Last week at the G-20 summit, President Obama came under much scrutiny when he bowed to the king of Saudi Arabia. Earlier last week, Obama traveled the Middle East, pronouncing to its people that Americans should be “respectful [of the Islamic religion], even when we do not agree” and communicated his “deep appreciation of the Islamic faith.” Presumably, his bow to King Abdullah was a demonstration of such appreciation and respect.
But what exactly was Obama bowing to? What is he saying we should respect even when we disagree?
A recent legal ruling in Saudi Arabia illustrates the answer. A father forced his 8-year-old daughter to marry his 47-year-old friend to settle a debt. The mother then filed a petition seeking divorce for her daughter. The judge ruled that the divorce would not be granted because the mother did not have the legal authority to represent her daughter. The judge further stated that the girl could file a petition herself once she reaches puberty.
Hearing the facts alone is enough to send chills down anyone’s spine. The actual details of the brutality this child endures every day are likely unfathomable to most of us. Unfortunately, the situation is not unique to this little girl. Such transactions are made frequently in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, and other Muslim nations. They are upheld by Islamic law, which recognizes that a woman’s only purpose is to serve and obey her husband.
It is difficult to imagine living in such a society because such practices are so diametrically opposed to everything we as Americans believe about how a proper, civilized society should function. Yet this is the kind of nation over which King Abdullah presides. It is a nation of people who permit fathers to sell their daughters into slavery to repay financial debts; a nation of people willing to regard men who accept little girls as a form of payment as noble and moral; a nation of women who, even if they silently abhor the practice, do not have the cultural clout to ostracize and seek prosecution of those engaged in such perversion; a nation of judges that makes a mockery of justice by subordinating the rights of a little girl to the backwards edict of medieval doctrine; and a nation of royalty that is not ashamed but fiercely proud of such backwards cultural customs.
The United States of America is the greatest nation on earth because at its inception, it recognized that individuals had an inalienable right to dictate the course of their own lives and not be forced by anyone to do something against their will. Indeed, it is this very principle which, in due course, eliminated slavery and other systematic injustices from our nation. This is the opposite of Islamic law, which holds that your life belongs to tyrants and masters who can demand anything of you in the ostensible name of religion.
This is what Obama asks Americans to appreciate and respect. But there can be no shred of respect for a nation that endorses such violent crimes that so vehemently oppose our fundamental values. It is improper for Obama, the leader of the free world, to bow in deference to King Abdullah, who is the leader of a theocracy that openly permits its young girls to be enslaved by authoritarian patriarchs.
As the head of the state, President Obama necessarily has to deal with such individuals, and at times may legitimately have to focus on a narrower issue and forgo expressing outright disgust towards backwards practices of a backwards nation. However, in such cases, a curt nod would suffice. No American president has any excuse for showing any gesture of respect for King Abdullah and other tyrants like him. As Americans, we should not be afraid to acknowledge our own moral superiority to any society that engages in such savage practices as legally permitting a grown man to marry a child. Far from a bow of respect, these nations and the men who rule them deserve nothing but our most severe contempt.
Photo by London Summit on Flickr.