Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
Before President Obama's Arab Spring speech on Thursday, White House officials hinted that the president would focus largely on economic matters. But Obama actually sounded more like a preacher than an economist.
In his “New Beginning” speech at Cairo University in June 2009, Obama spoke respectively and repeatedly of Islam. He began with “Assalaamu alaykum” (“peace be upon you”). He referred to “the holy Quran” five times. And he recalled his own experiences hearing the call to prayer as a boy in Indonesia and working alongside Muslims as a community organizer in Chicago.
Perhaps most importantly, he tried to look like a fair broker between Israel and the Palestinians, calling America’s bond with Israel “unbreakable” while describing the situation of the Palestinian people as “intolerable.”
In Thursday's Cairo 2.0 speech, he promised to show the Muslim world the money, pledging billions in loan relief and loan guarantees to Egypt.
He also continued to portray himself as a fair mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, telling the Palestinians that “efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure” and telling Israelis that “the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.”
Most importantly, however, he sided Thursday with idealists rather than realists, stating that “America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator.” He called out not just enemies in Libya but also friends in Yemen and Bahrain. He spoke twice about “the moral force of non-violence,” referred repeatedly to self-determination and insisted that “our support for these principles is not a secondary interest.”
“Our message is simple,” he said. “If you take the risks that reform entails you will have the full support of the United States.”
Obama also advanced a narrative about the universal struggle for human rights that ran from the American Revolution and the Civil War through Tunis and Cairo and beyond. He likened the actions of the Arab Spring rebellion to “the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or to the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat.”
The true martyr here, he said, is not Osama Bin Laden but Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who sparked the Arab Spring by setting himself on fire.
Throughout the speech, Obama paid a lot of attention to religion. He spoke of Americans being bound to the region by forces of economics, history, and faith. Among the universal human rights he championed was the freedom of religion. And he denounced both intimidation of Coptic Christians in Egypt and the destruction of Shia mosques in Bahrain.
Taking a page out of his Cairo 1.0 speech, he spoke of the Middle East as “the birthplace of three world religions.” “In Tahrir Square, we heard Egyptians from all walks of life chant, ‘Muslims, Christians, we are one.’” he said. “America will work to see that this spirit prevails – that all faiths are respected, and that bridges are built among them.”
Now that this speech has been delivered, it will of course be parsed. Members of Congress will grouse about giving American money for economic development in Egypt when our own economy is on the rocks. On Friday, in his meeting with Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will doubtless complain about the president's insistence that the borders for the future Palestinian state “should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
In the end, however, the lasting importance of this speech comes down to the story Obama was telling here—a multi-generational, global story that ties the Arab world, the Arab Spring and the Islamic religion to the story of America's own march toward freedom. We have been there, he told the Arab street, in our own revolution and our own civil war. So we are with you today.
Whether they buy this is of course another story.
According to a Pew Global Attitudes Survey released a few days ago, views of the United States remain negative in all the Muslim-majority nations surveyed, with the notable exception of Indonesia. Majorities or pluralities in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Palestinian territories disapprove of his handling of calls for change in the Middle East.
So it is doubtless an uphill battle. But calling street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi the Rosa Parks of the Middle East is a good start.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.
The false belief that Muslim nations, left to their own, would amalgamate and seek to destroy America simply because it wants power and religious conformity, is a classic case of paranoid schizophrenia, and an incitement to unnecessary warmongering and destruction. Saddam is gone, the radicals cannot so much as incite an ounce of hatred in the minds of healthy and undisturbed leaders, with the exception of Iran.
This said, and granted the U.S is the best, your article Steph, is filled with forlorn dreams. That there is such thing as an Arab spring. That the plight of Rosa Parks resembles that of Bouazizi. That a world with democracy as it is known in America is a standard which any nation could follow. That there be a democratic Middle East today, tomorrow, emulating American values. That a democratic Middle East is better than a Middle East without democracy (even as I sit here sipping my mochachino by my Sony Vaio). That differences of culture are fatal, prone to pathos of demos, and can be reconciled with the ‘be like me’ meme. That luxury, progress, heck, even life, is only possible today and tomorrow in a strictly Americanized form of democracy.
