I read two articles today that dovetail beautifully, by showing words spewing meaninglessly into the ether and by showing words used bravely to make big changes.
As for the meaningless spew into the ether that is, of course, Barack Obama, he of the sonorous (or, to my mind, soporific) voice, the big, meaningless ideas, and the completely absence of action, if you don’t count advancing his own political career. Here is Dean Barnett:
IN HIS MANY MONTHS on the campaign trail, Barack Obama has distinguished himself as the finest orator in recent political memory. With such skills in this area, it’s little wonder that Obama and his campaign have put talking on a pedestal. When Obama talks, he does great. Even his detractors can’t deny it.
But there’s a stark disconnect between the talking Obama and Obama the man of action. Or rather Obama the man of inaction. It says something rather profound about Obama that his most noteworthy campaign-related act to date has been to sit passively in a church pew for 20 years worth of Sundays.
As Jonathan V. Last has noted in these pages, there’s a hollowness to Obama’s rhetoric. When Obama delivered his famous (and effective) “just words” rejoinder to Hillary Clinton’s barbs, the speech inadvertently revealed the emptiness of Obama’s rhetoric. “All men are created equal” was indeed more than just words. It was more than “just words” because the men who signed the document that made that claim risked their lives to prove it. They backed their words up with war. In short, their accompanying actions are what made the phrase immortal. If the phrase had emanated from some effete intellectuals in a Boston drawing room who went back to being effete intellectuals after delivering their proclamation, guys like Barack Obama wouldn’t be quoting them today.
The question with Obama remains exactly what actions he’ll take to give real meaning to his fine speeches. Interestingly, it’s not just Obama’s right
wing critics who have complained about the emptiness of his rhetoric. Until the left finally circled its angry wagons around Obama over the last few weeks, you could find prominent left-wing bloggers complaining about Obama’s failure to embrace progressive plans on an almost daily basis.
The distillation of Barnett’s intelligent argument is simple: Obama is all talk and no action.
Now let’s head to Egypt, of all places, for someone who regularly takes his life in his hands to speak words that have a profound effect on his audience:
Though he is little known in the West, Coptic priest Zakaria Botros — named Islam’s “Public Enemy #1” by the Arabic newspaper, al-Insan al-Jadid — has been making waves in the Islamic world. Along with fellow missionaries — mostly Muslim converts — he appears frequently on the Arabic channel al-Hayat (i.e., “Life TV”). There, he addresses controversial topics of theological significance — free from the censorship imposed by Islamic authorities or self-imposed through fear of the zealous mobs who fulminated against the infamous cartoons of Mohammed. Botros’s excurses on little-known but embarrassing aspects of Islamic law and tradition have become a thorn in the side of Islamic leaders throughout the Middle East.
The result? Mass conversions to Christianity — if clandestine ones. The very public conversion of high-profile Italian journalist Magdi Allam — who was baptized by Pope Benedict in Rome on Saturday — is only the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, Islamic cleric Ahmad al-Qatani stated on al-Jazeera TV a while back that some six million Muslims convert to Christianity annually, many of them persuaded by Botros’s public ministry. More recently, al-Jazeera noted Life TV’s “unprecedented evangelical raid” on the Muslim world.
Father Botros uses what amounts to a Socratic technique to expose to viewers the weird and dangerous outcomes that come from both the Koran and interpretations of the Koran. A lovely example is the weird fatwa that had women breastfeeding strange men:
Botros spent three years bringing to broad public attention a scandalous — and authentic — hadith stating that women should “breastfeed” strange men with whom they must spend any amount of time. A leading hadith scholar, Abd al-Muhdi, was confronted with this issue on the live talk show of popular Arabic host Hala Sirhan. Opting to be truthful, al-Muhdi confirmed that going through the motions of breastfeeding adult males is, according to sharia, a legitimate way of making married women “forbidden” to the men with whom they are forced into contact — the logic being that, by being “breastfed,” the men become like “sons” to the women and therefore can no longer have sexual designs on them.
To make matters worse, Ezzat Atiyya, head of the Hadith department at al-Azhar University — Sunni Islam’s most authoritative institution — went so far as to issue a fatwa legitimatizing “Rida’ al-Kibir” (sharia’s term for “breastfeeding the adult”), which prompted such outrage in the Islamic world that it was subsequently recanted.
You can go here for more about what happens when the marketplace of ideas crashes headlong into Islamic ideology. What I wish I could say to the Islamists is that, if you can defend yourself in the marketplace of ideas — something that may require reconsidering certain doctrines you’ve hitherto regarded as inviolate, you may find that your religion gains converts or keeps adherents, not because of a threat by the sword, but because of appeals to the heart and mind. Certainly Father Botros is showing this to be true for reasoned challenges to Islam coupled with equally reasoned supports for Christianity.