After giving it serious and prayerful consideration, and despite the many urgings and importunings from my supporters around the world during this Purim season, I must regretfully announce that I am not a candidate to succeed the recently resigned Pope Benedict. Although I possess a large number of extra yarmulkes of all colors and shapes, including many red ones, I do not feel suited for this role – even though I must admit that people who know me best do find me rather infallible. There are several reasons for this decision:
The ceremony for choosing me would perforce include the traditional white smoke emanating from the Vatican chimney. The doctor has told me to avoid smoke at all costs. All my encyclicals are out of service. My last encyclical is missing one of its eight wheels, thus encumbering me with its slow pace. I tried bi-cycles and tri-cycles, on which I did fairly well, but when I climbed on to the traditional Vatican en-cyclical, I kept falling off — which is worse than falling from grace, and quite demeaning for the papacy, especially with those long robes. As for those long white robes, they would all need to be … Read More >>
[This week’s posting is a shortened version of a piece I wrote a number of years ago. I thought it might merit recirculation. – AS]
A typical offering included a close-up of the deformed face of a Jewish man above the legend “The Scum of Humanity: This Jew says that he is a member of God’s chosen people.” Another displayed a cartoon of a vampire bat with a grotesquely exaggerated nose and a Jewish star on its chest. In yet another, a Jewish butcher was depicted snidely dropping a rat into his meat grinder and, elsewhere in the issue, the punctured necks of handsome German youths were shown bleeding into a bowl held by a Jew more gargoyle than human. At its peak in 1938, print runs of Hitler henchman Julius Streicher’s vile tabloid Der Sturmer ran as high as 2,000,000.
“All our struggles are in vain,” Streicher told a Nazi student organization in 1935, “if the battle against the Jews is not fought to the finish. It is not enough to get the Jews out of Germany. No, they must be destroyed throughout the entire world so that humanity will be free of them.”
We approach the … Read More >>
After davening the other day and not in the main shul, a couple of fellows — one of them a medical doctor — asked whether I shared their assessment that President Obama is 1) a die-hard fundamentalist Muslim, 2) an anti-Semite and 3) obviously a hater of Israel whose policies are aimed at destroying the Jewish State. They were shocked that I did not share their view. I was not shocked to hear what they had to say because, sadly, such sentiments are increasingly heard within the Orthodox community. We are in the grip of heavy doses of paranoia and heavy doses of hatred. What makes the reality worse is that both the paranoia and the hatred are dynamic. What is being expressed today is more extreme than what had been expressed previously and what is being expressed today is likely to be mild by comparison with what will be said tomorrow.
What I am referring to is not the taking of conservative positions on a host of public issues. It is understandable and, from my perspective, correct that on a range of social issues, religious Jews do not accept liberal positions. It is also understandable, even though I … Read More >>
by Rabbi Meir Goldberg
I wrote this article in December as a response to the Klal Perspectives Kiruv edition, and specifically the article by Rabbi Ilan Feldman. I first sent it out to Kiruv Rabbis via listserves, and after hearing much positive feedback, I submitted a condensed version to Mishpacha Magazine, which was more understandable to those not involved in Kiruv.
I prefer the original since it touches on many important issues relating to Kiruv, and it is more passionate as well.
The older generation of kiruv (Jewish outreach) professionals often waxes poetic of the kiruv glory days, which began sometime after the Six-Day War and ended in the early 90s. Rav Noach Weinberg’s dream of changing the world was, to a large extent, successful: tens of thousands became frum, and so many more were reconnected in some meaningful way to their heritage. Over the last 15 years, the secular Jewish landscape and the kiruv response has changed. As a result, the editors of Klal Perspectives, an online magazine, asked 17 kiruv leaders to write about current outreach efforts, how success is measured, and whether kiruv has run its course due to assimilation and the … Read More >>
Like the repeatedly pummeled victim of depraved bullies who decides it might just be best to stay away from the schoolyard during recess, Israel recently opted to not show up to be judged by the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body with venerated members like Congo, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Malaysia and Qatar.
