Who needs reform most: Egypt or America?


NEW YORK — Prior to leaving Egypt for the United Nations General Assembly, Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi told The New York Times the United States needs to “fundamentally change” its approach to the Arab world. That includes, he said, showing greater respect for Arab values, as well as helping to build a Palestinian state.

Is there an Arab equivalent for the Yiddish word “Chutzpah”? It isn’t the policies and attitude of the United States toward the Arab world that need changing. It’s the attitude and policies of the Arab world that need to change. For a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who still subscribes to the group’s radical beliefs, to blame America for problems in the Arab world is like blaming the mirror for what it reflects.

Which nation is in greater need of an attitude adjustment? In USA Today recently, there was this line: “…more than a year after (Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak’s ouster, not much has changed for women…” The story contains pictures of Egyptian women being harassed by men on the streets of Cairo this summer during their “holy” month of Ramadan. The caption mentions activists who say that “harassment of women in the streets spikes during Muslim holidays.” Did U.S. attitudes toward Arabs cause this harassment?

Then there’s terrorism. A significant amount of terrorist activity emanates geographically and religiously from the Arab and Muslim world. Hatred for all things Jewish, Christian and Western can be found in children’s textbooks in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and throughout the Middle East — hate that is then reinforced by mullahs and Arab media. “…Pakistan’s public education system goes beyond instilling pride in being Muslim and encourages bigotry that can foment violence against ‘the other,'” Husain Haqqani, a Pakistani author and professor of international relations at Boston University, told the Los Angeles Times back in 2005. Is such hatred the fault of the United States? Coptic Christians are fleeing Egypt. It is Egyptian persecution, not American attitudes that prompts them to leave.

With a few notable exceptions, Arab and Muslin nations mostly lived in unenviable conditions under extreme religious and tribal codes long before the United States and Israel came into being. Perhaps it was the “thought” of a country that treats women as equal to men, practices religious pluralism and tolerance for other beliefs — or no belief — that infuriated the Arab masses prior to 1776?

As for Palestinian-Israeli relations, how many times has Israel relinquished land seized for its security from invading Arab nations bent on its destruction? How many times has Israel compromised in many other ways as it sought peace with its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians? And how many times have the Palestinians not kept up their end of agreements, and, in fact, continue to incite their own people to “jihad” for the purpose of eliminating Israel? Which attitudes are in most need of reform? Meaningful peace must precede discussions of a Palestinian state.

Some might agree with the indictment by Morsi and other Arab and Muslim leaders of American attitudes when it comes to sex and relationships, given the societal consequences — unwanted pregnancies, single-parent homes. He told the Times he doesn’t like the West’s looser sexual mores, including cohabiting unmarried couples and what he called “naked restaurants” like Hooters. He is also troubled by the gangs and violence in Los Angeles (he was a graduate student at the University of Southern California).

I don’t like the looser sexual mores either, but the difference is that in America we don’t have “virtue” police, as some Arab and Muslim states do, to force people to live and act in accordance with the dictates of self-appointed and often hypocritical religious and political elites.

Respect cuts both ways. The United States has demonstrated more than respect in the large amounts of aid we give to Arab nations. Then there is what we pay for their oil. That they have mostly not used those enormous resources to elevate their people, especially women, is not America’s fault. It is the fault of a bad economic system, a worse governmental system and a religious system that believes the kingdom of its god is to be ushered in on Earth by force.

(Readers may e-mail Cal Thomas at: [email protected].)

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