There is an uneven approach to Middle East politics. Arab states think the United States tilts unfairly toward Israel, but it is Israel that is on the receiving end of pressure to do more and relinquish more land, though it gets nothing in return each time it has done so. President Obama recently called on Israel to stop building new "settlements." In Cairo, what will he ask radical Muslims to stop doing? How about ending suicide bombings and other violent acts against civilians? Would he ask groups like Hezbollah and Hamas to revoke charters calling for Israel's destruction as the will of God?
"There have only been three times in history when Muslims have been united," says Dr. Caner. "One was 100 years after the death of Mohammed; the second was during the Crusades and they're united now. It's the reason Iran has become more dangerous..."
The president has said he can identify with Muslims because he grew up in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation. Does that cut him any slack with Muslims? Dr. Caner says it depends. "The question is: was he raised a Christian in the Muslim world, or was he a Muslim? In Islam, if your father is a Muslim, you are, too. If Muslims see him as a convert, that hurts him. I think he should not mention being raised as a Muslim. From the U.S. perspective, it doesn't help us at all. The ultimate question is: do Muslims recognize him as having been raised Muslim and, if so, that could actually work in his favor. But if he is seen as a professing Christian, it doesn't help us."
The president is entitled to make the case he promoted during the campaign that talking is better than isolation and fighting and if talking can prevent fighting, it is worth trying. But, as Dr. Caner told me, the president will have to demand concessions from Muslim nations, or the trip is unlikely to bear any fruit.
The real question is: will President Obama be viewed as an innocent abroad, or as an infidel? For some groups within Islam, leaving the faith is considered a capital crime punishable by death. The president will have a Herculean task to overcome a perception many Muslims will hold no matter how smoothly he talks and no matter what he says.