Friday, June 5, 2009

Teaching the Wogs

I have to admit I'm confused by this half-baffling/half-mindless piece on the Huffington Post. Some fellow named Peter Daou, who identifies himself as a "political consultant" and "former Internet adviser to Hillary Clinton," as well as (to establish his I-can-talk-about-the-Middle-East credentials) an American-Lebanese-Christian-Jew(???) criticizing Obama's speech in Cairo.

I'll start by pointing out where I agree with Mr. Daou. He's absolutely right that Obama is continuing--in some areas, I'm sad to say, intensifying--some of the worst policies of the Bush-Cheney era: indefinite imprisonment, suspension of habeus corpus, bombing campaigns in Afghanistan, etc. I've written quite a lot about this on this very blog.

That Obama is continuing many of the previous administration's policies is, whatever his personality cultists say, an ascertainable fact and not an opinion.

Elsewhere in his piece, Daou blasts Obama for not offering a more strident condemnation of oppression of women in the Middle East. Plus "to those whose abiding hatred of Israel (and thus America) is absolute, Obama's words will be seen as empty and hypocritical."

Okay. The widespread conspiracy against women's dignity and liberty in the Muslim world is an appalling thing, no doubt about it. But what, exactly, was Obama supposed to say in his Cairo speech? Daou is livid that Obama would defend the right of women to wear the hijab, but he seems not to have noticed that Obama was calling for choice: the right for an individual woman to CHOOSE whether or not she wants to wear the hijab. And his words about education for women were perfectly appropriate, I thought: they expressed a moral concern but not in a heavy-handed "YOU'RE ALL MURDERERS AND RAPISTS!" sort of way.

I'm not sure how a vehement denunciation of male domination in the Muslim world would secure women's rights. More than likely it would be a moralistic blowing-off-of-steam that had no real effect on any real-world practices.

I suspect Mr. Daou's problems with Islam are more than ethical, though. He says he grew up in Lebanon during the civil war, and given his description of his background one can only assume he comes from a Lebanese Christian/Israeli background, hardly a disinterested party in the violent power struggles of the Levant. To put it bluntly: he harps on about the (real) crimes of Islamic fundamentalists and Arab regimes, but doesn't have much to say about the crimes of the Israelis or the Lebanese Phalange (the heroes, remember, of Sabra and Shatila).

But the point I really wanted to make is this: I want liberalization and reform in the Middle East and the Muslim world as much as anyone. But I know enough about history and culture to know that it's wildly naive to expect women's rights, liberal government, and free speech to break out overnight just because an American President stridently declared something or other. Reform can only come from within the Muslim world, from Muslim (or secular but culturally Muslim) voices. It's much more important, I think, to listen to the actual voices for reform in the Muslim world than to the moralizing of American politicians and op-ed writers.

Voices like Malalai Joya, the closest thing in our world to a living saint. To the brave group of Afghan feminist dissidents RAWA, who despise Islamic fundamentalism and US imperialism. To fiery and beautiful Fatima Bhutto, who protests Taliban-like fanatics in her native Pakistan and speaks up for women's rights but also condemns the military regime that the US supports with money and arms. To Iranian voices, too, like the brilliant and hilarious graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, authoress of Persepolis. To poets like Adonis, the greatest living poet in Arabic, the man who brought new life and innovation to Arabic forms but routinely and pitilessly condemns the backwardness and intolerance of the Arab world; and Dunya Mikhail, the sardonic Iraqi poet who fled Saddam Hussein; and Maram al-Massri, whose poems incarnate the voice of woman as a free-thinking, sensual, independent, learned human being.

Not to mention eloquent, sometimes enraged Israeli voices like Peter Cole and Aharon Shabtai, present-day heirs of the Prophets. Not that Daou believes Israel is in need of any reform.

We should trust the exact visions of the Arabic poets, and the precisely-aimed polemics of the Muslim liberal intellectuals, not the finger-wagging and moralizing of some high-minded head of state, and certainly not some douchebag on the Huffington Post.

Oh yeah, here's a now-famous video of a bunch of American shitheels in Jerusalem:

from the indispensable Mondoweiss

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