Obama’s Speech Tries to Close the Gap with the World of Islam
By Habib Siddiqui
President Barack Obama was in Egypt on Thursday, June 4, delivering a seminal speech on improving relationship between the world of Islam and the USA. From the troubling relationship, it is difficult to believe today that it was the Muslim kingdom - al-Mamlaka al-Maġribiyya - more commonly known to the outside world by its Latinized name - Morocco that was the first country to recognize the new state – the USA when others had taken on a wait-and-see approach. In his speech, as much as Obama wanted to reassure his 1.6 billion intended audience about the dawning of a new era, he also had to remind his own constituencies back in the USA about facts that they have forgotten.
A vast majority of the Africans brought to the new country to work in its fields as slaves were Muslims who had lost their God-given human rights in the hands of White slave masters. They were responsible for laying the foundation for the new civilization that was to become the envy of our time being the most powerful nation on earth. Many of the children of those former slaves have gone back to their roots to reclaim the faith of their forefathers before they were brought in chains to this country, while others have chosen to at least name their own children with Muslim names. Some of these Afro-American Muslims have excelled as great poets, writers, singers, musicians, actors, athletes, sportsmen and business entrepreneurs.
America today has over seven million Muslims, mostly from immigrant background. Through their vibrant culture, integrity and work ethics, they have enriched their adopted home. They have excelled in every field from literature and arts to science and technology. Their talented engineers and architects have built and designed some of the tallest buildings in the USA. Their gifted doctors and researchers have developed life-saving drugs. Their brilliant minds have won Nobel Prizes. There is hardly a university today in the USA where no single American Muslim is teaching. Similarly, there are very few hospitals without a Muslim physician. Not surprisingly, their income and education are higher than average Americans. They have remained part of mainstream America and for the first time have been able to send a Muslim to the Congress who took the oath of office as a Congressman at the Capitol Hill by placing his hand on the Qur’an.
Yet, American relationship with the Muslim world has been a thorny one since 9/11, which saw some 3000 people die on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. With a Christian fundamentalist occupying the White House, war was declared first against Afghanistan and then Iraq that saw the arrogance of Pharaohnic power killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims and maiming millions. The world has never seen before so much violence committed by the powerful against the powerless, unarmed civilians. The world has never witnessed so much bombing and so much destruction of towns and cities. It was a genocidal campaign that discriminated none. Nothing within Iraq, the cradle of civilization, was spared from such vindictive savagery. She saw her museums looted, treasury robbed, libraries gutted, historical sites ruined, religious shrines and ancient mosques desecrated and demolished. The invaders forgot that what Rome and Greece are to western civilization, Baghdad is to Islamic civilization.
Bush’s global war on terror saw American government violating established international laws on treatment of prisoners and detainees, committing the worst kind of war crimes the world has ever seen. Through her beastly acts in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, America gave new meanings to words like sadism and torture. Overall, the war brought out the worst in America sowing seeds of deep anger and hatred throughout the Muslim world that produced the likes of Zarqawi who would tarnish the image of Islam with their insane criminal activities.
And worse yet, Iraq did not pre-empt any activity to qualify her for attack from the USA. There was no WMD. It had no link with al-Qaeda. The Bush-Cheney Administration lied to its own people, the UN, the EU and rest of the world and provided false information to justify its war against Iraq. The world saw how an international body like the UN would be exploited and later sidelined by the most powerful nation on earth. It seemed UN’s very existence depended on sanctifying America’s whims and unilateral moves.
The war saw the worst form of yellow journalism justifying America’s illegal hostilities and discovered new terminologies like “embedded journalism” and “extraordinary rendition”. The war also witnessed how independent journalists questioning America’s deception and war tactics would be shot at point blank.
In this culture of war on terror, America soon forgot that those who attacked America on September 11, 2001 were once trained by her own CIA and that the Talibans that sheltered the al-Qaeda’s leader were also once financed by the USA to fight America’s proxy war against the Soviets. By some accounts, 9/11 was a blowback phenomenon. The Mossad, the Israeli spy agent, had known all about its preparation and yet deliberately failed to inform her counterpart agency in the USA of the impending attack so that the American government might be pulled on its side to do Israel’s dirty war in the Middle East and Palestinian rights totally ignored. 9/11 also allowed Israel to unleash her worst form of savagery upon the Palestinian people. Every day within the occupied territories felt like a Nakba – the day of catastrophe - for the Palestinian victims.
Too many things were wrong in the Muslim-American relationship during Bush’s era. Something had to be done soon to mend the relationship. America had lost too much in her war efforts in the Muslim world – more than 4500 soldiers, and hundreds of billions of dollars. But more importantly, American victory in the battlefield seemed unsustainable and was feeling like Pyrrhic victory. The American economy is in shambles. If the war were to continue indefinitely, as was desired by the military industrial complex, signs were all clear to predict America’s premature death as the global mega-power.
So when Obama chose to speak on June 4, his was to call a truce with the world of Islam. He could not afford a Pyrrhic victory for America. He needed Muslims to rescue America from the curse of war brought about by his dim-witted predecessor. He did not come to lecture but to open a dialogue. And he could not have found a better place than Cairo to deliver his message. Cairo is undoubtedly the heart of the Arab world and the largest metropolis in the Middle East. Obama’s hosts included Al-Azhar and the Cairo University. Al-Azhar remains the oldest surviving university in our world. It has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning for more than a millennium. And for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt’s advancement. Together, these two institutions of higher learning represented the harmony between tradition and progress. And who can deny the importance of finding that harmony, something that has sadly been missing from much of the Muslim world?
Obama sounded sincere and not arrogant – the latter trait becoming the trademark of America’s presidents since the days of Reagan, and more visibly with the Bush Jr. presidency. In spite of Obama’s assurance to the Israelis, the enemies of peace will paint him negatively for deviating from the war-mongering days of Bush. His speech will not be welcomed by the Zionist extremists who have hijacked Judaism and have gotten used to taking a free ride on the back of the USA, pushing the country to fight their proxy war in the Middle East. With the kind of blind, robotic support they enjoy amongst the “Amen Corner” within the Capitol Hill, they will not relent from their evil ways to push Obama into fighting yet another war – this time against Iran. Obama will also have his ears full from the extremist, pro-war forces and groups within America that are closely linked with the military industrial complex. They are against change and want the USA to pursue the old, failed hegemonic ways, which during the Bush-era had not only antagonized the vast majority of Muslims and other peace-loving citizens around the globe but also isolated the USA from the European friendly states that got tired of America’s bullying.
As Obama has rightly acknowledged no single speech of his could eradicate years of mistrust between the world of Islam and the USA, esp. in the aftermath of 9/11 and America’s wars in the Muslim world – now ravaging from Pakistan to Somalia. But it is important that the healing process starts. With that speech in Cairo, Obama has taken that first baby step towards translating mistrust into trust and giving hope where there was none before.
Barack Obama’s most important viewers were the Muslims from Indonesia to Senegal. If the election result in Lebanon is one way to measure the impact of his message, there is no denying that he has immensely succeeded in relaying his message. There, just days before Obama’s speech, no one had predicted defeat of Hizbullah-led coalition to a pro-Western coalition in legislative elections.
It seems that Muslims are ready to trust Obama and give him the opportunity to mend fences with the world of Islam. The trillion dollar question is: will the war-party allow him to continue on this fence-mending task?
June 11, 2009