It appears that President Barack Obama decided not to incorporate any of the points on American-Muslim relations I included in my last column, a speech I suggested he give in Cairo to the Muslim world.
Nevertheless the president made some courageous points, and an honest appraisal of his speech needs to note them. For example, telling an audience in Cairo and presumably hundreds of millions of Muslims elsewhere that America’s “bond is unbreakable” with Israel was courageous and important.
So the speech was not bad.
But it was sad.
It was extremely sad that it was necessary for anyone, let alone an American president, to tell Muslims that the Holocaust occurred, that “6 million Jews were killed,” and that “denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful.” There is no other audience on earth to whom that would have to be said.
Incidentally, wouldn’t one think that an American president feeling the need to condemn Holocaust-denial before a world Muslim audience would be worthy of comment? Yet, such is the soft bigotry of low expectations that dominates world news media views of the Muslim world, that I did not see one mainstream media comment on this extraordinary fact.
I did, however, see Tom Brokaw ask this incredible question of President Obama after the latter’s visit to the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald: “What can the Israelis learn from your visit to Buchenwald and what should they be thinking about their treatment of Palestinians?”
To his credit, President Obama immediately responded: “Well, look, there’s no equivalency here.”
Talk about sad. What other word can be used to describe one of the most famous journalists in America using the Holocaust to ask about Israeli policy toward Palestinians?
Returning to the president’s speech, it was also sad that the president had to condemn Muslim Jew-hatred and threats to annihilate Israel — “Threatening Israel with destruction or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews is deeply wrong.” This, too, needed to be said to a Muslim audience. Nazi-like depictions of Jews, regularly equating Jews with animals and calling for their destruction, are found in much of the Muslim media, many Islamic schools and many mosques.
It was likewise sad that an American president felt he had to go to Cairo and tell Muslims that Islam has a history of tolerance: “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.”
It was as if the president had to persuade his audience that Islam has been or is, in essence, tolerant. Even President Obama’s examples were not convincing.
Muslim-governed Andalusia in southern Spain, of which Cordoba was the capital city, ceased being tolerant (relative to Christian Europe at the time) by about 1,000. In 1011, there was a Muslim pogrom against the Jews of Cordoba. And even earlier, between A.D. 850 and 859, 50 Christians were beheaded in Cordoba for blasphemy against Islam. As for the Indonesia in which the young Barack Obama saw Christians worshiping freely, that country was almost as secular under Suharto as Turkey was under Ataturk. So, the question remains: Are there examples in the last 1,000 years of a religious Islamic regime governing a society that was tolerant of non-Muslims or dissenting Muslims? The president provided none.
Right after the Indonesia citation, the president added: “That is the spirit we need today,” obviously implying that this spirit of religious tolerance is not present in the Muslim world today. That was quite a statement to make to hundreds of millions of Muslims.
Yet, despite many objectionable aspects of the president’s speech, it was very important for someone of President Obama’s stature to tell the Muslim world that there was a Holocaust, that anti-Semitism is evil, that Israel and America have an unbreakable bond, and that religious intolerance in the Muslim world is unacceptable. But for precisely those reasons his speech was so sad.