Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cairo Quibbling

So, here are the notes and quibbles I had with specific points in President Obama's Cairo speech. My general thoughts are here.
This cycle of suspicion and discord must end... I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning.
Sigh, don't we all wish it were that easy? And when will the administration figure out how obnoxiously American this wipe-the-slate-clean mindset is? Sorry, folks, the rest of the world's got history. There is no "reset button".

Obama extols the "common principles" between America and Islam such as "justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings". Exactly how common are those principles?

He's got a good pronunciation on "holy Koran". If you're going to try it, get it right. I also appreciate that the White House press release uses the English spelling and doesn't mess around with all that "Qur'an" nonsense. Who knows how to pronounce a Q? or an apostrophe?
The interests we share as human beings are more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.
Again, it's a great thought. But is it true? I want it to be, certainly. But I'm not quite as confident.

Referencing his Muslim father and ancenstry is tricky, tricky ground. He is calling himself out as an apostate under the more extreme sharia jurisprudence, worse than an infidel. Even more moderate Arab Muslims will be very much discomfited by the idea of a son who does not follow his father's religion. This is an issue of Arab culture, whether Christian or Muslim. When Iraqi soldiers would ask me why I was not a Muslim, the simple answer "because my father is not a Muslim" was always a fully satisfactory explanation. Saying "I am not a Muslim, but my father was" will not score you any points with Muslims.
Throughout history Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of Religious tolerance and racial equality.
When and where, exactly? Yes, Jews were tolerated (and specially taxed) in al-Andalus, as Christians have been in Egypt, with only the occasional pogroms. But where is religious tolerance in Saudia Arabia, the beating heart of Islam, where I cannot hold a worship service, carry a Bible, or even pray silently in public? Where is it in Afghanistan, where conversion still carries the death sentence? And racial equality? Are you flippin' serious? The African slave trade exists still today, in Mauretania, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, and Saudia Arabia. The word 'abd -- slave -- remains the common term for Africans in much of the Arab world.
Partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't.
Unfortunately, this entire speech is based on what he wishes Islam to be, rather than what it is. That's not an indictment of the speech, setting high standards can shame someone who isn't meeting them. But it does make this line sound pretty dumb.
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. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words -- within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum -- "Out of many, one."
It's a bolder defense of American principles than I had expected. Well done.
America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.
That's a much bolder defense of Israel than I'd expected. Excellent.
Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed... It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is claimed; that's how it is surrendered.
Pull out the shame card. Good, good.
The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state, to recognize Israel's legitimacy, and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.
He could have driven point a bit deeper, but I'm glad he brought it up at all. Unfortunately, the administration is still committed to a foreign policy based on the laughable assumption that a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is the cornerstone of region-wide peace.
I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.
I'm glad the freedom agenda hasn't disappeared. I think this is actually a more realistic outline for internal reform than the Bush administration put forward with their overwhelming focus on voting as the cornerstone of democracy. Elections matter less than do rule of law, equal justice, and guaranteed freedoms. Elections without those things mean "one man, one vote, one time", as we've seen with HAMAS in Gaza.
Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.
Free to get their heads cut off, you mean.

I don't really begrudge him the whitewashing. It comes with the territory, and President Bush was at least as bad. It still galls me, though.

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