Obama’s Puzzling Approach to the Muslim World
Of all American leaders, he knows enough about Islam to understand that apologies and feel-good talk are destined to fail.
July 17, 2009 - 12:00 am
President Barack Obama and I have one thing in common shared by few Americans: we were brought up by at least one parent — biological or step is irrelevant — who was born and raised in an Islamic milieu. Intimately aware of the inevitable effects of this, I must question Obama’s sincerity in his approach to the Islamic world.
While I was born and raised in the U.S., my parents were born and raised in Egypt. Even though they were Christians (Copts), it was only natural that they would adopt an “Islamicate” worldview, that is, a worldview based on Islamic culture and society, though obviously not Islamic dogma. As a result, while I share and appreciate the Western worldview, so too am I intimately acquainted with the Islamic world’s weltanschauung.
This is a worldview typified by cynicism and stoicism: a belief that humanity is intrinsically opportunistic, selfish, and warlike; that might not only makes right, but should; that those in the right do not apologize or appease, but rather assert; a survival-of-the-fittest mentality; and, above all, sheer contempt for perceived weakness and equivocation, or in Islamic parlance, emasculate behavior. Let’s call this a worldview based on “primordial politics.”
Anyone who has spent time in the Islamic world or held sincere conversations with people from there — Muslim or Christian makes no difference — will know this to be true. In short, the worldview of the average person from the Islamic world is the antithesis of the postmodern, “therapeutic” worldview of the liberal West, where “feelings,” “mutual respect,” “toleration,” and the ability to “express oneself” are paramount. This is only natural: people bred in harsh environments (e.g., the vast majority of the Islamic world) are not impressed by soft or sublime words.
It bears repeating that these qualities are not so much due to Islam per se; rather, they have an ancient lineage and have permeated almost every major civilization, including the West (e.g., the “neocons”). It is the postmodern, liberal worldview that is aberrant to human history, that is a dot in a long continuum of realpolitik. Living and dying in the height of our era — human lives are so short — it is easy to overlook the evanescence of this epistemology.
Islamic civilization, on the other hand, whose soul is trapped in the medieval era (thanks primarily to the concept of sunna), is by far the staunchest champion of primordial politics.