arab nations.”
During Wednesday’s Jakarta speech Obama addressed the stalled Middle East peace negotiations. He said that while “enormous obstacles” still remain on the road to peace, “we will spare no effort in working for the outcome that is just, and that is in the interest of all the parties involved: two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”
The direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been on hold ever since the construction freeze in Judea and Samaria expired. Last month, the PLO called on PA Chief Mahmoud Abbas to break off talks until “a complete cessation of building [by Jews]” occurs.