On Obama's Cairo Speech

After a watching the video on C-Span, I'll give Obama mixed marks for a serviceable, if discursive and uninspired, speech in Cairo. While hitting the right notes on a number of important issues—religious freedom, women's rights, the futility of trying to establish an independent Palestinian state while engaging in terrorist violence, the historical ignorance required to deny the Holocaust (a point met with a stony, uncomfortable silence)—it was, as could be expected, heavy on platitudes and light on specifics. This is, after all, a tour of reconciliation and, as such, it would be impolite to point out that, while throughout history "Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality" and has provided its adherents "elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation," another, more sinister strain of fundamentalist Islam threatens in Lebanon, Gaza, and Pakistan.

Also, while the bits stressing the importance of religious freedom are deserving of praise, it's mildly irritating that, in 6000 words, the president's speech writers found no space to defend the freedom criticize Islam (Recall that Egyptian government officials visited Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, hoping he would punish the paper who published the "Mohammad cartoons"). Sure, it is important to protect the practice of religion, but it's also vital to protect us unbelievers who desire to insult religion, no matter how gratuitous.

Some reactions to the speech from around the blogosphere. At the Huffington Post, Peter Daou, former advisor to Hillary Clinton, says that Obama betrays "a naiveté, perhaps feigned, about how the Arab world works."

Is there an overarching purpose to Obama's speech? Is it to repair our image after eight years of a radical rightwing administration? Of course. But if the goal is to repair our image, then how about shunning the barbaric concept of indefinite detention? How about heeding the increasingly distressed calls of those who view the new administration's actions in the realm of civil liberties as a dangerous, disturbing, and precedent-setting affirmation of Bush's worst excesses?

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.


Alex Massie, at The Spectator:

Still, as the President said, a speech is just a speech. But that doesn't mean it is only a speech. Obama's ambition was to speak to muslims all around the world, not just to dictators and princes and emirs. The existence of the speech was probably more important than anything Obama actually said - most of which will be just as perishable as most speeches. But the image of th american president in Cairo may endure rather longer. Who knows how much it can achieve? But, as Blair might say too, the only thing worse than failing is not trying in the first place.

At Foreign Policy, Mark Lynch is all praise:

President Obama's speech today in Cairo met the bar he set for himself.  In an address modeled after the Philadelphia speech on race, he forewent soaring oratory in favor of a thoughtful, nuanced and challenging reflection on America's relations with the Muslims around the world (not "the Muslim world", which for some reason became a major issue in American punditry over the last few days).  As he frankly recognized, no one speech can overcome the many problems he addressed.  But this speech is an essential starting point in a genuine conversation, a respectful dialogue on core issues. After the initial rush of instant commentaries and attempts to inflame controversy pass, it should become the foundation for a serious, ongoing conversation which could, as the President put it, "remake this world."

The Weekly Standard's Steve Hayes is skeptical:

Perhaps the most curious passage was this one: "Given our interdependence, any world order which elevates any nation or group of people above any other will inevitably fail." This is nonsense, of course, as Obama seems to recognize several sentences later when he says that America will "relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security."

Does Obama mean to suggest that the United States should not be "elevated" over, say, North Korea? Or state sponsors of terror like Syria and Iran? Indeed, the opposite of Obama's formulation is closer to the truth: Any world order that does not elevate some nations or groups of people over others will inevitably fail. And should.

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  • Brett Stevens||

    Are religious tolerance and racial equality workable ideas?

    They sound like platitudes to me, just like the idea of "freedom": vague terms used to manipulate others.

  • ||

    the historical ignorance required to deny the Holocaust



    I've never understood why the Islam world is so into holocaust denial. For a set of cultures that explicitly state their desire to kill all the Jews, why should they expend so much energy denying that someone else tried to do the same? It's like the KKK denying that South Africa ever had aparthied. Weird.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Brett,

    Sounds a lot like the promises of democracy in general. Because in a democracy you can vote for whoever you want, right?

