I just watched the video of Obama's speech in Cairo, and I must say, I cringed when he said this line: "For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement."
Oddly, he pronounced Al-Azhar as "ulazar," and not "al azz har," as it should be pronounced. You'd think he would have been coached on that one. (Michael Goldfarb will be disappointed to learn that the U.S. president is not a secret Arabic speaker after all.)
Maybe Obama should have used phonetic spellings, like his predecessor often did?
The speech was mostly good, but it did contain some oddities, such as its repeated references to the hijab, the head scarf that many Muslim women wear. Obama seems to view this controversial article of clothing uncritically, reserving his comments for those, presumably in France and Britain, who support banning the hijab in public schools and so forth:
[T]he 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. [...] [I]t is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism. [...] I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal.
Obama should understand that women in Muslim communities don't always feel that they have a choice about wearing the hijab. I heard many liberal, secular women in Cairo complain that they felt great social pressure bearing down upon them to cover their hair, and that the religious trend in the country meant the pressure was only increasing. A nod to such women's concerns would have been nice to hear.
UPDATE: Peter Daou has more on the hijab:
With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab?
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.