First Lady Michelle Obama gave a strong speech on women's rights in the Middle East, but the location of that speech is reflective of the fundamental mistakes the U.S. is making in separating friend from foe. The host was the "moderate" Islamist Qatar Foundation that is an ideological factory for terrorism, anti-Semitism, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Qatar Foundation (QF) press release says that First Lady Obama visited the organization before her speech and met with the Qatari First Lady to discuss girls' education. Obama then gave her address at the QF's World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE).
QF is intertwined with the Qatari government, one of the biggest allies of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Former U.S. Treasury Department terrorism-finance analyst Jonathan Schanzer describes Qatar as “the ATM of the Muslim Brotherhood movement and its associated groups.”
It is also home to Al-Jazeera.
Its Faculty of Islamic Studies even has a think tank that is ironically named the Al-Qaradawi Center for Islamic Moderation and Renewal. Qaradawi, who is anything but a moderate, is the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who is one of the most influential advocates of Hamas, suicide bombing and other terrorism. He has said the Holocaust was Allah's punishment of the Jews and that he hopes that Allah uses Muslim hands for the next judgment.
Qaradawi is the leader of a network of terrorism-linked charities called the Union of Good. The charities have been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department because they were “created by Hamas leadership to transfer funds to the terrorist organization.”
The declared purpose of the QF's Center is to promote Qaradawi’s preaching as “a pioneer of Islamic moderate thought, and presently its main theorist.”
The QF's mosque gives a platform to other radical clerics, including anti-Semites and an Islamist preacher who exalted the terrorist attacks in France on Charlie Hebdo as "the sequel to the comedy film of 9/11." Politico pointed out that just one day before the announcement of First Lady Obama's visit, QF was promoting the work of a cleric who said complained that Hitler didn't succeeded in exterminating Jews.
Michelle Obama’s speech had some strong language about women's rights, but did not take the Islamists hosting her to task. She is to be commended for identifying "outdated" cultural practices and religious beliefs as the core problem, but the Islamists who hosted her are not the solution. The irony is that the Islamists will use her visit to cast themselves as the "moderate" ally we should embrace.
First Lady Obama's best lines included:
- So, yes, solving our girls’ education crisis is definitely about resources, but it is also about attitudes and beliefs. It’s about whether parents think their daughters are as worthy of an education as their sons. It’s about whether our societies cling to outdated laws and traditions that oppress and exclude women, or whether their view of women are, as full citizens, entitled to equal rights…
- …So, yes, we need to provide girls with safe transportation to school, but we also need to confront the cultural norms that make girls unsafe in the first place -– the belief that survivors of rape were somehow asking for it, or that it’s perfectly acceptable for a man to rape his wife, or that young girls who have survived sexual assault are somehow damaged goods, unfit for marriage, when — with few prospects for their futures.
- Because if we truly want to keep girls safe, we need to transform this culture of impunity into a culture of consent. And we need to condemn sexual assault for what it is: a violent crime that has no place in this world.
- And, yes, we need to provide school bathrooms and feminine hygiene products for our girls, but we also need to confront the taboos that say menstruation is harmful or shameful. We need to confront the myths about women’s sexuality that are used to justify horrific practices like genital mutilation and cutting. Because if we truly want to empower girls to learn, then we need to ensure that their bodies are a source of pride, not pain or shame.
A reasonable argument can be made for using Islamist platforms to confront their own extremism, but that requires holding them accountable. First Lady Obama is right to call for a sweeping changes in the Muslim world for women's rights, but we must avoid positioning the so-called "moderate" Islamists as the spearhead of that movement.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.