    Just don't ask what it really means beyond that.....except to know that small "s" socialists are always way into democracy. Whatever flavor you can get imposed is fine.

    Because, there are always more poorer people than richer people, so you know in advance where the story is going to end.

  • MNG||

    "I've never understood why the Islam world is so into holocaust denial."

    I think its quite simple. The Islamic world, or at least the part near Israel, hates Israel as it sees it as an extension of colonialism and as occupiers of land of their co-religionists. There is also quite a general anti-Semitic strain running through Islam from what I've read. The Holocaust, rightly so imo, engenders a great deal of sympathy towards the Jews in general and at times Israel in particular, and that sympathy often translates into financial, military or diplomatic support. So they naturally want to negate that sympathy.

  • MNG||

    "Are religious tolerance and racial equality workable ideas?"

    It strikes me that religious intolerance and racial inequality are unworkable ideas.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Peter Daou (and I read is whole piece over there) sounds like a crybaby airhead. He's equivocating between illiberal polices in the United States and illiberal policies in the Arab world, and doing that, friends and neighbors, makes you sound really stupid.

    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?



    In America, other than making sure that the police are actively ensuring that none of the more odious trappings of Arab culture make it here, that's about all we can do there, Peter. Unless you're suggesting we (*sigh*)invade the Arab world and fix it.

  • MNG||

    I have to agree, the Daou blurb is goofy. But most of what comes from the Huffington post is not very impressive. I will say this about Arianna, I bet she was one hot, wild chick in her day...

  • ||

    As acting president of the Arabic Calligraphy Appreciation Society, I want to thank President Obama for finally bringing the storied traditions of fine Arabic script to the public with the respect they deserve.

    Geoffrey Goldblum
    Arabic Calligraphy Appreciation Society

  • MNG||

    Obama did however fail to address the most pressing matter of the day: The Rule Against Perpetuities.

    Ahmed conveys Blackacre to Hamas, but if they stop trying to blow up Israeli schoolbuses then to Yassir and his heirs. Has Ahmed violated the RAP?

  • MNG||

    "Sure, it is important to protect the practice of religion, but it's also vital to protect us unbelievers who desire to insult religion, no matter how gratuitous."

    I wonder if Moynihan would say this on Glenn Beck?

  • ||

    It's boilerplate diplomatic gobbledygook. It meant nothing more than whatever boilerplate diplomatic gobbledygook Bush the Lesser said his last trip to the Middle East.

    He could have just sang Kumbaya.

  • wingnutx||

    the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab?

    I'm more concerned with the right to not wear the jibbajabba.

  • ||

    Seriously, did anyone expect him to point out that Egypt hasn't had an honest election since Sadat was killed?

  • The Angry Optimist||

    that question made LOL, MNG, and I only type that acronym when I mean it.

    Anyway, no, the conveyance does not violate the RAP, because assuming that Hamas, as an organization, is immortal, then it cannot die.

    Hamas, in that it tries up to blow Israeli schoolbuses now, is already vested in the interest.

    OTOH, if you said "O to Hamas, provided Hamas stops trying to blow up schoolbuses", that would be a RAP violation.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    I wonder if Moynihan would say this on Glenn Beck?



    Why not? Beck would probably agree.

  • Paul||

    Is it just me, or is the President's approach of going to the Saudi royal family not the way to reconcile with the muslim world? Specifically, Osama bin Laden wants the Saudi royal family overthrown, because in this clash of modernity and traditionalism with the Wahhabiists, it is the Saudi royal institutions which represent just that secular modernism that Osama and his ilk so vehemently want to destroy.

    Simply put: Obama wants to open a dialog with the sects of the muslim world that want the West destroyed. Fair enough. So why go to the very group that these muslim sects see as the puppets of the west?

  • ||

    I've never understood why the Islam world is so into holocaust denial.