The UN body and a number of individual countries, including the United States, pleaded with Israel to not be the first country to refuse to appear for an HRC “Universal Periodic Review.” But the Israeli government, in its chutzpah, decided to just say no to presenting itself for assault yet again by a group that has demonstrated a deep and troubling fixation on one political dispute in a world in which, elsewhere, authorities routinely amputate body parts, blithely murder citizens, incarcerate innocent people without trial and look the other way as human beings are enslaved and sold like sides of beef.
The New York Times, predictably, did its own huffing, munificently conceding that the HRC is “not without faults” but asserting all the same that the Middle East’s only stable and free democracy was showing “an unwillingness to undergo the same scrutiny as all other … Read More >>
Well-informed, they say, is well-prepared; and knowledge is power. An exception, though – at least in the judgment of some – seems to be when Jewish women in Israel are contemplating ending their pregnancies.
When an Israeli magazine announced it would bestow an award on a group called Efrat, “pro-choice” advocates (seldom have “scare quotes” been so appropriate) howled in outrage.
Efrat provides women with information about abortion, as well as financial support for mothers-to-be who are under economic pressure to terminate their pregnancies. The group’s detractors characterize it as preying on women at an emotionally vulnerable time.
Efrat, however, does not parade with offensive placards in front of medical facilities like some American groups. Nor does it seek to shame women in any way. Its goal is simply to advance “a woman’s right to free choice,” by providing expectant women who want it with accurate information about medical matters and the development of the lives growing within them; it also offers needy such women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term things like food packages, cribs and strollers. The group claims that, since its founding in 1977, 50,000 babies were born as a result of … Read More >>
Every once in a while, you need a reminder that what we consider normal neighborly relations — isn’t. Rabbi Adlerstein posted about Jewish Chesed after Hurricane Sandy, two months ago. But here is an example closer to home.
On Friday night, shortly after candle lighting, a family heard the smoke detector go off. Although they quickly tried to put out the fire, this proved impossible — the fire department was called, and the house probably won’t be ready for their return until the end of this week.
Only one member of the family was lightly injured. The fire department had difficulty ascertaining who the child’s mother was, and kept asking who these neighbors were who were caring for the child as if she were their own.
After a fire, the Red Cross gives money and food for a few days and little care packages, and they also pay for hotel rooms for two days while families arrange where they will stay. In this case, they didn’t show up until Saturday night. When someone asked them why, the representative explained that they knew that the community would provide the family with food and accommodations over the Sabbath, so there … Read More >>
Even with protective cover from Senator Charles E. Schumer – as determined a defender of Israel as there ever was – and even speaking only for myself, I hesitate to address the overwrought reaction in some corners to President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. I don’t want to be labeled an anti-Semite too.
Not that there wasn’t or isn’t cause for some concern about Mr. Hagel. He is famously on record as having once referred to AIPAC as the “Jewish lobby,” and in the past questioned the wisdom of too hastily employing military force against Iran. But such things – you might want to sit down – do not an anti-Semite or unconscionable isolationist make.
At least not to reasonable eyes. Unfortunately, some tend to the visceral rather than the rational in such matters, prisoners of their own preconceptions. Despite the clear and ample evidence to the contrary, they just can’t stop pegging the president as less than committed to Israel’s wellbeing, and can be counted on to shoot at anything that moves if Mr. Obama set it into motion. So Mr. Hagel was immediately judged by some as bad for Israel, if for no … Read More >>
Barry Rubin of the Gloria Center, one of the Middle East’s shrewdest analysts, was in an unkind mood last week, as he himself admitted. The common element joining President Obama’s three appointments last week – Senator John Kerry for Secretary of State, Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, and John Brennan as Director of the CIA – is, in Rubin’s view, that “they are all stupid people” of the worst sort – “stupid, arrogant people, with terrible ideas.”
Unfortunately, there is little to contradict Rubin’s harsh judgment. Each holds views that make it impossible for them to understand Middle East reality, much less do anything about it. Hagel, for instance, is a “realist,” which is a doctrine having nothing to do with reality. Among the central planks of realist doctrine is that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is at the center of all the Middle East’s problems, and that the United States’ interests are significantly damaged by the lack of resolution of that conflict.
