Dear Barack you do not know me but—
by Dr. Javeed Akhter
Dear Mr. President-elect Obama,
I know it is a bit presumptuous but may I call you Barack? I realize it is a fantasy but it feels like I know you intimately like a friend. You definitely do not know me but you will recognize me. I am a Muslim American physician, who along with hundreds of thousands of other professionals migrated to this country, in my case Chicago, in the 60s and 70s. We were a part of the tidal wave generated by LBJ’s “Great Society” program. We loved our new country, thrived in its civility, its work ethic and freedoms and raised families. We joined numerous other Muslims, many African Americans and fewer Caucasian and Hispanic Americans, who already lived here.
Barack, during the campaign you avoided Muslims and did not go to a Mosque, but if you had gone you would have found physicians like me and professionals of every stripe, and even a community organizer or two. You would have seen grandparents enjoying their grand kids, housewives and husbands taking pleasure in each other’s company, and many bright young women and men. You would have been witness to a gathering that is mainstream, middle class and richly diverse. You, Michelle and the kids would have felt at home.
Muslim Americans in that room and elsewhere in the nation would have told you that they voted for you in an overwhelming majority and wish you great success. they would have told you that Muslim Americans should neither be ostracized nor demonized. We are proud Americans and America should be proud of us. This nation has given us lot and we have given back to it. Some of us have even fought and died for it.
Muslims in America have one common wish that use your bully pulpit to put an end to the relentless stereotyping of Islam and Muslims in the post 9/11 world we live in. Muslim Americans cringe every time their faith is linked with the words terror or terrorist.
You may ask the State Department stop using terms like Islamists and Jihadists as they are incorrect and counterproductive. Have your Justice Department drop the tactic of naming Muslim organizations as “unindicted co-conspirators”, which is tantamount to saying guilty unless proven innocent and all of the other infractions of civil rights. I know you have already said that you will ban torture and there are also those related issues of rendition and secret prisons. Barack you need to set up a commission similar to the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” of South Africa to find out who ordered torture and hold them responsible.
Barack we think you already know a bit about Muslims and their civilization. Islam is one of the great world religions and Muslim contributions to world civilization are invaluable. You lived in a Muslim majority country (Indonesia) as a child, have Muslim relatives, and have had Muslim friend or two. To you Muslims would not be the alien other. We believe you have an understanding of the diversity among Muslims, a sense of the rich texture of their history and tradition and an appreciation of their hopes and aspirations. You would not imagine Muslims in the fantasy-filled manner in which some in the country do.
Now it is time to set things right and ask the rhetorical question General Colin Powell asked in a recent interview; “Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?” The impact of your challenging the prevalent stereotype of Muslims and Islam would be transformational and will resound all over the Muslim world.
We as a nation have to try seriously and mend relations with the Muslim world, which are at their lowest point ever. It is almost as big a problem as the economy. The US is seen as waging a war on Islam, which allows militant groups to recruit young men to their cause. You have great opportunity to reverse this state of affairs. To be credible with the Muslim world you need to appoint people at high levels in the cabinet in areas dealing with policies that affect the Muslim world. This would help repair broken bridges between US and the Muslim world.
Barack just as your election brought down the race barrier; your words can knock down religious and ethnic stereotyping and seriously dent the appeal of groups like al-Qaida. High expectations can be a heavy burden. But I know you can meet those expectations. It may be presumptuous for me to say so but I know you can.
Javeed Akhter is a physician and a founding member of the International Strategy and Policy Institute, a Chicago-based Muslim-American think tank http://www.ispi-usa.org/