Obama Speech May Fall on Deaf Ears

by | Jun 7, 2009 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

How many members in your family, your close family, the family that comes to birthday parties or Christmas Eve celebrations? Ten? Twenty? I bet it’s fewer than 40.

How about your friends – your close friends, the ones who call when you’re sick, the ones who share vacations? How many? I bet it’s fewer than 40.

How about your church, your synagogue, your mosque – people you know there, you shake hands with, you well-wish? Twenty? Thirty? Again, fewer than 40, right?

So imagine, all your family, all your friends or all your religious community. Now imagine if, in one fatal moment, they were all gone.

On Friday, in northwest Pakistan, a suicide bombing killed around 40 people in a mosque. This was during prayer hours. The carnage was so bad, according to news reports, that people saw body parts strewn amongst the rubble.

Everyone in your family. All your friends. That’s how many 40 people represents. All wiped out with a single detonation.

Did you even hear about it?

Obama’s impossible challenge

Chances are you didn’t. It made the cable news, but didn’t lead it. It made some newspapers, but probably not many front pages. Forty people. Dead. Perhaps to someone, it was everyone he knew or loved.

But it was just another event in the bloody quilt of Islamic extremism.

I bring this up because it happened less than a day after President Barack Obama made his ballyhooed speech to the Arab world. In that speech he called for understanding between Muslims and the West. He insisted America had never been at war with Islam. He even began the talk with the Arabic greeting “salaam aleikum,” which means “peace be upon you.”

I wonder who he was talking to. There was no peace Friday in Pakistan. The bombing was reportedly the result of tension between Pakistani authorities and forces sympathetic to the Taliban. In other words, this was Muslim against Muslim murder. In a mosque. During prayer.

If something like that happened in America – 40 people in a church, killed by a suicide bomber – we’d be talking about it for a year. Politicians would decry it. Religious leaders would demand action. You wouldn’t go anywhere without the story on people’s lips or in their tears.

Yet it happens in Pakistan, and I don’t see Muslim leaders around the world screaming for this to stop. I don’t see Arab world presidents or prime ministers or princes lamenting the bloodshed in speeches that call for an end to the violence.

In fact, there’s not a whole lot beyond a few condemnations and the head-shaking acceptance that this is the way it is, the way it has been for centuries and the way it will be for the years to come. Eyes for eyes. Teeth for teeth. Murder in the name of God.

With that kind of blind hate and utter disregard for one another, what chance does Obama have of getting similar forces to play nice with us?

We’re not on the same page

Before his trip, Obama spoke about not imposing American ideals on foreign countries. He suggested it didn’t work, and I tend to agree with him.

But if you can’t impose it, you won’t do much by merely suggesting it, either. While Obama was talking about peace, love and understanding, Osama bin Laden released an audio tape blaming – who else? – America for the problems in Pakistan.

And then somebody blew up a mosque.

Remember, Taliban sympathizers claim they are aligned with the purest and most stringent form of their religion. These aren’t atheists bombing mosques. These are people who consider themselves true believers.

So true, they would kill for it.

It is important for America to have good relations with the Arab world and the Muslim world (not the same thing). But I have always believed that, when it comes to the extreme end of things, we are speaking two different languages. We talk of compromise; they don’t know the meaning. We cherish democratic values; they see them as our vices. We talk of peace in this world; they talk about death here, glory later.

In that way, Obama’s speech can be analyzed from now until forever. We know at least one person wasn’t listening.

And now, around 40 others never will.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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