Speaking at “J Street’s” first annual conference in 2009, Hagel said, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central, not peripheral, to U.S. vital security interests in combating terrorism, preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon, stability in the Middle East and … Read More >>
American politicians tainted by scandal and forced to resign their positions usually explain that they want “to spend more time with their families.” Issam al-Aryan, a top advisor to Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, who recently tendered his own resignation said he is overly “occupied with my work as head of the Freedom and Justice Party bloc in the Shura Council.” He must not lack for family time.
The scandal that attached itself to Mr. al-Aryan was that he had publicly invited Israeli Jews of Egyptian descent to return to their erstwhile home. “Egypt,” he told Jews who had fled Egypt over the years, “is worthier of you than Israel,” which, he explained, is a “racist, occupying entity.”
There was no rush of Egypt-born Israelis to take up Mr. al-Aryan’s offer, or for that matter any evidence of even a single Jewish individual who was enticed by the prospect of leaving a modern, prosperous country, not to mention his ancestral homeland, for a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated pit of poverty and political upheaval. What did come quickly, though, was the backlash against the Egyptian politician for his impudent invitation.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson Mahmoud Ghozlan, for example, lambasted Mr. al-Aryan, insisting that “Egyptian … Read More >>
I was heartened by the responses I received to my essay last week, in which I suggested that Jews of good will on each side of the issue of women’s prayer groups at the Kosel Ma’aravi make an effort to empathize with those on the other.
Even as someone who wishes to see the Jewish religious tradition of millennia upheld at that holy spot, I still consider it important to try to appreciate how women used to women’s or mixed-sex services might feel in a segregated national Jewish prayer area where the only group services are men’s. And I expressed my hope that those women, too, will try to put themselves in the shoes of men who embrace halacha and thus may not hear women’s voices raised in song. Where such empathy might lead was not my point; the empathy itself was.
I heard, among others, from several non-Orthodox rabbis who (even though they prefer a different setup at the Kosel than I) expressed their appreciation for what I wrote. Heartening too was that I didn’t receive a single communication from anyone in my own charedi community eschewing empathy for those unlike us. (Perhaps that shouldn’t have been surprising, … Read More >>
It’s easy to dismiss the antics of Warrior of the Wall Anat Hoffman. Her guerrilla gatherings of women in vocal prayer services at the Kosel Maaravi, or Western Wall, in defiance of an Israeli Supreme Court decision and in affront to the traditional Jewish men and women who most frequent the prayer site, are legend. That’s largely because Ms. Hoffman, head of “Women of the Wall” and executive director of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, makes sure the media are summoned and present to record her activities and detainments, which number eight at last count. She can bank, too, on the support – although some of it is uneasy – from the non-Orthodox American Jewish community.
Even those of us, however, who see danger and disunity in Ms. Hoffman’s goal of “liberating” the Wall from Jewish religious tradition – halacha forbids Jewish men from hearing the voices of women singing or chanting – would do well to realize that not all the women who flock to the activist’s side are political agitators. Some are surely sincere, and deserve our own sincere consideration.
Imagine a woman raised in a Reform or Conservative environment, who read from the Torah … Read More >>
In retrospect, the phenomenon of Internet-trained Rabbis serving in Conservative and Reform congregations was bound to happen.
For decades, the liberal movements have tightly managed their Rabbinic placements. The size of each class at HUC or JTS (plus Ziegler in LA) is limited, and each year’s graduates band together as an informal cartel, setting acceptable starting salaries for congregations of different sizes. While this has made it difficult or impossible for smaller congregations to afford a Rabbi, it has also ensured that the Rabbis are able to quickly repay the roughly $100,000 they spent for five years of training — and make quite a decent living from then on.
I recall over a decade ago that there was some controversy when new, “non-denominational” Rabbinic schools were founded. But now, these “non-movement” schools constitute a movement of their own, churning out new rabbis at an impressive rate. All you have to do is commit two or three hours a week (and $8000), and write a 2000 word paper at the end on “any Jewish topic” to prove you’ve learned something, and that’s it, you’re ready to be called Rabbi. And some of those rabbis are, says the Forward, … Read More >>
Most people, asked if there was any specific Jewish connection to the recent horrific murder of 20 first-graders and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, would probably respond “Noah Pozner,” one of the six-year-old casualties.
