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View related content: Race and Gender
On Women’s Rights:
President Obama’s speech didn’t do much for Muslim women. He defended their rights in Western countries to wear the hijab. He didn’t touch on Muslim women being confined, being forced into marriages or being victims of honor killings: These traditions and principles in the Koran and in Islam are being practiced in the West. He didn’t address that.
I think he was just appeasing the Muslim world because they perceive–they have these notions that Muslim women in Western countries–are not allowed to wear the headscarf or cover themselves. I mean you can wear whatever you want in the United States.
In Egypt where he spoke, women who do not wear their veil in public are subjected to very obscene remarks on the street and even sexual assault. Nowadays, even if they are covered they become victims of the same things: That is, in public, in Egypt, as a woman, you run 80% of the time the risk of being assaulted simply because you are a woman walking down the street. They are forced into marriages; their testimony in countries where Sharia is law is just half of that of a man. They can be divorced with no rights. They need guardians, a married guardian or they cannot sign any legal papers. The President simply did not address Sharia or Islamic law in relation to women.
On Islamic Extremism:
Who is a real reformer? Obama’s message is that all of this [violence] has nothing to do with Islam. He says that progress and human rights are perfectly reconcilable with Islam. “Islam is peace.” He sticks to the line that there is nothing to reform in there. According to the President, we are only fighting a very small number of extremists, but it’s not Islam, so if that’s the case then there really isn’t much to reform. The true reformers–the moderate Muslims–take away from the speech that they can’t depend on the Obama administration to criticize Islam. Between the lines it’s as if he is saying that he will prevent Islam from negative stereotyping or something like that, which is ridiculous because he can’t do that. But most Muslims as we know, believe that negative stereotyping is equal to criticizing Islam.
Obama said “let’s speak plainly to one another”; I would have liked him to have added, “and that means let us face some of your religious principles and how they are radically different from American principles.” That’s what we need to talk about. His plain speaking went as far as saying we have a right to be in Afghanistan because Al-Qaeda attacked and keeps trying to attack us . . . but what inspires Al-Qaeda? Why are people we call moderates not facing up to Al-Qaeda? What is it about Islamic values that causes this? His plain speaking ended exactly where George Bush’s and all the Presidents that came before him . . . and Tony Blair . . . ended: with the selective quoting from the Koran. It’s like Hillary Clinton putting on the headscarf as a “sign of respect.”
That said, some of the speech’s passages were tough. I liked it the way he told them that “we are in Afghanistan and we are not leaving,” and I liked what he said about Holocaust denial. But overall, the speech just didn’t go far enough.
On Obama’s “New Era”:
Obama has now clearly defined that he is different from the previous administration. So far, that clearly has been his goal: To show the Muslim world that they are different, and that this is the beginning of a new era, etc. I think once he has succeeded in creating the image that he is different, then I hope he will say look, I am different but–and this was a statement I really liked–I will always protect the security of Americans.
American security is going to repeatedly be attacked in the name of Islam. When that happens, he can always point back to this speech and to negotiations with Iran and say “I came with outstretched arms, I tried to include you… I told you some things about how fabulous you are.” And when all of that is rejected, then that’s when he can say “Now lets really discuss what is wrong with your religion, and where do our [American] values clash with Islamic values? Will he do that? That’s That’s the real question. But I don’t know if he will do it. George Bush never did it. He used the term “Islamofascism”; once but quickly took it back. So I don’t know. We will see.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a visiting fellow at AEI.
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