To the cynic who might suggest that I come to terms with the differences within myself by taking a trip to Saudi Arabia, live a day in a life as Bouazizi only to realize that these differences shouldn‘t exist, be curtailed, or that the makeup of the U.S is a standard makeup for the Middle East on its way in becoming good, or at least docile, I’ll say this: grow up.
Just to clarify what I meant by "with the exception of Iran". Iran having a healthy leader but with the influence of radical clerics. If America attacks Iran for any reason (treaties, foreign interests and allied ties) other than its own direct national security being threatened at her doorstep, than I speak for myself primarily when I say, Iran should do all it can in its power to secure her existence and future by any means. If Iran's future and security cannot be guaranteed under war, then she is pretty much justified in making sure that she can do whatever she can to ensure the destruction of the attacker and invader.
[10:93] We have endowed the Children of Israel with a position of honor, and blessed them with good provisions. Yet, they disputed when this knowledge came to them. Your Lord will judge them on the Day of Resurrection regarding everything they disputed.
The Messenger's Doubt
[10:94] If you have any doubt regarding what is revealed to you from your Lord, then ask those who read the previous scripture. Indeed, the truth has come to you from your Lord. Do not be with the doubters.
[10:95] Nor shall you join those who rejected GOD's revelations, lest you be with the losers.
[10:96] Surely, those condemned by a decree from your Lord cannot believe.
[10:97] No matter what kind of proof you show them, (they cannot believe), until they see the painful retribution.
Believing Nations Prosper
[10:98] Any community that believes will surely be rewarded for believing. For example, the people of Jonah: when they believed, we relieved the humiliating retribution they had been suffering in this world, and we made them prosperous.
[10:99] Had your Lord willed, all the people on earth would have believed. Do you want to force the people to become believers?
The Disbelievers Blocked Out*
[10:100] No soul can believe except in accordance with GOD's will. For He places a curse upon those who refuse to understand.
[10:101] Say, "Look at all the signs in the heavens and the earth." All the proofs and all the warnings can never help people who decided to disbelieve.
[10:102] Can they expect other than the fate of their counterparts in the past? Say, "Just wait, and, along with you, I am also waiting."
[10:103] We ultimately save our messengers and those who believe. It is our immutable law that we save the believers.
[10:104] Say, "O people, if you have any doubt regarding my religion, I do not worship what you worship beside GOD. I worship GOD alone; the One who will terminate your lives. I am commanded to be a believer."
[10:105] I was commanded: "Keep yourself devoted to the religion of monotheism; you shall not practice idol worship.
[10:106] "You shall not worship beside GOD what possesses no power to benefit you or harm you. If you do, you will be a transgressor."
All Power Belongs To God
[10:107] If GOD touches you with a hardship, none can relieve it except He. And when He blesses you, no force can prevent His grace. He bestows it upon whomever He chooses from among His servants. He is the Forgiver, Most Merciful.
[10:108] Proclaim: "O people, the truth has come to you herein from your Lord. Whoever is guided is guided for his own good. And whoever goes astray, goes astray to his own detriment. I am not a guardian over you."
[10:109] Follow what is revealed to you, and be patient until GOD issues His judgment; He is the best judge.
"Al-Sistani was apparently referring to Abdullah bin Jabrain, a key member of Saudi Arabia's clerical establishment, who last month joined a chorus of other senior figures from the hardline Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam that regards Shiites as infidels.
Bin Jabrain described Shiites as "the most vicious enemy of Muslims."
Looks we should build a wall around the entire Middle East until these backward, immature, and irrationale clerics can have at it with each other.
And it is very, very disturbing that the Saudi government by their silence continues to support the vitriol for expanding the butchery between Sunnis and Shiites. Considering the billions if not trillions of dollars in oil, cash and investments, the Saudi political leadership could end poverty in all of the Mideast but they apparently fear the Wahhabi clerics. I say jail the terrorist clerics and send them to the Hague for crimes against humanity. Or maybe a UN/US/NATO take over of Saudi Arabia would be a faster resolution?
I think Obama wants Arab's and all Muslims to experience Democracy and to enjoy the good things it may bring.
@Keith...Nope, they weren't. We are made of what we believe, and they believed that they came from Ape so let them be. They looked like one anyway.