There’s another Jewish connection, though, or at least an imagined one, to the massacre. Even while the slaughtered innocents were still being prepared for burial, neo-Nazi websites began to assert, on the sole basis of their operators’ fevered imaginations and an ugly sort of wishful thinking, that Adam Lanza, the mass murderer, was a Jew.
Or at least, the bloggers claimed, a half-Jew (although from which half the evil emerged was left unclear).
One site proffered evidence, too: The name “Adam,” it explained, is exclusively used by Jews. (How clueless we’ve all been about, among others, Adam Smith and Adam Clayton Powell.)
An Iranian website, Qodsna.com, quickly joined the contemptible chorus, adding the accusation that the notoriously self-censoring Western media, which had provided nary a word about Mr. Lanza’s alleged Jewish parentage, had actively conspired to hide it. The article was revealingly titled “The Common Roots of the Palestine and Sandy Hook Crimes.” (A second article on the … Read More >>
It is too early to assess the outcome of the just ended Operation Pillar of Defense. For one thing, we do not know whether the ceasefire will hold or for how long. Nor do we know what commitments were made by the Americans to Israel in return for not embarking on a full-scale ground operation. Nor do we know what undertakings, if any, were made by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood government to interdict the smuggling of additional Fajr-5 missiles and weaponry into the Gaza Strip.
But it is not too early to assess the strategic consequences of Israel’s 2005 evacuation from Gaza. The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens wrote a powerful mea culpa last week for his earlier support, for then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal plan.
Though the arguments for withdrawal raised by Stephens and others at the time were not self-evidently wrong, there is little gainsaying Stephens’ current assessment. “Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza yielded less security, greater diplomatic isolation, and a Palestinian regime even more radical and emboldened than it had been before. As strategic failures go, it was nearly perfect.”
At the time of the withdrawal, Prime Minister Sharon insisted that if rocket fire continued from … Read More >>
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 30, 2012
Statement From Agudath Israel of America on UN Resolution Concerning Palestinian Statehood
The declarations of Hamas, the Palestinian government of Gaza, that Israel must be destroyed, the countless rockets that have underscored that intent, and the cheering on of the same by Arab residents of the West Bank make a much greater historical noise than the craven “aye”s of the 138 representatives of nations who voted yesterday to change the status of “Palestine.”
Agudath Israel of America applauds our government and the governments of Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau on their principled stances in yesterday’s United Nations General Assembly vote on the status of “Palestine.”
May we soon see the day when the other nations of the world recognize that there is only one path to peace for Israel and the Arab population in its midst, and that, at present, only one of those parties has its hands outstretched to the other.
# # #
Beyond all the Arab declarations of animus for Israel, beyond Hamas’ firing of rockets from hospitals and schools, beyond its cynical propagandizing of the resultant civilian casualties when those batteries are destroyed by Israeli jets, beyond the Gazan crowds celebrating the extension of Hamas missiles’ ranges to within reach of Israeli population centers, one image may best capture the jihadi mindset: the dragging of a man’s corpse through the streets of Gaza City.
The executed man was an Arab, like the rider to whose motorcycle his body was tied, like the cheering men atop the other bikes in the macabre motorcade. He, along with several others who were likewise summarily murdered, had been accused of “collaborating” with Israel – i.e. with sending information to the Israelis that helped them identify missile sites or the whereabouts of jihadi military leaders.
The gleeful bikers, in the end, are but an unvarnished representation of a society that seems to suck in hatred and violence with its every breath. They reflect the essence of Hamas, the movement that Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi lauds when he speaks to his people, of the West Bank residents who cheered on the rockets launched from Gaza, … Read More >>
With the storm they call Sandy three weeks gone (though not its repercussions, unfortunately), the rear-view mirror perspective allows us to reflect anew on a Jewish truth: that “natural” disasters are meant to make us think.
