June 12, 2009 6:30 AM
By Wafa Sultan
After President Obama's Cairo speech, many of my Middle Eastern Arab readers reacted with bewilderment. As one of them expressed; "Who should we believe, Obama or you?" in particular his statement that "America and Islam overlapand share common principles, the principles of justice, tolerance anddignity for human beings".
True, reading the Arab press's reaction to his speech it is clear that many Muslims now love Obama. After all, he introduced to them a narrative that affirms their conspiracy theories and their identity as victims of the West.
Hence, the Arab media expressed their confidence that the speech willprovide a "new stance towards Islam and the Muslims, after centuries ofaggression and hostility." (Al Ahram - Egypt- MEMRI)
More than anything, I am reminded of a story by Nizar Qubbani, the famous Syrian poet. His young son was a physician and suffered from an acute heart problem. When Nizar asked his son about his heart condition, the son drew a red heart. Being a poet, the father interpreted the drawing as a sign of a vibrant and healthy heart and took great comfort in believing this to be asign of recovery. After his son's passing, Nizar wrote a poem describing his feelings as a heartbroken father. He felt unbearably saddened as he realized he had misinterpreted the drawing. Obviously, the son's sketch of a red heart was meant to convey no hope for his profusely bleeding heart, while the father's understanding of the symbol as a hopeful one was wrong.
The poet and the physician perceived reality in totally different ways;similar to the dichotomy between President Obama's view of the Islamic worldand mine.The truth is, however, that only one reality exists.
Mr. Obama is a politician, and a very astute one. However, his speech revealed that his view is unduly influenced by naïve desire. His perception of Islam and the reality of Islam need to be synchronized. I am a physicianand a realist who has lived and experienced the effect of my Arab culture and Islamic religion since childhood.
The president pandered to Muslims: praised their accomplishments,commiserated with their grievances, and apologized for injustices done to them by centuries of colonialism -- without once mentioning the history of rampant and violent Arab colonialism. He avoided any mention of Jihadi tenets, or of the Islamic political ideology of supremacy over non Muslims -- principles embedded in Sharia law. These are taught and sanctioned openly by Al-Azhar, the university that hosted him, the foremost center of Sharia studies.
Obama underscored the supposed American mistreatment of terrorists and apologized for torture in Guantanamo, forgetting that Islamic regimes are brutal to their own people. The president also repudiated significant U.S. contributions in both the lives of its soldiers and humanitarian aid to Muslims across the globe made throughout history -- despite Muslim attacks against America and Americans. In short, parts of his speech sounded like a new Pan-Arab messiah come to usher the Arab world back into its rightful world dominion.
Most disturbing was the president's call to defend Muslims against negative stereotypes. A dangerous precedent is set when freedom of speech is silenced and ideological criticism forbidden. This, again, is the stuff of nightmarish totalitarian regimes. The beauty of the US Constitution is its balance, and the wisdom it embraces by distinguishing between that which should be protected and defended and that which should be prosecuted and decried.
Encouraging laws to make criticism of Islam an offense punishable by law is troubling. Since arriving in the US, I have enjoyed the freedom to educate my Arab brothers and sisters in the Middle East, who yearn for real freedom - and I have seen successes. Mr. Obama calls these very successes into question rather than championing freedom.
As the president embarks on his new task to defend Muslims "against negative stereotypes," does this mean he will somehow interfere and undermine that message? Or, perhaps it means he may join with the Organization of Islamic Conference, the 57 Muslim countries that work relentlessly to promote a United Nations resolution to suppress voices of dissent against Islam? I am confident we would all come to regret this.
Obama sidesteps the acute state of affairs in the Islamic world with flattery, failing to encourage accountability for rhetoric, practices and the behavior that feed stereotypes. I did not hear an exhortation to the Islamic world to open itself to diversity, to accept women as equal citizens with the same rights and protection under law as men. I did not hear a challenge to the Muslim world to accept other religions and their ability to practice openly within the Islamic world -- where the practice of Christianity, Judaism and other religions could cost an individual his or
her life. I did not hear a call to erase for all time, Dhimmi racism -- the Sharia law-based dictate that Christians and Jews are inferior and should be suppressed. Are these "...the principles of justice, tolerance and dignityfor human beings"?
In contrast, I see my people's heart bleeding and know the pressing need for self-correction and honest examination for the sake of urgent repair. Obama dangles the carrot but shies away from the imperative issues boiling beneath the surface.
Obama's reality makes my work and that of others who speak up against intolerant Islamic doctrines more challenging. He undermines this mission by placating abusive, xenophobic policies and enabling those within the Islamic world to subjugate others, to coerce others to its beliefs, and to continue these pursuits with his blessing.
The president failed to join freedom-loving individuals, liberated Arabs like myself. He failed to lead the Muslim world into modernization and vital reform. Rather than calling out, "The house is on fire." Obama smiles and tells us how beautiful the house is as it burns out of control and threatens to destroy us.
To the question I received on my e-mail; "Who should we believe, Obama or you?" I elaborated to my Moroccan reader that Obama is a politician who wishes to use sweet talk and to whitewash reality to make amends with Muslims.
I, on the other hand am a pragmatic Arab woman who escaped the prison of Islam to the free world and now devotes her life to expressing views freely and pressing for a genuine difference in Islam. We cannot have it both ways.
Intolerance never tolerates freedom.