Friday, June 5, 2009

Obama's Cairo Address: Hiding From The Existential Problems Of The Muslim World

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.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. . . .

President Barack Obama, Cairo Address, 4 June 2009

What we needed from the leader of the free world was honesty with both the Muslim world and with us. What we were treated to instead were apologetics and dissimulation about the existential problems facing the Muslim world. One, Obama needed to honestly identify the source of violence arising out of Islam. He did not. Two, there is a war raging for the heart and soul of Islam. It is a war between those who would see their religion evolve and those who wish to see it stay static in the tribal dogma of 7th century Arabia and the 12th century philosophy of ibn Tamiyah. Obama needed to acknowledge this war of ideas and he needed to show support for the reformers. He did neither.

Obama claimed that "violent extremists" from a "small minority" of Muslims are at the heart of violence arising out of the Islamic world. That is a gross distortion of the truth and an incredibly dangerous one - if one cannot identify the source of violence, then one cannot act to stop it.

The engines of Muslim violence are the dogma of Wahhabi/Salafi Islam and its variants, including Khomeinist Shia'ism:

Wahhabi / Salafi Islam, [has been] exported from Saudi Arabia to all four corners of the world with billions in petrodollars to become the dominant form of Islam in the West, [and is vying to replace all other forms of Sunni Islam in the Muslim world]. According to Dr. Tawfiq Hamid, a former Salafi terrorist and member of Ayman al Zawahiri’s Jamaah Islamiyah, their faith in the medieval dogma of Wahhabi / Salafi / Deobandi Islam is what drives their violence:

The goal of Salafi Islam is "complete Islamic dominance." Salafi dogma holds that the duty of every Muslim is to wage "jihad against non-Muslims and subdue them to Shari'a - the duty of every true Muslim . . . [It is] to engage in war against the infidels, the enemies of Allah.

And as Zuhdi Jasser explains, terrorism is far more than a mere anomaly as . . . [some are] suggesting:

[Citizens] need to understand that this is not a conflict against a tactic but rather a common ideology which utilizes a radical interpretation of Islam and is a natural off-shoot from political Islam.

NRO Interview of M. Zhudi Jasser

And then there is this warning from Tawfiq Hamdid, explaining why it is so important to identify the source of this evil, not just for the protection of the West, but equally for the protecton of Muslims:

The civilized world ought to recognize the immense danger that Salafi Islam poses; it must become informed, courageous and united if it is to protect both a generation of young Muslims and the rest of humanity from the disastrous consequences of this militant ideology.

Tawfiq Hamid. See also my posts here, here and here. Obama's refusal to face this issue head on and speak the truth to the Muslim world has a three fold effect. One, it gives cover to Wahhabism to continue its growing march free from criticism of its vile tenets, among which include that is morally permissible, if not required, to slaughter non-Muslims and to appropriate their property. Two, it demonstrates a complete lack of support for those who fight against this scourge in the Muslim world. And three, it allows Muslims to deny responsiblity for their plight and their failure to reform their religion.

As to the war of ideas raging in Islam today, it is a war being waged by the extremely powerful and well funded Salafi/Wahhabi sects and the Khomeinist variant of Shia'ism against the other sects of Islam and against individuals committed to reform of their religion. Among their number are Zuhdi Jasser, Tawfiq Hamid, Ibn Warraq, Dr. Taj Hargey and the Center for Islamic Pluralism. They war for the heart and soul of Islam. It is a war whose outcome will be every bit as important for the future of the world as was the outcome of World War II. And to remain neutral in this war would be no different than if the U.S. had remained neutral in the European theatre of World War II, allowing Hitler to conquer all of Europe. Yet Obama, with his refusal to even acknowledge this issue in his Cairo address, has chosen precisely that path.

One of the most recent salvos in that war of ideas came from inside the United Nations. Wahhabists and Khomeinists have been agitating for years to impose blasphemey laws on the West. The result of such laws would be to make it inevitable that Salafi and Khomeinist Islam would triumph in the war of ideas. It would mean that these deeply dangerous ideologies would be able to spread through the West hidden from criticism by West's own criminal laws. In August, 2008, the "Human Rights Council at the United Nations . . . banned any criticism regarding Sharia Law and human rights in the Islamic World." And now, the OIC is pushing U.N. Resolution 62/154, on "Combating defamation of religions," through the U.N. that would, if effectuated, have the West in fact adopt such blasphemy laws.

This challenge to freedom of speech world wide could not be any more insidious nor dangerous, both to us and the entire Muslim world. Yet Obama did not so much as mention it in his speech.

