by Norman Berdichevsky (July 2009)
President Obama’s Cairo speech was equally misleading about what he said and didn’t say regarding both Israel and what he so fondly calls “The Muslim World”, the most misleading term in the entire lexicon of political geography. Looking at the conflicts in the world today and since the end of World War II, a significant portion of the deaths, destruction and unrest caused have been the result of inter-Muslim disputes, most notably the eight year long war between Iraq and Iran resulting in more than a million killed, the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, the Pakistan-Bangladesh conflict (following civil war and secession), Lebanese, Yemeni and Somali Civil Wars, inter-sectarian Muslim violence between Shias and Sunnis in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, border disputes between Syria and Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, Jordan’s crackdown on “Black September” , Syria’s suppression of the Muslim Brothers and opponents of the Assad regime, inter Palestinian factionalism, the decade long mass violence by Muslim religious extremists in Algeria or between Muslims and Christians and between Shia and Sunni Muslims in Lebanon, Iraqi and Turkish suppression of Kurdish autonomy, Muslim terror against civilians in Chechniya, and massive violence between Muslims and Hindus in India – partition and three India-Pakistan wars, terrorism in Kashmir and India, Muslim secessionist activity and terrorism in the Philippines, Muslim grievances in Thailand and China and Somali piracy agaimst the merchant ships of all nations. Where Muslims have been at risk of displacement and under attack in Bosnia, Kosovo and Kuwait, their rescue was made possible only by the efforts of the United States.
Within a week of Obama’s fawning speech and homage to the “Muslim World”, both Pakistan and Iran lurched forward to the brink of Civil War, the same brink on which Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran are tottering. The so called “Muslim World” has never been more fractious and almost all of these conflicts were/are not related to the creation of the State of Israel nor can they be solved or assuaged by American deference to Islam.
Writing in the independent Egyptian newspaper “Al-Masri Al-Yawm” (Egypt Today), respected human rights advocate and critic of the Mubarrak regime, Professor of Sociology, Sa’ad Eddin Ibrahim wrote in review of the “Muslim World” today…”These are all Muslims fighting Muslims. after some of them raised the slogan “Islam is the solution”, their Islam has become the problem. As soon as any number of them acquire weapons, they raise them against the government, even when the government also rules in the name of ‘Islam’. A quick glance at what the media shows us demonstrates how the word ‘Islam’ and its derivatives becomes plaything in their hands.” (May 17, 2008).
Practically, the entire Israeli political spectrum has for the past decade recognized the acceptablity of a two-state solution with minor border modifications to replace the cease-fire lines yet Obama persists in repeating the canard that the failure to achieve this is Israel’s fault….”At the same time, 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.”
For Obama, the only flies in the idyllic ointment of Islam are the “extremists”, named in his speech as Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Hamas, yet nothing in their stern adherence to the fundamentals of Islam and desire to institute sharia law based on the Koran evokes open contradiction by any clerical circles in the broader “Muslim world”. Hamas did indeed win an “election” in Gaza and has broad popular appeal there. To diminish this appeal, Obama and others demand in knee-jerk reflex action that Israel become more vulnerable and put its head on the chopping block.
Even more grotesque are the major portions of the speech equating what the self conflicted “Muslim World” and the United States are supposed to share – their concern with human rights and religious tolerance….
” I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed, confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice, government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people, the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas. They are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.”
Yet his unyielding belief that these values exist or are respected in the Muslim world must be based on his ignorance that every one of the majority Muslim countries in the world has NOT signed the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights but subscribes to their own “Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights” (UIDHR), signed at Cairo in which predominantly Muslim countries take expressed issue with the U.N. Declaration for its perceived failure to take into account the cultural and religious context of Non-Western countries. The document was adopted on August 5, 1990 by 45 foreign ministers of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to serve as a guideline for the member states in matters of human rights.
In 1981, the Iranian delegate to the U.N. Said Rajaie-Khorassani articulated the Muslim position by criticizing the U.N. document as “a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition”, which could not be implemented by Muslims without trespassing Islamic law. What this means in essence is that the fundamental rights of individuals, women and children for protection from abuse and the right to their freedom of conscience as understood in both Israel and the United States as well as all the other non-Muslim countries who signed the document, are all denied.