@Wipeout: No, they don't. And apes don't have DNA for human language like atheists do; it's impossible both are related no matter what atheists claim for themselves. Each human being is a creature created in God's image no matter what is claimed by atheists.
@ lycidas....At Least Reality shows intelligence open minded thought in his great posts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
@T-party- actually no....copy/pasting shows no intelligence. But then again, I doubt you understand that.
Keith you are a human species. You can mate and reproduce with other humans makes you a human species......Learn some science....
T-party, No. I was made in God's image. Learn some of God's Word......
I wonder why there aren't in-between species between humans and monkeys. Say, some animals who can speak half amount of human language or human intelligence. Human species are too distict from the rest on earth as if to be created separately, as if to govern everything, but so marred with sins... Exactly as recoreded in the Bible.
America needs to pay China back and get out of debt before we send Pakistan or Isreal one cent.
T-party, does that go for cutting aid to the Palestinians, too?
America continues to help others even if she must bleed her life out... True bravery. Worthy heroism. American soldiers must be proud of their mother country like no others could. Why should they suffer depression? I hope America is educating their soldiers what a noble purpose they are accomplishing.
T-party, Yeah, I didn't think you'd be in favor of that.
Don't try to lure Arabs with the stupid hedonistic lifestyles. Life is hard in many ways, but humanity is seeking something much nobler than just ease of life or money. Americans should show respect to God and show respect to Christianity, your own tradition. You treat any other religions with respect except Christianity, but bad kids who bash good parents only get scorns from everyone. You self-smart secularists pretend you got everything good without Christianity but that's the worst absurdity and lies the world has ever known. Please know yourself.
@ Adelina , Hi hope you have a great weekend! I wanted to agree with a post on another blog you did regarding USA debt to China I agree China owns us. Before America offers one penny to Pakistan,Sudan,Israel or any other country we need to pay back China and curb our deficit.
Hi, T-party, it's always pleasure to meet you. Don't forget America should educate their owner regarding food safety. Transparancy and honesty over one's own life as a functioning system is something that can never dawn on mind outside of the traditional Christian West, though such virtue is most coveted.
T-party, you must be proud to be American. America always helps others beyond her owm means to bring freedom, justice and human rights to all. It's how she was formed. Let others say whatever. God changed the world for good through America, the freedom fighters of the planet. So, wake up now and stay out of the stupid moral corrosion and keep being respected.
Obama is a moron. I hope Netanyahu tells him to "go to hell, we don't need you". It's time for Israelis to start acting like God's chosen people and not a bunch of boot-licking sissies. Thanks moron for bringing God's judgement on this country and thank you to the "replacement theology" church which did nothing to stop this. This will not be pleasant.
If I were a Muslim, I would never trust bunch of Western playboys – a reality.
America should show some kind of dignity in character, not just helping with money. America should display something the whole world can look up to and respect. You used to have it. And stop attacking your own politicians like death though it may make money for some.
Fair outcomes from civil rights movement can be established only by installing Judeo-Christian values. American citizens were never collectively exploited by evil local governments or suffered directly from foreign powers' oppressions. Some of the reasons they are naive about human goodness.
Here is the facts:
1) This isn't Israel and the Palestinians we are talking about. This is Israel, Gaza, West Bank, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights we are talking about. Israel has pulled out of Gaza and the terrorist group Hamas took over and started lobbing rockets at random at Israel. Land for peace sure worked there didn't it?
The West Bank at least has somewhat moderate leadership in places. That land could become a thriving nation if the Fatah would make Hebron or Jericho the capitol.
Israel is not going to give up the Golan to Syria or even Palestinians. It would be suicide from a military point of view.
Jerusalem is also going to be a deal breaker. Israel is not going to give up Jerusalem and the Palestinians want more than just East Jerusalem.
2) Obama has cut the legs out of Israel's position in any future talks by this 1967 talk. Hamas, a recognized terror group by the EU and the US, are forming a joint govt with the Fatah. Imagine if the US would have said that the IRA was legit back in the day? The UK would have been furious. Or if we gave our support to Quebec for statehood...Canada would be right to be mad. But yet Obama doesn't seem to realize what he did here by supporting Hamas.