Obama, instead of addressing any of these issues head on in his Cairo address, did nothing more than restate the Wahhabi and Khomeinist propaganda - that Western modernity is at odds with Islam and that a good portion of Islam's problems arise out of the "colonialism" of "the West."

What Obama did was a a trick out of Psychology 101. It is a technique that he uses often. He articulates the complaints of his audience without judgment. This is effective because it leaves the audience with the belief that Obama understands their complaint and empathizes with it. But the downside of that technique is that, if it is not followed by some clearly articulated honesty, it simply reinforces in the audience that their complaints are valid. It is a superb technique for psychologists, mediators, and politicians campaigning for office. It is a dangerous tool indeed for a person charged with the responsibilities of leadership.

And instead of following his restatement with honesty, Obama followed with a recounting of Islamic achievements. They were many, and they were invaluable. They also occurred a millenium ago. What Obama needed to drive home was the honest and brutal truth - something akin to the following:

There was a time when Europeans, seeking enlightenment and learning, studied at the feet of Islamic scholars. It is a time long past but not forgotten, at least by those who seek to restore their lost Empire at any and all costs. Since its Golden Age during the Moorish Empire a millennium ago, Islamic history has been in an steady tailspin that has led to a culture of victimhood and death fueled by religious hatred, sectarian violence, centuries of isolation from Western enlightenment, and an overwhelming almost mystical desire to restore past glories. Today, the Arab world is constituted by a series of twenty-two failed states bereft, for the most part, of progressive leaders and unable to produce one single manufactured product that can compete on world markets. Far from being an enlightened civilization, it has become a cultural backwater replete with massive poverty, repressive governments, vast illiteracy, medieval laws, rising Islamist anger and a Gross Domestic Product less than that of . . . Spain. [It should not be that way. It need not be that way.]

Read the entire article.

The problem could not be any clearer. Nor could the solution. I wrote precisely on this topic on March 31, 2007 in response to the OIC's initial attack on Western freedom of speech. I repost that essay here:

The reason we face the problem of radical Islam today is that, in its entire history, Islam has seen no Renaissance, no Reformation, no Period of Enlightenment. These titanic events in Western history led to the development of secular values that came out of, but were separate from, the Judeo-Christian religion that birthed them. And these events gradually took religion from the sphere of a government imposition and moved it into the realm of the individual and local community.

The Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment were each developed through the process of critical thought - the questioning and challenging of religious ideals and dogma. It was this critical thought that allowed the West to seperate the wheat -- the belief in God and universal concepts of moral behavior -- from the chaff of religion – dogma that restricted development in all aspects of society: political, artistic, scientific, philosophical. Thus, today do our universities turn out the finest scientists, the finest writers, the finest mathematicians and astronomers, while the universities in Saudi Arabia primarily turn out Wahhabi clerics. And it is why the West leads the world in science and the arts while the morals police in Saudi Arabia hunt down sorcerers and the Saudi courts apply Wahhabi Sharia law to order the flogging of victims of gang rape.

There are seeds from which a Muslim Enlightenment could yet occur. They would require criticism and debate to take root. Yet these seeds are under mortal threat today from the growth of Wahhabi / Salafi Islam.

The seeds which would allow for an Enlightenment lie in Islam's earliest history. Year 1 to Muslims begins with Hijra, Mohammed’s emigration to Medina in 622 A.D. When Mohammed died, Islam was still largely confined to Arabia. It is important to note that, before Mohammed died, he left his followers with a concept most clearly stated in a hadith - an authenticated saying of Mohammed. That hadith provides that the ummah – the community of Muslims – can “never agree on an error.” Complimenting this in the Koran, it says “People, you order what is right, forbid what is wrong, and you believe in God.” (3:110)

These concepts, taken together, allow for the evolution of Islam. And in another critical development following Mohammed’s death, as Islam progressed, there came the concept of ijtihad (see here and here). Ijtihad is the practice of reasoning from the texts, the hadiths, the sunna and the works of scholars to determine what Islam should mean, what it should approve and disapprove. If there will ever be a moderation of Islam, it will come from those concepts of the hadith and the Koran mentioned above, and from the practice of ijtihad.

The remainder of Islam's history tells us why these seeds of an Enlightenment never took root. Following Mohammed’s death, Islam spread at a pace never before or since duplicated. Its rapid expansion – by the sword – continued almost unchecked for the next several hundred years. Actually, in this regard, for any Muslim to criticize the West as imperialistic is irony of the highest order. The West are pikers compared to the Islamic caliphates. Within 130 years following the Hijra, Arabic Muslims had conquered the Middle East, Turkey, all of North Africa, and the better part of Spain, and they were fighting battles inside France.

