January 27th, 2009
06:48 PM ET

Mr. Obama goes to Al-Arabiya

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/01/27/obama.arabia/art.obama1.gi.jpg caption="President Obama has taken an early interest in the Middle East peace process."]

Arsalan Iftikhar | BIO
Founder, TheMuslimGuy.com

Echoing a key theme of his inauguration speech, President Barack Obama, during his first interview with an Arab news channel, told the Muslim world that he holds a world view based on the following principle:

…You will be judged on what you've built, not what you've destroyed….

After viewing the Al-Arabiya interview several times, some key quotes (fittingly) in bold:

On sending (former Senator) George Mitchell as Middle East Special Envoy: “Sending George Mitchell to the Middle East is fulfilling my campaign promise that we're not going to wait until the end of my administration to deal with Palestinian and Israeli peace, we're going to start now. It may take a long time to do, but we're going to do it now…

“…And so what I told him is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating…

Well, isn’t that a nice departure from the foreign policy disasters and garbled rhetoric of George W. Bush? Although there was little substantive ‘policy’ discussed in the Al-Arabiya interview, the ‘tone’ and message marked a stark departure from our previous president.

On communications with the Muslim world: “…Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries…

…to the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship…

Wow. During the presidential campaign, when certain nasty (and xenophobic) right-wing elements tried to paint President Obama as some kind of crypto-Muslim Manchurian Candidate, we Americans did not see candidate Obama go even once within 12 feet of an American mosque entrance or Muslim campaign event.

During the election, the ‘Muslim’ insinuation became so radioactive that two American Muslim women in Michigan were removed from an Obama event in Detroit by campaign volunteers last June simply because the two women wore hijab (headscarf).

Now that he has won the election, President Obama is now humbly flexing his Muslim world ‘street cred’ by highlighting the fact that his multi-ethnic (and multi-religious) family includes Christians and Muslims and that he has lived in the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia.

On Al-Qaeda’s ideology: “…Their ideas are bankrupt. There's no actions that they've taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them…

...In my inauguration speech, I spoke about: You will be judged on what you've built, not what you've destroyed. And what they've been doing is destroying things. And over time, I think the Muslim world has recognized that that path is leading no place, except more death and destruction…

Amen, brother.

As President Obama said in the interview, as Muslims worldwide continue to condemn and neutralize the hateful ideology of Al-Qaeda, this sort of nuanced clarity from President Obama shows that his rhetoric with the Muslim world will not include previous bone-headed presidential terms like ‘Crusade’ or ‘Islamo-Facism’.

On Islam-West reconciliation: “…And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect…

…But ultimately, people are going to judge me not by my words but by my actions and my administration's actions…

Wow, again. Once more, the humble, conciliatory and nuanced words our President used during the interview offer an olive branch to over 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide.

And President Obama is absolutely correct when he says the world will judge his legacy on his actions, not his words.

On ‘War on Terror’ slogan: “…I think that you're making a very important point. And that is that the language we use matters. And what we need to understand is, is that there are extremist organizations - whether Muslim or any other faith in the past - that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith's name…

A truth that is 'self-evident,' but not said nearly often enough.

And one thought about his promise to make a major speech in an Islamic Capital: “…We're going to follow through on our commitment for me to address the Muslim world from a Muslim capital…

My prediction: Jakarta, Indonesia. (Amman, Jordan running a close second…)

Editor’s Note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of www.TheMuslimGuy.com and contributing editor for Islamica Magazine in Washington.

soundoff (200 Responses)
  1. VenCain

    This is what the leader of the free world should be doing: leading the free world.

    January 27, 2009 at 10:03 pm |
  2. Richard

    Finally, we have a president who is willing to take on Al Qaeda intellectually, and not just militarily. What positive ideas does Al Qaeda promote? Nothing; their rhetoric is only negative about the west, and they provide no positive ideas on how to improve their own people's lives, much less contribute to humanity.

    And finally we have a president who realizes that a lot more can be accomplished by being humble and willing to listen rather than through saber rattling. Bravo, Mr. Obama!

    January 27, 2009 at 10:02 pm |
  3. ib

    Diversity is what made america's strength. You can't pretend to be diverse and only listen to one side. Obama is willing to offer a hand of friendship to the muslim world. This a clear improvement over his predecessor. While Bush was busy picking enemies, Obama is busy picking friends. Just watch; America is coming back.

    January 27, 2009 at 10:02 pm |
  4. robert

    I believe the President is on the right track. I like how his first instinct is to listen, to hear all concerns and or ideas before he makes reconmendations or has to take action.

