Thursday, June 4, 2009

Barrack Of Arabia

I don't like to get into politics here, and God knows I have enough issues in my life already. But my mind is reeling from today's speech by President Obama in Cairo; the transcript is now on-line, and I can't believe what I'm reading. Yes, I know President Obama is a Harvard Law graduate, is obviously intelligent, projects a soothing public persona------hey, I not only voted for the guy, I donated money to his campaign------but it's clear that, while he may be intelligent, President Obama is not wise. In fact, he's starting to remind me of those "professional" graduate students-----you know, the ones who are 28 and working on their third masters degree-----who deal solely in abstractions and concepts and are totally lacking in pragmatism and common sense.

My fellow Americans, we are in terrible, terrible trouble with this guy in charge.

Let's start with the venue for his speech. Why a Middle Eastern Arab nation? While many people think Muslim = Arab, only slightly more than 25% of the world's Muslims are Arabs. The most populous Muslim nation in the world is Indonesia. There are more Muslims in central and southern Africa than in the Middle East. By speaking in Cairo, Obama reinforced the stereotype that all Muslims are Arabs.

Moreover, Islam is not a monolithic religion and its tenets are not observed as strenuously in all Muslim nations. For example, the Qu'ran forbids alcohol to Muslims, yet Indonesia has a thriving beer industry. Malaysia is another Muslim nation, yet their annual per-capita alcohol consumption is over 20 liters per person. In Saudi Arabia, possession of a single bottle of beer will get you a public flogging (if you're lucky). The Arab world is dominated by Saudi Arabia's wahhabist strain of Islam, a fundamentalist, primitive interpretation of Islam on par with Christianity's snake handlers and speakers in tongues. In other words, the wahhabists are full blown batshit crazy. Whether he realized it or not-----and he should have realized it-----speaking in Cairo gave an implicit endorsement to the fundamentalist versions of Islam practiced in the Arab world.

A city like Lagos or Jakarta would have been a much better venue than Cairo. Such a choice would have demonstrated that Islam is not the exclusive property of the Arab world. Frankly, the fundamentalist Muslims in the Middle East could learn much from nations such as Indonesia and Malaysia on how to cope with the modern world. That is a message that President Obama should have delivered today.

I am troubled by Obama's silence on the excesses of fundamentalist Islam as practiced in the Middle East. He has not hesitated to criticize Israel, yet in Saudi Arabia a couple of days ago he had nothing to say about certain aspects of Saudi life, such as the subjugation of women, stoning to death of gay people, banning all other religions but Islam (mere possession of a Bible is a crime in Saudi Arabia), amputations of hands and feet of criminals, restrictions on what clothes a man or woman may wear, etc. etc. In his speech today, the president vowed, "
I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear." Uh, that's good, Mr. President, but what if those negative stereotypes are, ya know, based on cold, hard, and indisputable facts?

An honest speech in Cairo today would have taken Muslim fundamentalists to task for their disregard of basic human rights. An honest speech would have told those fundamentalists they will never be accepted into the community of the 21st century until they leave the Middle Ages behind.

That sort of candor and honesty would have truly been change we could believe in. But instead today we got a spew of cultural relativism, the sort of aversion to making moral judgments that betrays an utter absence of principles and standards. It is Oprahism gone amok: I'm OK, you're OK, and those fundamentalist Muslims who stone gay people to death are OK too. After all, who are we to judge??

Barrack Obama seems to think kind words and a willingness to compromise are all a leader needs. Those are important tools for any leader. But a leader, especially a president, also needs the ability to make people shit in their pants with an angry look. A leader needs to understand it is more important to be respected, or even feared, than it is to be loved.

Barrack Obama doesn't get any of the above. Like other overly idealistic presidents-----Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter come to mind-----he will fail because of a misplaced belief in the innate goodness of all people and an entirely unjustified faith in his own lofty assumptions about how the world works.

And the United States will pay the bill-----and it's going to be a hell of a bill----for Obama's learning curve.