Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Of many strange moments in President Obama’s Cairo speech, perhaps the strangest is the conclusion:

The Holy Quran tells us, Mankind, we have created you male and a female. And we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.

The Talmud tells us, The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.
The Holy Bible tells us, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

What does the idea of gender and tribe distinction have to do with peace? The answer is nothing, except that Obama’s speechwriters felt compelled to drag out some Koranic quotation that sounded vaguely like the biblical and rabbinic concept of peace. The fact that this was the best they could do speaks volumes.

The first human vision of universal speech came from Isaiah, and all classic Jewish sources repeat this theme, as do Christian sources. The Koran, however, contains numerous warnings not to make peace with non-Muslims, but not a single statement comparable to those in Jewish and Christian sources. This may be verified by searching for the word, “peace,” in any of the several online versions of the Koran, including this one from the University of Michigan. There are 49 instances of the word in the Koran, most warning against false peace, e.g. 
And when it is said to them, Do not make mischief in the land, they say: We are but peace-makers.

O you who believe! when you go to war in Allah’s way, make investigation, and do not say to any one who offers you peace: You are not a believer. Do you seek goods of this world’s life! But with Allah there are abundant gains.

Not a single Koranic mention of the word “peace” corresponds to the biblical vision of divinely-ordered peace. 

This confused and contradictory conclusion befits the dumbest utterance on foreign policy ever to escape the lips of a senior American official. Howlers abound. A personal favorite is this:
In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President, John Adams, wrote, “The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.”

Adams’ attempt to appease the Barbary Pirates preceded the Barbary Coast War of 1801-1805 which ended in the reduction of Tripoli by the American fleet in 1805, an event commemorated in the Marines’ Hymn. Arabs remember, even if Obama doesn’t.

Or this one:
American Muslims have enriched the United States.  They have fought in our wars, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they’ve excelled in our sports arenas, they’ve won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. 

Nobel Prizes? Apart from the Peace Prize, which even Yassir Arafat got, Muslims have won only three Nobel prizes since the they were first awarded, or one for every 450 million Muslims alive today. By contrast, 169 Jews have been Nobel Laureates (excluding the Peace Prize), or about one for every 89,000 Jews alive today. That is, a Jew was 5,000 times more likely to win the Nobel than a Muslim. 

Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk is the last Muslim to win the Nobel. He is an atheist, and lives in virtual exile in New York.  Only one Muslim writer today is mentioned as a frontrunner for the literature prize today: the Syrian poet Adonis (the pen-name of Ali Ahmad Sa’id), whom I profiled (Are the Arabs already extinct? Asia Times Online, May 8, 2007). 

But the silliest statement of the lot is this:
The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars.  More recently, 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.  Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

To which “traditions of Islam” is modernity and globalization hostile? Obama was giving this speech in a country where nine out of ten women undergo clitorectomies. The Egyptian parliament last year passed legislation making genital mutilation legal. Genital mutilation is not mandated by classic Islamic sources, but it is condoned or prescribed by a wide range of Islamic authorities. Is that what the President was thinking when he said, “And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health?”

Obama mentioned in passing, “ Today I’m announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio.” Polio has reappeared in Nigeria and other West African nations because Muslim religious authorities oppose vaccination as a Western plot against Islam.

To blame Muslim backwardness on colonialism and the Cold War is idiotic — I wish there were a more elegant way to put the matter. Placating Muslims by apologizing for non-existent past mistreatment fools nobody. 

The only significant policy content of Obama’s speech was to demand one-sided concessions on the part of  Israel, America’s closest ally in the region: 
Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s.  The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.  This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace.  It is time for these settlements to stop.

Obama is lying about “previous agreements.” Bush administration National Security Council official Elliot Abrams reported in an April 8 Washington Post op-ed that Israel’s agreement to the 2003 “road map” included an understanding about ”natural growth” inside existing Israeli settlements. The Israeli government has asked the US to respect pre-existing understandings, and Obama has gone back on them.

Embracing backward societies with no clear path forward while breaking faith with allies is a prescription for declining American influence in the world. If Obama had set out with malice aforethought to lower America’s standing in the world, he could not have done more damage. 

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles