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. Sodara

    This is normal, nothing special, people who just take the throne too much talk, people from minority when they sit on leadership always echoing the new thing BUT is nothing. They want to be like different, BUT it will be the same. You can not change the world by yourself. You willl be the same. New...looks HOT...but actually NO.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:35 am |
  2. kiko

    President Obama has family members who are muslims...but i perceived that he hide it because he dont want to be identified with muslims as he campaign himself for president of a super power country with vast majority christian populace. I have personal conviction that while he is not muslim, he believes that God is God and that Jesus Christ is Not God. Further, He believes in American Interest above all.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:35 am |
  3. john palaque

    The core of the devastation in the Middle East is the conflict between Israel & the Arabians which had been drag for over sixty years now without any peaceful settlement. The conflict had been on the table of over twenty US Presidents. The previous president had given much hope for the settlement, but unfortunately the situation had became more deteriorating, what else with the recent madly attack by Israel on Gaza. We hope this time the President will make a 360 degree turn by making the Israel & the Arabians especially the Hamas of Palestine to once and for all settle their grudges amicably and making the Arabian region a peaceful place. Saudi Arabia should be the main intermediaries & not anyone from UK or EU to settle this conflict as Saudi Arabia is seen by the Arabian & Muslim worldwide as guardian of Islam. Hamas should be taken into the table as Hamas is the legitimate government of Palestine voted by the people of Palestine to govern Palestine. This is the reality the President should indulge with to settle the conflict in the Arab world.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:34 am |
  4. Michael

    It will be interesting to see how the Muslim majority (not the extremists) react. It is time they speak up and take back control of their Religion. Pres. Obama and the US is willing to support and listen, but the US is not the only thing that needs "change".

    The lack of a voice lends further power to those that speak up (extremists). The fact that this extreme mindset is tolerated by the religion as a whole ,through the lack of critism should be deeply concerning. Again, it it time for more than us to "change" but I fear it won't happen, and we will fall back into the cycle of cultural animosity

    January 28, 2009 at 12:34 am |
  5. Mehdi

    I have been living in the United States of America as an American Citizen for the past 34 years. On January 20, 2009, I stayed home until I could proudly say “President Obama is my President ". It was 12:20 PM right after Mr. President finished his speech. Then, I wore a very similar tie as my president, and for the first time, I wore an American Flag Pin on my jacket and as a proud American headed toward my office. I wish everyone in this world could see in this great human what I see in him. I believe hundred years in the future, people of the world remember him as one of the greatest leaders that any country on the face of this earth ever had.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:33 am |
  6. Will

    The puppets of the ruling class believe it to be glorious to die in war than live in peace... 'patriotism' is just as divisive and destructive as 'racism'. What glory is there to fall in battle? If there was any don't you think Jesus would have made his final stand in the Garden of Gethsemene w/ his disciples.

    This is supposed to be a predominately christian nation... so to all those who thirst for more muslim blood I remind you that peace does not come through war. Obama's quest for peace is exactly what it is. A step closer to fulfilling biblical prophecy... this doesn't make him a traitor or anti-christ. He is being more christ-like than those who would have him continue to cultivate the seeds of animosity with the enemies of this nation.

    There is no glory in dying in battle when the memory of the fallen haunts the survivors who could not save their fellow soldiers. What glory is there in leaving your grief stricken loved ones behind... spread love and peace and such sacrifices need not be made.

    Obama promised change... and I am glad to see he is living up to his promises... that's a first from a politician in my lifetime.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:32 am |
  7. Solaiman Malambut

    by offering hands of friendship to the 1.2 billion muslim world is a good sign of leadership. In the name of Islamic Heritage of the Philippines being the national president, we pray for your success in all your endeavors in establishing PEACE in the Middle East.More Power to you.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:31 am |
  8. Jon Skillings

    Did we re-elect that just smell the roses Jimmy Carter. I expect my President to speak to me before he starts mouthing off to enemy camps. Perhaps Sheikh Obama is remember that he is in fact a Muslim after all these years. Tell them whatever you have to get elected and then screw them over as much as possible.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:30 am |
  9. Imran Abbas

    I'm proud of our President!!!!

    January 28, 2009 at 12:29 am |
  10. Kelly

    Makes me proud to be American for the first time in many years.

    I have friends and business contacts in Muslim countries across Central Asia. Without exception these friends and their communities represent the same hard working, family focused values that define our country. We dream the same dreams of peace, hope for the future for our children and compassion for others. It is time we focused upon our common ground and not upon our differences.

    President Obama has exteneded a hand. I hope with all my heart that many reach out to accept and embrace this opportunity to reverse years of division and to begin a new era of partnership.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:29 am |
  11. Amine

    Right on Mr. President !

