Obama’s speech not a game changer: US experts

June 5th, 2009 - 10:50 am ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Washington, June 5 (IANS) The feel-good impact of President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech “is unlikely to last long or change opinions about America among those who object to US policies in the Middle East and South Asia”, according to two US experts.
“His pledge to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam was welcomed by Muslim observers,” noted Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow for South Asia and James Phillips, Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.

But “by avoiding using the word “Islamist,” he is downplaying the ideological underpinnings for terrorism.”

“Obama is right that we should not equate terrorism with the religion of Islam, but we also need to be ready to engage in the battle of ideas and be clear when political Islam contradicts the ideals of individual freedom and religious liberty,” they said.

The two experts, however, agreed that Al Qaeda failed in its attempt to upstage the Obama speech.

Releasing two successive tapes this week, one on Tuesday by al-Zawahiri and one on Wednesday purportedly recorded by Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda sought to portray Obama as an enemy of the Muslim world who was sowing hatred among the Muslim community, particularly with regard to US policies toward Pakistan, Curtis and Phillips said.

The videos demonstrate that Al Qaeda is worried about Obama’s ability to appeal to the Muslim community and is desperately searching for ways to blunt his ability to do so, they said.

In the two experts’ view, Al Qaeda is focusing its efforts on Pakistan, where US policies are often blamed for the rash of suicide bombings in the country over the last two years.

But “Al Qaeda may have erred by mentioning the situation in the Swat Valley, however, since the Pakistani public has recently galvanised behind the Pakistan military operations to oust the Taliban from the region,” they said.

“Pakistanis are increasingly viewing the Taliban as malevolent actors seeking to undermine the Pakistani state and its democratic institutions.”

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