    They deny it because doing so undermines sympathy for Israel around the world.

    -jcr

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Even so, whatever your view of "historical facts" (whether you think they objectively exist or they do not), the Holocaust is a fact by both measures of the word: it has ample documentation and I would say 90% of the world believes it happened.

    I mean, case fucking closed.

  • ||

    My take on Arab dislike of the Jews and Israelis:

    The closer you get to Israel, the less Arabs hate "Jews", and the more they hate the Israeli government.

    When you get further away, you have the same irrational hate of Jews that you might get liberal hate of SUV drivers, or somesuch.

    As a result of the near only one opinion, and constant opinion they get (it would be like if CNN was the only news, and it had no competition, and never had a republican on, kind of like it used to be here actually).

    All the news they get constantly has reports of Israeli human rights violations against Arabs.

    99.9% of Arabs have never met a jewish person. To the average Arab, the Jews are like the KKK, but that the KKK is supported by the most powerful country in the world. So they can do their lynchings, their property violations ect, and they never get called on it.

    They know that their own governments are a bunch of thieves and crooks. But they see reported what appears to be racially motivated true violations of human rights, and they get more upset.

    Also, you are allowed to hate on Israel in any Arab country. Hating on your own government is more of a risky proposition.

    That should be a clue to them about where the true threat to their freedom comes from.

    But humans are humans.

  • MNG||

    Yeah, I should have said "to Hamas so long as it is used for launching missles at civilians, and if the land shall cease to be used for such purposes to Yassir and his heirs."

    "Why not? Beck would probably agree."

    I mean I think he would not want to self-identify as an unbeliever on Beck's program. And I would bet that while I'm sure Beck thinks that unbelievers who insult religion should not be physically harmed that he probably holds a very low opinion of such folks, especially if they are publicly insulting Christianity...

  • MNG||

    kwais
    I think that's a very insightful analysis...

  • ||

    I haven't run into a lot of true holocaust denial in the Arab world, what I have run into is that the holocaust has been exaggerated, by a Jewish cabal to get Americans to have sympathy and support them more unconditionally.

    I have seen a bunch of denial of things that are seemingly undeniable, but IMHO conspiracies theories are the inevitable result of when government suppresses information and lies to the public.

    This goes for us too.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    MNG - I think in that case, the violation of the RAP occurs with Yassir, meaning that it's "O to Hamas, so long as...and if it's not used as such...then" reversion to O. That doesn't violate the RAP.

    I don't think. Goddamn this rule.

  • underzog||

    Pres. Hussein's speech was disgusting and anti-Semitic. Claiming these camel fornicating savages have contributed so much to civilization besides terrorism, assasination, hiding behind civilians, warcrimes; etc., would be laughable if the stakes were not so high.

    Unless Netanyahu uses the nuclear weapons against Iran, Lebanon, and probably Syria, Israel will be reduced to a smoking ruin and a second holocuast will have occurred.

    I hope Bibi wakes up in time and, besides, the screams of the anti-Semites about such a hoped for action on my part can be set to a music video.

    That would be neat, too.

    "There's no need to fear. Underzog is here!"

  • ||

    UnderZog,

    If Israel does do as you urge it to do, it will inevitably be then end of Israel, and there is nothing the US will be able to do.

    Israel MIGHT be able to get away with a first strike against Iran. But it will catch no small amount of shit for it.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    kwais, don't argue with underzog. He's the Lonewacko for Jews.

  • ||

    these camel fornicating savages

    BTW, it is not nice to talk about your cousins* like that

    *(you are originally from the same neck of the woods, and according to both y'alls bible you are in fact both related to Abraham)

  • underzog||

    Mr Kwais,

    Do you mean you and MNG will get mad and scream at Israel for doing such a thing?

    Will you guys get Baked Penguin to do another Underzoggy cartoon?

    How horrible! Geeeeeee.... Okay.... I guess I should withdraw my suggestion now.