    January 27, 2009 at 10:00 pm |
  5. Paul

    This is a great start to what I hope will be significant progress down the path of peace in the Middle East. Unlike our former president, I am proud to hear what comes out of President Obama's mouth–no more wincing in grammatical horror! He is truly a welcome change on all fronts!

    January 27, 2009 at 10:00 pm |
  6. walters Sr.

    WAY to go O,
    Good manners always does good.I really hope it works.Just do not leave your gun at home as some of these countries can not stick to an agreement. It is still better than attitudes. Israel just tried to be nice to Hammas and they"Hammas" are like rats in the tunnels the minute they can haul more killing devices thru. If they wanted to haul in food why not stay on top of the ground? It will really be interesting to see the results of Obama putting out his hand. The repubs just kept up their crap on the prez trying to get us out of a hole,why not the musses.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:57 pm |
  7. Dennise

    Totally impressive on our president's part. I'm sorry that we have few people on this board who may not agree. President Obama has quite a bit of intelligence in dealing with various cultures due to his own upbringing and families heritage. To give his first interview with an arabic station rather than north american is totally brilliant on his part. It doesn't take a no brainer to understand that we have to do things a bit differently. By all means if president obama has better our ideas than the last 8 years of lack of leadership. By all means I support 100%.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:56 pm |
  8. Sharon

    well I will say this it was very interesting the approach Obama has taken with this situation and I hope it works but at the moment I am still a skeptic!

    I wish we could discuss things in a mature and peaceful manner with other countries but the reality is this, some of these countries do not think the way we do nor do treat policies the way we do here in America and the worst part is most of them Hate America and Americans! it is quite unfortunate but true!

    So if Obama can get through to these countries in a peaceful manner I am all for it but I really don't see it happening that way!

    January 27, 2009 at 9:56 pm |
  9. TrueIndependent

    We have been so used to mediocrity in our leaders that we do not recognize a brilliant mind when we see one.

    The president is trying to neutralize our enemies. Once that is done, their own people will turn against them, and we won't have to lose any more American lives in useless wars.

    To think he has only been POTUS for less than a week and has achieved this much is really incredible.

    One thing the Republicans hate is the fact that the POTUS is actually keeping his campaign promises. And wouldn't they be happy if the economy did not improve before 2010, so they can say he failed. It's simply about them, not about We the People. How sad.

    We need to explain to these republicans what it really means to be 'Patriotic'.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:55 pm |
  10. Gerry in Toronto

    Congratulations, Anderson for covering this story last night. Just shows why Anderson Cooper is the best of CNN.

    Obama's interview blew me away. After 8 years of bully tactics and campaign rhetoric of bomb,bomb,bomb,bomb, bomb Iran, it was a refreshing change to see an American President conduct an interview with the internaitonal press with intelligence, humility, respect, compassion and a clear understanding of the issues at hand.

    Whether peace can be achieved in the region is not known, but what is known is it's a lot closer after Obama's interview than anytime in recent memory.

    America should be proud of their new world leader.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:54 pm |
  11. Mia

    I approve, Mr. President!

    January 27, 2009 at 9:54 pm |
  12. Alison

    Hi Tony – Just a reminder – George W. Bush gave several interviews to the Al-arabiya network. So did Condeleeza Rice.

    Look it up.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:52 pm |
  13. Jennifer

    President Obama was smart to go on the Al-Arabiya Network but he will need to do more to gain trust in the Arab-Muslim world I think.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:52 pm |
  14. Stephen

    Ha!!! I'm proud of him, its about time some one actually addressed this problem with an open mind. I have friends and teachers that are both Arab and Muslim as well as both Arab and Christian. I really love the Middle East, it is the birthplace of the worlds greatest civilizations as well as religions. It is home to many different ethnic and religious peoples, and should be respected not feared or hated... I'm not happy when I see other Americans treat Muslims or Arabs as terrorists living in the 13th century or what ever because when it comes down to it, their way of doing things is just different from ours. We as Americans, by electing Obama as president have shone that we are not afraid of difference nor change. However for those of you who say Obama is Muslim, he is not. I have friends that are Muslim and would know if he was, they said he was not. He also openly stated I am not a Muslim, but a Christian. However his birth mother was an atheist while his birth father was Muslim as well as his adopted father. Anyways, the point is that instead of being closed minded we should turn the other cheek and extend a hand of peace. And to those conservatives... your time is finished... no offence but the time of closed mindedness has come to an end as it has cost this nation dearly... Peace...

