Obama schooled on Twitter about Middle East history

US president’s State of the Union comment that Middle East conflicts “dated back millennia” met with online ridicule.

Some commentators described Obama's comment as "orientalist" and "obscene" [Evan Vucci/AP]

It may have just been one line in an hour-long address, but US President Barack Obama is getting criticised for what some said was perpetuating a lie.

Social media reacted quickly to Obama’s comment during his final State of the Union address on Tuesday night, when he paid reference to the ongoing Middle East crisis as one that dated back millennia.

“The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia,” Obama said.

Commentators described Obama’s comment as “orientalist” and “obscene”. Others such as Vox, described the assertion as “dangerous”.

SOTU address: Obama dismisses idea of ISIL as existential threat

Many pointed out that even a basic reading of history would illustrate that pretty much every conflict in the region, even the so-called Shia-Sunni sectarian divide, dated back no more than 100 years. 

Obama’s comment risks “perpetuating the widespread ‘ancient hatreds’ myth that feeds two dangerous and mistaken beliefs about the Middle East: 1) that these people just hate each other because that’s how they are “over there”, and 2) that the problems run so deep that they can’t be solved and we shouldn’t bother trying,”  Max Fisher wrote .

“It’s reductive and cynical because it paints a picture of the Middle East as perpetually at war because people there are just different.”

ISIL hysteria

Obama spent a portion of his speech specifically tackling current hysteria around the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL).

Though he made an effort to disqualify ISIL as a legitimate representation of Islam, commentators said that his gaffe exemplified the country’s foreign policy campaigns in the Middle East and fed into flawed and inaccurate perceptions over the trouble in the region.



Source: Al Jazeera