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BY The Editors
speech to Muslims at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University was very good and very needed.
It was a version of Bush’s speeches to the same audience. But did it truly
address the reality of the Muslim world?
Obama said some genuinely helpful
things. He promoted democratic ideals in the Middle East, but without an “our
way or the highway” tone that turns off Muslims. He reassured Muslims that
those in the West don’t simply discount them (they are sensitive and are sick
of being belittled). He encouraged their better elements.
It’s good that a U.S. president did
so in Cairo in a widely watched speech. But as The
Washington Times pointed out, Obama wasn’t the first president to do
“Let there be no doubt: Islam is a
part of America,” said Obama.
“America counts millions of Muslims
among our citizens. Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our
country,” said Bush at Washington’s Islamic Center Sept. 17, 2001.
“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,” said Obama.
“Women who cover their heads in this
country must feel comfortable going outside their homes,” said Bush.
“Let there be no doubt,” said Obama.
“The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.”
“It is untenable,” said Bush in
2002, “for Palestinians to live in squalor and occupation.”
Said President Obama this year:
“There are some who advocate for democracy only when they’re out of power; once
in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others.”
Said President Bush last year:
”Some say any state that holds an election is a democracy. But true
democracy requires vigorous political parties allowed to engage in free and
People say Obama might have gone too
far in embracing Islam.
The same people said the same thing
about Bush when he said, “Islam is peace.”
President Obama, who is following a
troop-withdrawal plan in Iraq, said: “So let me be clear: No system of
government can or should be imposed by one nation on any other.”
President Bush, who first enacted
the plan Obama is following, said: “America will not impose our own style of
government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own
voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.”
Obama’s speech was more articulate,
included a warmer, more personal introduction and was certainly more popular
with media voices. But it didn’t break new ground. In fact, it shared Bush’s
recent reluctance to directly engage on religious rights.
In his first term, Bush would add
freedom of religion into his Obama-esque appraisal of the Middle East.
“We believe it is a tragedy of
history that in the Middle East — which gave the world great gifts of law and
science and faith — so many have been held back by lawless tyranny and
fanaticism,” he said. “We believe that when all Middle Eastern peoples are finally
allowed to live and think and work and worship as free men and women, they will
reclaim the greatness of their own heritage.”
But then, when Saddam Hussein was
gone, Christians faced a crisis in Iraq. Post-war Iraq became a land of
Christian martyrs. Mosul Archbishop Rahho and Father Ragheed Ganni both
famously paid the ultimate price to stay with their flock.
It was good for Obama to do what
Bush did, and demand that the West not caricature Islam by simply calling it
evil. But the truth is, we did bring democracy to Iraq — a democracy from which
Christians had to flee or risk their lives.
On the subject of human rights,
Obama was positively unhelpful. Not only did he all but ignore persecution of
Christians, but he also painted a false, rosy picture.
“Islam has a proud tradition of
tolerance,” he said. “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.”
The message is clear: The West is
the place of the Inquisition. Muslim countries are places of tolerance. Of
course, the reality is the opposite. Even secular historians are admitting that
the sad history of Church-sponsored inquisitions has been exaggerated into a
caricature. And whatever Indonesia was like in his childhood, it is today known
to Christians as the place where three Christian schoolgirls were recently
beheaded on their way to school.
To his credit, Obama did mention the
plight of the Copts to an audience that must not have liked to hear it. But
Obama’s words on human rights were brief and focused on Western failings. You
wouldn’t know from this speech that the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom’s
list of countries of particular concern is dominated by Muslim nations. To
ignore this cold reality is a serious error in a 6,000-plus word speech that
aims to be comprehensive of U.S.-Middle Eastern relations.
It’s noble to speak to the better
angels in someone’s nature — but not to ignore severe injustice in the service
of wishful thinking.
In his recent trip to the Holy Land,
Pope Benedict XVI also praised Islam and stressed what we have in common. “Here
the paths of the world’s three great monotheistic religions meet,” he said at
Jerusalem’s Dome on the Rock. “Each believes in one God, creator and ruler of
all. Each recognizes Abraham as a forefather.”
He called Muslims to a greater
respect for other religions.
“ecause it is our common human
dignity which gives rise to universal human rights, they hold equally for every
man and woman, irrespective of his or her religious, social or ethnic group,”
he said May 9 at a mosque in Jordan. “The right of religious freedom extends
beyond the question of worship and includes the right — especially of
minorities — to fair access to the employment market and other spheres of civic
Benedict sees the potential for
religious harmony in Muslim nations. By refusing to pretend it’s already here,
he may help realize it.