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Obama’s Abominable Obeisance: Cultural Perspectives

In the ancient world and throughout much of the Middle East today, bowing is just about the worst thing someone can do.

by
Raymond Ibrahim

Bio

April 11, 2009 - 12:00 am
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In light of the West’s ancestors’ utter contempt for proskunesis, let us now examine Obama’s prostration in context:

First, it must be affirmed that, as with ancient Greeks, Americans find bows, prostrations, and other servile gestures distasteful. Interestingly, the Muslim world shares this same view, particularly so-called “radicals,” who are constantly condemning “manmade” governments, such as democracies, as systems of “human-worship” to be eschewed at all cost. Writes Ayman al-Zawahiri: “Know that democracy, that is, ‘rule of the people,’ is a new religion that deifies the masses by giving them the right to legislate without being shackled down to any other authority” (The Al Qaeda Reader, p. 130).

This, by the way, is why the Saudi monarch does not tamper with Sharia: doing so would be tantamount to self-apotheosis. Expecting prostrations from others would be viewed little better by the theocrats surrounding him. (Watch the video and note that, while the king proceeded with an extended right arm, Obama dived in with a bow, almost taking the former aback.)

In short, both Muslims and Americans (at least until very recently for the latter) find bowing to be an odious enterprise and therefore do not offer it to, nor expect it from, others.

Conversely, some Far Eastern cultures incorporate the bow. Had Obama been in Japan and bowed (and received a reciprocal bow signifying equality), his actions would have been culturally appropriate (not to mention expected). Yet, Obama had as much reason to bow to a Muslim as he would have to a Christian or Jew.

Yet surely he didn’t bow to Abdullah due to the latter’s exalted status in the Muslim world (“Guardian of the Two Sanctities”), but rather out of politeness, because Abdullah is a king, royalty. Not so. Were this true, upon meeting the British queen — equal “royalty” — Obama would have stooped to her as well. (Nor can his iPod gift be considered surrogate.)

Whatever prompted that rather instinctive bow — Obama may be used to bending the knee to Saudi royalty, considering that Saudis may have paid his college tuition — and regardless of antiquated notions of “honor” and “dignity,” merely diplomatically, it was a bad move.

Not only is the Wahhabi king a symbol of the most “radical” form of Islam — it’s not for nothing that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, not to mention bin Laden, were Saudis — but his Sharia-enforcing kingdom is cited as one of the worst human rights violators in the world. Bowing to this man was therefore symbolically a bow of submission to radical Islam and all its attendant human rights violations.

This is compounded by the fact that, immediately preceding this ignoble bow, Obama was busy profusely apologizing to the Islamic world, insisting that the U.S. is not at war with Islam — and “never will be.” Jihadis the world over must have been relieved to know that not only does the leader of the most powerful Western nation have no intention of naming them or placing them in context — so much for that first strategy of warfare, “know your enemy” — but that nothing they do in the future will ever cause the sleeping infidel giant’s leader to arouse it.

Similarly, Obama’s obeisance should give nuke-seeking Iran even more hope in its endeavors. After all, if the leader of the free West so readily bends the knee to Wahhabi despotism, how long before he bows to Iran, the true heir of proskunesis-Persia? And if he does not fully bow willingly, that is only more incentive for Iran to hasten and acquire nukes, so he can be made to bow unwillingly.

Finally, any would-be “moderates” or assertive governments who may have been serious about combating radical Islam and its attendant humanitarian abuses via Sharia have, through Obama’s bow to the personification of radical Islam, just received a clear message: aside from occasional, perfunctory lip service, you’re really on your own.

As for all those who would defend Obama’s bow by saying he was being “diplomatic,” because, you know, we “need” Saudi oil, how does that justify bowing, unprecedented from an American president, unexpected from the Saudi king?

When Alexander the Great, drunk with hubris, took on despotic ways, demanding that others prostrate themselves before him, the Macedonians revolted; some were put to death. What a long way Western civilization has come when today the leader of the free world and heir to democratic ancient Greece, far from despotically demanding that others offer him obeisance, voluntarily opts to prostrate himself — and in essence, all of America — before another. And what another.

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Raymond Ibrahim, a Middle East and Islam specialist, is author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians (2013) and The Al Qaeda Reader (2007). His writings have appeared in a variety of media, including the Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst, Middle East Quarterly, World Almanac of Islamism, and Chronicle of Higher Education; he has appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, C-SPAN, PBS, Reuters, Al-Jazeera, NPR, Blaze TV, and CBN. Ibrahim regularly speaks publicly, briefs governmental agencies, provides expert testimony for Islam-related lawsuits, and testifies before Congress. He is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center; Judith Friedman Rosen Writing Fellow, Middle East Forum; and a Media Fellow at the Hoover Institution, 2013. Ibrahim’s dual-background -- born and raised in the U.S. by Coptic Egyptian parents born and raised in the Middle East -- has provided him with unique advantages, from equal fluency in English and Arabic, to an equal understanding of the Western and Middle Eastern mindsets, positioning him to explain the latter to the former.
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