As usual, President Obama gave a great speech in Cairo. He is a superb speaker. He gets an A for rhetoric and an A for inspiration. In the historical accuracy department, he gets only a D, however.
Before I look at any of the points he made, I want so ask a nagging question. Why were Obama’s political opponents rebuked for mentioning his middle name, his Muslim heritage, or his childhood experiences in Indonesia before the election, but now he proudly uses his middle name, refers to his Muslim heritage, and speaks radiantly about his growing up in Indonesia? Didn’t the conservative pundits predict that he might make overtures exactly like the ones he made in Cairo? And weren’t they dismissed, heckled, and even insulted at the time? (This is a separate point from whether you agree with him or liked the speech. It is about his continued hypocrisy and inconsistency.)
On the Plus Side: Good Points in the President’s Speech
President Obama rightly extolled the rich history and the legacy of contributions made by Muslims to the rest of the world. It is true that many advancements in learning were made by Muslim scholars and passed on to the rest of the world.
He rightly kept a firm, disapproving attitude toward terrorism and oppression in the Muslim world.
He extolled the great contributions of the United States to the world and urged Muslims to realize that misperceptions occur on their side as well as on ours.
He supported the right of Israel to exist and reiterated the most important rationale for that existence–the anti-Semitism that propelled the need for a Jewish homeland.
On the Negative Side: Bad Points in President Obama’s Speech
He talked a lot about fear and mistrust and very little about whether that fear and mistrust are warranted. When anti-American sermons are being preached daily in mosques around the world, a bit of fear and mistrust seems reasonable. When buildings and buses are being blown up, being unafraid and trustful is a bit absurd. Rather than holding out an unconditional olive branch, I wish that the President had put conditions on our “new beginning.” Trust should be earned.
He was a bit too glowing in his praise of Islam. He did not mention that Muslim people bought and sold slaves in Africa, forced people to convert or at least submit to their rule. Ironically he mentioned Muslim centers in Spain but failed to mention that those communities were invaded and conquered by Muslims from North Africa. It is not fair to denounce colonialism and imperialism by Europe, which he did, but to praise colonialism and imperialism by Muslims.
Furthermore, he made only mild comments about the oppression of women. He made it sound like it is simply a matter of women being denied education or career opportunities. He glossed over female gential mutilation, slavery and virutal slavery, spousal abuse, or whippings and executions for alleged adultery.
He completely ignored the horrible treatment of homosexual people in most Muslim-majority countries. In a time when more and more American states are legalize same-sex marraige and civil unions of same-sex couples, you would think that he might have said something about the hangings and beheadings of people accused of homosexual acts in many of the Islamic republics.
His extolling of the Muslim influence on America was extremely exaggerated. I have no qualms about Muslim people living in America or practicing their religion (within reason) in America. In God’s eyes, and according to our Consitution, they are equal to any other people in the United States. However, we need not exaggerate and pretend that they have always been a large part of our country or somehow been instumental in our founding and our progress.
Apparently he considers the brand of Islam that sprung up among African Americans as legitimate Islam. However, it is my understanding that many of those groups are not recognized as orthodox Islam by the official Muslim bodies. I bring up this point, because the President seemed to imply that African American “Muslims” were the Muslims that he referred to as having such a huge impact on the United States. (I’m far from an expert on this subject, so I am open to correction.)
He was much too hard on Israel. He stated the right premise–that Israel has a right to exist. However, he did not grapple with the obvious conclusions that follow from that premise. Instead he castigated Israel for the things that it has had to do to continue to exist. I am fine with his advocating the formation of a Palestinian state. I just wish that it would be conditional on more good-faith gestures of peace on the part of Palestinian people and of the greater Arab world.