  • ||

    TAO,
    Why can't Lonewhacko be that entertaining?

    I mean as far as making outrageous statements, UnderZog goes right out there and makes them.

    LoneWhacko is cryptic, and just leaves a bunch of links to his website. Probably a dozen times, I have seen something 24 ahead said, and he had a link that looked like it backed up what he said, or explained it at least. But no, the link lead to his poorly written, poorly thought out blog.

  • The Angry Optimist||


    Will you guys get Baked Penguin to do another Underzoggy cartoon?



    Holy fuck I hope he does do another one. MNG, you have a cameo!

  • underzog||

    Michael Moynihan is better than a lot of reasonoid authors here. He realizes that the Muslim practice of stoning homosexuals and pushing walls down on them to kill them; etc., is a bit much.

  • ||

    Do you mean you and MNG will get mad and scream at Israel for doing such a thing?

    I don't have a dog in the fight. I am not Israeli, or Arab. And I don't believe in the fairy tales that y'alls are using to justify your war against eachother.

    I don't know what MNG will do, I rarely agree with him on these formats, he is more of a socialist, and I am more of an anarchist.

    (Actually he is not a socialist, and I am not an anarchist, but that describes us relative to each other)

    No, in the unlikely event that Israel did what you urge it to do, I would just watch the news incredulously.

    I would watch as the whole world turn against Israel. There would be no doubt violence and diplomatic repercussions against Israel. But there wouldn't need to be for Israel to collapse. Unlike the US, Israel is not a self sustainable nation.

  • underzog||

    Mr. Kwais,

    And what does our bible -- the Tannakh -- say about our cousins?

    "And thou shalt call him Ishmael and he will be a wildman. His hand against everyman and everyman's hand against him."

    Genesis 16:12

    Truer words were never spoken.

    "There's no need to fear. Underzog is here!"

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Simply put: Obama wants to open a dialog with the sects of the muslim world that want the West destroyed. Fair enough. So why go to the very group that these muslim sects see as the puppets of the west?

    Because even Obama Boy has enough brains to not, in fact, be trying to open a dialog with the sects of the Muslim world that want the West destroyed (read: bin Laden et al). For that would be about as productive as Europe found it be, opening a dialog with Hitler just before the start of WWII. We know how well that went.

    What Obama appears to have been trying to do was open a dialog with the rest of the Arab world, who conceivably might pose a counter weight to bin Laden et al. It's the only part that we've got any chance of ever making friends with.

    Though I think "friends" is going to be stretching it for, say, the next several thousand years or so.


    This battle is ideological and it's way, way more complicated than most pundits out there seem able to grasp. A big part of bin Laden's shtick is a power grab to rule the Muslim universe. And if you look at what's gone on in Iraq and Afghanistan, their game plan bears eerie resemblances to communist movements.

    What's sad is that they have just the right environment where that kind of game plan tends to work nicely.

    I predict that at best, Iraq will remain an unstable mess for as long as the UN has any teeth at all. But sooner or later the Taliban are going to be ruling Afghanistan again, whether the majority there likes it or not.

  • House Pox||

    If Israel does do as you urge it to do, it will inevitably be then end of Israel,

    Win-win?

  • underzog||

    Mr Kwais,

    Your comments are most interesting.... The world would turn against Israel, eh? And, of course, the world loves the Jews now /sarcasm

  • underzog||

    Win-win?

    I'm glad that there are no anti-Semites among the Libertarians (cough cough) who want to kill almost as many Jews as were killed in the holocaust -- oh yeah....

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    And now we return to the far more interesting story of who has fornicated with precisely which camels, and where and when and how.

    It has been said that 9 out of 10 men who've tried camels prefer women. But I really don't know which continent that survey came from.

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    A speech is just a speech, but possibly not only a speech? He met the bar he set for himself?

    How do these bards ascend the brightest heaven of invention like this? The speech must be a Castle Bravo-class bore.

