Obama speaks of his Muslim roots in TV interview

Category: World Affairs Topics: Barack Obama Views: 5611

WASHINGTON - That Barack Obama chose to grant his first televised interview as U.S. president to an Arab network was a stunning enough decision in a post-911 America that still eyes the Muslim world with suspicion.

But for a man whose campaign endured a barrage of racist accusations that he was secretly a Muslim, what Obama said during the interview was just as remarkable: he spoke unflinchingly of his Muslim roots while reassuring Arabs that "Americans are not your enemy."

"I have Muslim members of my family; I have lived in Muslim countries .. the largest one, Indonesia," Obama told Al-Arabiya, an Arabic-language satellite TV station based in Dubai, in an interview broadcast Monday night.

"And so what I want to communicate is the fact that in all my travels throughout the Muslim world, what I've come to understand is that regardless of your faith - and America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers - regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams."

Watch Obama's Al-Arabiya TV Interview


The interview was a powerful signal that Obama, a Christian whose late father was a Muslim, considers immediate efforts to repair America's tense relationship with the Arab world a top priority.

"It's impossible to exaggerate the symbolic importance," Marc Lynch, an expert on U.S.-Arab relations, wrote on the Foreign Policy website on Tuesday.

"His interview promises a genuinely fresh start in the way the United States interacts with the Arab world and a new dedication to public diplomacy."

The Al-Arabiya interview came less than a week after Obama reached out publicly to the Muslim world in his inaugural address.

Obama was the first president in U.S. history to mention the word "Muslim" in an inaugural address, and he did it as his predecessor and the man despised by the Arab world, George W. Bush, looked on.

"To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," Obama said to cheers from the millions who gathered in D.C. to watch his historic swearing-in.

The president's interview this week with Al-Arabiya came as his new special envoy to the Middle East, one-time U.S. Senator George Mitchell, began his first official trip to the region.

Mitchell's first stop is Egypt, which has been trying to mediate a truce between Hamas and Israel. He is also expected to travel to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Obama said Mitchell will discuss how to solidify the ceasefires declared by Israel and Hamas, and how to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The president said he's instructed Mitchell to use the trip to begin truly hearing the concerns of all the parties involved.

"What I told him is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating," Obama told Al-Arabiya.

The U.S. had made mistakes in the past, Obama added, but "the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that."

Even those on the far right in America agree that courting Muslim moderates is critical to winning the war against extremists who are committed to jihad against the United States.

To that end, Bush gave several interviews to Al-Arabiya during his presidency, but the wars he waged against Iraq and Afghanistan have fuelled a bitter backlash against the United States in the region.

The network is viewed in Washington as being more moderate than its competitor, Al-Jazeera.

Reaction to the Obama interview on Al-Arabiya's website was divided.

Some suggested it represented a critical turning point in Arab-U.S. relations, while others argued that if Obama doesn't strongly support a Palestinian state, he won't enjoy any more successes in the Muslim world than Bush did.

Al-Sharif Abu Ananan wrote that if the cause of Muslims "is not addressed and people have their rights restored and are returned to their homes, then Obama will remain like Bush."

Wrote another viewer who identified himself as Khaled Al-Dali: "We expect a lot from you not to help us but to have a visionary and responsible position and to be truthful in your decisions. ... I trust you and many here trust that you will bring change. Don't disappoint us."


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  10 Comments   Comment

  1. Zinedine from Morocco

    Correction to some incorrect statements posted by some members on this panel:

    The Jews in the US constitute 3% of the US population not 10%. They control the US domestic and foreign policy thru AIPAC and other Jewish and no Jewish institutions & organisations; Zionists, Pro-Zionists and non Zionists...

    The US is the only country in G8 that mixes religion with politics. I am not going to elaborate on this one you should just listen to G W Bush speech & crusades and all other US presidents to see for yourself.

    As a matter of facts 60% of the world's evangelists come from the USA.

  2. madinah from usa

    this country is changing and we finally have a president who matches his country. Now if he was Muslim it probably wouldnt make a diffrence because in the usa you cant mix the two but mashallah for what he is tring to do we need a peacefull world. Hate and Terror comes from the shaitan why would we cheer him on????

  3. Akram Banai from USA

    I believe Mr. President Obama should stay with his father faith and declare himself as a honorable Muslim Leader. He must be enpower with all muslim leaders and families to keep his faith. And his family be supported by all muslim in the world.

  4. Sayid Abdullah Nukala from USA

    Salaamu Alaikum,... People in the Arab world should relize that the United States is 80% cristian,10% jewish,2% Muslim,and 8% various other religion's. So the notion that Obama is going to change the polocies of the United States based solely on the fact that he, has family members that are muslims. And that he once lived in Indonesia. Is laughable to the point of ludicisy

  5. Michaline from United States

    I am a Roman Catholic American who believes in equal rights, peace, love, and goodwill for all living beings on our beautiful planet. I believe in a free Palestinian state, a cease-fire from all aggressors, and thoughtful and just governments in all countries. I am highly dubious that our new President is true to his words, which feel insubstantive and empty. I hope and pray that I am wrong. I ask for all people to unite in prayer to our one and only God so that we may learn to live together in harmony and treat each other as the brothers and sisters we are meant to be. May our Holy Blessed Mother Mary continue to guide all of us to peace, and Archangel Gabriel continue to spread the wisdom of God.

  6. shahnaz from usa

    the one&only change this world needs right now is change to real islamic system according to QURAN&SUNNAH&nothing else may ALLAH protect its ummah&the muslim family from onslaught of shaitans AMEEN

  7. Mohammad Khan from USA

    Assalamoalykum, Muslims should not become fool by this tactics. We must work hard and continue to build strong community. We must take care of our families and provide best knowlege and technological advancements. May Allah helps us.

  8. zinedine from Morocco

    Salaamu alaikum,

    Oh my lord,

    Many Muslims will remain foolish as they still believe that Abu Obama is going to create a Palestinian state. They seem to forget that he is only a figure head that the Zionists in the US can move left and right as they wish.

    On another note, the only reason, he accepted an interview invitation from Al-Arabiyya is simply because it is the mouth piece of the US foreign policy makers in the MidEast. It's a Zionist spokesperson for the region. I dare him to have an interview with networks that represent us Muslims & our aspirations and hopes such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Alam!!! That will never happen simply because Omaba is just an employee of the Zionists!!!

  9. Adel from USA

    Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmedenijad, stated it accurately yesterday. He said, 'there are two types of change; one that is real and thoughful and a change in tactics'. Unfortunately, I think Obama will only bring a change in tactics and thus, be a wolf in sheep's clothing.

    If he wants real change, he can start by reprimanding his new Secretary of State who made a statement on U.S. news yesterday that the Gaza conflict was solely Hamas' fault and did not mention Israel's actions at all.

    Unfortunately, with the zionist control of this country's media, financial and legal systems so tight, any Muslim hoping of real change with the Obama administration is only diluding himself/herself.

  10. BASEERAH AWWAL from nigeria

    salam, Obama is not diferent from other american president. they are all working towards the same goal. he is just an american in black skin. his having a muslim background does not make any change. he is there to represent the zionist which he himself is a member.i hope we will not be carried away by his statement, they want to make sure that every muslim is wiped out on the face of the earth, which insh-Allah cannot work because people accept islam everyday(american inclusive).Allah said in the glorious Quran; they plan Allah too plan but Allah is the best of planner.