Reinforcing presumed religious identities: where are women and secularists of Muslim countries in Obama’s speech in Cairo?

By Marieme Helie Lucas (SIAWI)

It is beyond doubt that many people around the world, of various political opinions and creeds, will feel relieved after the discourse the President of the USA delivered in Cairo today. It is apparently a new voice, a voice of peace, quite far from Bush’s clash of civilisations. But is it so?

I presume that political commentators will point at the fact that Obama equates violence on the side of occupied Palestinians to violence on the side of Israeli colonizers, or that he has not abandonned the idea that the USA should tell the world how to behave and fight for their rights, or that the Israelo-Palestinian conflict is reduced to a religious conflict, or that he still justifies the war in Afghanistan, etc…

All those are important issues that need to be challenged. However, what affects me most, as an Algerian secularist, is that Obama has not done away with the idea of homogeneous civilisations that was at the heart of the theory of the ’clash of civilisations’. Moreover, his very American idea of civilisation is that it can be equated to religion. He persistantly opposes ’Islam and the West’ (as two entities- civilisations), ’America and Islam’( a country vs a religion); he claims that ’America is not at war with Islam’. In short ’the West’ is composed of countries, while ’Islam’ is not. Old Jomo Kenyatta used to say of British colonizers : ’when they came, we had the land, they had the Bible; now we have the Bible, they have the land’. Obama’s discourse confirms it: religion is still good enough for us to have, or to be defined by. His concluding compilation of monotheist religious wisdom sounds as if it were the only language that we, barbarians, can understand.

These shortcomings have adverse effects on us, citizens of countries where Islam is the predominant and often the state religion.

First of all, Obama’s discourse is addressed to ’Islam’, as if an idea, a concept, a belief, could hear him. As if those were not necessarily mediated by the people who hold these views, ideas, concepts or beliefs. As Soheib Bencheikh, former Great Mufti of Marseilles, now Director of the Institute of High Islamic Studies in Marseilles, used to say: ’I have never seen a Qur’an walking in the street’…

siawi or Secularism is a Women’s Issue for more
via South Asia Citizen’s Web

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