    We (the American Muslims) love and respect you and thank you so much for making us feel that we are welcome in our country America again. It's been a while!!! God is merciful!!
    Bush is gone and the horrible and dark page of injustice towards Muslims who had nothing to do with the injustice going on in the world will be turned. Let us not forget that 1.5 billion Muslims is a huge number and not even a 0.1 percent of that have ever had anything to do with 9/11 but we were insulted and cornered by the Bush era. Let us not forget the murder of tousands in Palestine not long ago and that itself is a reminder to all of us that Holocausts are still happening and that we should all unite against them. Let's not forget that Rabbis had spoken against the killing of Palestinians and that itself is an indication that Religion has nothing to do with murder.

    Mr. President , we admire your sincerity to reach out to the Muslims. The Bush administration had left you a mess and only with patience and your willing to be always just thet you will get us thru it.

    Keep up the good work Mr. President.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:28 am |
  12. sam

    That's exactly what Jesus would have done.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:24 am |
  13. Gholamreza AU

    To jim Fallbrook CA:
    Did you ever know people like Socrates and Plato lived thousands year ego? What do you think about them? They were civilized or uncivilized ? and what do think people which will born 1000 years late think about you? they will categorize you as civilized or uncivilized?
    Did you got your answer??!!
    yes, You are pity dead boy just breathing , sorry man , just people with big souls and thoughts will live

    January 28, 2009 at 12:19 am |
  14. Nija

    Peace conquers all. Rush Limbaugh with all his hateful statements will be doomed and it is just a matter of time.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:18 am |
  15. Barungu gamal

    My Dear Mr. jim Fallbrook :
    Where did civilization started? what do you know about civilization? your president is a Christian and he's proud of being christian. The word Muslim is from the word Islam and it means PEACE.....from where did you bring the notion of muslims do not negotiate and that muslims are terroristes? My friend read history and religion studies to know better. Don't be fooled by the zionist media around you. Read and understand the true history. Good luck.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:12 am |
  16. Nick

    This is the kind of change we voted for! It's about time we have a president who's smart, open minded and knows how to reach out to other cultures and religions. It makes me pround to be an American and I look forward to my next overseas trip! Well done Mr President! I hope that our media will follow suit and stop their biased reporting of the news and stereotyping of muslims and arabs (or any culture / religion for that matter!).

    January 28, 2009 at 12:12 am |
  17. Andrew (Chicago)

    The title of the article isn't disrespecting President Obama. I'm only 25 and even I get that it's a play off of Mr Smith goes to Washington. Yikes. (Im not GOP btw lol)

    January 28, 2009 at 12:12 am |
  18. Lance Chambers

    IN fact we (Jews and Christians) are NOT infidels according to the Koran – we are in fact, 'Readers of The Book'.

    The Koran recognises that Jews and Christians pray to the SAME God as Muslims. The difference is that our revelatory holy books arrived earlier than the Koran. They also believe that the Koran is the last in a series of revelations handed down by God to the world.

    As 'Readers of The Book' we are NOT to be killed or forcibly converted. We are free to remain Jew or Christian – but if we do we need to pay a 'protection tax' and that is the limit of the pressure that is to be placed on Jews and Christians.

    Other religions – those who are not readers of the book (ie heretics) are fair game.

    Reading is a wonderful thing. More of us should actually find out the truth about matters before we open our mouths or pick at a keyboard.

    So much ignorance – so little though!

    January 28, 2009 at 12:10 am |
  19. tove

    Proud to say I live in America ! ( For a while there....I wasn't sure )
    Obama is the best" thing " that happen to us, we believe in you and we support you, Thank you for reaching out to other countries and religions. The world can only be a better place if we listen, agree to disagree, and RESPECT everyone,. No more of the " cowboy " strategy!
    Good Luck Obama, we are many behind you, and believes in you!

    January 28, 2009 at 12:08 am |
  20. David T. Harris

    Bravo, Mr. President. We should show the Muslims and in particular Arabs that we are not their enemy. If the USA was enemy to Islam, there would be no Mosques let alone Muslims in this country. I am a Christian but I am not Islam's enemy.

    Both Judeo-Christian and Islamic civilization spring from the same source. The Bible says to love your neighbors while the Quran calls for treating the "Peoples of the Book" as brothers and sisters. Both Books are said to have come from God and therefore even though there are stark differences, there are more similiarities.

