The boiled-down version of this article is this: Obama wanted a religious Islamic college to sponsor his speech, not just a secular place like Cairo University. I guess Obama thought he needed street cred with the religious Islamic crowd.
What this article doesn’t mention is the problem with that approach.
As many of you may be aware (and more may be completely clueless about), Islam is not just one happy family of Muslims.
They are divided along Sunni/Shi’a lines, and those lines have gotten more specific, more extensive, more violent, and more radicalized than ever.
The members of the Shi’a, a smaller minority of Muslims, are the leaders of the new Iraqi government. They are also the ones who have proclaimed so-called "suicide bombings" as heretical—stating that the bombers are headed straight to the fires of hell.
The Shi’ah are also the ones that Al Quaida wants to kill. That is why there are so many examples of Muslim on Muslim violence in the world.
But, it isn’t a Shi’ah university that will be sponsoring Obama’s speech in Cairo. It is a Sunni University—in fact the most prestigious Sunni University in the world. Al-Azhar University in Egypt, was founded in 975, and is the chief center of Arabic literature and Sunni Islamic learning in the world.
The Sunnis, comprising a large majority (some say as many as 93% of all Muslims), are the members of Al Quaida, The Muslim Brotherhood, and the Saudi royal family. For his part, according to the following article, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mosque and Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, denounced 9/11 and has some pretty progressive attitudes, according to the Wikipedia Article about him. For example, he said that girls who were prevented from attending school in France while wearing their Hijab were permitted to remove it, he has allowed abortion in cases of rape, he opposes Female circumcision, and has denounced all suicide bombing--even in the case of bombing Israelis. However, his somewhat progressive views come to a screeching halt when asked about his views of Jews.
According to historian Benny Morris, in his article "The Darker Side" published in The New Republic magazine:
- Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the current grand imam of Al Azhar University of Cairo, a supreme authority in Sunni Islam, published a book in the late 1960s called The Jews in the Qur'an and the Traditions; it was re-issued in 1986. It summarized the Qur'an's (and Tantawi's own) attitude to the Jews in this way: "The Qur'an describes the Jews with their own particular degenerate characteristics, i.e., killing the prophets of Allah, corrupting His words by putting them in the wrong places, consuming the people's wealth frivolously, refusal to distance themselves from the evil they do, and other ugly characteristics caused by their deep-rooted lasciviousness ... only a minority of Jews keep their word.... [But] not all Jews are the same. The good ones become Muslims." Tantawi was later to describe contemporary Jews as "the descendants of apes and pigs." I add in fairness that he was later to condemn the September 11 attacks, and suicide bombings in general, as contrary to Islam, though he defended "jihad" against those violating Islamic soil.
I suggest this "sponsorship" for Obama's speech might make more strife than it heals, and I think that Obama will show himself to be even more anti-Jewish and anti-Israel than he has appeared thus far (if such a possibility exists). After all, the two sides of Islam are often at war, and Obama is clearly associating himself with only one of these traditions.
I think it would have been a whole lot better to keep the whole event secular.
In the end, however, it might work out well for us. If Obama completely messes up and causes a lot more problems than he solves, and if, as I predict, Obama shows himself to be completely anti-Semitic by associating himself with Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, he may end up bending himself backwards into a pretzel to get out of the hole he will dig.
He may end up having to treat us fairly after all--but don't bet on it. I think Obama is a snake who will show himself as soon as he discovers he can no longer fool us.
White House Consulted American Religious Leaders on Muslim Speech
June 03, 2009 03:49 PM ET | Dan Gilgoff | Permanent Link | Print
By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
In preparing for the president's speech tomorrow from Cairo, the White House did something it hasn't previously in preparing Obama to engage Muslims abroad: It called on American religious leaders and experts, including many Muslims, for advice.
In a conference call last month, Obama's foreign policy speechwriter, Ben Rhodes, and aides in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships took input from Muslim, Christian, and Jewish figures concerning what the president should say in Cairo. "The White House did a very good job at taking advantage of the available expertise," says Dalia Mogahed, executive director of Gallup's Center for Muslim Studies, who participated in the call.
It's unclear how much of that advice will be reflected in the president's speech. But those who were part of the call said the White House has already responded to a request from Muslim participants to invite an overtly Muslim organization to cosponsor Obama's speech, to be delivered from Cairo University. The White House, the participants said, has since gotten Al Azhar University—a religious school, unlike Cairo University—to cosponsor the event.
The White House declined to respond to a request for comment. But in a briefing for reporters on Friday, Denis McDonough, a White House deputy national security adviser, emphasized the importance of Al Azhar as a cosponsor. "The president very much appreciates the hospitality of Cairo University," McDonough said, "but also appreciates the willingness of Al Azhar, one of the oldest universities in the region, to jointly host the event, underscoring the storied history and learnedness of Islam."
The roughly dozen participants on the call, who are affiliated with the White House faith advisory council's task force on interfaith dialogue, were not previously consulted on Obama's Muslim outreach offensive, which has included an interview on the al Arabiya television network and a speech and mosque visit while in Turkey in April. After the call, participants followed up with E-mails and memos to the White House.
The competing priorities of the faith leaders and experts involved in the process illustrate the intense cross-pressures and political risks Obama faces in delivering what aides have described as a "Muslim speech."
About a half-dozen Muslim representatives involved in the process encouraged Obama to speak directly to Muslim grievances about U.S. foreign policy, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the American role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "I shared polling that shows that three major issues drive anti-American sentiment among Muslims around the world," says Gallup's Mogahed. "Perceptions of disrespect, perceptions of political domination and exploitation, and anger at acute conflicts."
At least one Jewish representative who was in on the call, meanwhile, discouraged Obama from tackling the Mideast conflict in the speech. "I raised the concern about whether the president would be able to spend enough time on the Arab-Israeli issues to make it worthwhile," says Nathan Diament, who directs public affairs for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. "If he is just going to shorthand it, he'll probably generate more criticism over what he does not say."
Joel Hunter, an evangelical leader involved in the process, voiced an entirely different concern: that the president needs to keep his American audience in mind. "From a conservative evangelical viewpoint, this kind of speech causes a good deal of apprehension," Hunter said. "He has to make us glad to be Americans and bring us along even as he's making a policy statement to the rest of the world."