August 22, 2009
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak arrived in Washington this week to press flesh with the president. In an interview, Mubarak told PBS television that Barack Obama’s speech had shown him that “America is not against Islam.”
The address Mubarak was referring to was delivered by a grandiose Obama in Egypt’s capital, early in June. There, the president prostrated himself before the Muslim world, offering up prolix praise for the religion of peace”a tradition that his predecessor established.
Frankly, I got the impression that Mubarak himself was a little wary of Islam”this is the Egyptian’s first sojourn to Washington since 2004, after breaking up with Bush. “W” would not stop bugging Mubarak to democratize Egypt. Fortunately, Mubarak was not about to help catapult the Wahhabist Muslim Brotherhood to power, which would be the likely outcome of a democratic election in Egypt.
But I digress.
In that memorable speech, the president also lauded the compendious knowledge spread far and wide by the Al-Azhar and Cairo Universities. Nary a reference was made to “Islam’s bloody borders,” as Samuel P. Huntington put it in The Clash of Civilizations? Or, for that matter, to Al-Azhar’s bloody borders. According to Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, officiating as Grand Sheikh for this much-exalted institute of Islamic learning is a chap by the name of Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi. In the tradition of Islamic Enlightenment, Tantawi has given his approval”on strict Islamic grounds, mind you”to suicide bombing.
After mentioning the value and universality of human rights, our self-styled “student of history,” as the president had dubbed himself on the occasion (he also made a point of repeating his middle name a lot), went on to declare, “America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles.”
The choice to draw parallels between a country and a faith was a curious one. Was Obama intimating that Islam, like America, was a political system? In that case, we are agreed about the project of Islam.
Still”and for all Obama’s heavy hinting to the contrary”Islam has no “human rights.” The ideas of individual rights and the dignity of man are distinctly Western, an outgrowth of the Enlightenment. And while dialogue is dignified; dhimmitude is not, even if it achieves a desired, if temporary, effect.
While in Egypt, our president did not expatiate over Iraq, which he continues to occupy. To compensate, he peppered his oration with the standard canards about colonialism and the Arab world.
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The received wisdom that the Arabs were (and remain) hapless and helpless victims of the West is false, of course. In Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923, Efraim and Inari Karsh marshal prodigious scholarship to dispel the shopworn shibboleths Obama regurgitated in Cairo. The two show that “Twentieth-century Middle Eastern history is essentially the culmination of long-standing indigenous trends, passions, and patterns of behavior rather than an externally imposed dictate.”
Although he didn”t take the liberty of apologizing on behalf of ever-errant white America for the slave trade during another pilgrimage”this time to Ghana”Obama did tell Anderson Cooper (the “journalist” noted for introducing the country to the practice of tea bagging) that “slavery is a terrible part of the United States” history and should be taught in a way that connects that past cruelty to current events, such as the genocide in Darfur.”
For the Atlantic slave trade, contemporary Americans and Britons grovel at every opportunity. But as historian Jeremy Black points out in his sprawling survey, The Slave Trade, Europeans were also responsible for bringing about the demise of this despicable practice in Africa.
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I wonder: Does Africa’s own Little Lord Fauntleroy seek to rub-in the theme of the white man’s burden, a theme WASPs welcome like wimps? Or is Obama open to educating America about the robust slave trade conducted by Arabs across the Sahara Desert? Or across the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea to markets in the Middle East. What about the vibrant, indigenous slave trade carried on well into the nineteenth century in the interior of West Africa?
The president might begin changing his own preconceived ideas of events past and present in Africa by reading the words of Brother Keith B. Richburg. Richburg, who is seldom seen on the idiot’s lantern, and whose words are not widely disseminated across the racial tyranny that is America, wrote the following in Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa(1997):
I feel for [Africa’s] suffering, I empathize with her pain, and now, from afar, I still recoil in horror whenever I see yet another television picture of another tribal slaughter, another refugee crisis. But most of all I think: Thank God my ancestors got out, because, now, I am not one of them. In short, thank God that I am an American.
Given the veritable mirage of lies he conjured in Cairo, blaming the decadence of Arab countries on nefarious Western imperialist intervention in the 19th and 20th centuries”B. Hussein’s historical horizons vis-Ã -vis the Middle East could also do with some broadening.
A good start would be to stop relying on “Lawrence of Arabia’s” homoerotic, ahistoric memoir for the facts.