Obama's Address to Muslims misses the Point

When President Barack Obama made his long-awaited speech to the Muslim world on June 4, he was excruciatingly careful to demonize those Muslims he termed "violent extremists" and praise other practitioners of Islam.  While the distinction is accurate, it is hardly insightful.  While declaring Islam itself evil leads to a strategic cul de sac (what is the strategy once we declare one third of humanity our enemy); Obama's chosen path is equally dangerous.  It allows the Muslim world to go on blaming their problems on "imperialism," "exploitation," or more innocuously poverty, and ratifies the consistently disastrous policy of letting those who cheer the terrorists' actions and provide them with ideological cover avoid responsibility.  It lets them and the "violent extremists" off the hook in the name of political correctness.

Those same people have been engaged in a deliberate program of ethnic cleansing against Bangladesh's Hindus.  Hindus were almost one in five Bangladeshis when the nation broke from Pakistan in 1971.  Today, after decades of murder, rape, and forced conversion, they are less than one in ten.  Using demographic models and other data, Professor Sachi Dastidar of the State University of New York, Old Westbury, estimates that 49 million Hindus are "missing" from the Bangladeshi population; that is more people than most nations have. 

Islamists and their pernicious ideology might drive this, but "just plain folk" carry it out.  On March 23, I was near Bangladesh's northern border when a young teacher asked me to meet a Hindu family that had made its way into India only 22 days earlier.  We followed him and a local political leader along the main road until they ordered us to stop and get out of the car.  At their behest, I got on the back of a motorcycle and was taken along a narrow, winding path through farmland to an area covered by banana palms and other growth; and finally to a clearing with a few ramshackle huts. 

The family's story was by now a familiar one.  Muslims came to their small farm in Bangladesh and ordered them off their land; when the father protested, they beat him severely.  They all witnessed other violent acts and told of Bangladeshi police refusing to help them and supporting their attackers.  But it was their young daughter who made the strongest impression.  At first silent at her parents' direction, she insisted on speaking and said "the Muslims... chased" her; but it was clear that there was more to it than that.  The more she spoke, the more she looked down and away, and was even more reticent when I asked what they said "when they were chasing you."  She was clearly uncomfortable with my camera even though, by agreement, I did not show faces or give away our location; so I turned it off.  It was then she said that they "caught [her and] did bad things."

Perhaps it was her tragedy and her courage.  It could have been her parents; for most of these young rape victims are shunned by their families and consigned to live with their attackers to be victimized again and again.  For while Obama spoke so easily, I thought about them all but especially about the young girl; because if he considered her or the countless others like her, he would have realized that the problem is not the "violent extremists."  History's dustbin is littered with their like.  They come and go causing death and destruction, but ultimately disappear.  They become dangerous only when their less extreme cohorts afford them legitimacy, which is why I thought of that young rape victim. 

For her attack was possible only because of the people to whom Obama was pandering.  The "moderate" Bangladeshi government allows it to happen and refuses to punish the perpetrators.  It continues to support a Nuremburg-type law enacted 35 years ago that rewards them with their victims' property.  And her attack was possible because average Muslim citizens took part in and benefited from it.  These are the people to whom Obama spoke without even suggesting they examine their actions and culpability, and the critical role they have to play if there is ever a chance of genuine peace.

That is the danger in Obama's Cairo University speech and his policy of "outreach" to the Muslim world.  Peace is nice; frank discussions are needed.  But refusing to demand equal soul searching on the part of those who are in reality radical Islam's lifeline will produce neither and insure that his speeches will keep peace at a distance and create more victims.