A couple of thoughts on Obama’s speech in Cairo…
Before the Muslim audience, President Obama touted that the U.S. government has fought in court for women’s right to wear the hijab. Yes, but secular Turks fight like mad on this issue in their own country, and with good reason, in their view; they see the distance between tolerance of the hijab and social pressure to wear the hijab as measured in microns. While my time there, I concluded that I’d hate to see religion-based apparel restrictions my own country, but over there, the rule is like Constantinople got the works in the old song “Istanbul” — nobody’s business but the Turks. Obama’s defense of the right to wear a hijab while addressing Muslims on foreign soil would seem to put him – and us, by extension – in conflict with Turkish law, which strikes me as an unnecessarily meddlesome stance.
Later, Obama said, “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” which I believe was aimed at France’s headscarf ban. Again, this seems like picking an unnecessary fight.
I find it revealing that “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.” weren’t applause lines to the Egyptian audience watching President Obama. Like one of my readers, I agree it’s a great line, but I suspect it’s falling on deaf ears, which is why this speech feels good but is ultimately unproductive.
In fact, the lines that garnered applause were depressingly predictable. Anything in the vein of “America has been wrong in the past” or “Israel is wrong” got applause; anything in the vein of “Muslims have been wrong in the past” or “Muslims are making the wrong decision” was met with silence, as far as I can tell.
It seems there was a very positive reaction to “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements” and “it is time for these settlements to stop,” but nothing for the seemingly commonsense “Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel’s right to exist.”
The only line dealing with nuclear weapons that got any applause was Obama’s stated goal of a world without them, indicating a openness to eventual U.S. disarmament.
In discussing women’s rights, Obama said, “The struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life.” I believe the Secretary of State may have some thoughts on how women are treated in the American political process.
Obama pledged to “create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.” Indeed, it’s a shame that we don’t have that capacity now. Perhaps this new online network allowing instant communication could be a “series of tubes.” I understand Ted Stevens is now free to consult on the project.
UPDATE: Jeb Babbin points out something rather important: Obama’s statement that “No nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons,” pretty much opens the door to an Iranian nuclear bomb. In the process of trying to rally the world to stop the Iranian nuclear program, Obama’s just conceded the idea that we — and the Israelis — don’t have the moral authority to stop it.