US President Barack Obama's speech yesterday in Cairo may very well go down in history as a turning point, though not of the sort that the mainstream media and pundits are hoping for.
Rather than heralding a new era in relations between the West and Islam, the president's performance projected weakness and lack of resolve. And while his charm and poise may work well with voters in Middle America, among the radicals and jihadists of the Middle East they will be viewed with litte more than contempt and derision.
Indeed, the very opening of his remarks reveal just how out of touch Obama is with the reality on the ground in the region.
The president started off by saying the following, "Good afternoon. I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has had stood as a beacon of Islamic learning. And for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress."
Did he say "harmony between tradition and progress"?
What Obama undoubtedly did not realize is that Grand Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the man who stands at the head of Al-Azhar, is anything but a beacon of progress.
Back in November 2004, Tantawi led the prayer services at Yasser Arafat's funeral in Ramallah, where he praised the Palestinian terrorist by saying, "Arafat has done his duty as a defender of the Palestinian cause, with courage and honesty".
Furthermore, as historian Benny Morris noted in The New Republic last year, Tantawi authored a book in the late 1960s called The Jews in the Qur'an and the Traditions which was reissued in 1986 and which said as follows: "The Qur'an describes the Jews with their own particular degenerate characteristics, i.e., killing the prophets of Allah, corrupting His words by putting them in the wrong places, consuming the people's wealth frivolously, refusal to distance themselves from the evil they do, and other ugly characteristics caused by their deep-rooted lasciviousness ... only a minority of Jews keep their word.... [But] not all Jews are the same. The good ones become Muslims."
And, as Morris further pointed out, Tantawi has called Jews "the descendants of apes and pigs."
What was Obama thinking in heaping praise on an institution run by such a man? Is this the type of person to be held up as an example of "the harmony between tradition and progress"?
If you listen carefully, you can hear the sounds of snickering in Damascus, Teheran and Riyadh, as the region's extremists enjoy a good laugh at the naivete of America's commander-in-chief.