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“It was also puzzling how a major statement about religion could seem so detached from religion. Obama projected himself as a floating spectator of other people’s beliefs (as in his memory of hearing the call to prayer in Indonesia). Though he identified himself as a Christian, there was no sign that it goes very deep. Christianity seemed like a badge or school scarf, a testament of affiliation without spiritual convictions or constraints. This was one reason, perhaps, for the odd failure of the speech to acknowledge the common Middle Eastern roots of Judeo-Christianity and Islam, for both of whom the holy city of Jerusalem remains a hotly contested symbol.

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Obama’s lack of fervor may be one reason he rejects and perhaps cannot comprehend the religious passions that perennially erupt around the globe and that will never be waved away by mere words. By approaching religion with the cool, neutral voice of the American professional elite, Obama was sometimes simplistic and even inadvertently condescending, as in his gift bag of educational perks like ‘scholarships,’ ‘internships,’ and ‘online learning’ — as if any of these could checkmate the seething, hallucinatory obsessions of jihadism.

The Cairo speech will certainly not be Obama’s final word on this important subject, which I hope will remain on the front burner throughout his presidency. But before he can sway hearts and minds, the president will need to show that he understands the ultimate divergence and perhaps incompatibility of major creeds. At the finale, his recitation of soft-focus quotes from the Koran, Talmud and Bible came perilously close to a fuzzy New Age syncretism of ‘all religions are the same’ — which they unequivocally are not. The problem facing international security is that people who believe something will always be stronger and more committed than people who believe nothing — which unfortunately describes the complacent passivity of most Western intellectuals these days.”

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