In August 2006, after the U.K. thwarted terror attacks planned by al-Qaeda-inspired fanatics, George W. Bush remarked that the U.S. and its allies were “
Image has not been found. URL: /wp-content/uploads/2009/06/cairo_speech-300x168.jpgPresident Obama delivers his speech in Cairo (White House photo)
In Cairo today, Obama sought to fix that mistake,
Something that’s going to go undernoticed in the speech is that Obama indicated he’ll relax Bush-era restrictions on Muslim charitable giving:
Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That’s why I’m committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.
A lot of work is going to need to go into establishing what exactly Obama means here. Some U.S. Muslim charities have been convicted of funneling money to terrorist organizations, primarily against Israel. Some of the cases, however, have apparently been created on the basis of illegal surveillance, as lawyers for the Al-Haramain charity contest. The issue, however, speaks directly to whether the government will compel American Muslims to choose between different aspects of their identity or embrace them as American citizens.
Obama has given his answer, telling the Muslim world that it shares with the U.S. a tradition of “justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” It was fitting, then, for Obama to reference Ellison — and implicitly rebuke Ellison’s detractors — in a brief passage:
When the first Muslim American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers — Thomas Jefferson — kept in his personal library.
Ellison’s oath-swearing was the subject of a brief but intense right-wing fury. Obama’s speech sought to put an end to the whole ugly era in which the election of a Muslim to high office is viewed as anything other than a testament to the promise of America.
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