Some of the thoughts that have already been contemplated were projected outward, at larger society’s excesses and decadence, seeing the storm as a sign of Divine disapproval of things that the Divine, as taught us by our religious tradition, strongly condemns.
Others have regarded the hurricane as a stimulus for collective Jewish repentance, or, turning even more inward, for their own personal self-improvement, in whatever areas they feel need attention.
Others still have looked at the tempest through the shining lens of the positive things it begat, the outpouring of concern and aid for others that came in its wake. From that perspective, Sandy was an opportunity to recognize the import of our interconnectedness, of the need to feel the pain of others, and to care for their needs.
All of those ideas are properly considered; what isn’t, though, is claiming that one knows with certitude the “reason” for the destruction and death—or any destruction or death. Making such assertions is the exclusive … Read More >>
During the election cycle, many of us, myself included, contrasted Obama’s distance from Israel with Romney’s clear belief in Israel’s right to self-defense and the Palestinian’s lack of interest in true peace. We were not wrong; Obama did want to place “daylight” between the United States and Israel, and pursue a more pro-Arab and pro-European foreign policy. Now that he has won his last election, he is free to pursue the course that he feels correct. And the Israelis, by engaging in their first open conflict with Hamas since Obama took office (Operation Cast Lead having ended with a cease-fire on January 18, 2009), handed him a golden opportunity to pursue a different course from that of George W. Bush.
That course was offered to him by U.N. secretary general Ban Ki Moon, who called on “Israel to exercise maximum restraint” and enact an “immediate de-escalation of tensions.” Ban had little to say when Hamas, the duly installed governing authority in the Gaza Strip, was raining missiles down upon Israeli civilians. But now that Israel is finally forced to respond, it’s time for “maximum restraint” and a “de-escalation” of the war initiated by those missile attacks.
Leftists in … Read More >>
As with a number of evil ideas, physician assisted suicide can be defended without great difficulty. The magic word for making the case is “autonomy”—the right of individuals to make choices about their future (or, here, lack of one).
That is precisely the argument that was made in Oregon, Washington and Montana, states that have legalized assisted suicide (or, as it has been renamed in Newspeak, “death with dignity”).
The same argument was made (and the phrase enshrined) of late in Massachusetts, where voters, by a slim margin rejected the “Death With Dignity Act,” permitting doctors to help patients kill themselves if they are “terminally ill.”
Every life, however, has a terminus. Mortality happens; in fact it’s currently the rule. And so, “terminal illness,” at least philosophically speaking, is a meaningless term. (Halacha recognizes a state of “in the actual process of dying”—goses—but that concept is of no pertinence here; it is forbidden to kill a goses.) One is either alive or one is not. And suicide is either an autonomy-based human right or it isn’t.
It pays to consider some questions here. Why do civilized societies consider a healthy person who wishes to end his life to … Read More >>
It might seem a sacrilegious thought but it’s entirely true: Your vote doesn’t count. When was the last time you heard of an election, even for a local office, decided by one vote? A school board single vote might be crucial. But anything on the order of a city-wide election—all the more so a state-wide contest, and even more still, a national one—has never turned on a single ballot.
Yes, yes, if everyone felt that way and chose to not vote, the system wouldn’t work. But that is a retort, not an argument. In the end, your personal vote, qua vote, carries no determinative weight.
Please don’t get me wrong. It is important, even imperative, for Orthodox Jews in America to vote. Foremost, because it is a privilege afforded us by the wonderful country in which we live; gratitude for our freedoms and opportunities mandates that we not ignore the gift of citizenship. And then there is the importance of our communities being seen by elected officials as reliable voters; when public servants face decisions, communities perceived as electorally active more readily command the attention of the deciders.
So by all means vote! But no matter how … Read More >>
by Shlomie Boehm
Our community is being invited to a party. Valuable party favors will be distributed. There is just one caveat — the community must show up en masse, for ten to fifteen minutes per person. I am talking about the November 6 elections.
