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Obama and the Veil

Let me be clear: I don't doubt for a moment that Barack Obama genuinely believes that he can calm the roils that trouble the United States in its relationship with the Muslim world and the Arab orbit within it. The problem is, alas, that he hasn't a clue. Moreover, he hasn't had the chance to learn. And maybe--just maybe--he is not inclined to learn because in his generation wisdom doesn't come from study but from ideological narrative. George W. Bush had his own favorite narrative. It was hewn in Texas and polished, if it was polished at all, just before old Yale collapsed before William Sloane Coffin, if anyone still remembers his tortured and torturing soul.

Obama's narrative is assumedly third world, maybe just by dint of his skin complexion. But, frankly, there weren't many dreams from his father in Dreams From My Father. In fact, there were at least as many from his hippie white mother. So here is a very contemporary person. The two lines, though, do connect in his chosen life as it is retold and projected into the future. Here, his prominence in the deeply left-wing "community organizing" universe meets the do-not-ask-questions rules of the Chicago Democratic machine.

So, much as George Bush did not doubt, so President Obama does not doubt. He doesn't doubt himself and he doesn't doubt what he says. I made the comment the other day in another Spine with reference to Obama: narcissism is the most dangerous of sins...because it doesn't let the sinner recognize it in himself.

I believe that all the evidence--yes, all--points to the ossification of Muslim thought and Muslim behavior in the world. Dan Diner has written a book called Lost in the Sacred: Why the Muslim World Stood Still, published by Princeton University Press, which makes the point clearly and convincingly. Just this morning, I read an article by Norimitsu Onishi in the Times: "Extremism Spreads Across Indonesian Penal Code." Now, maybe we can blame this on Israel. But I doubt it.

Most of Indonesia still lives up to its reputation for a moderate, easygoing style of Islam, and Islamist parties suffered heavy losses in this year's annual elections. But how Aceh went from basic Islamic law to endorsing stoning in a few short years shows how a small, radical minority has successfully pushed its agenda, locally and nationally, by cowing political and religious moderates.

            Though extreme, Aceh is not an isolated case. In recent years, as part of a decentralization of power away from Jakarta, at least 50 local governments have used their new authority to to pass Shariah-based regulations regarding conduct and dress, though none have gone as far as Aceh to deal with criminal matters.

Or, to sum it up, a radical minority pushes stoning as basic Islamic law.

I've blogged about Obama and the face veil before. Speaking in an Olympian tone at least twice he endorsed it or, rather, supported its wearing as a civil right. He did it at the White House Ramadan dinner and, with more hauteur, in Cairo on June 4. He not only intruded on an intra-Egyptian dispute and on an intra-Islamic dispute. He took the occasion to slap down--it is true, without actually mentioning them--our French and British allies who had understandably less sympathetic feelings toward the hijab. I myself think (and have thought for a long time) that the American "live and let live" attitude to these cultural matters is preferable to any coercion in dress. But I don't live in Manchester.

Anyway, in yesterday's Financial Times, there's a dispatch from Cairo by Heba Saleh, "Egypt moves to curb wearing of face veil." This is a conflict within a civilization and doubtless much is at stake. The true progressives do not want the face veil and they not want the niqab or, for that matter, the burqha against which American and European soldiers are actually fighting in Afghanistan. If the Taliban wins, God pity the country's women.

Why is it Obama's business to render his ex cathedra judgements on matters such as these. Or maybe he's against the burqha but for the niqab. But he is president of the United States, which has an interest in a scientific and liberal enlightenment. Not in savagery or barbarism.