Our empathy President is now our theologian-in-chief. He has gone to Cairo like President Kennedy went to Berlin, to make a political point about human solidarity. Kennedy, of course, was expressing solidarity with West Germany shortly after the Soviet backed communist regime in East Germany erected the Berlin Wall. Years later President Reagan went to Berlin to tell the Soviets, “Tear down this wall!” Obama has gone to Cairo with something more like a civis Romanus sum in mind rather than a challenge to a repressive regime. The new Roman order, however, is not led by any one country. It is founded in tolerance and understanding, beginning with tolerance for Muslims and understanding for their way of life. Obama went to Cairo to console, not challenge. Under Obama, the son of a Muslim, we are all Muslims now.
The first step in this remarkable analysis is to blame tensions between the United States and Muslims on colonialism and the Cold War. “Tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.” That’s right, the colonial powers, which imported Western notions of equality and freedom into Muslim countries, denied Muslims their basic rights to pursue their own agendas. And the Cold War, which was an attempt to restrain the greatest ideological threat to the values of equality and freedom, also trampled on Muslim rights.
The second step in Obama’s analysis is to blame Americans for having a bad attitude toward the Muslim world. Why do we have a bad attitude toward Muslims? Well, let the President speak for himself: “The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.” The lesson to be drawn from September 11 is that we Americans overreacted to the Muslim threat by thinking that Muslims do not support basic human rights, the very human rights that colonialists imported into Muslim countries and Cold Warriors tried to defend against the Communist threat.
The third step of Obama’s argument is to insist that we can define our relationship to the Muslim world by ignoring our differences. “So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace.” Obama says that Muslims and Americans have overlapping values, which is certainly true. When two groups share overlapping values, they also have different values that do not overlap. Obama, however, thinks that these differences can be ignored, because we all “share common principles—principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” To support this contention, Obama notes that Islam “carried the light of learning” in the Middle Ages, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment,” though he does not mention that Islam then turned its back on any possibility of Renaissance and Enlightenment. His only example of the potential for Muslim contribution to global Enlightenment is a quote from the Qur’an that we should “speak always the truth,” but what truth is that?
The fourth step of Obama’s argument is to “say openly the things we hold in our hearts.” Here he talks about his Muslim father, his early years in Indonesia, and the Muslim communities he worked with in Chicago. And he defines his office as the enforcer of empathy: “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”
The fifth and final step is to define America as a pluralistic country that can do justice to Islamic ambitions. Obama applauds the fact that the first Muslim-American elected to Congress took an oath on the Qur’an. He does defend American history, but only because what America means is diversity, tolerance, and openness to everyone. There is nothing uniquely Western or Christian about America, because we are “shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth,” including, evidently, Mecca. Obama brags about the seven million American Muslims who enjoy “incomes and education that are higher than average.” If you didn’t get that remark, he means that Muslims in American are doing better than the average Christian in America. Obama goes on to lift up the 12,000 mosques in America, and brags that “the U.S. 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.” Not only will we protect Muslim religious practices, but we will punish those who want to restrict Muslims from entering into the public square. Muslims can keep all their cultural customs and religious beliefs in America, and we will fight to make sure that happens.
There is more in this speech. Obama draws a moral equivalence between the Holocaust and Israeli discrimination against Palestinians. He announces the end of the era of American global dominance is over: “Any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.” He promises to change American law to accommodate Muslim religious practices: “For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation.”
The most frightening two lines in this speech, however, need to be read together. Obama says that America is already becoming Islamicized: “So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America.” And he says we should work even harder to make American more pluralistic. “We have the power to make the world we seek.” Obama has a vision for America, and that vision is to make America more like the rest of the world, and the first step in achieving that vision is to make America more welcoming to Muslims. Obama ends his speech with religious rhetoric about bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth. This was Obama’s Mecca moment. We are all Muslims now.