news Monday, March 09, 2015 - 05:30

Anisha Sheth| The News Minute | February 6, 2015 | 12 pm IST


Barack Obama has a fantastic speech writer.

The American president’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington was a classic study in photoshopping your flaws to present a great picture to the world.

Many media houses have policies on photo editing, given how a picture is more powerful than a thousand words. The underlying principle of photo editing is that one does not distort the meaning conveyed by an image when it is tweaked by editors. Especially when one crops an image, retaining some elements, removing others.

During his address, Obama spoke about violence perpetrated in the name of the religion, how people must “uphold the distinction between our faith and our governments”, and how, we should all live like one big happy family by helping each other out.

He appears to have mixed ideas about remembering this distinction when talking about violence.

Obama’s address was attended by many religious leaders including the Dalai Lama, and in a bid to keep Indian hopes high, Obama appears to be dropping Gandhi’s name every chance he gets. Talking about how violence is justified in the name of religion, Obama said:

“…We see faith driving us to do right.”

“But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge… or a weapon”. From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith … We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism … and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.”

“We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.”

After talking about non-state actors, Obama also mentions communal violence in India, but in a politically correct fashion and without using the words. There is a difference in the violence of groups such as the Taliban and ISIS and the kind of communal violence, which he glosses over.

But violence carried out by governments also forms a large chunk of global violence. Given the really “humble” speech Obama made on violence and its lack of connection to religion (he used the word humility and its forms a total of seven times in his speech), one would think there would be some, well, humility, in accepting just how much violence the United States carries out.

Obama was careful enough to mention the Crusades as an example of the violence unleashed in the name of Christianity, but he avoided mentioning any recent examples.

In October 2005, the then president George Bush said that he invaded Iraq and Afghanistan because god told him to. A report in The Guardian quotes him as having told BBC: “I am driven with a mission from God'. God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did.”

In all his humility, Obama simply could not have bracketed the US along with the Taliban and ISIS, could he?

Obama also said: “Michelle and I returned from India -- an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity -- but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs -- acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.”

What is happening in India has a rather strange context to it. Obama praised the Indian prime minister, who espouses the same ideology as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which has been accused of spreading religious intolerance and has been linked with physical violence as well. Now, Obama could simply not have said that, could he?

And mentioning religious tolerance in India when Dalai Lama is sitting there, the ironies don't end.

But it was anything but humble that Obama spoke about the Taliban’s mind-numbing killing of school children and adults in a Peshawar school. It was in fact, a text book example of photoshopping.

What was missing from Obama’s rather admirable speech otherwise, is the sheer number of deaths the United States is responsible for in Pakistan. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 124 children died in drone strikes aimed at killing 24 men the United States was targeting for terrorist activities.

This is not a numbers competition, to assign more blame on those who killed more, but at attempt to point out that when we condemn killings, we condemn uniformly.

As Obama rightly tells us, “part of humility is also recognizing in modern, complicated, diverse societies, the functioning of these rights, the concern for the protection of these rights calls for each of us to exercise civility and restraint and judgment.”

So shall the rest of the world petition the president of the United States to stop drone strikes in Pakistan? While we are at it, there has been some remarkable intelligence failure on the part of the US. As it turns out, ISIS happens to agree with the government of Saudi Arabia on how to punish people for certain crimes. These include such as stoning to death, public beheading, lashing. Saudi Arabia sanctions these in the name of religion, and Obama was rather saddened by the late king’s death.

Obama ends his speech by saying: “May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may He bless this precious country that we love.”

Here, we would like to bring to Obama’s attention, a Hollywood film called Head of State in which a black man runs for president. In the end, he pokes fun at this white candidate who says: “God bless America and no one else”. Rock counters with: “God bless America and everybody else, god bless the whole world.”

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