Sunday, June 21, 2009

President Obama’s Outreach to the Islamic World

By Saeed Qureshi

President Barrack Obama’s speech entitled "A New Beginning" delivered on June 4, at the Major Reception Hall at Egypt’s Cairo University, and co-hosted by the Al-Azhar University, is the hottest topic for the political analysts and media commentators. It’s indeed an epoch making delivery that would echo and reverberate for a pretty long time to come. President Obama’s address was solely focused on Religion Islam and Muslims. His speech which reflected his usual flair and splendid articulation and laced with his confidence exuberance is to be treated as the first landmark yet earnest attempt to befriend Islam and to mend the fences of hostility and mutual distrust.

One cannot see such hostility between the Islamic world and the USA, before, around or after 2nd world war, won against the Nazi Germany only due to United States’ support and involvement in the deadly war. Thereafter with the US economic aid the pillaged Europe was rebuilt through the Marshall Plan.

Thereafter, America got itself entangled in disastrous Korean, Cambodian and Vietnamese wars entailing death and destruction of countless natives and the American troops. The embattled countries were laid waste. United States, in the first five decades of the last century was stampeding the target countries to stop and brace against the onslaught of the Communism. Although no conclusive victories were scored yet Korea and Viet Nam were divided into two parts: one being communist and the other non communist.

These two camps respectively were protégés of Soviet Union and America or the capitalist world. When in 1956, Egypt under President Nassir nationalized the Suez Canal; the US took a timely and principled stand on the military confrontation between Egypt and coalition forces of UK, and France and Israel. If, America then had not taken a neutral and moral stand in favor of cessation of hostilities; Egypt would not have been able to maintain the control of the Suez Canal. The Eisenhower administration forced a cease-fire on Britain, Israel, and France. The U.S. demanded that the invasion must be stopped. America sponsored resolutions in the UN Security Council calling for a cease-fire. Britain and France withdrew from Egypt within a week. The United States also put financial pressure on Great Britain to end the invasion.

Now the scenario undergoes a fantastic change. By that time there were no signs or even indications of any enmity between the Islamic bloc and America. The enmity started and came to the surface when despite Israel’s occupation of the land of the Arab neighboring countries; America stopped exercising its neutral and impartial role in the Middle East any more specifically in the Israel- Palestinian conflict over the promised creation of the Palestinian state. The Arab neighbors of Israel whose lands were forcibly occupied by Israel naturally turned against Israel but were antagonized also against the United States because of her partisan and blind support for Israel’s expansionism and oppression against the Palestinians whose overwhelming majority is Muslim faithful.

The US led Afghan war against the Soviet Union was though practically fought by Muslims drawn from all over the Islamic world, the United States never thought of rewarding the Muslims by taking an even handed stand on issues that related to Muslims. One such issue that has driven a wedge between the US and the Muslim world is the side tracking of the promised establishment of the independent state of Palestine. Even in Afghanistan where Muslim crusaders or mercenaries like al-Qaida were fighting on America’s side, the USA after the victory, lifted its Anchor and left the country to be plunged into civil war and anarchy that continues to this day. Taliban were too not against the United States. The anti American sentiments and the groups were not created by the Muslims themselves but were a reaction to the anti and indifferent attitude of US towards the Muslims and her tirade of branding Muslims as terrorists in the aftermath of 9/11.

Thereafter, the US has been chasing the Muslims like cat chases mice. In 8 years of President Bush’s presidency, the Muslims-American relations touched their lowest ebb. There was talk of clash of civilizations, Muslim bashing, and revival of crusades during those frightening years. It was in the wake of this anti Muslim onslaught that America made the fatal mistake of occupying Iraq by force. It had to pay a very heavy price for that which it is still paying. Saddam was not anti America but he was profiled as an enemy of US and a person who wanted to destroy Israel. A false bogey of possession of WMD against Saddam was also whipped vigorously to justify an anti-Iraq military offensive. So it was the United States and the west that initiated the antagonism directed at the Muslims.

In this most declining times for America, president Obama is trying to control the damage and rebuild the friendly relations with the Islamic bloc based on mutual respect and commonalty of interests. He is doing a great and historic job because the damage is colossal and if it is not checked now, it would further add to the detriment of America. The use of force as the neocons and die hard Christians have along been favoring has proven to be a wrong, ruinous and counterproductive strategy.