Through about 1100 A.D., Islamic society, led by the Arabs, far outshone the West in learning and technology. It was a far more enlightened society than what was to be found in Europe at the time. Indeed, at the turn of the first millenium, the premier city in the world was not London, Paris or Rome, but Baghdad. But, along with this vast expansion powered by the belief in Islamic destiny came the desire to control the precise nature of Islam by the Caliphs. At the end of the tenth century, the “gates of ijtihad” were ordered closed by the Caliphs and the Muslim philosophers cooperated. The concept of free reasoning fell from grace in Islam. This closing of the gates of ijtihad is credited by many scholars as the cause of the stagnation of Islam in succeeding centuries.

But there was much worse on the horizon. In the late 12th century came invasion by the Turks, followed closely by Ghengis Khan and the Mongol horde in the thirteenth century. For the Arabs, this was a catastrophe of titanic proportions. They were overrun, and it was the Turks, practitioners of Sufi Islam, not the Arabs, who emerged as the leadership of Islam. And into this time of turmoil was born Ibn Taymiya, the man whose philosophy and writings would be the foundation for Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi Islam.

Taymiya started from the proposition that Islam was from God, and it was God’s intent that Islam should spread to the four corners of the earth. In this light, Taymiya saw the success of the Turk and Mongol conquers as a punishment from God because Arab Muslims had allowed Islam to be corrupted. His answer was to return to what he believed animated Islam at the time of Mohammed. He was puritanical and a literalist. The Islam he envisioned was one of absolute tenets – dogmatic and beyond questioning.

Fast forward to eighteenth century Arabia, where Ibn Wahhab was born. Wahhab embraced embraced the teachings of Taymiya and built upon them, arguing that any deviation therefrom was heretical and that the offender should be put to death. Wahhab promoted a triumphalist and imperialistic religion that saw anyone not in its membership as an enemy to be converted, conquered or killed. There has been little if any deviation from Wahhab's original dogma through to the modern day. Indeed, for example, one aspect of Wahhabi doctrine, taught in Saudi schools at least as recently as 2003, is that it is permissible to enslave “polytheists.” That comes from a Saudi textbook. If you are a Christian, by the way, you are a polytheist. Wahhabism is the soul of radical Islam. To go against any tenet of Wahhabi Islam is to conduct impermissible innovation and thus, to be labeled takfir, an unbeliever, – and subject to losing your head.

To continue with the chronology, Wahhab found his way to Najd, a backwater of Arabia controlled by tribe of the Sauds. Wahhab partnered with the Sauds and what followed, over the next two centuries, was an incredibly savage conquest of the Arabian peninsula by the House of Saud. And in each place they conquered, they imposed Wahhabi Islam.

Fast forward now to the 20th century. Two events of note occur. Turkey, home of Sufi Islam and the caliphate presiding over the majority of the Islamic world, came into World War I on the side of Germany and was ultimately defeated. Its Middle Eastern empire was divided up among the European counties. Attaturk took power in Turkey and divested Islam from politics, secularizing the country. This was, in essence, the first step towards a revolution in the Islamic world – the divorcing of religion from the nation state and limiting it to the private lives of Turkish citizens. Unfortunately, as time has gone on, Wahhabism has infected Turkey, and today we see the creep of Islamism into the state apparatus. Turkey has withdrawn from the precipice of a revolution to moderate and modernize Islam that its combination of secular government and classical Sufi Islam may have led.

The second event of note was the triumph of Wahhabi Islam with the conquest of Arabia by the House of Saud. Indeed, even before the final conquest, Wahhabi Islam had already influenced – or infected, if you like – many of the other schools of Islam. Two prime examples are the Pakistani Deobandi school that today is the basis for the Taliban, as well Islam in Egypt, from whence arose the first truly modern radical Islamist organization, the Muslim Brotherhood.

But Wahhabi Islam only truly became an engine of conquest with the growth of the oil industry and the influx of billions of petrodollars into Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is spending these billions to spread its brand of Islam to the four corners of the world and to supplant the other schools of Islam. Other than oil, Saudi Arabia’s main exports are Wahhabi clerics, Wahhabi mosques, and Wahhabi schools to every corner of the world. Further, the petrodollars are used to fund the Middle East studies program at most major colleges in the Western World – whose teaching invariably cover, cover for, and cover up Wahhabi Islam – and to fund Wahhabi organizations such as CAIR that perform much the same function in Western society at large.