3) The Middle East is rising in power again. What happens when nations start filling themselves with renewed pride?? Take a look at the last years of the Wiemar Republic and the beginning of Adolf's Germany. That could be a possible future of a nationalistic Middle East.
Some time fears and acts of fears leads people to what you fear most to happen...so it is how it will be played that will determine the future...so as BO said that to show good feelings and give a helping hand will make you less enemies than if go on the bases of power and superiority...
We have a saying that goes "The more you remember and mention the devil name the more chance that he will come and appear to you"....
So if you think posative and optimistic the more chance that it will turn good,while remaining negative and pessimistic the more chance that it will appear in the way you fear most...
@Muneef- The problem is, when Israel was being the "good" guy as the world wants to dictate it..they got rockets shot at them from Gaza. After so many wars, I think it is more up to the Arab nations to try and be the good guys than make Israel bend over backwards to them.
This story will go on for ever until the date life ends on Earth....this ever lasting conflict was planted there because ever since it started it created jobs for war arms manufacturers,it has created good business revenue for war and arms lords,made a good business for those con-fis-cat-ing Palestinians lands&olive trees,turning them in to residential areas for imported Jews,gradually removing Palestinians of all faiths further out of range every time....?
Palestinians having lost bloods,lands and forced out by foreighn people who first came as immigrants needing shelter from Nazi's (generosity of Palestinians have allowed them and treated them kindly) but then the shock was when they Zionests managed in the name of Jews into becoming legal owners of the Palestinians lands because America&the UN thought that was right or rather were threatened into recognizing and signing such ownership deed which understood was signed by the American president at midnight at the white house wearing his sleeping ware and half asleep....!
So you should not complain since having planted such evil group into the Middle East only helped American&Friends to continue with arms industries,increasing their production and sales to Arabs who needed it fearing attack of the boogyman who claimed that his boarders extend from Palestine towards the Persian Gulf,including within it the Arabian Penisaler,North Africa and to Syrian area....so when such virus threatens that this is his plans...what do you expect from All Arabian countries to do what ever their religion was, would do...!?It was said that "the best of defense is to attack"...
Those allowed such to be signed knew all the time that this is what was going to happen because it happened repeatedly through out history from time of the crusaders but still they continued with signing it because it meant for them money pouring in for all involved with the trading on this issue which has spoiled the life of the Palestinians and all Arabs ever started war over those lands started with swords and horses that has developed into the present arms that we became to know and only God knows how future arms would look like in few de-ca-des or cen-tur-ies that are yet to come ....?!
It was a nice speech but after all not every thing about money.... It is about helping others standing on their feet to be able with time to contribute to other needy ones...and that can be done but not with money alone but as well by knowhow and managements skills.... Egypt is a rich country but poor people.... Egypt and Sudan if assisted with agriculture projects they will suffice the world need for food....but seems that is known but unwanted by those who want to keep in control or area as a market for their own agriculture produce such as Wheat,Maze&Soybean...
In the Arabian peninsular all we need is a steam of that Nile river connected to us and am sure we can turn the empty quarter in to paradise and become an additional food basket for the world...
But all that happens is that money are granted and given to officials whom waste it on useless projects or share it between them not achieving any thing for their country and people....
We here in Yemen our Unity day celebration is on 22 May since 1990 to date but this time because of the troubles in the country related to changes we are threatened by the oppositions that they would make of it a bloody date marching towards the presidency to remove the president against the will of many who prefer having the president finish his legal ruling period rather than those coming to rule by coup rather than legal honest elections....Honestly what a mess we are in by those oppositions who what to take over what the youth have achieved and will be using those youth as their slaughter sheep for them to reach the ruling chair and then again when they both oppositions fight among them over it....
Muneef, Hello. I had a couple of questions for you on the Coptics in Cairo story from May 15. Just wondered if you'd seen them?
Hello hope you are well, actually I don't remember seeing them but if you would like me to see them kindly provide me the link and the page number for prompter reach...meanwhile will try finding them.
Done what you asked in reply to your questions.thanks.
S. Prothero noted: "In Thursday's Cairo 2.0 speech, he promised to show the Muslim world the money, pledging billions in loan relief and loan guarantees to Egypt."
