Some remarks on the President’s address.

  • “For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning; and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt’s advancement.” Hmmm. That seems a stretch.
  • “I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.” This is indeed a persistent fallacy. In the last five or ten years, I think the maxim that “Every commonly held belief about historical events and motivations is exactly wrong” is a turning out to be a fine rule. From WWI trench warfare to this one, all these notions … all wrong. That “light of learning” was carried by Byzantium and a lot of it came west at the sack of Constantinople by the crusaders and the carting off of the libraries, marble, gold and so on to Venice. If you think that’s wrong, ask yourself where, when, and how the intellectual exchange of documents and teaching between the crusaders and the West occurred? (hint: it didn’t in any meaningful way … and what little did was came via Byzantium)
  • “And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.” How about to highlighting the negative realities?

If we compare the responses of this speech from two esteemed bloggers from both sides of political spectrum there is, on offer, an interesting comparison (besides the nearly identical title). The pseudonymous “hilzoy” offers that this “broke the mold” and offered praise and criticism to both “sides” and that each side might take away from the lesson learned from the criticism. Richard Fernandez on the other hand, similarly comments that there is in fact praise and criticism that both sides might note … but that the effect will be the reverse. That each “side” will key on the criticism of the other and like Eris with her golden apple this will only serve to inflame each other, with each ignoring the faint mentions of their own and inflame their own image of the other’s flaws? Given human nature … which will be the more likely response. I’d offer that the ‘hilzoy’, in part because of the shared assumptions, might closely match the intention of the President and his speechwriters … but that the effect will be the more pessimistic realistic appraisal of Mr Fernandez.

But … like his remarks on the hijab a similar response might be made about the tepidity of his allusion. In a similar vein, examine this response.  Reflect for a moment on the discord vs self-examination as posed our two bloggers and examine those remarks in that light. Would you characterize these responses as self-critical or the reverse? Bringing together or apart?

Solzhenitsyn coming to the West gave four significant of addresses and spoke from a position of utter political weakness, he was after all no President and weilded no power. His words were rejected but were right in many ways and pulled no punches. Mr Obama on the other hand came to Cairo and told honeyed lies filled with calculated misdirection all intended to move people closer. His words, being fiction, have a better chance of not being rejected outright … but their effect it seems has a not unlikely chance of moving people in the direction he did not intend.

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    Filed under: IslamMark O.Middle EastReligionYou Cry Out

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