Those Muslims and Islamic factions that discard Obama’s speech as frivolous should hang their heads in shame. Do they want to declare himself as a caliph of Islam and the US as caliphate? Do they want the entire world to be transformed into Muslims ‘supporters? Are we the Muslims living in fool’s paradise that we fail or refuse to understand that Islam is our religion that is inviolable for us, but in equal measure other too profess their religions which is inviolable for them. With the advent of Obama as the American president, the wind of change that has started blowing should be welcomed by all the Muslim societies. The unprecedented conciliatory overtures that an American president is making and trying to dismantle the barriers of hatred and animus must be lauded so as to encourage him to do more for the Muslims.

The Muslims should keep in mind that the single united Islamic empire is a fantasy and would remain so for ever. The reason is that the nation states within the Islamic bloc would not relinquish their exclusive identity. Secondly, the faith based unbridgeable divisions within the Islamic fold, since early times, have kept the Muslims torn apart. If Muslim unity on the basis of faith was possible then the Omayyad’s and Abbasids would have not cut each other’s throats for ages. The Muslim dynasties led by the ruthless and power- hungry heads of Islamic states have fought each other for 1400 years for power and land, each replacing another through bloodshed and pogroms of innocent Muslims on both sides.

It is, therefore, the imperative of the present times that the Muslim societies too adopt a pragmatic and practical course by accepting the breathtaking and stupendous transformation of the social orders. Leaving aside the fundamental beliefs, the Muslim nations will have to shed some of the obsolete and moribund baggage that kept it behind the rest of the nations now galloping on the road to advancement and technological miracles and in donning the mantle of civil societies. The code of Islam has to be modified and updated in such ways that without undermining its kernel, the Muslim societies can keep pace with the march of the modern states. By remaining stuck up in and confined to an island of ignorance, primitivism and insistence on revival of impracticable theocratic doctrines is like placing the cart before the horse.

It is in this light that the President Obama’s pacification towards Islam and confession of past wrongs done to the Muslims should be seized as a timely divine help. Who could hope that the successor of George Bush, an inveterate enemy of Islam, would be a person who vows to respect the Muslims and pledges never to be at war with Islam? To lace President Obama’s Cairo speech with ifs and buts and attribute deceptive and phony motives to it as done by 8 Islamic groups of Syria speaks for the deficit of vision and poverty of diplomatic foresight of the fanatic Islamic groups. The Muslims around the world should take Obama’s speech on its face value and wait if he proves true to his words. But apparently he has proven himself to be honest and steadfast in honoring his pronouncements and promises. If he dithers or recoils then it would be the appropriate time to castigate him.

He cannot be an imposter or a master actor to hide his real intentions and say something as a matter of ploy. Let us not forget that forging amiable understanding with the Muslim world is a compelling need for the United States also. If the standoff between the Muslims and United States would remain alive then the day is not far off when fatigued allies would abandon the US in her anti terrorism crusade. Secondly, the Somalia type blockade of ships elsewhere would hamper the global economic activity. The US would be worst hit by such piracies if cargo ships are blocked in other strategic waters. The USA is losing the steam to stay in Iraq and in Afghanistan and also to browbeat Iran. So for USA, the only viable course left is the appeasement with the Muslim nations for a face facing withdrawal from the Muslim territories. Incidentally Obama is not only a visionary and an American president with outstanding intelligence but also he seems to have a soft corner for Islam as manifested in his speeches and writings.

It demands quite an exemplary courage and strong character to quote from holy Quran and to exhort to follow those injunctions. It is equally impressive to start his Cairo speech with the Muslims tradition of Bismillah (starting with the name of god) and to exalt Islam despite being himself the president of a Christian country and being under the lurking insinuation by the neocons and fanatic orthodox Christians that he was internally favorably disposed towards the Muslims.

So Obama’s Cairo speech should be viewed as a sunshine breakthrough that heralds a definitive tilt towards Muslims and perhaps a snub to Israel; a country that has been riveted on pitting United States against the Muslims through every devious machinations. As explained in the aforementioned, America’s confrontation with the Muslims has its seeds in the Israel’s conflict with the Palestinian people in which US unconditionally sides with Israel. Perhaps Obama is going to bring a balance into that unjust situation and it would pave way for the fulfillment of Palestinians’ aspiration for a state of their own. If that materializes then that would be the day when peace would prevail in the Middle East and US and the Islamic world would go along shoulder to shoulder as sincere friends.

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