Monday, June 8, 2009

Christopher Hitchens on Obama's Cairo speech

Mr. Hitchens can be a wickedly good writer, though he is wickedly wrong about Christianity. In this case, however, he has some interesting points about both Guantanamo and Obama's speech in Cairo. On Gitmo,

"Nothing prepared me for the way in which the authorities at the camp have allowed the most extreme religious cultists among the inmates to be the organizers of the prisoners' daily routine. Suppose that you were a secular or unfanatical person caught in the net by mistake; you would still find yourself being compelled to pray five times a day (the guards are not permitted to interrupt), to have a Quran in your cell, and to eat food prepared to halal (or Sharia) standards.

I suppose you could ask to abstain, but, in such a case, I wouldn't much fancy your chances...I asked how they justified the use of taxpayers' money to create an institution dedicated to the fervent practice of the most extreme version of just one religion...[Gitmo is] a state-sponsored madrasah."

On the Cairo speech,

"Any person with the smallest pretense to cultural literacy knows that there is no such place or thing as 'the Muslim world,' or, rather, that it consists of many places and many things. (It is precisely the aim of the jihadists to bring it all under one rulership preparatory to making Islam the world's only religion.) But Obama said nothing about the schism between Sunni and Shiites, or about the argument over Sufism, or about Ahmadi and Ismaili forms of worship and practice.

All this was conceded to the umma: the highly ideological notion that a person is first and foremost defined by their adherence to a religion and that all concepts of citizenship and rights take second place to this theocratic diktat. Nothing could be more reactionary.

Take the single case in which our president touched upon the best-known fact about the Islamic 'world': its tendency to make women second-class citizens. He mentioned this only to say that 'Western countries' were discriminating against Muslim women! And how is this discrimination imposed?

By limiting the wearing of the head scarf or hijab (a word that Obama pronounced as hajib—imagine the uproar if George Bush had done that). The clear implication was an attack on the French law that prohibits the display of religious garb or symbols in state schools...

But to the women who are compelled to dress according to the requirements of others, Obama had nothing to say at all, as if the only "right" at stake were the right to obey an instruction that is, in fact—if it matters—not found in the Quran. In Turkey, too, head scarves for women are outlawed in some contexts. Is this, too, Islamophobia?

Does the president think that the veil and the burqa are also freely chosen fashion statements? This sort of naiveté is worrying, and it means that among the global Muslim audience, the wrong sort of people were laughing at us, while the ones who ought to be our friends and allies were shedding a disappointed tear."

No comments: