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June 11, 2009

David Warren on truth-telling in Obama's Cairo and D-Day speeches

Topics: Political News and commentaries, Understanding Islam

Canadian columnist David Warren dissects differences in Obama's approach to truth in different speeches - the Cairo speech and the D-Day speech - that tell us something important about the speaker, and also about the foreign policy of his administration. Warren's piece also suggests that in an Islamic world view - society does not "evolve," but is static (i.e. Islam is stuck in the past and not subject to change or reason) and the Christian world view in which the Revelation itself unfolds in time, and is a faith dependent upon our reason.

The Cairo speech was full of grand historical statements that were, on a pedestrian factual view, quite ridiculous. Mr Obama declares three times in the speech that he has come to "tell the truth," but instead utters remarks pitched to the prejudices of his audience. Indeed, I could not find a single factual assertion in the whole speech that was not wrong, or skewed, or seriously misleading.

On the other hand, there is no place in his speech at the American Cemetery in Colville-sur-Mer where the president insists that he is being truthful. Obviously, he is telling the truth there, albeit with some (laudable) narrative selectivity and ÃÆ'©lan. So far as I can see, every assertion in that speech was rigorously fact-checked.

Note the obvious. When speaking to a western audience, Obama troubles to get his facts straight. When speaking to an eastern audience, he does not. This suggests a president who can see the difference between sugar and sludge; who was quite unlikely to have fooled himself by anything he said in Cairo. Also, a president comfortable with saying different things to different audiences: which all politicians do, though not always to an alarming degree.

Since Saturday, I have received several interesting communications from persons who know something about the Middle East, who admit that Obama was trawling a line, and yet defend him for doing so. Their argument is sufficiently compelling that I'm inclined to think it explains what Obama and advisers thought they were doing.

Let us assume that Obama's speechwriting team thought very carefully about how his speech would go over in the Muslim world: not only tactically, but strategically. Moreover, Obama himself, from rather more extensive contact with Muslims in his earlier life than he condescended to explicate while running for president, is reasonably well acquainted with sometimes radical differences in outlook between East and West. And while my correspondents casually admit that the Cairo speech was full of what Churchill used to call "terminological inexactitudes," they argue that these were "necessary" inexactitudes.

Now to the grist. Obama has observed that, to an Islamic way of thinking, society does not "evolve," but is static. The requirements for "the good" of this world were laid down in the Koran once and for all time; the slightest deviation from them is heresy. It follows that, if you want change, you must argue that the change is not really change, but a return to some previous state of grace.

By contrast, to the Christian view, the Revelation itself unfolds in time, and is even today not yet completed. It is perfectly valid to "live and learn," for the triune God that Christians worship has bestowed a faith which is itself dependent upon our reason. Even a post-Christian "secular humanist" will accept that to change the present, we need not change the past. Reason requires that we accept the past, even if it was not to our liking.

Read it all...

My own take-home message from David's piece is that Obama told Muslims what he believed they wanted to hear, based upon his Muslim background, that his foreign policy favors Islamists because of it, and that he is willing to say different things to different people because he doesn't even know the meaning of what it means to have "character." Indeed there is a difference between telling the truth and a con game, and Obama seems to believe that more people than not either don't know or don't care about the difference.

Related must-read: The Cairo disaster

Posted by Richard at June 11, 2009 9:50 AM

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