Article 10 of the UIDHR states: “Islam is the religion of unspoiled nature. It is prohibited to exercise any form of compulsion on man or to exploit his poverty or ignorance in order to convert him to another religion or to atheism.”
Article 10 thus explicitly states that it is forbidden to convert someone from Islam to another religion or to atheism. Exploitation of “ignorance” is one of the forbidden ways. Since in an Islamic state, “ignorance” can be attributed to anyone who is non-Muslim, Article 10 can be used to outlaw apostasy from Islam whatever the circumstances. This result accords with all the main schools of Islamic law, which prescribe the death penalty for sane, adult males (the judgment regarding women apostates is however more debatable) who leave the Islamic faith.
In a joint written statement submitted by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, a non-governmental organization in special consultative status, the Association for World Education and the Association of World Citizens have declared that the “The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam is clearly an attempt to limit the rights enshrined in the U.N. Declaration of Universal Human Rights and International Covenants.”
All of these distortions, omissions, euphemisms and obfuscations were present in President Obama’s “even-handed” Cairo speech equating the Holocaust with the displacement of part of the Palestinian Arab population, the direct outcome of Arab aggression designed to deny the Jews any legal territorial possession in part of what had been the Palestinian mandate established on the basis of the Balfour Declaration incorporated into The Treaty of Sevres with Ottoman Turkey and the League of Nations San Remo Conference, adopted on April 25, 1920. It and Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations were the documents upon which the Mandate for Palestine was constructed and predicated on the basis of a Jewish National Home. This world recognition of Jewish historic rights and not the Holocaust provided the legal foundation for a modern Jewish state.
Neither Obama nor any other American president has simply told the truth to the Muslim World that it was the USSR and its satellite state Czechoslovakia that provided the Israelis their only air-force and heavy weapons to wage the War of Independence that defeated the invading British and French trained and equipped Arab armies in 1948 and that apart from Muslim states and a few countries with large Muslim minorities, practically, the entire world community including the communist block represented at the U.N. in 1948 voted for a Jewish state and allowed tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants to reach Israel and join in the battle. Why this is an “inconvenient truth” to American presidents and the State Department remains a mystery to me today – would it offend Muslim sensibilities to know that their irrational hatred of America is misplaced or that sympathies for the Jewish cause in 1948 included the entire Communist block?
Repeated offers to create a “Palestinian state” (it cannot be “restored” like the Jewish state because no such state existed in he past) have been frustrated much more by the outright refusal of the Grand Mufti, Arafat, Abbas, Hamas & Company than any Israeli government to accept a just compromise.
True to his belief (superstition would be a better term) that …..”Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition” where he repeats the fundamental error of confusing the 780 year old occupation of parts of Spain under Islam with what was an interval of tolerance in Andalucia under Muslim rule lasting for less than 300 years that ended in chaos, political fragmentation into rival feuding Muslim mini-states, and fanaticism. The initial Arab invasion of 711 was followed by two subsequent Berber incursions and conquests by the Almoravids (1086) and Almohades (1147).
By 1020, many of the Jews under Muslim rule in Andalucia had fled to find refuge in the more tolerant Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon in Northern Spain. They prospered there under regimes of tolerance (Alfonso VI The Brave, Alfonso X – The Wise and Jaime I) for 350 years. The eleventh century saw major Muslim pogroms against Jews in Spain in Cordoba in 1011 and in Granada in 1066. In the 1066 Granada massacre, a Muslim mob crucified the Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacred about 4,000 Jews.
Medina Azahara (Madinat al-Zahra) was a palatial retreat outside of Cordoba meaning “City of Zahra”, a favorite concubine of the Caliph who built this site. It was the most magnificent and sumptuous palace in Moorish Spain and was utterly destroyed in the early 11th century. By whom? The Crusaders? The Jews ? The Pope and his Inquisition? El Cid? Charlton Heston? No, the correct answer is fanatical, Muslim Berber mercenaries from North Africa who resented the hated Arab Ummayyad Caliphs and their racist anti-Black attitudes at that time.
Obama’s attempts to expand on Muslim tolerance and achievement are faulty to say the least but his linking the “Muslim World” to American history is simply absurd when he quoted John Adams ….”The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. 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.”
This 1796 quote was written when Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe had no direct knowledge whatsoever with Islam or any familiarity with Muslim societies. All of them later, during the period 1801-1815, subscribed to the absolute necessity to confront the Barbary Pirates to end the scourge of piracy and the unprovoked attacks on American and European merchant vessels, the capture and the enslavement of their crews for ransom by the various vicious Muslim “Deys” – the rulers of the North African states.
All four of these American presidents, despite their initial reluctance to raise taxes, empower a modern navy and send thousands of American sailors and marines across the Atlantic to fight a protracted war, became aware of the utter hopelessness of dealing with Muslim rulers who proclaimed their inherent right to act in this aggressive manner because the Koran commanded them to do so against infidels who under the Koran enjoyed no rights whatsoever.
Apparently someone among Obama’s close advisors got to him in time to advise him not to repeat the inane statement he gave in an interview with French television just prior to his Cairo speech….“Now, the flip side is I think that the United States and the West generally, we have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam. And one of the points I want to make is, that if you actually took the number of Muslims, Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. And so there’s got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples.”
Based solely on the estimated total number of Muslims, “One of the largest” works out to a ranking of 38th largest for the United States. Obama’s “point” would be typical of an American seventh grader giving a term paper before his Muslim teacher and anxious to impress her but not careful enough to distinguish between countries with a Muslim majority and a Muslim minority. It is factual but an anathema for Obama to openly admit and state that America is THE LARGEST CHRISTIAN MAJORITY nation in the WORLD. By the same inane logic of his French TV statement, it would be just as accurate for Obama to call America …”The “LARGEST JEWISH NATION in the World” or “The EIGHTH LARGEST HINDU NATION in the World!
Similarly incongruent is Obama’s assignment of progress in many technical and artistic fields such as when he spoke of “the innovation in Muslim communities that produced our mastery of pens and printing”. Anyone interested in learning where the first works printed with movable type in the Ottoman Empire appeared will learn that they were produced in the Hebrew language by Jewish scholars in Constantinople (David Nahmias, 1503) and in the Palestinian town of Safed (Eliezer Ashkenazi, 1577) more than 200 years before the first printed book in Arabic (Aleppo, Syria. 1707), but who cares about facts?
This is not pedantic sophistry. It is not meant to deny the importance of achievements made within Muslim societies, or of welcoming Muslim immigrants who desire to be peaceful and loyal citizens of the United States, and some form of American outreach to the world’s Muslims, but one that must be honest and clearly demonstrate that they have had no better friend among the great powers than the United States which had no colonial past in the Middle East, which unlike the Soviet Union, did not covet their territory or deny them religious rights, which has provided massive relief and food aid in every critical emergency to beleaguered areas, and has been a prime victim of terrorism perpetrated by a common enemy that many Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere have seen committed against themselves in the name of Jihad.
Obama’s knowledge of Israel lacks all depth. His pleas to the Palestinians to avoid violence because it doesn’t work and then using what he sees as “parallel” examples to imitate the non-violent techniques of Afro-Americans in the South or Black Africans under Apartheid is shameful, ludicrous and obscene. The Israel he now regards as a liability remains our only dependable real ally in the turbulent region and the only country in the area where elementary civil rights are protected.
But it is on a human level that Obama’s ignorance is most evident and revealing, like the incidents which demonstrated that, brilliant speaker though he is, he is not the sophisticated intellectual with the broadest knowledge of the international scene as portrayed by the adoring media. Once away from his teleprompter, Obama reveals a startling unfamiliarity with the real world. Anyone who has travelled abroad for any length of time would know how inappropriate his gift of American DVDs (unplayable in Britain) to visiting Prime Minister Gordon Brown was, or his calling “Austrian” a language.
