It is already clear that President Barack Hussein Obama’s address to the Muslim world has gone some way towards correcting the widespread perception that the United States government is “anti-Muslim.” To be sure, speaking respectfully about Islam and its precepts was something Mr. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, also learned to do after his initial gaffe on waging a “crusade” against militant Islam. But the policies he followed and the wars he launched in Afghanistan and Iraq were so misconceived, so destructive, and so irrational that it was easy for Muslims and others to assume the worst about the U.S. Apart from conceding that his country had been wrong to believe terrorism could be fought by adopting illegal or inhumane methods, Mr. Obama has held out the promise of a more balanced approach to the one issue that lies at the root of Muslim angst about the west: the plight of the Palestinian people. From his rostrum in Cairo, he described their situation as “intolerable” and made a strong plea for a two-state solution as the basis for durable peace between Israel and Palestine. By itself, such a plea breaks no new ground. Washington has been officially committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state and the cessation, and even reversal, of Israel’s illegal settlement activities in the Occupied Territories. What has been lacking is any real willingness to push the Zionist state towards fulfilling its obligations.
President Obama has correctly reminded both Israelis and Palestinians of the need to honour past commitments. If some Palestinians are still reluctant to accept Israel’s right to exist, that is related to the Israeli state’s refusal to specify its borders. And if the dispossessed are to be counselled to give up violence as a method of struggle, the Israeli use of state terrorism to enforce its illegal occupation must be condemned even more. On Iran, Mr. Obama has done well to acknowledge the role Washington played in overthrowing the Mossadegh government during the Cold War, thus accepting, by implication, that the distrust existing with Tehran is the product of mutual action. But nothing he has done so far on the nuclear issue represents a reversal of the approach George W. Bush followed during his years as President. The Muslim world erred in assuming the U.S. was against Muslims. Superpowers do not run imperial projects on the basis of prejudice; it is interests that are supreme. In fact, saying kind words about Islam and denouncing anti-Muslim prejudice come easy to an American leader. What is crucial is ending the indulgence Washington continues to show towards a state that believes at its core that international law, the elementary principles of justice, and the rules of peaceable conduct just do not apply to it.