Watching Obama from Sweden
I am back in Sweden to do a number of appearances on Swedish TV4's morning show. Given the timing of my arrival, I was, not surprisingly, asked to appear both before and after President Obama's speech in Cairo to talk about it, together with an Egyptian political scientist, Hamdi Hassan, who has lived in Sweden for 30 years. The experience has been an eye-opener.
One co-anchor had tweeted just after Obama's speech that perhaps Obama was Jesus come back in our age -- a statement possible only in secularized Sweden, but nonetheless indicative of the swooning reaction here to Obama's speech. An editorial in the conservative daily Svenska Dagbladet -- entitled "This Is Great Political Leadership" -- compared Obama's speech with Reagan's appeal to Gorbatchev to tear down the Berlin Wall. At the time Reagan gave his speech, the editorial continued, that was considered impossible. Similarly, a solution to the Israel-Palestine problem is considered impossible today, but it might become possible as well. "Obama's speech shows that the U.S. is back," the editorial concluded. When I was interviewed after the morning show for the network's web TV station, the interviewer started off by saying that normally she had to interview people about unhappy things, but today she was glad to be able to do an interview about something inspiring and hopeful.
In the appearance I shared with Hamdi Hassan, he expressed admiration for Obama's willingness to take on taboo subjects in the Middle East, such as Arab anti-Semitism ("It is shocking," he told me afterwards, "to go back to Cairo and see copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for sale everywhere") and minority rights (Obama's defense of the rights of the Coptic religious minority in Egypt got little attention in the West, but he said it was a huge thing in Egypt -- an Egyptian saying the same words as Obama might be put in jail). He stated he had been told by friends in Egypt that Islamists in the audience had found themselves more impressed than they had expected to be by Obama's words.
I stated on the air that I was not one who greeted every Obama speech with unrestrained enthusiasm, but that I thought this speech was fantastic. I see that Rush Limbaugh has disputed the Arab invention of algebra (the word does come from Arabic, it may be noted), but overall, at least seen from Sweden, it looks as if the reaction in the U.S. has been surprisingly positive. In Sweden, the speech has played to standing ovations.
Posted by Steve Kelman on Jun 05, 2009 at 12:08 PM