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June 04, 2009

’A new beginning’

Obama Cairo speech.jpg The complete text of President Obama's speech in Cairo this morning is here.

(Image courtesy of NPR)

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Marie St. Hippolyte

"Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance." huh?


As a historical note, the Ottoman Empire harbored Christian and Jewish communities for centuries. At the same time, the west would allow no Muslims in its kingdoms, to the point that the Porte was forced to send Christian subjects as ambassadors. The Ottoman Empire derived quite an economic benefit from its toleration. That is not to say that non-Muslim subjects had the same status as Muslims. There were extra taxes and social strictures. But the Emperors were cautious not to make these burdens intolerable. And another thing: Greek Christians often found refuge in the empire from the Latin Christians that treated them like chattel slaves or worse. So yeah, until the Wahhabi sect came along, Islam did have an imperfect tradtion of tolerance.

jason taylor

The Ottoman Empire also had civil servants with the specific job of going from village to village and picking peasant youths to be taken away from their families and "Manchurianized". Tolerance in the liberal sense did not exist then, though as it happened expediency did.

The Ottoman Empire had good qualities about it as well as bad. But do not romanticize them and especially do not think they would be proud of the same things you would think a society should be proud of. They did not have a "tradition" of tolerance. At best it was a policy of tolerance. A real tradition of tolerance had to wait for William Penn.


In their era, what the Ottomans practiced was tolerance, especially when compared with the Christian realms of the day. And you know what, Jason? I have had enough of your tone. This is my last visit to the Point. Have a nice life, Pointers.

jason taylor

As for Greek Christians "often" found refuge in the Ottoman Empire, there is no evidence of that. Most Greek Christians were simply conquered by the Ottomans. Richer Greek Christians "found refuge" in Italy at least as often.

As for testing whether Muslims were nicer to Christians or vice-versa when they had the chance, the experiment cannot be made. It was not until the eighteenth century that a comparable number of Moslems were conquered by Christians. In such cases Moslems when subjugated were treated at least as well. As far as Jews goes, they were expected to "live but not to well" which was really not to different from the treatment of Christians in Moslem countries.

I have heard it said rather cynically that the reason for any less oppressive government in the Ottoman Empire that might have existed was simply that Ottomans preferred to plunder outsiders then their own(I.E. the Don never sells drugs in his own neighborhood). If so it was a more manly form of tyranny I suppose as the victims could fight back.

Most successful large empires have a sort of instrumental tolerance whatever the religion of the rulers. As do most merchant states(like Venice or Holland, both of which treated Moslem visitors reasonably well in peacetime because after all things like gold are important).

Not that all that matters much. It just seems to me that a lot of modern admiration of Moslems in some circles is not antiquarian but started when they became a recognized threat. It also seems that it is used as a means of chic anti-occidentalism. Both reasons make it slightly irritating.

jason taylor

I apoligize Andy.



"Obama got a standing early ovation when he declared: 'I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.'

"But some audience members gasped when he followed that with: 'That same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.'"


Tolerance for me but not for thee?

Steve (SBK)

In defense of Jason, he's simply disagreeing with you Andy. Tolerance allows for disagreement and yet remains open to dialogue. I would tend to agree that a Conqueror's post-conquering tolerance is nearly moot given the *Conquering* ipso facto.
The Tao applies to all equally... right? Except maybe to Christians who can't do anything right.

jason taylor

I'm not so sure a conqueror's post-conquering tolerance is moot. Some conquerors were better then others.

Steve (SBK)

Ah, I said *nearly* moot. :)
In any case, I was just pointing out the irony - of a defeated people being 'left alone'. Much like a cat letting a mouse run around the perimeter of its claws. But then, on the other hand, I see your point: Sometimes conquering is, in fact, not a terrible thing.


I keep hoping (& praying) Mr Obama will not be as EXTREME as his past companions.

But he panders too much to the radical fringes of Islam---he already has given lots of credibility to Hamas and to Iran!

And he has absorbed too many of the super violent radical 1960's CONTEMPT for the U.S. that characterized Bernardine Dohrnn, her husband Bill Ayers, and Rev. Wright. I ws a kid then. I remember how the SDS and their kin HATED the US!!! I remember their nasty words & their bombs!

Noone who did their research on Mr. Obama shouldbe surprised---

especially any Jewish friends, neighbors who might be NERVOUS over his feeble support (so far) for Israel.


The audience did gasp, as one might expect. No one likes to be chastened. And no one expected Obama to be that direct. Did you (and the rest of the Pointificators) gasp also? Are you giving Obama credit for that statement, or not?

Gina Dalfonzo

David, was it a chastening? More just a reminder of simple fact, I would have thought: the fact that tolerance must be a two-way street if it's going to work. (And yes, I give him credit for the reminder.)

Jason Taylor

Well to be fair, Viking, the idea of Israel was to have a place where Jews could defend themselves. If they really can't get along without America for four years they might as well move to New York.


David, I only gasped when Gina wrote "tolerance must be a two-way street if it's going to work." If the culture wars have taught us anything, it's that "tolerance" as a social virtue always refers to unidirectional acceptance. A needs to tolerate B's behavior, until B can seize power. B, as a suffering minority, is in no way beholden to A.

But it's Friday, and even phenomenal editor/bloggers can whiff one with a weekend respite approaching.

And yes, props to B(H)O for pointing out something that, among an audience of carefully chosen attendees, should be cause for assent rather than shock.

Gina Dalfonzo

I was talking about ACTUAL tolerance, not the PC definition of tolerance. :-)

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