Here was Barack Obama in Cairo, speaking about women’s rights:
The sixth issue — the sixth issue that I want to address is women’s rights.
I know, and you can tell from this audience, that there is a healthy 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, Indonesia, we’ve 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. I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons.
Obama addressed women’s rights before a Muslim audience by personally distancing himself from Westerners who criticize the hijab, offering a single sentence praising the economic advantages of an educated female population, celebrating the role of women in cherry-picked Muslim countries, and knocking the U.S. for its supposed failure to grant women full equality. This, in the same speech that saw Obama proclaiming, “We must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors.”
How can Obama continue to recommend open discussion as a first step in bridging what he sees as the American-Muslim divide when he’s too scared to note the bald fact of widespread female subjugation in the Arab world? How can he proclaim that America must lead by example and then deliberately degrade the example we are supposed to set?
Some argue that inequality for women is the most detrimental sociopolitical or economic feature of the larger Muslim world. It’s certainly high on the list, alongside failed governance, anti-Semitism, and anti-Americanism. For Obama, the great bringer of truth and understanding, to have swept the whole affair under the rug (with a casual jab at the U.S.) marks a tragic end to the hopes harbored by millions of oppressed women that America was on their side.