Africa Vs. The Arab World
Anne Bayefsky, 07.12.09, 01:55 PM EDT
Why does Obama treat the two so differently?
h/t Alex A
Speaking in Ghana on Saturday President Obama lectured Africans on local repression, corruption, brutality, good governance and accountability. The startling contrast to his June speech in Cairo was revealing. Stroking Muslim and Arab nations has become the hallmark of Obama’s foreign policy.
In Egypt, he chose not to utter the words “terrorism” or “genocide.” In Egypt, there was nothing “brutal” he could conjure up, no “corruption” and no “repression”.
In Ghana, with a 70% Christian population, he mentioned “good governance” seven times and added direct calls upon his audience to “make change from the bottom up.” He praised “people taking control of their destiny” and pressed “young people” to “hold your leaders accountable.”
He made no such calls for action by the people of Arab states–despite the fact that not a single Arab country is “free,” according to the latest Freedom House global survey.
Before the Muslim world Obama donned the role of apologist-in-chief. Over and over again his examples of shortfalls in the protection of rights and freedoms were American: the “prison at Guantanamo Bay,” “rules on charitable giving [that] have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation,” impediments to the “choice” of Muslim women to shroud their bodies.
Christian Africa was to be treated to no such self-flagellation. In a rare tongue-lashing for Africans from any American president, he chastised: “It’s easy to point fingers and to pin the blame of these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense helped to breed conflict … But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy … or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants … tribalism and patronage and nepotism … and … corruption.”
He might equally have said to the Arab and Muslim world: “It’s easy to scapegoat Israel and blame your problems on the presence of Jews–albeit on a fraction of 1% of the territory inhabited by the Arab world–but Israel is not responsible for poverty, illiteracy, torture, trafficking, slavery and oppression rampant across your countries.” But he did not.
In Ghana he pointed to specific heroes that had exposed human rights abuse, singling out by name a courageous investigative reporter. In Egypt, though journalists and bloggers are routinely threatened, jailed and worse, no such brave soul came to mind.
In a Christian African nation he said, “If we are honest, for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. There are wars over land and wars over resources. And it is still far too easy for those without conscience to manipulate whole communities into fighting among faiths and tribes.”
To the Arab and Muslim world he could have said: “Since the day of Israel’s birth Arab and Muslim countries have made conflict with Israel a part of life, warring over land and manipulating whole communities into fighting in the name of Islam to render the area Judenrein.”
Instead, he turned on the only democracy in the Middle East and said the presence of Jews on Arab-claimed territory–settlements–is an affront to be “stopped.” It didn’t matter that agreements require ultimate ownership of this territory to be determined by negotiation or that apartheid Palestine is hardly a worthy pursuit.
From Ghana he chided Africans: “No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, even if occasionally you sprinkle an election in there. And now is the time for that style of governance to end.”
For an Arab and Muslim audience he cooed: “America will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities, which are also threatened.”
Ghanaians will likely turn the other cheek, secure enough to take it and even be grateful for the spotlight. But Obama’s double-standard is not a victimless crime. The disparity between the scolding he gave in Ghana and the love-in he held in Cairo illuminates an incoherent and dangerous agenda.
In his lofty, but empty, rhetoric in Ghana, Obama promised “we must stand up to inhumanity in our midst,” pledged “a commitment … to sanction and stop” warmongers and embraced the Zimbabwe non-governmental organization that “braved brutal repression to stand up for the principle that a person’s vote is their sacred right.”
These are devastating words for Iranians struggling valiantly to keep the hope of democracy alive but forced to bear witness to the contradiction. Betrayed, they have watched the Obama administration pledge to move forward on negotiations with illegally ensconced Iranian thugs–at the very same time their victims are being rounded up, tortured and readied for show-trials in advance of certain execution.
On Friday, Obama, and the rest of the G-8 with his blessing, announced that thinking about more sanctions on Iran can wait until September. And then we can expect yet another round of Security Council dickering over minimalist responses to more Iranian stalling tactics–until an Iranian nuclear weapon is inevitable. Though it is 2,202 days since the U.N.’s atomic energy agency first declared that Iran was violating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Obama pretends legitimizing those same nuclear-proliferating fascists makes it more likely the clock will stop ticking.
Iranians standing up for their allegedly “sacred rights” know Obama has it exactly backwards. Speechifying about “our interconnected world” and “common interests” in Ghana was cold comfort to the voices of Muslim dissidents and Jewish victims deserted in the Obama wilderness.
Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and professor and director of the Touro College Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust in New York.