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Criticism of President Obama’s speech in Cairo has been offered aplenty from conservative pundits on the web— largely focusing, it appears, on what they deem an overly- conciliatory attitude toward Islam.

Thus, for instance, at a National Review symposium, Bat Ye’Or applies (predictably) the label of “dhimmitude” , and Rush Limbaugh—the mouthpiece for modern conservatives(?)— is most incensed that Obama could have ascribed any positive contribution to Islamic civilization.

While I am by no means uncritical of the President’s speech, it’s worth noting that, in distinguishing between a “small but potent minority of [Muslim] extremists” and one billion Muslims worldwide; and “principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings” that are shared between the two traditions, President Obama’s tone and language are not unlike that of Pope Benedict XVI (see, for example, his 2005 address to the Muslim community of Cologne, Germany , or more recently, his Address to Muslims at the Dome of the Rock and endorsement of the Amman Message during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land).

It appears that both the President and the Pope share the conviction that if we are to achieve any measure of success in the Middle East, it will be with the aid of Muslims .

This was evident, for example, in Iraq, where General Petraeus’ found willing allies against Al Qaeda in Sheikh Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha (founder of the “Anbar Awakening”), and his successor, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha—the latter an active participant in interreligious dialogue with the Vatican and self-proclaimed “Protector of the Chaldean Catholics.” Likewise, where local Muslims assisted their Chaldean neighbors in rebuilding St. John’s Church in Baghdad, and filled the pews at a Mass to welcome a returning bishop.

I should also mention the thousands of Muslim-Americans serving in our own armed forces (some 10,000-20,000)—including the late Capt. Humayun S. M. Khan , who perished when he stopped a suicide bomber from entering an American compound in Baquabah.

Legitimate criticisms can be made. Islamist extremism and antisemitism pose a daunting obstacle to advocacy of a “two state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The human rights record in Arab nations (particularly treatment of women and religious minorities) must be confronted head-on. But I am nonetheless wary of the conservative pundits and talking heads who shriek with dismay when something remotely positive is said of Islam or Islamic civilization.

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Addendum 6-9-09: President Obama and Pope Benedict may have something in common in their approaches to the worldwide Muslim community, seeking common ground and affirmation (rather than wholesale denunciation from the hysterical right).

On the other hand, for an assessment of where the Pope and President part ways, see today’s Obama vs. the Pope by Spengler.

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