Monday, June 08, 2009
Barack Obama reaches out to Muslims
Here's the transcript of President Obama's speech in Cairo. Read it, don't listen, because you'll need to look at some of it more than once.
I don’t believe any American president has ever before given a speech targeted at all adherents of a particular religion. And I’m sure the U.S. has never before had a foreign policy position towards a particular religion. In the strange new world of Obama-style identity politics, we now have both. What to make of it?
Resetting the American policy approach to the Middle East and elsewhere is long overdue. It makes sense to offer an olive branch to reasonable Muslims, and anyone else for that matter. "We" here at UC greatly appreciate President Obama’s endorsement of the Golden Rule, and his call for mutual understanding and peace. If this were the sole substance of Obama’s speech, "we" might well be applauding. But instead, we're torn between being mystified and aghast.
There’s plenty that might be said about the Obama speech, and for a nice and fair analysis see the op-ed by political scientist Gerald Steinburg in the Jerusalem Post.
But for all that was good in the speech, there was plenty of utter nonsense in Obama’s offering. Consider, for example, his statement "Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism - it is an important part of promoting peace."
That's ridiculous. Muslim clerics issue fatwas calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie, Danish cartoonists, and anyone else whose free speech bothers them. Huge crowds of Muslims demonstrate, and frequently riot violently, on behalf of these bloodthirsty causes. The Muslim organization Hamas calls for extermination of Jews, and works for it. Hezbollah and Al Qaeda - both explicitly Muslim organizations - wage wars against civilians using terror, as does the Muslim Taliban. A Pakistani Muslim once described to me the practice of honor killings, in which fathers would cooperate to murder their own children for the mildest of "moral" offenses (e.g. a boy and girl from different families meeting without permission, but without even physically touching, just meeting to talk) and assured me that while illegal, it was widely regarded as acceptable. During a discussion of religion, another Pakistani friend mentioned that were he home in Pakistan and expressed the rather liberal interpretation of some verses from the Koran he'd just espoused, that his friends would physically beat him. Muslims aren't inherently violent, but there are violent, illiberal tendencies in many strains of Islam. It's common. This is something Muslims need to confront.
OK, this is an obvious criticism, covered well by Steinburg (above). And I suppose Obama's supporters would respond that he's simply taking rhetorical high ground. And after all, we do want Muslims to combat extremism and promote peace, so maybe we're just differing on how best to persuade?
But what to make of these strange points from his speech?
"[I]n the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That's why I'm committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat."
What??? America restricts charitable giving by Muslims? Really! Since when? In fact, there’s nothing at all like this happening...unless, of course, Obama is referring to the closing of organizations that were channeling funds to Al Qaeda, Hamas, and similar terrorist groups. Or perhaps the ongoing connection of CAIR with Hamas? (The linked story is headlined to make CAIR look like a victim, oddly enough.) It’s bizarre to think that Obama could be talking about this, but what else could it be?
Or try this:
"[America will] create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo."
Yes, wonderful! But this doesn’t already exist? Well, sure, it actually does, in many internet variants. I myself have gone online, although perhaps not from Kansas, to "communicate instantly" with people in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. So what is he talking about?
Or try this:
"So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed."
Now that's just creepy. Only a Muslim believes that Islam was "revealed." Certainly a Christian wouldn't say this. In talking with friends, I've been making a good deal of fun of the claim of that Obama is a Muslim, but here he seems to be saying that Islam was indeed revealed by God. Umm, is the Conservapedia entry on Obama right after all? Say it isn't so, B.O.! (No one in the press will ever dare seriously ask him.)
But say, why did he just receive Saudi Arabia's highest decoration? What's he done to earn it? At least when George W. Bush received it, he'd furthered Saudi interests in deposing Sadaam Hussein and opposing Iran. But why Obama? Why would the king of a feudal royal family that sees itself as the guardian of Islam (and that spawned and finances Al Qaeda as well as the Wahabi version of fundamentalist Islam that guides Al Qaeda) be presenting our new President with the kingdom's highest award? If during the Cold War an American President was awarded, after his first few months in office, "Hero of the Soviet Union," wouldn't it have been seen as at least a little bit suspicious? In this case, "creepy" is the word. Why does our President keep kowtowing to the Saudi king?
How about this:
"And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear."
Yes, yes, that's Article II, Section, umm... no, Article, er, umm... What is this about? Well, he did tell the French that America is a Muslim country, after all.
He goes on:
"That's why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it."
Yes, that’s the First Amendment, the inalienable right to wear the hijab, and the Federal Code, which makes it a felony to deny this right. Many Federal prosecutors have built their careers punishing hijab "rights deniers"...right? Again, what is he talking about? This is all nonsense.
Peter Daou (Huffington Post) is less measured than I on this one: "With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab? I would have been much more heartened if the preponderance of the speech had been about how in the 21st century, we CANNOT tolerate the pervasive abuse of our mothers and sisters and daughters."
"Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong, and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation."
They still do serve as chattel slaves in Muslim communities. The only slave I ever met was a black man owned by a Mauritanian Muslim (this was in West Africa). But more importantly, the plight of the Palestinians has nothing in common with that of American slaves. The Palestinians have had repeated opportunities to negotiate a peace settlement with the Israelis, and have refused. In his time, Arafat rejected his opportunity for a settlement with Israel. Now Hamas openly calls for the killing of Jews everywhere in the world, and the obliteration of Israel.
But back to the President:
"Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist."
Hamas has no past agreements to recognize, unless he means the Hamas Charter, which openly calls for literally exterminating Jews. Tolerance for genocide is malicious and deeply offensive as well. And Hamas did handily win an election against Fatah, and then used violence to drive Fatah from Gaza. So far, using violence doesn’t seem to have hurt Hamas' efforts in unifying Palestinians. It's probable that if a fair election were held in the West Bank tomorrow, Hamas would win over Fatah...which is why Abbas just postponed elections again.
"On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they've endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that come with occupation."
Gaza is not occupied, and neither is most of the West Bank. And if it’s 60 years of occupation he means, then he’s referring to the existence of Israel as "occupation." Is he taking a position on "right of return?" Or the eventual elimination of Israel? (I suspect the vagueness is intentional; Obama can be all things to all people, if he is careful.)
"I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons. And that's why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons."
The very next day, Russian Army Chief of Staff General Nikolai Makarov, speaking on behalf of the Kremlin, announced that the Russian nuclear arsenal is "sacred" and that Russia will never give it up, but will strengthen it. And Iran subsequently announced it would accelerate its nuclear programs, North Korea continued preparing an ICBM for launch, and the IAEA released two reports: one that Iran has been accelerating its nuclear activities, including those that seem to be weapons related, and another that the Syrians seem to be up to some secret atomic research as well.
So score one for Obama here; these countries are all concurring with him that no one country gets to pick and choose who has nukes and who doesn't.
(BTW, I regret my intermittent access to internet keeps me from linking to each of these stories, but a bit of Googling on the reader’s part should find them. Feel free to provide links in the comments.)
Well, there's more:
"Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit - for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We can't disguise hostility toward any religion behind the pretence of liberalism."
No Western country has dictated what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. France has maintained a strict policy of laicity, of keeping state institutions secular, and hence has prohibited the wearing in public schools of symbolic Muslim garments such as headscarves and burkas, just as they ban open display of crosses. This is a wise policy, and the French have it because of their experiences with bloodstained alliances of church and state. Turkey has this as well. Obama's slap at our secularist friends in both countries is despicable.
"I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal,"
No one has suggested otherwise. What many critics of headcovers point out is that often Muslim women don’t choose. Despite what they might say once outside the home, the decision is physically forced on them there, by men.
"I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality."
NPR interviewed several Muslims around the world after the speech, and several pointed out that this didn't make much sense, because in many, probably most Muslim countries there are ample opportunities for education for women. But was Obama even referring to Muslim countries here? It’s France (OK, and Turkey) where a woman with a headcover might have difficulty entering a public classroom. So who knows what Obama meant? It sounded politically correct, so that should be sufficient.
Of course, we can't simply leave it at politically correct cooings, we need a bold plan for action:
"On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world."
"On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create more jobs. We'll open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new science envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, grow new crops. Today I'm announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health."
Ah, good! Another new volunteer corps, an entrepreneurship summit on how to build, umm, foundations(?) and cartels(?!), a new fund, new centers, new political appointments of science envoys (?), green jobs, more digitized records, health care for all... say, isn’t this also the Obama plan for America? (Digitized records? How many of these countries have records to digitize? And even if they do, why would we want to do it?)
I don’t know what to say, this is all very bizarre. Is he just spouting campaign rhetoric? Given his record so far, it would be unreasonable to simply assume he doesn't mean what he says. He’s definitely a man who executes bold, sweeping plans. Good grief, has he cleared all this with our Chinese financiers? (I won't even bother to ask about the Constitution.)
Early in his speech, Obama approvingly quotes John Adams in the Treaty of Tripoli, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." But Obama entirely misses the point: the United States were neutral with respect to Islam, they had no position on it. Obama sets himself up as a partisan of Islam and Muslim countries, if not a Muslim himself, and promises American support in building the Islamic world.
Whether he's serious or not, this is going far, far beyond the bounds of legitimate Presidential authority. He is out of control. It's bizarre, and dangerous as well.
I understand that in addressing the Islamic world it's highly desirable to speak respectfully and calmly, and to offer the olive branch to those willing to accept it. But it is at least as important to speak the truth, and to represent individual rights and America's interests. Those are ominously, frighteningly lacking in Obama's speech.
What the hell is going on?
Of course, MY conspiracy theory is that Obama assumed it stood for Institute for Humane Studies.