Faux pas trifecta

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The president’s confidante has been on a “listening tour” to “start a conversation with the rest of the world”—namely, the Muslim world, beginning with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — but there were too many times when she just didn’t know what to say.

A Washington Post anecdote from Day One captures the disconnect. Asked in Egypt whether she was going to meet with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Mubarak-banned opposition party with deep roots in terrorism and the catchy motto — “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope” — Mrs. Hughes “turned uncertainly to an aide and indicated she was wasn’t quite sure of the answer. The aide whisperedbackand Hughes replied,’We arerespectfulof Egypt’s laws.’ ”

I guess that means no, but the non-denial denial is open to interpretation. Maybe she wanted to meet with the Muslim Brotherhood, but couldn’t? Or maybe she didn’t want to say something as harshly non-conversational as “no” because the popular MB might be elected one of these days. (This which would chalk one up for sharia-to-the-people — the Arab democracy doctrine of the Bush administration.) Or maybe she just didn’t know.

But worse than not knowing what to say is saying too much. Or saying the wrong thing. Or even saying anything at all. Mrs. Hughes committed all of the above, a faux pas trifecta, after meeting with Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, the academic center of Sunni Islam. It was a “wonderful meeting,” she explained, because the two of them were able to talk “about the common language of the heart.”

Oh, brother. Is this an Undersecretary of State or a sorority sister? Mrs. Hughes burbled on about the leadership of Al-Azhar “in speaking out against extremism, against terrorism, [which] is not in keeping with the tenets of Islam” — natch. The sheikh “made the point that all divine religions are built on a spirit of love,” she said, “and [that] it is important that all of us work together to fight extremism, to fight terrorism.” What a guy. Hearing Mrs. Hughes talk about him, you could almost forget what he said in 2002, as translated from a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), when he called on Palestinian Muslims to “intensify the martyrdom operations [suicide attacks] against the Zionist enemy” — men, women, and children — and described the barbarous slaughter as “the highest form of Jihad operations,” and “a legitimate act according to [Islamic] law.” Maybe that’s the “spirit of love” Mrs. Hughes was gushing about.

Then there was what Sheikh Tantawi said in 2003, also reported by MEMRI, when he called for jihad against U.S. forces in Iraq. “Jihad is an obligation for every Muslim when Muslim countries are subject to aggression,” he explained. “The gates of Jihad are open until the Day of Judgment, and he who denies this is an infidel or one who abandons his religion.” This he said during a sermon at — where else? — Al-Azhar. (Speaking of Al-Azhar, MEMRI reports that Sharia faculty chief Abd Al-Sabour Shahin just last month denied that “a single Arab or Muslim” had anything to do with destroying the Empire State Building [sic] on September 11. He blamed “dirty Zionists.”)

I juxtapose Mrs. Hughes’ hearts-and-flowers assessment with the hate-and-fanaticism reality for a reason. Obviously, the resources available to me — the invaluable MEMRI Web site — are available to the State Department. I find it difficult to believe that Mrs. Hughes or her advisors were unaware of the jihadist incitement Sheikh Tantawi is prone to, even though he’s also on record with contradictory statements. Why did the Bush administration determine that this meeting was in the best interests of our nation? If the war on terror — always a PC-punch-pulling moniker — is turning into the accommodation of terror, maybe it makes sense to make nice. There is, actually, a long tradition of such accommodation between the non-Muslim world and the Muslim world, and it is contained within the blighted history of “dhimmitude.” This is the term coined by historian Bat Ye’or to describe the institutionalized inferiority of non-Muslims (dhimmi) under Muslim rule. Mrs. Hughes’ paying tribute to the likes of Sheikh Tantawi is dhimmi behavior. As is, frankly, the whole “listening tour” — an ill-conceived campaign to improve Uncle Sam’s “image” with a Muslim world whose opposition to a viable Israel and a free Iraq is hardly skin-deep.

Me, I’d like to see a “like it or lump it tour.” But that, of course, would mean keeping up the fight.

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