    January 27, 2009 at 9:51 pm |
  15. manaf

    Jim Fallbrook CA, it is id...ts like you, radicals from cristian, jewish and muslim faith that make up the terrorist of the world, you should be locked up for you hatefull remarks, shame on you. you represent yourself only. not americans, not cristians and not jews either. go hide under a rock in your midevel world. there was certenly nothing cevelized about your comments so dont try to criticise others.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:50 pm |
  16. Mylife2008

    Read the koran and Hadith people. Get real. Muslims don't care if we shake hands with them. They hate us because our religion is not Al-Islam. Educate yourselves. we are the laughing stock of the world. Many of my friends around the world tell me what is in their daily papers. I am embarrassed that BO put words in my mouth apologizing for America. Iran today said the Holocaust never happened. A day back in 1945, the Auchwitz camp was liberated. And the day after BO goes on Arab TV. Real respectful. He will sit down and talk with Iran next. Talk about slapping a lot of people in the face. Obama is a foll and you all need to wake up. In his first week he has funded overseas abortions, has told military to stop interrogating detainees ( apparently killing babies is OK, but waterboarding terrorists isn't??) has said he will close GITMO, is fighting with gates over Nuclear arms, and is basically telling people to get rid of your SUV's ( Hope you will like driving clown cars). He is doing real great in his first week. I hope you all love your king. You will reap what you sow and so will the media.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:48 pm |
  17. ROSE in OHIO

    Mr. President:
    Great start, Sir.

    Now if we can just gather up all these hate mongers, ignorant people who continue to spread hatred..to gather all their hating kind and move them all to isolated island where they can continue to breed hatred. Of course it would probably fail as a 'civilization' for hate will eat you alive.
    Then maybe the rest of the world can forge forward and begin to understand and respect one another, as should be.
    Finally, a President that will think first, then act.

    May God bless all those striving toward peace, and forgive those that cannot stop themselves from hating.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:47 pm |
  18. Igor

    I am amazed... Mr. Obama shows a great deal of intelligence, which will (unfortunately) be recognized by a lot of blind-sided people who have never even been outside the USA (okay – maybe in Mexico on vacation or Canada).

    I didn't believe that the relationship that the US has with the world (and yes, I mean the whole world!) cannot be undone easily, but this speech has set quite a different tone dramatically. If you impose strength on something then it will respond with strength as well (or substitute with "power"). And GWB learned that lesson hard, did you?

    I don't know where this will go, but it seems to be a good start. Let's hope that this administration can follow through on this. Compliments to the President!

    And to those forgot their head in their a... from the elections: If members of your family are muslims doesn't mean that you are muslim too. On top of that I would like to know where your family's roots are!

    January 27, 2009 at 9:47 pm |
  19. Frederick Pohlman

    Finally, a voice that speaks the ' true' heart of America! So proud of this fine new President...So Proud..!!!!

    January 27, 2009 at 9:46 pm |
  20. s

    The first interview he is conducting is with Al-ARABIA, not even a liberal US TV network? Nice.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:45 pm |
  21. Adam

    I'm finally starting to feel proud to be an American again. I certainly hope that our new president can restore the image of our greatness in the eyes of other nations who used to envy us years back. The past few years have been devastating to the economy, morals and national pride.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:45 pm |
  22. Jacque

    By doing this interview he clearly recognizes that the economic and social issues facing our country require more of a global view than we saw in the past. President Obama has spoken with national media for the last several years and so now that he is in the position to he sshould reach out to those who we may not understand and who may not understand us and try to find some common ground. I think it was amazing.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:44 pm |
  23. joebucks

    The enemies of peace are revealing themselves.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:44 pm |
  24. Michele

    Thank you, Mr. President! Your first order of business in the middle east is to LISTEN and to show respect to ALL sides. Clearly, you understand conflict resolution. Why hasn't anyone thought to do this before. No namecalling, no threats, no drawing of lines- simply listening before talking. You are truely transformational, and I sincerely thank you for your hope inspiring style.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:41 pm |
  25. mary q padilla

    I am proud of our new president. obama talks like all of us and not all that mumbo jumbo government talk that 30% understand

    January 27, 2009 at 9:37 pm |
  26. ss

    I think it is absolutely brilliant. It is about time the world started to get along and put ideology aside for a second and see the world from other people's eyes. Who knows what we might find?

    January 27, 2009 at 9:35 pm |
  27. adam

    yea i get what the presidents doing. basically making peace outside the us so he can start fixing america without international problems .

