Into the Fray: Obama at the UN – Why he was right…almost

Obama’s UN address was an eloquent concoction of soaring rhetoric & banal platitudes, of statements of the obvious & of the obviously false, delivered with impeccable polish and panache.

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 20. credit:
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 20. credit:

 a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself…Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if Palestinians reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel, but Israel recognizes that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.

– Barack Hussein Obama, UN General Assembly Sept. 20, 2016

I should imagine that the title of this article—ostensibly laudatory towards Obama—may raise eyebrows among some of my regular readers. But patience—I urge you to reserve judgement.

As is usual with Obama’s prepared appearances, his Tuesday address to the UN General Assembly was an eloquent concoction of soaring rhetoric and banal platitudes, of statements of the obvious and of the obviously false, delivered with impeccable polish and panache.

The devil in the (omitted) details

It was a far-ranging survey of world events—from the conflicts in South China Sea to the Ukraine; from the menace of the Zika virus to the ravages of yawning socio-economic disparities.

In essence, it was a call for wider participatory democracy, greater acceptance of human diversity and greater integration and openness as the best template for global governance and for meeting the challenges facing humanity today—which is all very well…in principle.

The devil, however, is in the details—especially those omitted.

In his almost 6000 word tour d’horizon of international troubles and trouble spots, the word “Islam” or “Islamic” never appears—not even once.  The word   “Muslim” does appear once (in the plural)—proceeded by the adjective “innocent” to describe them.

Accordingly, any alien visitor from another planet, after hearing the leader of the Free World and the most powerful country on the globe, would have no inkling that one of the gravest and most pervasive threats facing civilized society today—from Bali to San Bernardino—is  that of radical Muslim terror and fundamental Islamic ideology that fuels it. Neither would such a visitor come away with even the slightest sense that these phenomena are neither minor nor marginal, but, in one way or another, impact the lives of hundreds of millions, over vast swathes of land, stretching across much of face of the Earth.

Portraying perpetrators as victims

However, better informed earthlings, more familiar with ongoing events on the planet, could quickly discern that many of the detrimental phenomena enumerated by Obama did in fact originate in, and were characteristic of, predominantly Muslim societies, particularly those where fundamental Islamic ideology is a pronounced societal feature.

Thus, although Obama began his address on an upbeat note, laying out the positive developments  he saw as having transpired on his watch: “Let  me recount the progress that we’ve made these last eight years”, he quickly moved on to list some of the grave crises, plaguing the world community today.

He lamented:

Around the world, refugees flow across borders in flight from brutal conflict… Across vast swaths of the Middle East, basic security, basic order has broken down. We see too many governments muzzling journalists, and quashing dissent, and censoring the flow of information. Terrorist networks use social media to prey upon the minds of our youth, endangering open societies and spurring anger against innocent immigrants and Muslims.

But of course all this malevolent malfeasance, and the tragedy it precipitates , can be attributed almost exclusively to Muslim perpetrators – whether regimes, organizations or individuals. Yet Obama chose to refer to Muslims as victims of some amorphous social malaise, rather than its primary purveyors.

Obama rips…Islam?

After all the “refugees flow[ing] across  borders” he refers to are almost all Muslim refugees. The “brutal conflict” they flee is a fratricidal Muslim conflict. The “vast swathes of the Middle East” where basic security [and] order have broken down” are Muslim-ruled (or misruled) territories.  It is Muslim governments that are “muzzling journalists…quashing dissent, and censoring the flow of information.” And it is Muslim “terrorist networks” that “use social media to prey upon the minds of our youth, endangering open societies…”

Without actually referring to Muslim society, Obama went on to admonish phenomena that are, in many ways, defining features of Muslim societies, from Khartoum to Karachi and beyond:

I do not believe progress is possible if our desire to preserve our identities gives way to an impulse to dehumanize or dominate another group. If our religion leads us to persecute those of another faith, if we jail or beat people who are gay, if our traditions lead us to prevent girls from going to school, if we discriminate on the basis of race or tribe or ethnicity, then the fragile bonds of civilization will fray.”

Of course, this is a largely accurate depiction of the religious intolerance of infidels and kaffirs, the suppression, even prohibition, of non-Muslim faiths , the persecution of homosexuals and of the gender discriminations that abound—undeniably and indeed, undenied—throughout the Muslim world.

Misattributing cause

Yet, somehow Obama seeks to attribute the dismal state of Muslim society to a reaction to modernity. Thus, prefacing his catalogue of the social ailments mentioned above, he stated: “…around the globe we are seeing the same forces of global integration that have made us interdependent also expose deep fault lines in…existing international order.”

To a large degree, this echoes his attempted apologetics in his 2009 Muslim outreach speech in Cairo where he tried to explain away the discordant disparity between the West and Islam. He then suggested that:

the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to Islamic traditions.”

But of course, Islamic traditions of gender discrimination, homophobia, religious intolerance and political tyranny, which Obama himself excoriated, have nothing to do with the onset of globalization, or modernity.

Indeed, they have been an abiding—almost a defining—feature of the Muslim society for centuries, long inimical—indeed, incompatible with—the kind of tolerance and openness that Obama professes to subscribe to.

