Just after President Obama's Cairo speech ended, I clicked on the White House Web site. The home page, and especially its compelling large image, appeared to visually suggest the America that Obama has been describing recently -- a country that is not a Christian nation, nor a Jewish nation, not even a pluralistic nation, but "one of the largest Muslim countries in the world."
The large close-up photograph that dominated the home page was of a covered woman, Afeefa Syeed, Senior Advisor for Culture and Development with the Middle East and Asia Bureaus at USAID (United States Agency for International Development). Syeed is one of the three "Muslim Americans serving in the U.S. government" that was featured in a White House-produced video prominently linked from the White House home page, and later hosted at a URL at the White House video area at YouTube linked from a White House blog post by Jesse Lee. Click here to enlarge photo
The predictably slick and professionally produced video production was not quite as interesting to me as Syeed's background before she joined the government. Googling her name quickly turned up some interesting reading.
Before being appointed to her government post, Syeed was a "diversity consultant and multicultural trainer based in Northern Virginia" with "with a focus on Community and Grassroots Development." An article featuring Syeed published on October 9, 2004 in the Kansas City Star, "Teaching Ramadan in public schools - Accurate lessons in demand after 9/11" by Holly Lebowitz Rossi, created a brief blip of controversy in the blogosphere, for example at Little Green Footballs and Northern Virginiastan.
Excerpts from the article:
During the next few weeks, multicultural trainer Afeefa Syeed will bring third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students from a Muslim academy in Herndon, Va., to nearby public schools to share the practices and beliefs of their holiest month, Ramadan.
Syeed and the children will present the call to prayer in Arabic, display prayer rugs and offer tastes of dates. . .
Educators cite Ramadan as a good opportunity to teach students about Islam and its practice. But teaching Ramadan in public schools has not been without controversy. Last year a federal judge said that the Byron Union School District in California could continue a three-week curriculum that emphasized role-playing exercises requiring, among other things, seventh-grade students to recite Muslim prayers. . .
On October 20, 2004, Alexis Amory wrote an article, "Muslim Re-Education," at frontpagemagazine.com that further explored the issue. Five days later, frontpagemagazine.com published "Debating Muslim Re-Education," consisting of Syeed's letter and Amory's rejoinder. Back to this year: Eighteen seconds into the June 4, 2009 White House video, a poster presumably decorating Syeed's government office is shown. It's a takeoff on the patriotic and iconic World War II Rosie the Riveter painting by J. Howard Miller, changed to show the female as a covered Muslim with the classic WW II home front slogan, "We can do it." The second person in the White House video is Rashad Hussain, appointed on January 28, 2009 as deputy associate counsel to President Barack Obama.
In the video, Bashir says her father was born in "Northern Palestine." Since a country named "Northern Palestine" does not, and has not, exist(ed), it is presumed that she is in fact referring to northern Israel. The fact that she apparently cannot bring herself to say the word "Israel" is disturbing enough by itself
Another curious Bashir comment in the video: "The ideals that we hold as American Muslims are not that different from what they - from what Muslims around the world also hold."
The White House use of taxpayer funds to promote Islam is a clear violation of the Constitutional separation between church and state. The Establishment Clause clearly prohibits the use of federal dollars to promote religion, including and especially a specific religion.
But, hey, as I always note, American has no separation between mosque and state. Only church and state. That's how it's enforced, anyway, by our "Justice" Department.
According to CBS News, the video is available with subtitles in many languages, including Persian, Arabic, and French. Some of the comments made by President Obama in his Cairo speech seem relevant when considering the video.
It is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit - for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism. . .
The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights. I know there is 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. . .
Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have 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.
Peter Barry Chowka is a writer and investigative journalist who writes about politics, health care, and the media.