    Thank you Mr. President for being willing to be the bigger person.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:03 am |
  21. Moe

    I'm seriously amazed at some ignorant comments on this blog. I'm a middle eastren. I started to respect america after they elected obama. When i look at these comments i say to myself ' wake up man those americans don't deserve anything good'

    January 28, 2009 at 12:00 am |
  22. Duke

    Well here are a goodly number of people who agree with Mr. President Obama.
    And then there those few "radical" Americans who are just as dangerous, no more dangerous, than Muslim. These American jihadists are more dangerous because they are in the Country, they can not be kept out!
    To truly believe that Muslims, as a people, are more dangerous than Americans, as a people is ridculous.
    I only hope President Mr. Obama gets at least a chance to see if he can to a better job than our "other" President.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:58 pm |
  23. M.A.Khan

    The world has become a global village and we have come very close to each other and we need uniter not divider type of leaders. In US he is talking with every one. He is also trying to unite the world and his interview with Al-Arabia was wonderful
    I see president Obama very stable in his ideas and looks a strong leader and a uniter. I am sure he will fix the American economy soon. He is on the side of the people. If American is fixed, the world will feel better. On the other word issues if Obama declares UN , the only platform to solve worlds problems, it will be a huge change in itself. If he takes some strong actions in Middle East and Kashmir then the root cause of terrorism will fall apart. Obama will get friends among 50+ Islamic countries and it will be a great step forwards for world peace and America will get the status of real Super Power of heart and minds. Let us hope he keeps an eye on people who wants to destroy world and want to control the world for their own interests.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:58 pm |
  24. William T

    I don't know.

    We've had like seven or eight presidents who have tried to bring peace to the middle east via the two-state solution. Every one has failed. Will Obama be any different?

    January 27, 2009 at 11:55 pm |
  25. Thomas

    Tony, looks like you are the one showing your true colors...what difference does it make what news network the president sat down with? I mean, the message was directed at the muslim community around the world...so it makes sense that the network chosen was Al-Al-Arabiya. We need to mend our ties with many countries and communities around the world. It is great that we have a President that recognizes that fact. We don't improve our own security by making enemies. Why not show some leadership in improving international relations and helping humanity?

    January 27, 2009 at 11:55 pm |
  26. andrew choi

    amazing that people like jim from fallbrook is still among the citizens of the USA.

    It is really saddening.

    I am glad that most of the people on this thread are thinking positive, and hoping for the best.

    It is true however that Obama is getting so much pro – attention that we may be missing things. I hope that the media will do its job to be fair, and not be overly negative or positive in its stories and news.

    i hope for the best

    January 27, 2009 at 11:53 pm |
  27. Chris

    Veronica, quit being a coward!! Christians are to love everyone. Even our enemies. If God can love the Devil, then we should be able to love anybody. The bible I read does not say love Christians, and hate non Christians.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:50 pm |
  28. Randy

    To Adam's comment:

    "I’m finally starting to feel proud to be an American again."


    Those of us who served and never faltered don't need your fair weather support. Go ahead and and get back in the flock, let us sheepdogs stand gaurd for you.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:50 pm |
  29. Sam Andrews

    for an American who lived overseas and who has more hands on interaction with the muslim world, I think President Obama finally is reaching out. One has to realized that the most people who suffered at the hands of Al Qeida are the muslims and the ones who had more deaths, destruction, loss of hope, and loss of peace are the muslims at the hands of Al Qeida.
    One also has to realize how important is our relationship with the arab/muslim world especially in these financial times. The US has used and continue to use the arab rich countries to bail our economy.
    To simply thing muslims are terrorist like Al Qaida is as ignorant to think that christians are as terrorist as the KKK, the IRA or any other radical group. The president got it right. He also knows America needs the muslim world as much as the muslim world needs America.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:48 pm |
  30. Lamis Faris

    Finally. Finally! A US president who has the wisdom to talk the Arabs with respect instead of demonizing them or using them for oil. There is great wisdom here in this action of Obama, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that the nay sayers, the extremists of all sorts, and the press will not botch this fledging attempt to get this peace process right.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:48 pm |
  31. Keith

    To Jim from CA, and to Mylife2008 ... the majority of Muslims are peace loving people, and Americans should extend the hand of peace. Unfortunately, some Muslims in the minority (including the Jihadists) want to promote hatred for all those not like them, just like a small minority of Americans (like you two) want to continue to promote hatred toward others. I will always sow peace, and I expect to reap peace.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:47 pm |
  32. Tim Myers

    Should we help the palestinian people rebuild, the same people that were dancing in the streets on 9-11. ? Read some of the muslum bible. They hate us. Why do people close their eyes and ears to the truth. And don't forget russia. They do intend on being a super power again. Iran is a snake in the grass. Amereica has been a blessed nation because we blessed Israel. When we turn our back on them when they need us The USA will crumble

    January 27, 2009 at 11:46 pm |
  33. Tiffany

    I am NOT proud of 'our' new president. It is absolutely disgusting that he does not see the need to proudly display OUR flag. My son, as well as countless other soldiers, have sacrified greatly so that we enjoy the freedom that flag stands for. Our new president doesn't appear to understand what an honor it is to live here!

    January 27, 2009 at 11:44 pm |
  34. cecy

    I have faith with our president. He is talking and taking action whatever he says. Now, it is time the wolrd believes in America again. We have now more hope to establish communication in the middle east that is what we need to stop these wars.