  • ||

    "House Pox | June 4, 2009, 9:00pm | #
    If Israel does do as you urge it to do, it will inevitably be then end of Israel,

    Win-win?


    It will be an interesting news year that is for sure.

    But a lot of innocent Israelis and Arabs will suffer, a lot of them. It will be an ugly chapter in human history, just like the holocaust.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    kwais,

    You shed some interesting light on things, but I wonder about one thing.

    Do you really think the world would turn against Israel for pulling a first strike on Iran? I kind of wonder about that.

    Yes western Europe would bitch, right along with their sisters in the American Left. But an Iranian nuke is a pain in Europe's ass, and America's, albeit to a lesser extent than it is for Israel. What's our excuse for putting missile defense silos in eastern Europe, after all?

    Sure the Arab world would bitch too, but if I understand my history books right the Arabs don't exactly love the Persians either.

    I could see everybody bitching Israel out a good one, and then basically letting it go.

    Unless Iran has a serious friend that I don't know about? Their only "friends" I know of can be counted on one hand: China and Russia. But I don't think either of them is going to be pissed enough to invade Israel, do you?

  • ||

    The world would turn against Israel, eh? And, of course, the world loves the Jews now /sarcasm

    We give Israel billions of dollars each year, we (and most of Europe) pressure other Arab countries to play nice. Egypt sells gas to Israel at discounted prices, and helps it police its borders. So does Jordan.

    Without that help it would not be such an uneven fight between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

  • ||

    Do you really think the world would turn against Israel for pulling a first strike on Iran?

    No, not against Iran alone. There would be bitching as you say.

    But underzog above urged a first attack nuclear strike against various nations. That would not fly.

  • underzog||

    Egypt sells gas to Israel at discounted prices, and helps it police its borders. So does Jordan.

    Ebeneezer has a point. Egypt is scared shitless about Iran and so is Saudi Arabia (I didn't say to bomb those countries). They may hypocritically bitch at Israel, but they'll be winking on the outside -- just as the world did when it hypocritically and cowardly condemned Israel for taking out that Iraq nuclear reactor.

    "There's no need to fear. Underzog is here.!

  • MNG||

    "Holy fuck I hope he does do another one. MNG, you have a cameo!"

    It was great, I was thrilled at the cameo, and I certainly hope there is a sequel.

    I used to wonder whether Underzog was really some Likudian fanatic or was borderline genuis performance art trollery. I thought the latter for a while, but now its confirmed. BHe blew it tonight overplaying his hand with this:

    "these camel fornicating savages have contributed so much to civilization besides terrorism, assasination, hiding behind civilians, warcrimes; etc., would be laughable if the stakes were not so high.

    Unless Netanyahu uses the nuclear weapons against Iran, Lebanon, and probably Syria, Israel will be reduced to a smoking ruin and a second holocuast will have occurred."

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    Here's a passage that got a robust ovation:

    So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the united states to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

    It seems to me the president's responsibility is to honor the right of free expression wherever it appears, not to get involved in fights over derogatory comments. This was part of a two-hander in which he also criticized anti-American stereotypes. (Which got polite applause.) Couldn't he have spared a word for the very important right to be insulted by others?

  • MNG||

    "I think in that case, the violation of the RAP occurs with Yassir, meaning that it's "O to Hamas, so long as...and if it's not used as such...then" reversion to O.'

    I think you're right on the money, it violates the rule with Yassir, he would be struck out and the reversion to O would be the way it would work out.

    Now if it was to Hamas, so long as...and if its not used as such then to the Islamic Brotherhood it would stand because iirc there is a charity-to-charity exception. (Holds hurting head)

  • MNG||

    "It seems to me the president's responsibility is to honor the right of free expression wherever it appears, not to get involved in fights over derogatory comments."

    I really don't mind if he does both, but I think the sad fact is that he didn't want to go there because the idea of not threatening "blasphemers" is so far out to much of the Islamic world. And that is incredibly sad.

