I’m a little late to the party here, but I did want to share some thoughts on President Obama’s June 4 address is Cairo, Egypt. The full text of his address can be found here.
First there was no mention of terrorists, terrorism, and nations supporting terrorism. Not surprising though since he hardly mentions those words at home. He does mention extremism though.
Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.
Are we limiting extremism to the people who blow them up? Or are we also discussing Wahhabi brand of Islam taught in many mosques in Saudia Arabia and promoted in madrassas throughout the Middle East? How are Islamic countries not hostile to human rights when it is illegal to proselytize, and you are punished for converting from Islam (even sentenced to death in some countries)? It is kind of hard for Americans not to feel that way when “mainstream” Muslims went out and danced in the streets after the Twin Towers fell.
Then of course President Obama becomes the theologian-in-chief likely ticking off Muslim and Christian scholars alike:
I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
Not saying they don’t share some common beliefs, but to say they aren’t exclusive is dismissive of what the Bible and the Qua’ran teach. That doesn’t mean we can’t live in peace. I mean Christians and Muslims peacefully coexist in the United States, and we have since our inception. Now can that be said of Muslim nations? Um. No.
At least our silver-tongued chief executive realizes the limitations of his rhetoric, “No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point.”
Then he lauds the United States being the first nation to recognize Morocco as a nation.
I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America’s story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States.
President Obama, do you mean this Treaty of Tripoli? This isn’t our first war on terror. This very war was fought after our country is founded. We obviously didn’t learn our lesson from that experience.
I can wholeheartedly agree with his assessment of the treatment of Muslims in the United States, and how they have been freely allowed to practice their religion. And this particular statement was good.
But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known.
The best, strongest part of his speech came when he discussed Al Qaeda:
We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.
The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America’s goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody.
And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.
Then he started the apology tour theme:
And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.
How’s that Gitmo closing thing working out for you, Mr. President? Not so well I believe. With torture, whether it was allowed or not is up for debate. I don’t believe that it was, others disagree. We’ll see how well the Obama administration keeps the homeland safe. I have my doubts and misgivings.
He was also good discussing the Holocaust:
Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today.
Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.
He was also good on calling the Palestinians to forsake violence citing America’s Civil Rights movement.
Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding.
He did say he did not want to impose democracy on any other country. Did we do that per se? I guess one could say we did in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I mean what we were going to replace them dictatorships? His statement on governments that protect basic human rights “are more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.” That was right on. Great statement to make.
His statement on Iran was just plain weak. He appeals to moral equivalence:
This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government.
Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.
Ok, so not the same thing. When are they going to let go of something that happened in 1953? They have been engaged in state-sponsored terrorism since 1979 and he likens it to essentially being the same thing. Weak!
His statement that Iran “should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.”
That treaty is a joke. He seems like he has no gumption to actually enforce the treaty. All Iran has to do is look at North Korea.
He then tackles religious freedom. He brings up his experience in Indonesia. Does he really want to use Indonesia as an example? Christians are persecuted in droves in Indonesia.
Then he brings up the tolerance mantra:
People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.
Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of another’s. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld – whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.
Isn’t the ability to reject one’s faith practicing one’s religious freedom? Can’t you “tolerate” another religion even though you believe the other’s is wrong? If you agree, then what is there to tolerate. Also, I agree that violence needs to end, but notice this violence tends to be Muslim initiated. Just saying. We can respect people. Uphold their dignity of human beings, and live in peace. That doesn’t mean we have to appreciate “religious diversity” or not “reject” another’s faith as false. Definitely postmodern thinking here with our first truly postmodern president.
He goes on:
Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.
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 cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.
Problem with the statement above. What rules in the United States discriminate against Muslims? Just Department of Justice guidelines that prohibit donating to charities that support terrorism. Do we really want to change that? No, not really.
Also, he needs to give the Muslim clothing speech in France. This isn’t an American issue. Many predict many European countries to have a majority of Muslims within 20 years. Don’t doubt the French are not worried about that.
I see a theme of moral equivalence again in his comments on women’s rights, and it is disappointing.
Now let me be clear: issues of women’s equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.
Mr. President, we don’t beat women who show their ankles in the United States. We also don’t stone women to death who commit adultery. We don’t see women as being property of their fathers and later on husbands. Now if you are so concerned about women’s rights in America, how about condemning the treatment of your own Secretary of State when she ran for office, and then Governor Sarah Palin. Oh yeah, that’s right, it wasn’t politically expedient to do it then.
He goes on to pledge more money for more initiatives in the Middle East. Don’t we send them enough money? During a recession is it really prudent to up our overseas aid like this? Also it isn’t as though OPEC nations are without resources.
In a nutshell. I believe that while he said a number of good things in this address, the apology tour continues and it weakens our position in the world.
Update: Thanks Lisa, for linking here and my excuse for being so pathetically late on this story is that I don’t have one. Bad blogger, BAD!