Israel is easily the most (mis)reported country in the world. The focus of the news is almost always entirely on conflict, history and religion rather than everyday life or the many outstanding achievements made by Israel’s scientists, scholars, engineers, artists, writers, translators, linguists, musicians, singers, dancers, soldiers, pilots, athletes, and farmers. Israel is one of the world’s most diverse and dynamic societies and deserves to be better understood than through the five minute television “sound bites” and polemical documentaries so beloved by the media. In spite of hardship and the constant tension of the security concerns Israel must contend with, it has become one of the most vibrant and optimistic countries in the world where Jewish life blossoms as it has nowhere else.
Many Americans, Obama included, and Europeans still have an inaccurate picture of Israel as a purely “European” and “white” state, a view contradicted by the fact that more than half the Jewish population derives from people who have always been indigenous to the Middle East (referred to in Israel as Edot HaMizrah – The Eastern Communities”). In any random Israeli telephone book you will probably find more families with the names Mizrahi, Dayan, Gabbai, Abulafia, Kimhi, Shar’abi, Caspi, Sassoon, de Leon, Toledano, Azulay, Aflalo and Hasson than Schwartz, Goldberg, Wolf, Guttmann, Rabinowitz, Berdichevsky, Kaplan or Finkelstein. These people, their music, food preferences, religious traditions, and pronunciation of Hebrew form a beautiful mosaic along with the presence of Arabs, both Christian and Muslims, Bedouin, Druze and Circassians. Look and listen – Open your eyes and ears in Israel and you will experience a language, an art, a music, food and clothing, architecure, design, sports and recreation that draw from both East and West.
Similarly, the frequent admonitions to Israel in the speech are all based on the assumptions that Israel’s successes and progress have been built on what the Palestinian and pan-Arab propaganda presents in sadomasochistic terms as their great Disaster (“Nabka”). The Middle East has been growing date palms for centuries. The average tree in the region is about 18-20 feet tall and yields about 38 pounds of dates a year. By contrast, Israeli date trees now yield 400 pounds/year and are short enough to be harvested from the ground or a short ladder. The difference is not explained by any exploitation or seizure of any Arab land or a change in the climate. It is the outcome of horticultural research, the application of capital and hard work combined with a Jewish love of the land unmatched anywhere.
The same level of outstanding accomplishment has made Israel a world leader to be envied in such diverse fields as agriculture, commercial fishing and military strategy (just three among many fields that countless European statesmen, military figures, clerics, anthropologists, sociologists and philosophers and inveterate anti-Semites in both Europe and much of the Muslim Middle East claimed throughout many centuries that the Jews were incapable of mastering) as well as in those areas that traditionally have been recognized as specialties in which Jews have excelled such as medicine, science, mathematics, physics, chemistry and music.
Critics of Israel who paint it as a European colonial effort are silent on the expulsion and forced resettlement, loss of property and violence inflicted on the indigenous Middle Eastern Jews in 1947-49 numbering more than 800,000 and treat the divide between Jews of European and Afro-Asian origin in caustic terms. These critics apparently have painted a picture that is easier for Obama to relate to in terms entirely borrowed from American sociology and politics that describe Israel as a WASP establishment (White-Ashkenazi from Central & Eastern Europe) and a colored or Black underclass of Afro-Asians.
Practically all of Israel’s Black African-Ethiopian population numbering more than 100,000 today are darker in complexion than Obama. For all his knowledge about the “Black experience”, it is remarkable that Obama has never found occasion to praise the remarkable evacuation of 15,000 Black African Jews in one day on May 23, 1991 – Operation Salomon rescuing them from certain mass violence and their joyous reception in Israel. Every segment of the Israeli political spectrum from the Far Left to the Far Right agreed that this was one of Israel’s finest moments. When or where else were destitute Black African refugees joyously welcomed and integrated by “whites” claiming to be their brothers and sisters? in Obama’s Chicago?;at the Reverend Wright’s church?
In spite of his many declarations to fight “negative stereotypes” (about Islam), he cannot escape the stereotypes imparted by the Reverend Wright, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Father Pfleger, mentors for whom “The Jews” (Israelis no exception) were and remain the chief among “white oppressors”, “racists” and guilty of dispossessing the Palestinians.
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