Obama and Islam: Presidential Historical Revisionism; Part I
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
”By Robert Spencer on FrontPageMagazine”
Obama’s much anticipated speech to the Islamic world is being widely hailed as a major breakthrough in U.S. relations with the Islamic world. Whether it is a breakthrough or not, one thing is clear: the speech was filled with historical revisionism. Let’s examine the historical inaccuracies, ommisions and biases of the speech:
Obama began: “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 stood as a beacon of Islamic learning,”
...whose Grand Sheikh, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, has given his approval — on Islamic grounds — to suicide bombing.
and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt ’s advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt . I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.
According to Islamic law, a Muslim may only extend this greeting -- Peace be upon you -- to a fellow Muslim. To a non-Muslim he is to say, “Peace be upon those who are rightly guided,” i.e., Peace be upon the Muslims. Islamic law is silent about what Muslims must do when naive non-Muslim Islamophilic Presidents offer the greeting to Muslims.
We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.
“Co-existence and cooperation”? When and where, exactly?
Note that Obama lists only ways in which the West has, in his view, mistreated the Islamic world. Not a word about the jihad doctrine, not a word about Islamic supremacism and the imperative to make war against and subjugate non-Muslims as dhimmis. Not a word about the culture of hatred and contempt for non-Muslims that existed long before the spread of American culture (“modernity and globalization”) around the world, which Obama D’Souzaishly suggests is responsible for the hostility Muslims have for the West.
Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.
The idea that the jihadists are a “small but potent minority of Muslims” is universally accepted dogma, but has no evidence to back it up. The evidence that appears to back it up is highly tendentious -- check out here how Dalia Mogahed (now an Obama adviser) and John Esposito cooked survey data from the Islamic world to increase the number of “moderates.”
And of course it was by no means only “the attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians” that “has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights.” It was also the Islamic texts and teachings that inspired those attacks that have fueled this perception. But Obama is not singular in declining to acknowledge the existence of such texts and teachings. In that he is following George W. Bush and every influential American politician, diplomat, and analyst.
So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.
I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
No word, of course, of the Sharia laws that impugn the dignity of human beings who are women or non-Muslim by denying them various basic rights.
I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust,
Once again, he assumes that it is his responsibility, and America’s, to dispel mistrust that Muslims feel for the West. It is not the responsibility of Muslims to do anything to gain the trust of the U.S. or the West in general.
nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Qur’an
tells us, “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.” That is what I will try to do – to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart. Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims.
Note that he avoids saying his father was a Muslim, which would open him to charges of apostasy
… I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.
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. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.
The idea that Islamic culture was once a beacon of learning and enlightenment is a commonly held myth. In fact, much of this has been exaggerated, often for quite transparent apologetic motives. The astrolabe was developed, if not perfected, long before Muhammad was born. The zero, which is often attributed to Muslims, and what we know today as “Arabic numerals” did not originate in Arabia , but in pre-Islamic India . Aristotle’s work was preserved in Arabic not initially by Muslims at all, but by Christians such as the fifth century priest Probus of Antioch, who introduced Aristotle to the Arabic-speaking world. Another Christian, Huneyn ibn-Ishaq (809-873), translated many works by Aristotle, Galen, Plato and Hippocrates into Syriac. His son then translated them into Arabic. The Syrian Christian Yahya ibn ‘Adi (893-974) also translated works of philosophy into Arabic, and wrote one of his own, The Reformation of Morals. His student, another Christian named Abu ‘Ali ‘Isa ibn Zur’a (943-1008), also translated Aristotle and others from Syriac into Arabic. The first Arabic-language medical treatise was written by a Christian priest and translated into Arabic by a Jewish doctor in 683. The first hospital was founded in Baghdad during the Abbasid caliphate -- not by a Muslim, but a Nestorian Christian. A pioneering medical school was founded at Gundeshapur in Persia — by Assyrian Christians.
In sum, there was a time when it was indeed true that Islamic culture was more advanced than that of Europeans, but that superiority corresponds exactly to the period when Muslims were able to draw on and advance the achievements of Byzantine and other civilizations. But when the Muslim overlords had taken what they could from their subject peoples, and the Jewish and Christian communities had been stripped of their material and intellectual wealth and thoroughly subdued, Islam went into a period of intellectual decline from which it has not yet recovered.
I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America’s story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, “The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.”
Of course it doesn’t (the Treatry of Tripoli was signed in order to stop piracy by Arabs on USA ships). But does that statement hold true the other way around?
And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t it have been more accurate for Obama to say “won a Nobel Prize”? Isn’t Ahmed Zewail the only U.S.-based Muslim to have won a Nobel Prize?
And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Qur’an that one of our Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson – kept in his personal library.
I have an Arabic Qur’an and 19 different translations of the Qur’an in my office -- 18 into English and one into Spanish. I’m not sure that the fact that Jefferson had a Qur’an in his personal library necessarily means what Obama is suggesting it means.
So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t.
I couldn’t agree more!
And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.
Assuming that such stereotypes actually exist, and that negativity toward Islam among non-Muslims isn’t entirely a reaction to jihad violence and Islamic supremacism, why is this his responsibility? Is it his responsibility as President to fight against negative stereotypes of Christians as ignorant racist yahoos? Is it his responsibility as President to fight against negative stereotypes of Hindus? Jews? Black Americans? American Southerners? Californians? Or is it only his responsibility to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam? If the latter, why? On what basis? By what justification?
But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words – within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: “Out of many, one.”
Good, but not good enough. He should have pointed out not only our founding principles, but the fact that America is the only country that has ever taken it upon itself to extend a helping hand to its defeated enemies. America has spent billions upon billions to try to help improve Islamic societies -- often this money has been spent in a misguided and ignorant fashion, but there is no denying the good intentions. It would have been good of Obama to point that out also.
Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President.
I still remember when it was “racist” and “Islamophobic” to note the President’s middle name.
But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores – that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.
“Nearly seven million American Muslims” -- he is accepting the inflated population figures pushed by Islamic advocacy groups for obvious political reasons.
Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.
So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.
Platitudes and naivete. No mention of the Islamic supremacist agenda that would deny the right of so many to live with dignity -- but I am sure he doesn’t even believe that such an agenda exists.
Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.
For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience.
He picked two places where he believes that the chief victims are Muslims.
That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.
This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests.
Yes, and often they have done so under the divine imperative to make non-Muslims “feel themselves subdued” (Qur’an 9:29).
Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.
In the interest of such sharing, no doubt, Obama made sure that Muslim Brotherhood members attended this speech. Yet the Brotherhood is dedicated, in its own words, to “eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.” Doesn’t that count as an attempt to elevate “one nation or group of people over another”?
That does not mean we should ignore sources of tension.
Indeed, it suggests the opposite: we must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.
The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.
In Ankara, I made clear that America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.
Unfortunately, the definition of “innocent” is not always and everywhere the same. Some jihadists consider no non-Muslim to be innocent. This is an important point, since Obama is appealing to Muslims to oppose the killing of innocents, by which he means American non-combatants as on 9/11 -- but many of his hearers don’t consider such people to be innocent:
The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America’s goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.
Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.
That’s why we’re partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America’s commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths – more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Qur’an teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.
He is appealing to Muslims, as I explained above, on the basis of premises that not all of them share.
Incidentally, his reference is to Qur’an 5:32. 5:33 doesn’t quite continue the beautiful spirit here, mandating crucifixion or amputation for those who fight against Allah and Muhammad.
The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.
No mention, no awareness, of the imperative within Islamic texts and teachings to subjugate Infidels.
We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.
Based on the erroneous assumption that jihad violence is a reaction to American actions, and so American kindness will dispel it. The South African Mufti Ebrahim Desai, the imam of an “Ask the Imam” feature at a Muslim question and answer site, was once asked this question (spelling and grammar as in the original): “The west is often criticised by Muslims for many reasons, such as allowing women go to work. But shouldnt the west also recieve praise because its always them who intervene when muslims r being tortured, they stopped Milosovic kiling muslims and sent their own troops to the country, they r usually the first to send aid when theres a flood, they r also intervening in Isreal and condeming them killing Muslims, so should we appreciate their efforts or not?”
Desai’s answer was brief: “In simple the Kuffaar [unbelievers] can never be trusted for any possible good they do. They have their own interest at heart.”
One man’s opinion? Sure. But it is an opinion with deep roots in Islamic tradition, and it would therefore be naïve to dismiss it as simply Desai’s own mean-spiritedness. The Qur’an contains a warning against those who turn “in friendship to the Unbelievers….If only they had believed in Allah, in the Prophet, and in what hath been revealed to him, never would they have taken them for friends and protectors, but most of them are rebellious wrong-doers” (5:80-81). It also tells Muslims that “never will the Jews or the Christians be satisfied with thee unless thou follow their form of religion” (2:120).
These are words that Obama should consider carefully.
Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: “I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”
Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future – and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq’s sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq ’s democratically-elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012. We will help Iraq train its Security Forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.
And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.
So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.
Good luck with that. It hasn’t happened in all the years since 9/11. Why will it happen now? On what basis does Obama think or hope it will?
The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.
America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.
Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.
On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation.
Occupation? Why did no one ever complain about Egyptian and Jordanian occupation of Palestinian land between 1948 and 1967, when they controlled Gaza and the West Bank?
And those “daily humiliations” might not be so bad if so many of them hadn’t gloried in blowing up Israeli civilians. Israel took steps to protect its citizens. If the Palestinians didn’t have a culture of hatred and violence, those steps would not have been necessary and would not have been taken.
So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.
Intolerable? But it wasn’t intolerable for Israelis to put up with the daily threat of being blown up in pizza parlors or on buses?
For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers – for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.
Such a state will be used as a base for further jihad attacks against Israel, just as Gaza has been since the Israeli withdrawal. But the lessons of history never seem to count in these calculations.
That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them – and all of us – to live up to our responsibilities.
The Palestinians never have. What will Obama do to change that now? Apparently his only concrete idea is to put more pressure on the Israelis, although he talks a good game:
Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia ; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia . It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.
His comparison of the Palestinians with black Americans is unconscionable. Are the Israelis Bull Connor and George Wallace? For the comparison to hold, black Americans must have been launching daily rocket attacks against white civilians, and blowing themselves up at those segregated lunch counters during crowded lunch hours. Remember that?
Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build.
People have been calling upon them to do that for years. They have never heeded the call. Mortimer Zuckerman and others spent $14 million to give them Israeli greenhouses during the Gaza turnover, so they would have a way to make a living. They turned those greenhouses into weapons smuggling tunnels.
But remember, the lessons of history don’t count.
The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Yes, and Khaled Meshaal will fly Buraq to Washington to finalize his assent to all these things.
At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.
Absurd moral equivalence. Peaceful settlements on land to which Israel has a legitimate claim, versus genocidal bloodlust.
Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.
Never mind the many indications that that humanitarian crisis is a product of the Palestinian propaganda machine.
Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel’s legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.
America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.
Not “everyone” knows this. Many Palestinians will not recognize Israel’s right to exist -- ever. Many Israelis know that a Palestinian state would be a jihad base working for the destruction of Israel.
Continues on Part II
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