    January 27, 2009 at 9:35 pm |
  28. Shane

    I'm canadian and your comments are just plainly ignorant. Obama is trying to reach out to the Muslim world and the best means of that are done by using an Arab world news network. I'm sure you tony are not the only one that thinks like that. You can't conceive of thinking outside of yourself. Try it once and you'll see a multi cultural GLOBAL world. Sometimes their are things bigger than you.

    You need to realize that America is viewed throughout the world very poorly. Obama's message would not have the impact if at all if he had gone through a North American news network.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:34 pm |
  29. Ed

    This is a great step for America. I'm a long-time Christian and have had many friends of the Muslim faith (and many other faiths) over the duration of my life. The Muslim religion is beautiful and followers are devoted to their beliefs as one would expect any religious person to be. To say that Muslims are terrorists is a fascist overstatement. That would be like saying all Christians are terrorists because some unpopular groups (e.g. KKK, Aryan Nation) have Christianity at their core. America needs to understand that Al Queda, the KKK and other international terrorist groups are each of the same – harbingers of death, destruction and the suppression of freedom and tolerance.

    Obama is a true American – a man of tolerance. If America is to be an international super power, it must maintain friendly relations with the world. Its time for American's to rethink what it truly means to be an American and more importantly to start paying attention to the messages of kindness, tolerance and unity. The American Dream has faded over the last 2-3 decades and perhaps it can return to us all – rich and poor. Can a country be functional and idealist at the same time? Yes we can.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:31 pm |
  30. Terry

    We finally have a President who understands that all people are the same. We all want to be able to live happy productive lives and help our children do the same. To see President Obama reach out to the Muslim world by speaking the truth may bring the same changes in the world that Ghandi, Dr. King and Mr Mandela achieved. I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my country by this election and hope is again rising.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:30 pm |
  31. Beth

    Remarkable...we as Americans must change our way of thinking towards the world. Our days of super-power dictatorship are over..we must clean up the destruction in our own house and build a lasting peace in the world.
    Peace begins with our own actions...we cannot control the actions of others but we can encourage civility and respect both of the global world and in our own country.
    Yes, President Obama has NOT acted like the typical American...and it's a great thing! America...look within and see yourselves for what you have become...

    January 27, 2009 at 9:30 pm |
  32. richard mccleish

    I did not vote for Obama for a variety of reasons. But I must say that I have never seen so much pro media attention paid to someone. Obama is a good speaker. But talk is cheap and until I see some action which speak louder than words, I will continue to challenge his policies. I frankly do not trust him yet nor do I intend to endorse him or his policies until I see the news media get off their one sided opinion of Obama who can do or say no wrong. The government spent 42 million dollars on Bush's last inauguration and was ridiculed by the news terribly for it. Obama spent 120 million for his inauguration and was applauded by the new media for it. But based on your comments, Obama can do no wrong and everything we should bow and believe. Have a nice day.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:30 pm |
  33. patti

    I absolutely love Anderson Cooper's reporting and am an avid 360 fan, but can we please dispense with the gushing about the new President? I like him too, but this adulation is over the top from everyone in the press. Can we just give the guy a chance and not expect him to walk on water, or feed 11 million of the jobless?

    January 27, 2009 at 9:29 pm |
  34. tk

    Finally, I have a President that doesn't shame me in front of the second largest religious group in the world- Muslims. The fact that Obama can clearly, intelligently and directly address the key issues in both Israeli/Palestinian questions and the broad questions of the Arab and Islamic world will not only weaken the elements of that world that seek to destroy instead of build, it will strengthen our relationship and bolster our image and reputation as nation builders and keepers of peace.

    Good on you Barack for delivering where it counts!! You are the MAN.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:28 pm |
  35. Lee

    Not to be petty or anything like that, but how about calling him "President Obama" in your headline. Mr. is good, but PRESIDENT sounds better!

    January 27, 2009 at 9:26 pm |
  36. Gene Penszynski from Vermont

    jim Fallbrook CA first Presidetn Obama is NOT a Muslim. You ignorant Conservatives just don't ever get it do you ?

    January 27, 2009 at 9:26 pm |
  37. New Yorker

    The next time you decide to write an article about our President make sure that you give him the respect that he deserves as president when you create the title. It's Mr. President goes to Al-Arabiya!

    January 27, 2009 at 9:26 pm |
  38. Frances Maksin

    I think this is awsome and so overdue. War is not the answer, understanding and listening can only lead to good things.