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    He got a pretty enthusiastic hand for his comments on equality of women, too.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Of course, MNG, the whole thing is moot because the conveyance would undoubtedly violate "public policy" :P

  • ||

    Oh man, I had forgotten about that BakedPenguin cartoon of underzog. Awesome.

    How can we get L-Dub and the U-Zog into a discussion? It would be fantastic. I've got to figure a way to relate Israel to IllegalImmigration somehow...

  • alan||

    It seems to me the president's responsibility is to honor the right of free expression wherever it appears, not to get involved in fights over derogatory comments. This was part of a two-hander in which he also criticized anti-American stereotypes. (Which got polite applause.) Couldn't he have spared a word for the very important right to be insulted by others?

    When you have been working the civil rights grievance advocacy angle for twenty odd years like Obama has, you may not be equipped with means of squaring the predicament you wish to address any other way.

  • Achmed the Lonely Arab||

  • Paul||

    That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't.

    A more flowery version of Bush's "Islam is a religion of peace"?

    He got a pretty enthusiastic hand for his comments on equality of women, too.

    He's just trying to build bridges to the 16th century over there.

  • JB||

    Hopey-Changey is nothing but a dope.

    Can we send him and his traveling circus to every Muslim town and they can see him grind away?

    Anything to keep him out of US domestic politics.

  • A T||

    MNG, they (arabs) are anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. It makes a lot of difference.

  • underzog||

    MNG, they (arabs) are anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. It makes a lot of difference.

    Of course, the consistent smearing of Jews as descendants of apes and pigs by the Arab Muslims is nothing short of endearing nicknames. And the Islamic protestor in Florida who said that Jews need a bigger oven was really giving advice to the Jews about a bakery shop -- yeah right....


    "There's no need to fear. Underzog is here!"

  • ||

    Hey kwai
    No apostrophe in yall regardless of the word being an abbreviation for for 'you all'. I know because I'm a Southerner.

  • ||

    Underzog, I'd be worried too if I didn't know that Obama is Israel's tool. Axelrod and Emmanuel won't let anything bad happen.

  • ||

    I put an apostrophe in y'all and I'm a Southerner.

  • Warty||

    No apostrophe in yall regardless of the word being an abbreviation for for 'you all'.

    That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.

  • highnumber||

    That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.

    You missed underzog's comments.

  • ||

    That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't.

    That kinda bothered me (assuming he meant it as anything other than empty flattery). He seems to be saying that we shouldn't expect those parts of Islam that are intellectually backward, intolerant, and even savagely violent to change, but should just go right ahead and partner with them anyway.

  • ||

    Underzog
    And what does our bible -- the Tannakh -- say about our cousins?

    "And thou shalt call him Ishmael and he will be a wildman. His hand against everyman and everyman's hand against him."

    Genesis 16:12

    Truer words were never spoken.


    Hey,
    are you talking about a family scuffle where no one really gets hurt here?
    Or are you advocating genocide?

  • underzog||

    Kwais:

    Hey,
    are you talking about a family scuffle where no one really gets hurt here?
    Or are you advocating genocide?


    You're the perfect example of why we should not follow the Libertarian model and legalize narcotic drugs.

    We can't have a bunch of loons who spout irrationalities and act irrational. Forget Israel -- it's America that will be quickly destroyed with you Bozos in power.

  • underzog||

    kwais
    I think that's a very insightful analysis...


    Kwais,

    I think what you say is utter garbage and probably indicative of the drugged out, Libertarian mind.

    Oh, and the Arab Muslims are worse than the Nazi Germans. The Nazi Germans didn't jump up and down when they murdered Jews.

    That the Arabs can't kill the Jews as the Nazis did is a testament to their poor military skills and their stupidity -- not to their evil feelings.

  • Arshne||

    Hey Underzog, I can personally vouch for Kwais's very drug free body.

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