Just a few days remain until the 2012 elections, and political fever has gripped the country in a manner unprecedented since perhaps the Civil War. Everywhere you turn people are debating the pros and cons of candidates, frequently with passionate views on both sides of the debate. The presidential race is currently viewed as a dead heat, and many local New York elections, as well as local elections around the country, are similarly a dead heat. Candidates, particularly for State Senate and Assembly positions, as well as candidates running for the United States House of Representatives, are so desperate for every vote that they are happy to meet with even small groups of constituents in the hopes of garnering those one or two elusive votes that may decide their campaigns. Importantly, close elections are wonderful news for bloc constituencies, such as the Orthodox community.
A “bloc constituency” is a group of voters that … Read More >>
In slow but clear Hebrew and with an endearingly wry smile, the elderly Jewish lady recalls a trip to America one summer with her sister. At a bank, she recounts, the teller, a young woman, said to her. “Oh, you have numbers on your arms! Yours ends with a ‘4’ and hers with a ‘5’!” That’s cool!”
The bubbeh’s smile widens and her eyes seem to twinkle as she recounts her response to the girl. “You’re right,” she quietly told her in English. “It’s cool… It’s from another epoch of our life. It’s cool.”
The testimony is offered in a documentary film, “Numbered,” whose US premiere is scheduled for later this month at a Chicago film festival. The film’s focus, however, is not so much on the cluelessness of young Americans but rather on the attitudes of different tattooed survivors to the memory-marks they carry day-in, day-out on their arms. And on the recent trend among some young Israelis who seek to perpetuate a connection to the Holocaust and the Jewish people by tattooing their own arms with numbers borne by concentration camp inmates.
According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, such tattooing was introduced … Read More >>
The current extended silly season called a presidential campaign has certainly provided its share of absurdities. Wouldn’t it be nice if all there was to consider were objective facts about the candidates and carefully drawn policy statements by each? If those manipulative and disingenuous political ploys known as ads were outlawed? (I know, I know, we have a Constitution that’s very kind to free expression, even of lies and innuendo.) If money and gullibility didn’t somehow combine to yield votes?
Instead we have dog stories—that Mr. Romney long ago travelled with one atop his car (albeit in a windshield-equipped animal container—and with Seamus reportedly enjoying the ride); and that Mr. Obama, as a child in Indonesia, had tasted canine meat (a delicacy in a number of countries). And slightly less peripheral but ultimately irrelevant “issues” like the contents of the Republican candidate’s personal tax returns and the fact that some Navy SEALS don’t support the president’s re-election.
Then there are the outright mischaracterizations. Like the portrayal of Mr. Romney’s ill-spoken but less-than-horrifying admission to a group of donors that the 47% of Americans who pay no income tax aren’t likely to vote for him, as some sort of “let … Read More >>
Foreign policy has long been considered the one area in which President Obama has a decisive edge over challenger Mitt Romney in the eyes of most voters. Or at least that was the case until Sept. 11 2012, when mobs overran the U.S. embassy in Cairo and Al Qaeda terrorists killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, together with three other State department personnel.
Voters do not normally pay a great deal of attention to foreign affairs, at least in the absence of obvious disaster or war, and that has served to protect President Obama’s foreign policy from closer voter scrutiny. While the United States’ determination and ability to secure its vital interests and guard the stability of the international order have declined on his watch, these are matters far from the purview of most voters. As long as the President removed American troops from Iraq – no matter what the cost in terms of expanding Iranian influence in the country – and is well along in the process of doing so in Afghanistan, voters were sure to give him the nod over Governor Romney when it comes to guiding America’s foreign affairs over the next four years.
September 11 2012 changed all that, and the events of that day and the administration’s response to them will likely dominate discussion of foreign policy until November 6. From the point of view of a candidate locked in a very close contest, it is understandable why Romney would punch away at Obama’s greatest foreign policy vulnerability: By putting the President on the defensive, Romney can negate Obama’s perceived foreign policy advantage. But in truth, the events of September 11 are just a subset of more general policy failures that Romney will have to address if he is elected.