    He is the president of the United States and we should support him not only because he is the president because he is optimistic, intelligent and believe in all of us that we can work together with no divisions of race or political parties. He believes together we can bring up back again our country with no fear and peace of mind.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:44 pm |
  35. Chris

    Congratulating him for putting down our country, the muslim world will walk all over him, hes living in a fairy tale. You people are sheep.....

    January 27, 2009 at 11:43 pm |
  36. g miller

    Re: Mylife2008 January 27th, 2009 9:48 pm ET: Good points. The other readers should take your comments to heart. There are other dimensions to the situation.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:42 pm |
  37. Eliza in Ohio

    Thank you, President Obama!

    January 27, 2009 at 11:37 pm |
  38. Farhad Hussain

    The statement "We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name…” is so powerful that only a handful of people have the capacity to comprehend it.

    In fact, any action or decision we make out of our blind faith, be it Christian, Jewish or Muslim are bound to create anarchy/chaos in our society. Action must be made based on proper judgement but not on mere faith. I think, this is the message President wants to convey to common people by giving a faith based violence as an example.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:35 pm |
  39. Gerry

    Let us not forget what happened to Neville Chamberlain '"My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time." As you all know, it was rubbish – Germany invaded Poland.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:34 pm |
  40. Tim Myers

    If you read The Holy Bible, the Best selling book of all times you will understand the BIG picture.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:34 pm |
  41. g miller

    Obama will learn the reality of politics in the Middle East, probably the HARD way, costing lives and treasure. Very expensive on-the-job training. He will learn that some things he bitterly criticized were done for good reasons. Here's hopin' he's a fast learner and not overly bound by the constraints of his left-wing ideology.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:32 pm |
  42. omran malik

    It is a good fortune of this country, that at time of tremendous crisis, a leader of this stature holds the presidential office. The country did not do him a favor by electing him, they did a favor to them selves and to this country.

    Mr President Obama has a pontential to become a World level leader who can bring a change to foreign relation with countries from International prespective. He represents true American ideology.

    He started the reconciliation process with the biggest part of the East. The muslim world. He can have his name written in world history by addressing conflicts of international level.

    no doubt he is one in a million

    January 27, 2009 at 11:31 pm |
  43. Kevin

    This is Chess playing at it finest, heck I don't even think Mr. Obama is playing chess, he is playing GO with these idiots. He has The GOP on their heels, they don't know what he's going to do next. He has al queda's fighting an image war instead of a real war. You NEO Con's and idea logs that just don't get it are completely missing the art of war.

    Make friends of your enemies friends.

    Mr. Obama has set new the terms of the conflict "our terms" and He has depleting their recruiting source with one interview. Al queda will be easier targets in Afghanistan once they are Isolated and have few friends.

    Some of the comments posted here goes to show just why THE GOP IS DEAD.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:29 pm |
  44. Pete Zhao

    He just trying to say the popular feel good things, as usual. The "nuances" are flowing really smoothly. This is just the 1st week, I am sure he will think of more captivating ways to say "we are making progress".

    January 27, 2009 at 11:29 pm |
  45. Hussam Qasem

    I have always had high respect for our president Mr. Obama. He is well spoken, open minded, and believes in being fair. After all he has a touch of islam(peace) in him. Keep up the good work and reach out for the muslim world!

    January 27, 2009 at 11:28 pm |

    Im a Christian and l got muslims friends I go weekly to their mosque services with Friendship and Respect I dont understand what they said but I enjoy it . However, I know the diference between a muslim believer and a radical terrorist .i dont mix it up bin ladin ,ahmadineyad,hussein Alswajiry ,Zarkawi, Taliban Alqaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas Those my Friends need a savior JESUS die for them.REPENT .

    January 27, 2009 at 11:24 pm |
  47. Dave G

    Obama is a great president. The world respects him. When I travel abroad, I can say I'm an American and not have to apologize for my government anymore. I can be proud. This is s huge difference.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:24 pm |
  48. Peter

    The lines sound scripted and that is the whole point. That is exactly why I supported Obama long before even 14% of the democrats knew who he was... Barrak uses discretion with his words.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:20 pm |
  49. william harris

    i truly believe this is a turning point against the dogma of hate. SAMMY.. JIM.. VERONICA.. you just don't get it. but maybe, just maybe, you will. the proof will be in the pudding. oh wait, you probably HATE pudding! 😀 all hail King Obama!

    January 27, 2009 at 11:18 pm |
  50. Tam

    Our president was eloquent and intelligent........and good leader. But he was quit wen women & children were being killed in GAZA. He talked about economy mumbai attack, afghanistan but not GAZA...... A good president but scared of AIPAC ( isreal lobby).... Even our best president cannot escape the lobby. Sad affair.


    January 27, 2009 at 11:16 pm |
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