Could Obama, who has boasted of his close familiarity with Islam–“I have known Islam on three continents”—be oblivious to this?

Indeed, one  can hardly be blamed for feeling that the outgoing president was being just a touch disingenuous when he  remarked ,disapprovingly

“… in Europe and the United States, you see people wrestle with concerns about immigration and changing demographics, and suggesting that somehow people who look different are corrupting the character of our countries”.

“No stronger retrograde force exists…”

 Of course, it should be painfully obvious that what bothers increasing numbers of indigenous Europeans and non-Muslim Americans is not the way Muslim immigrants look, but the way a perceptible number of them behave. Indeed, Muslim perpetrated rape and lethal terror attacks probably have far more to do with the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the West, than their physical appearance.

Indeed, if one compares the list of social iniquities that Obama diagnoses, but refrains from attributing them to societies in which they are prevalent, they paint much the same picture as that portrayed by Winston Churchill, more than a century ago—well before globalization and modernization could threaten Islam’s “traditional values”.

In an era, yet unshackled by disingenuous restraints of political correctness, he catalogued with brutal candor what he saw as the depravity of Muslim society:

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! … The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity.”

He underscored the discriminatory attitude towards women, still prevalent in much of the Islamic world:

“The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men”.

 He warned that although:

“Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities…the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world”

 “…the prime enemy of our civilization?”

 As far back as the 19th century, he foretold the Muslim drive for expansion and subjugation:

“Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith… raising fearless warriors at every step”, cautioning direly “were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science…the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome”

Four decades later, the prominent Anglo-French writer Hilaire Belloc raised similar fears:

Will not perhaps the temporal power of Islam return and with it the menace of an armed Muhammadan world, which will shake the dominion of Europeans—still nominally Christian—and reappear again as the prime enemy of our civilization? . . .

A decade before the horrors of 9/11, the then prominent Indian journalist and today senior politician, M.J. Akbar predicted:

“The West’s next confrontation is definitely going to come from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of the Islamic nations from the Maghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for a new world order will begin.”

 Much that has transpired since then leaves little doubt that his prognosis has the ominous ring of truth to it.

 Indeed, this cataclysmic clash between two incompatible civilizations, each entailing  mutually exclusive and antithetical cultural values regarding religious tolerance, gender equality, sexual preferences, and socio-political diversity  has been brewing for over a hundred years. It is now finding greater, more violent and more frequent expression with each passing week. Yet despite its potentially catastrophic consequences, and prospect of its possible nuclearization in the foreseeable future, it was given no explicit mention in Obama’s UN address—apart from vague generic references to some of the socio-political  blights that accompany it.

 Obama is right: Efficacy of walls is limited

 It is against this background of far-reaching reluctance to condemn anything remotely identified with Islam that Obama’s short reference to Israel should be seen—although appropriate caution should not imply total rejection.

For example, there was ring of truth in his disapproving skepticism in the long-term efficacy of walls—although he probably had Donald Trump’s proposal for the Mexican border, not Gaza, in mind.

Indeed, to understand this, look at the newest proposal to surround Gaza with a wall, reportedly to be not only up to 20 m about above ground, but up to 40 m below it—to contend with the threat of tunnels. Its construction, along a 50 km border, will take years and cost billions. Now imagine the efforts needed to construct a similar barrier, along a 500 km border, should a Palestinian entity be established in Judea-Samaria (aka the “West Bank”).  Moreover, as daunting as defensive installations may be, some methods will always be devised to overcome, or circumvent it (e.g. digging a tunnel 45 m deep to circumvent a wall 40 m deep).

For too long Israel has tried to thwart threats defensively rather than eliminate them offensively.  In this regard, I find myself in agreement with Caroline Glick, when she wrote in an opinion piece published this week:  “Our leaders are failing us because they refuse to act on the sure knowledge that an over-reliance on defensive measures does not deter aggression. It invites aggression”.

Obama is right: End the occupation

 This brings us to an additional point on which Obama was right—sort of: Israel should end the “Occupation”.

Israel cannot indefinitely rule over a growing, and increasingly radicalized Palestinian-Arab population, as I have pointed out inMowing the lawn won’t cut it”.

But neither can it, nor should it, allow the establishment of yet another Muslim-majority tyranny, with all the violent and intolerant hallmarks of “traditional Muslim values”, abutting, and overlooking, its most populous urban areas. Nor can it integrate the Arab population in Judea-Samaria (and Gaza) into the permanent population of the Jewish state—without creating the inevitable “Lebanonization” of Israeli society, with all the subsequent inter-ethnic strife that would undoubtedly follow such an ill-advised measure.

Accordingly, the only  non-coercive policy that can  preserve Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and remove the Palestinian-Arabs from Jewish rule,  is to set up a system of economic inducements, entailing enticing incentives for them to leave, together with daunting disincentives to stay, and provide non-belligerents and their families an opportunity for a better life elsewhere out of harm’s way. That is the only feasible way to end the “Occupation”.  But I am sure I have said that before.

Dr. Martin Sherman ( is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (


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