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Obama announces venue for Islam speech

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COMMENTS

11 May 2009 18:33

So, it seems Barack has ignored my advice – and after all I’ve done for him!

During last year’s US presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised that in the first 100 days of his administration he would travel to a major Islamic forum and deliver an address to redefine the West’s relationship with Islam and its struggle against terrorism. I argued in The New York Times that Obama should buck expectations and deliver this speech outside the Arab world, specifically in Indonesia. I suggested that choosing Indonesia would throw light on the diversity of Islam, demonstrate that Obama takes democracy and human rights seriously, help him to counter anti-Americanism and indicate he was serious about rebalancing American foreign policy.

My friend and colleague Justin Vaisse from Brookings, by contrast, argued in a Times op-ed  (co-authored with noted Islamism expert Olivier Roy) that Obama should not give the speech at all, because it would reinforce perceptions of a monolithic Islam.

It turned out that both Justin and I lost our debate: the White House has announced that Obama will deliver this speech on 4 June in the heart of the Arab world, Egypt.

My only consolation is that Obama is still sure to visit Indonesia in the next little while, perhaps on his trip to the APEC meeting in Singapore in November. You cannot read the foreign policy chapter in The Audacity of Hope and fail to be struck by the effect that Obama’s years in Jakarta had on his worldview. Indeed, when The New Yorker ran an old picture of Barack and Michelle Obama earlier this year year, I noticed there were Javanese shadow puppets displayed prominently on their living room wall.

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