Why? We are $14 trillion in the red and Saudi Arabia, Egypt's watery-neighbor has billions in cash and oil. Let the Saudi's help Egypt. Time we exit the area.
Declare victory and get the hell out. Getting entangled in the Middle East was incredibly stupid.
"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever."
1 John 2:15-17
Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.
Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction. (ditto for John's epistles written by some other little known John.)
Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European, white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices.
Thanks Reality for your garbage comments your recycle.
Reform is the only way we'll be able to advance as a species. This comes through education, which has been shown to reduce the amount of nonsense people believe. Including propaganda, cultural bias and religion.
Reform is a interesting process. Most will point to some segment of society and declare that we will be a better society if they would change their views or opinions. Some will declare reform could be everything from tearing down the houses of worship to sending Gays and Lesbians to re-educating camps. Others will say taking away all personal vehicles to taking away privately owned firearms.
Reform is the term used by those that often feel that they should not change because they are perfect but the guy down the street that thinks or believes differently should.
Propaganda is like the Obama's call for "change". Right now some folks feel their version of reform is putting prayer back in the classroom.
That is the problem with "reform", everyone has different views of what are worthy "reforms".
"species"? what are you? some kind of insect? I'm not part of any "species". Speak for yourself. I was fearfully and wonderfully made by my Creator and so were you.
@Keith...Nope, they weren't. We are made of what we believe, and they believed that they came from Ape so let them be. They looked like one anyway. PERFECT!
WipeOut, that's kind of insulting to the Apes, isn't it?
The Origin of Man
[32:7] He is the One who perfected everything He created, and started the creation of the human from clay.
[32:8] Then He continued his reproduction through a certain lowly liquid.
[32:9] He shaped him and blew into him from His spirit. And He gave you the hearing, the eyesight, and the brains; rarely are you thankful.
[79:40] As for the one who reverenced the majesty of his Lord, and enjoined the self from sinful lusts.
[79:41] Paradise will be the abode.
[89:27] As for you, O content soul.
[89:28] Return to your Lord, pleased and pleasing.
[89:29] Welcome into My servants.
[89:30] Welcome into My Paradise.
Equality of Men and Women
[33:35] The submitting men, the submitting women, the believing men, the believing women, the obedient men, the obedient women, the truthful men, the truthful women, the steadfast men, the steadfast women, the reverent men, the reverent women, the charitable men, the charitable women, the fasting men, the fasting women, the chaste men, the chaste women, and the men who commemorate GOD frequently, and the commemorating women; GOD has prepared for them forgiveness and a great recompense.
40:15] Possessor of the highest ranks, and Ruler of the whole dominion. He sends inspiration, bearing His commands, to whomever He chooses from among His servants, to warn about the Day of Summoning.
[40:16] That is the day when everyone will be completely exposed; none of them will hide anything from GOD. To whom belongs all sovereignty on that day? To GOD, the One, the Supreme.
Prepare for the Big Day
[40:17] On that day, every soul will be requited for whatever it had earned. There will be no injustice on that day. GOD is most efficient in reckoning.
[40:18] Warn them about the imminent day, when the hearts will be terrified, and many will be remorseful. The transgressors will have no friend nor an intercessor to be obeyed.
[40:19] He is fully aware of what the eyes cannot see, and everything that the minds conceal.
So you see Keith you are special created for a purpose in this stage of transit test life...as true life is the eternal life that which comes after death on resurrection and Judgment day...
Keith/Wipeout...oh dear you both sound like creationists, lots of talk of monkeys and apes.. as if it is some kind of insult. You have evolved ...to the point where you now think you are special enough to have a another being make you more important than the other species. You are a species like every other living thing on the planet. you are as connected to apes and ,puppies as you are to a bacteria..and the dead stars from eons ago.
What is the different between Mankind and Human Being? What has got Mankinds evolve into becoming Human Beings? What is the difference between some one who lives in a jungles or caves and never read or heard or know any thing and those who have read,heard and know ? Is't the first is a mankind but with a beast mind and heart,while the second should be a Human with a human mind and heart ?? Now in those concrete jungles you have such as those that look like human but have beast mind and heart....which are considering them selves still as beasts...!
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.