George Bush could never have pulled it off. Give a speech that comfortably hopscotched between hot potato subjects, deftly shift from self-criticism to demanding the same of his audience and get at least 30 applause breaks from a mostly Muslim audience in Cairo, Egypt? Not in a million years.
How ironic that the middle name “Hussein,” which the U.S. right wing viciously used to paint Barack Obama as a “secret Muslim,” gave Obama what Bush never had — the benefit of the doubt of Muslims, if just for the 50 minutes of his speech.
But that middle name sparked quite the fight between my heart — so easily charmed by his eloquence and intelligence — and my head, which holds Obama to a higher standard. I know he knows better.
Here’s the breakdown of my heart vs. my head:
As a Muslim in the U.S., my heart and head were united in delight that Obama highlighted the role of Muslim Americans. They bridge that divide of “us versus them” that so many of the Bush administration’s policies and rhetoric inflamed.
Obama’s acknowledgement of Palestinian suffering touched my heart but my head wanted to hear concern for civilian casualties and suffering in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Obama’s revulsion at torture reassured my heart but my head immediately asked why he didn’t condemn torture in my beloved country of birth, Egypt — the host for his talk is a popular destination for renditions. Heart and head are furious that my country does America’s dirty work.
Oh how he thrilled my heart by bringing up women’s rights but why, oh why, head demanded, did he have to keep mentioning headscarves every time he spoke of Muslim women?
Yes education, small business loans and political involvement are all important for this Muslim woman’s heart and head but I wish Obama had assured the women and girls of Afghanistan that their rights would not be sacrificed for the sake of a ceasefire or truce with the Taliban or other violent extremists.
Democracy greatly concerns both heart and head. Many Muslims around the world are upset with the U.S. because it supports dictators in many Muslim-majority countries such as Egypt, where Obama gave his speech, and Saudi Arabia where he began his Middle East visit.
So, Obama pleased heart with talk of the importance of the rule of law, freedom of expression, etc., but head wanted him to be as bold in condemning the repression of his hosts as he was in broaching those hot potato subjects that trouble the U.S. relationship with Muslims.
Clearly, Obama will keep heart and head busy.