    Finally a man with the gusts to be different.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:24 pm |
  39. Ridley

    The President is right to make peace if he can. It benefits everyone.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:19 pm |
  40. tony

    First interview with Al-arabiya...

    wow is he an american or what?

    sound like what.......why not abc..cbs ..abc or fox....

    but no....shows his true colors in a week....

    January 27, 2009 at 9:14 pm |
  41. R.

    I highly commend Pres. Obama on this speech! FINALLY, a leader who recognizes that the U.S. must listen carefully to the countries of the Middle East – not dictate and to be fair-minded to all countries involved. Dictating to others never works. No country has the right to dictate to others – it only ends in hatred and war. Bravo, Obama.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:14 pm |
  42. Gene Penszynski from Vermont

    Leet us never ever forget like some of us did during the last eight years of teh G W Bush administration that we are a multi-cultural multi-ethinic, multi-religious people under a SECULAR Demococratic Government. It's about time we started acting this way .

    Keep up the Good Work Mr. President.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:09 pm |
  43. Michael

    Its so amazing, of all the smart people living in america nobody has a clue on how to bring back jobs. Let me take you back to the past and I'll move you to the future. Bring back the old jobs cause they have worked for many years, make the product affordable, Ceo, management should cut there pays big time and give it to the employees at the same time get ideas for new products to create new jobs thats what it takes not a bail out, America depends to much on money stop it now or it will get worse you have no idea.

    January 27, 2009 at 8:55 pm |
  44. Alan Rushing

    Thought provoking interview and an excellent editorial.

    January 27, 2009 at 8:36 pm |
  45. Calonie J, Santee, SC

    Sounds like Obama is just being real about the nessed up stuff going on in this conflict and being a smart diplomat taking things into consideration. Praying that the actions taken will reflect these insightful words.

    January 27, 2009 at 8:32 pm |
  46. Gene Penszynski from Vermont

    Absolutely Spot On Mr. President !.

    It's about time we now have a leader who is not promoting Muslims and Arabs as 'Devil Worshippers' and 'Ignorant Towel heaed bomb throwing anrchists'.u t as People who simply have different beliefs and customs from those in the west.

    The reality is that acting like the criminal elements that we ar supposed to be opposing with eye for an eye nonsense only reduces Americas credibility in the world. Contrary to what some Red Neck Christian Fundamentalist IDIOTS think. We are a Multi-culural multi-religious people under a SECULAR Democratic Government.. Muslims or Bhidists or ATHIESTS are not necessarily no less PATRIOTIC and no leass AMERICAN than those Chirstian Fundamentalist Red Neck Idiots who have been given free reign to exert undue influence in our government for the last eight years.
    Mr. Obama is clearly committed to a SECULAR approach toi governing our nation. The founding fathers (and a just God as well) I am sure would be proud of this.

    Thank You Mr. President. Thank You for doing the Correct thing.

    January 27, 2009 at 8:31 pm |
  47. Annie Kate

    Obama continues to amaze. I thought his interview was profound in many ways and I was glad to see that despite everything else on his plate that Obama is going to act now and not later on repairing the country's relations with the Muslim world. Listening to the analysts after the interview was illuminating; I had not realized as Reza said that "war on terror" was disrespectful and angered many people in the Arab countries; I also did not realize just how low and how bad our countries relationship had gotten under Bush with those same Arab countries. I hope Obama can fix that and hopefully he and George Mitchell can carve out a lasting compromise over land in the Middle East so that everyone has a safe homeland in which to raise their children.

    January 27, 2009 at 8:19 pm |
  48. Moe

    Its unfortunate that president Obama didn't pick a network like Al-jazeera to speak to the muslim world. I don't think many people got to see that interview.

    January 27, 2009 at 7:40 pm |
  49. jim Fallbrook CA

    We all know our Socialist president Obama will make many concessions to the muslims which will compromise our security. . After all, he is a muslim. With that said, he should know you can't negotiate with muslims. It would be like negotiating with a brick wall. They never worked in at least 60 years. It is a well known fact that 85% of muslims are not civilized. They are living in the 13th century. That is unfortunate because there are 15% that are civilized. They have to suffer for what the majority of muslims do.

    January 27, 2009 at 7:39 pm |
  50. Hadiya

    I am proud of our new president. He shows our open minds and our true friendliness. The previous administration put their selfish goals first not caring of our countries reputation we put out in the world. The Muslim world are normal people like us. They have dreams and hopes. Bush has put them all as targets in his wars and that has caused us to look like devils to them. Now change has come. Now has come the time to show the world once again the beauty of America.

    January 27, 2009 at 6:53 pm |
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