Opinion: Columnists

Who needs reform most: Egypt or America?

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Photo - FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012 file photo, Egyptian protesters carry their national flag and a flag with Arabic that reads "No God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet," and chant anti U.S. slogans during a demonstration in front of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, as part of widespread anger across the Muslim world about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012 file photo, Egyptian protesters carry their national flag and a flag with Arabic that reads "No God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet," and chant anti U.S. slogans during a demonstration in front of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, as part of widespread anger across the Muslim world about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)

NEW YORK -- Prior to leaving Egypt for the United Nations General Assembly, Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi told the New York Times that the United States needs to "fundamentally change" its approach to the Arab world. That includes, he said, showing greater respect for Arab values, as well as helping to build a Palestinian state.

Is there an Arab equivalent for the Yiddish word "chutzpah"? For a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who still subscribes to the group's radical beliefs, to blame America for problems in the Arab world is like blaming a mirror for what it reflects.

Which nation is in greater need of an attitude adjustment? In USA Today recently, there was this line: "... more than a year after [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak's ouster, not much has changed for women ..." The story contains pictures of Egyptian women being harassed by men on the streets of Cairo this summer during their "holy" month of Ramadan. The caption mentions activists who say that "harassment of women in the streets spikes during Muslim holidays." Did U.S. attitudes toward Arabs cause this harassment?

A significant amount of terrorist activity emanates geographically and religiously from the Arab and Muslim world. Hatred for all things Jewish, Christian and Western can be found in children's textbooks in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and throughout the Middle East -- hate that is then reinforced by mullahs and Arab media. "... Pakistan's public education system goes beyond instilling pride in being Muslim and encourages bigotry that can foment violence against 'the other,' " Husain Haqqani, a Pakistani author and professor of international relations at Boston University, told the Los Angeles Times back in 2005. Is such hatred the fault of the United States? Are Americans persecuting Coptic Christians in Egypt, prompting them to flee?

With a few notable exceptions, Arab and Muslim nations mostly lived in unenviable conditions under extreme religious and tribal codes long before the United States and Israel came into being. Perhaps it was the "thought" of a country that treats women as equal to men, practices religious pluralism and tolerance for other beliefs -- or no belief -- that infuriated the Arab masses prior to 1776?

As for Palestinian-Israeli relations, how many times has Israel relinquished land seized for its security from invading Arab nations bent on its destruction? How many times has Israel compromised in other ways as it sought peace with its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians? And how many times have the Palestinians not kept up their end of agreements and, in fact, continued to incite their own people to "jihad" for the purpose of eliminating Israel? Which attitudes are in most need of reform? Meaningful peace must precede discussions of a Palestinian state.

Some might agree with the indictment by Morsi and other Arab and Muslim leaders of American attitudes when it comes to sex and relationships, given the societal consequences -- unwanted pregnancies, single-parent homes. He told the Times that he doesn't like the West's looser sexual mores, including cohabiting unmarried couples and what he called "naked restaurants" like Hooters. He is also troubled by the gangs and violence in Los Angeles (he was a graduate student at the University of Southern California).

I don't like the looser sexual mores either, but the difference is that in America we don't have "virtue" police, as some Arab and Muslim states do, to force people to live and act in accordance with the dictates of self-appointed and often hypocritical religious and political elites.

Respect cuts both ways. The U.S. has demonstrated ample respect through the large amounts of aid we give Arab nations. We also buy their oil. That they have mostly failed to use our money to elevate their people, especially women, is not America's fault. It is the fault of a bad economic system, a worse governmental system and a religious system that believes the kingdom of its god is to be ushered in on Earth by force.

Examiner Columnist Cal Thomas is nationally syndicated by Tribune Media.

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