I wrote last week that Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo last week provided a cornucopia of Obamateurisms, and this is yet another example. In his haste to butter up the Egyptians and the wider Muslim audience, Obama gave the Islamic world credit for an invention for which they don’t even get runner-up status:
As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed.
I’ll skip the vacuous but ambiguous credit Obama gives Al-Azhar for the Renaissance and Enlightment; the Irish will have some complaints about the former, and the rest of Europe over the latter. Specifically, though, Muslims didn’t invent the magnetic compass. Credit for that usually goes to the Chinese, who experimented with needles and lodestones as far back as the second century BC. They built a complete compass by the early 12th century, and eventually Marco Polo would bring one back on his travels.
In fact, the Muslims didn’t even come in second. Europe developed the magnetic compass at the end of the 12th century, while the Arabic compass would come decades later.
Doesn’t the White House do research and fact-checking on Obama’s speeches? No, of course not. If they don’t do it for their economic policies, why bother to do it for foreign panderfests?
Got an Obamateurism of the Day? If you see a foul-up by Barack Obama, e-mail it to me at [email protected] with the quote and the link to the Obamateurism. I’ll post the best Obamateurisms on a daily basis, depending on how many I receive. Include a link to your blog, and I’ll give some link love as well. And unlike Slate, I promise to end the feature when Barack Obama leaves office.
Illustrations by Chris Muir of Day by Day. Be sure to read the adventures of Sam, Zed, Damon, and Jan every day!