I do not know that Wahhabi Islam also influenced and radicalized Ayatollah Khoemeni. But, given that he took Iranian Shia Islam out of its historically nonpolitical role in Iran and thrust Shiaism, for the first time in history, into the political realm with the creation of Iran’s theocracy, I would suspect that it did. I would be absolutely amazed if some scholar did not eventually catalogue such an influence. (Update: See this from Francis Fukuyama in the WSJ making this connection)

To sum up, the whole of the Islamic world is endangered by the growth of Wahhabi Islam. And Wahhabi Islam holds it dogma to be beyond question – upon pain of censure or even death. If there is to be a moderation and modernization of Islam – a Reformation and Period of Enlightenment if you will – it will not will arise out of Wahhabi Islam without tremendous bloodshed.

Ultimately, in the world of ideas, it is only through questioning and critical reasoning that advancements occur. To put an Islamic face on that, it is only through the embrace of ijtihad and the concepts of Islam discussed earlier that there is any chance that Islam will finally see a great historical change to moderate and modernize from Wahhab’s vision of 7th century Islam into a form of Islam that can coexist with the rest of the world in the 21st century. And Western society has an obligation not to be coerced into silence, but to openly criticize what we find dangerous and wrong in Islam. If our voice is cowed, how can we expect the voice of would be moderates in the world of Islam to stand up - and withstand the inevitable Wahhabi onslaught to their existence. The cost to humanity and the world if Islam does not have its Reformation and Enlightenment will almost assuredly be apocalyptic.

Which brings us to today, and the United Nations Human Rights Organization. I have already posted that I believe the UN exists in an alternate Islamic universe. It finds fault with illegal acts or human rights violations only in Israel. See here and here. But we have now reached the final Islamic straw.

Friday, March 30, 2007, Islamic countries pushed through a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council demanding a global prohibition on the public defamation of religion. Lest there be any doubt about which religion they are concerned with, the only religion mentioned in the resolution is Islam. As stated in the minutes from the UN Human Rights Council meeting:

The Council expresses deep concern at attempts to identify Islam with terrorism, violence and human rights violations; notes with deep concern the intensification of the campaign of defamation of religions, and the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities, in the aftermath of the tragic events of 11 September 2001; urges States to take resolute action to prohibit the dissemination including through political institutions and organizations of racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement to racial and religious hatred, hostility or violence; also urges States to provide adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions, to take all possible measures to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and their value systems and to complement legal systems with intellectual and moral strategies to combat religious hatred and intolerance; . . .

The UN is only doing the work of radical Wahhabi Islamists at this point. If there is ever to be a peaceful coexistence with Muslims, the West cannot gag itself as CAIR and the Islamists at UN would have us do. We can coexist with Muslims as long as they are not trying to kill us and impose their religion by coercion or by working fundamental changes to our Western secular values with ridiculous charges of Islamaphobia. Unfortunately, that is not the reality. Thus, it is their religion that needs to change. It needs to go through its Reformation, and there needs to be a period of Enlightenment. The clearest way to stop this transformation from ever occurring is to outlaw criticism of Islam. This would be putting a nail into the coffin of Western civilization, in addition to insuring the ultimate domination of the Wahhabi philosophy in Islam.

If this is what we can expect from UN as reformed, it needs to be defunded by the U.S. In the Senate hearings for his confirmation as the new U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad has argued against defunding the UN but has also stated that the UN faces a “mortal threat" if it fails to reform. There are no reforms on the horizon. It is time to allow the UN to subsist on Rials until it does.

A truly brave man would have spoken honestly and would tried to use the bully pulpit to support reforms in Islam. Obama is not that person, and we are less safe for it.

Summary - Obama's Cairo Address: What We Needed, What We Got
Part 1 - Obama's Cairo Address: Hiding From The Existential Problems Of The Muslim World
Part 2 - Obama's Cairo Address: A Walk Back From Democracy & Iraq
Part 3 - Obama's Cairo Address: Obama Calls For Women's Rights While Glossing Over Discrimination & Violence
Part 4 - Obama's Cairo Address: Nukes, Iran & Weakness Writ Large
Part 5 - Obama's Cairo Address: Israel & Palestine – A Little Good, A Lot Of Outrageousness
Part 6 - Obama's Cairo Address: Islam's Tradition Of Religious Tolerance?
Part 7 - Obama's Cairo Address: The Dangerous Whitewashing Of History

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