A pro-U.S. British columnist on Obama’s speech

“The more I think about it, the more potentially problematic I find the speech, writes Toby Harnden, the U.S. editor of the Telegraph. “Here, for starters, are 10 mistakes he made.” Unfortunately, most of Harnden’s points are weak, some even so silly as not to be worth mentioning. So instead of posting the entire article I’m copying his single weakest point, plus his three best points.

Harnden’s weakest criticism of Obama’s speech:

2. “I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk.” While watering down America’s status in the world, Obama has consistently sought to elevate his own status to that of a universal, healing symbol as if his very being, his inspiring life story, his Muslim background, his father from Kenya, his childhood spell in Indonesia will square the circle in the Middle East. If only it were as easy as that. This comes across as naive, even pandering.

But the fact is that Obama in his childhood lived for four years in a Moslem country. Is it not predictable and appropriate that he mention that fact about himself in a major speech to the Moslem world? Don’t political leaders always bring out points of commonality they have with their audiences? Was it wrong for Winston Churchill to remind American audiences that his mother was an American? So, how is Obama’s invoking the sounds of the Islamic prayer he heard in his boyhood tantamount to “elevating his own status to that of a universal, healing symbol”? Don’t get me wrong. Obama most certainly does seek to be a universal, healing symbol rather than leader and defender of the United States. But his simple reference to his experiences as a boy in Indonesia is hardly evidence for that assertion. This is the sort of unfair, overblown criticism of Obama that turns people off on valid criticism of Obama.

Harnden’s three best criticisms of Obama’s speech

4. “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. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality.” Probably the worst passage of all. By highlighting the most superficial aspect of women’s rights in the Muslim world, Obama dramatically underplayed the oppression women face. It’s not people in the West who believe women who cover their hair are less equal, it’s countries in the Middle East that dictate that all women are less equal. From the Left, Peter Daou, who grew up in west Beirut, rails against the weakness of Obama’s stance on human rights: “With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab?” From the Right, Stephen Hayes, points out: “In Saudi Arabia, women cannot drive. In Iran, they’re stoned on suspicion of adultery. In Pakistan, politicians publicly defend ‘honor killings’ of young girls who have the audacity to choose their own husbands.”

It’s a powerful point. Women in many parts of the Moslem world are massively oppressed, but Obama no less than three times singled out the resistance of Americans to the hijab as a threat to Muslim women that he will not tolerate and that he will punish. This captures his topsy turvy, appeasement-oriented world view.

8. “And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.”

The “just as” is troubling because it goes dangerously close to equating what happened on 9/11 with the alleged alteration of American principles afterwards. Like the “on the other hand”, it’s sloppy speechwriting. Obama was eager to use the t-word—torture (though not another t-word—terror). By constantly referring to torture—which, even if one concedes that it was used was done so used in very limited circumstances and ended several years ago during the Bush administration—Obama buys into the narrative that America is to blame. Obama conveniently ignores the fact that torture of a far more heinous nature than has ever taken place at Guantanamo Bay occurs almost routinely in countries across the Middle East—and the victims are often more dissidents rather than suspected terrorists. Once again, Obama highlights the closure of Guantanamo Bay—though he has yet to resolve where to transfer its inmates.

It’s an excellent point and cannot be made often enough. Obama doesn’t just admit America’ flaws before foreign audiences, inappropriate as that is. He falsely indicts America for things she hasn’t done. He is, in short, an anti-American.

10. “For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.”

After 9/11, the Bush administration—with the full bipartisan support of Congress—cracked down on terrorist financing via some groups that posed as Islamic charities. So what’s Obama hinting at here? As David Frum puts it: “It is not at all hard for American Muslims to give to legitimate charities. What has been made difficult is giving to terror groups. Is the president suggesting he will relax those restrictions?”

A good point that I would not have picked up on, though it comes from David Frum, not from Harnden.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 06, 2009 10:08 AM | Send

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