Obama in Cairo: Settlement Line, Brutality Against Women Ignored

"Culturally sensitive" is how Bob Shrum judged Pres. Obama's historic speech in Cairo, as he pronounced "a new beginning," which was the foundation of his speech.

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles - principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

However, let's not kid ourselves, shall we? The site of Pres. Obama's speech could not have been worse. In the place where he will lift everyone up, Mubarak continues the practice of keeping his people down.

The capital is under occupation. Security troops are deployed in the main public squares and metro stations. Citizens were detained en masse and shops were told to close down in Bein el-Sarayat area, neighboring Cairo University, where Obama will be speaking. In Al-Azhar University, the co-host of the "historical speech," State Security police raided and detained at least 200 foreign students, held them without charges in unknown locations...

The stage is set.

Standing in the heart of the Arab world, Pres. Obama didn't give an inch on his Middle East policy, stating bluntly inside this world that the habit of acquiescing to Israel on all things is over.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

Stunning coming from an American president and also proof that at the dawn of the 21st century there is a dramatic new policy in place, one with the intention of changing the status quo. As this is a topic on which I am focused, it was heartening, but the hard work lies ahead.

Haaretz reports protests in Israel by one lone group, proving that Obama's words are not going down well in Netanyahu's country, with today's language setting a hard line that Israel now must know will not be moved.

On Iraq and torture:

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.

...I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.

Words that needed to be said, but over here there still isn't transparency on Guantanamo, with most of us not sure what the hell to make of detainee photographic records protection provision, tucked deep inside the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009. Glenn Greenwald talked about this on Monday.

For me, however, that's nothing.

It was on women's rights that Pres. Obama sought to truly, as Mr. Shrum said, show cultural sensitivity, completely and totally ignoring the horrific issues women face in Muslim and Arab countries across the world. That is the threat of death if they do not kowtow to the men who make the rules and enforce them through beatings, rapes, honor killings and all manner of abuse, mostly in the name of religion. It is a cause I have fought for since the 1990s, when Mavis Leno took up the charge of Afghan women under the Taliban. But today, Pres. Obama chose instead to respect the cultural differences that are not only dangerous for women, but deny them basic human rights. When it comes to violent extremism towards the populace, talking about an older woman getting blown up was okay, but acknowledging the wholesale violence against women and girls, Obama offered an American shrug in reaction to what women in Arab and Muslim countries have to endure. Mentioning that was just too much. Instead, Pres. Obama focused on, unbelievably, hair and traditional coverings of Muslim women. As for a 13 year-old-girl stoned to death, that was just too much.

... Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it. [...]

[...] The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity - men and women - to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams. [..]

It's hard to worry about literacy when the basic rights of women are ignored, held hostage by the whims of fanatics in a place where tyranny towards them reigns.

Ah, yes, one speech cannot change everything, as Pres. Obama said. But if the American president doesn't lead on calling the horrendous treatment of women out who will? Obama ducked his responsibility on this, choosing instead to have "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world," which didn't include calling out the barbarism perpetrated against women across the world.

Patrick J. Buchanan judged Pres. Obama's policy a new direction for which he offers approval.

Bob Shrum talked about "cultural sensitivity," which reminded me of Speaker Pelosi going to China to talk about global warming, but not feeling compelled to say anything about women's rights, the forced abortion, and human rights.

It's the new Democratic Party diplomacy, as we not try to stray too far into another country's business, because we "do not presume to know what is right for everyone." On diplomacy, it is not our business to tell countries how they should operate. But it should always be our duty to stand up for the oppressed, the beaten, the raped, those killed in 19th century murder called "honor killings" and say this is not only wrong, but immoral and against the cause of human rights. That doesn't mean we can stop the behavior of nations, or hold our diplomacy hostage to their barbarous ways, but they sure need to know we're watching, see what's happening and condemn what they do. We should never stand silently as Pres. Obama did today.

Pres. Obama is always eloquent. Repeating his policy on Israeli settlements was so very important, as he also honored our abiding friendship with Israel that is "unbreakable." It gave new hope that something may yet crack in the equilibrium stalemate, which is the Palestinians only chance, but also of Arab Israeli women as well.

But under the Obama administration, as the president made his first and most important outreach to the Arab and Muslim world, he pulled up short on fundamental human rights as it applies to women. But Obama will be hailed across America and the globe, no doubt, even as he gave the speech in a city under absolute lock down, while women were relegated to fashion items and talks of "education," even if they have to risk their lives to get it.

Taylor Marsh reports from Washington, D.C., and you can also follow her on Twitter, as well as through her podcasts, "TM-DC".