Let us first understand why September 11 constitutes a virtual refutation of the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s foreign policy – its outreach to the Moslem world. Obama entered office with a near mystical belief in his powers of persuasion and the force of his charisma. That confidence was most on display with respect to the Muslim world. Both as a candidate and after his election, Obama touted his formative years spent in Muslim Indonesia and his knowledge of Koran.
His much publicized 2009 Cairo speech was the high point of his outreach to the Muslim world. There he proclaimed, without a scintilla of evidence, the identity of Islamic and American values: “[Islam and America] share common principles – principles of justice and progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings.” He used that same speech to apologize for a litany of American wrongs to the Muslim world, including having acted “contrary to our ideals” in the interrogation of Muslim prisoners. And he implied that anti-Muslim prejudice, Islamophobia, lies behind criticism of Islamic intolerance, anti-Semitism, and misogyny: “We cannot disguise hostility to any religion behind the pretense of liberalism.”
Yet for all the apologies and bowing to Arab potentates, the United States is no more popular in the Middle East than under President George W. Bush. According to the Pew Center, America’s unfavorability ratings in the both Egypt and Jordan are higher than they were four years ago. The day after the Cairo embassy was overrun by mobs so were a number of other U.S. embassies around the Middle East.
Obama’s failure to boost America’s popularity – a highly overrated quality at any rate — highlights one of the central follies of the Obama administration’s reading of the Muslim world – the assumption that anti-Americanism is primarily a result of American actions rather than growing out of indigenous forces within Islam and the deep sense of failure that pervades Arab and Muslim societies when they compare themselves to the West.
There is much evidence that Obama actually believes the bromides he offered in Cairo about the identity of Islam and democracy. He consistently portrays radical Islam, with its expansionist theology, as a fringe phenomenon in the Islamic world, and the problem of radical Islam as primarily one of a few terrorists groups. As Middle East analyst Barry Rubin puts it, the Obama administration is focused on law enforcement actions against Al Qaeda, while Islamists take over entire countries.
Its misreading of the Arab and Muslim world led the administration to take a far too sanguine view of Arab Spring and to take too little account of the dangers of posed by the Muslim Brotherhood, at the expense of true liberals, in countries under transition. Obama placed Muslim Brotherhood representatives in the front row of his Cairo speech. And the administration provided Egypt’s new Muslim-Brotherhood-led government with $1.3 billion of emergency aid, with no strings attached. Yet President Mohamed Morsi did nothing to prevent the Cairo embassy from being overrun by rioters. Nor, it seems, did it ever occur to the President or Secretary of State to demand that he do so. Even President Obama had to admit afterwards that Egypt is no longer “exactly an ally.”
The slightest dip into Muslim Brotherhood theology – the group also spawned Al Qaeda and Hamas – and its rampant anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism would have warned the administration that this would be the case. At root, the Obama administration’s inability to understand the limits on Muslim Brotherhood moderation derives from the refusal of liberals to take religious seriously. But religious principles cannot be abrogated overnight. As the leading living Muslim Brotherhood theorist Khariat el-Shafar puts it, “No one can come say, ‘Let’s change the overall mission’ [i.e., the Islamization of all aspects of society]. . . . No one can say, ‘Forget obedience, discipline and structure.’”
The murder of the Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens by Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists put to rest one of the central boasts of the President Obama’s campaign – i.e., that the killing of Osama bin Laden marked the end of Al Qaeda – and turned it into at best a symbolic victory. Protestors in Cairo and at other embassies in the Arab world chanting, “Obama, Obama, we love Osama,” brought the point home.
And the assassination called into question the administration’s Libyan policy, by highlighting the degree to which the Western-supported overthrow of Gaddafi created a vacuum in Libya into which jihadi terrorists have poured.
IN RESPONSE TO THE EVENTS of September 11, top administration officials – Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Presidential Press Secretary Jay Carney, and the President himself quickly settled on a narrative: the trigger for Cairo riots (and those that followed the next day in Yemen and elsewhere), as well as the events leading to Ambassador Stevens murder was a trailer for an insulting film about Islam apparently produced in America. That narrative, the falsity of which should have been quickly realized by every sentient being, was the outgrowth of both politics and ideology.
Continue reading → The Foreign Policy Debate Ahead