GOATMILK: An intellectual playground edited by Wajahat Ali

The Best Blog in the History of the Whole Wide World

Obama: The Eloquent Superman – The Al Arabiya Interview

with 5 comments


Respect is not enough

Obama’s interview with a Muslim TV channel was eloquent and persuasive. But his silence over Gaza also speaks volumes

obama

Wajahat Ali

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 28 January 2009 20.00 GMT

In his historic interview with the Al-Arabiya TV channel, President Obama’s inclusive and respectful rhetoric towards Muslims attempted an elegant coup de grace to the divisive, insecure and arrogant bravado of the Bush administration. For many Muslims worldwide, however, the sincerity of such honey-coated words will only be legitimized by a responsible and balanced foreign policy that is no longer rooted in selfishness and historical amnesia.

Obama optimistically told the “Muslim world” – if even such a nebulous entity exists – that his “job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people …My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.” Like a skillful and eloquent Cool Hand Luke, Obama calmly exhibited respect, humility, and confidence. He finally achieved his Colin Powell catharsis. He made a decisive and public break with Bush’s diminutive Dirty Harry personality and that administration’s “clash of civilizations” rhetoric by acknowledging the existence of Muslims as valuable partners necessary in traversing the fragile and volatile terrain known as the global “war on terror.”

Perhaps Obama reflected on the shameful legacies of his campaign, where Muslims were actively encouraged to vote and donate for his presidency, but only if they were hidden, maligned and unacknowledged – like the two veiled women whom his staffers removed from a televised Obama rally. At a fundraiser 12 days before the election, I asked a very high-ranking Democrat why Obama kept shunning Muslim Americans. He shot me a knowing look and responded, “You know – it’s only 12 days before the election,” thereby unsubtly and ironically reminding the Muslims present at the gathering about the detrimental electoral “taint” of being associated with our kind.

However, with his presidency and election now secure, Obama now openly welcomes and identifies with these former political kryptonites: “I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries.”

Many Muslims, although initially offended by what they perceived as Obama’s slight towards their community despite their overwhelming support for his presidency, were nonetheless enthusiastic after hearing Obama’s Al-Arabiya interview, which repeatedly stressed respect towards the “Muslim world.” Faisal Ghori, an American Muslim and Principal at Middle East Ventures, a Middle East and North Africa-focused strategy consultancy, echoed the feelings of many by calling it “groundbreaking for the United States in light of the last eight years” and “a step in the right direction.”

Obama’s initial executive order shutting down the draconian Guantanmo Bay facility further signaled the emergence of a rare leader, making good on his promises and taking concentrated efforts at strategically rebuilding and redeeming our globally maligned image.

However, the tragedy of the Gaza crisis still burdens the hearts of many Muslims who decry Obama’s words as hype and empty rhetoric in light of his refusal to directly criticize Israel for its brutal campaign in Gaza that left over 1,300 Palestinians dead.

When dealing with the Muslims, Obama urged: “We can have legitimate disagreements but still be respectful.” However, his reinforced commitment to Israel – despite the humanitarian crisis and global condemnation surrounding its actions in Gaza – is both polarizing and contentious to Muslims worldwide. When Obama firmly stated: “I will continue to believe that Israel’s security is paramount,” many Muslims lost hope in Obama’s promise – and by extension the desire for a new and “improved” US Middle East foreign policy – due to perceptions of his unconditionally-biased loyalty towards Israel.

As Asilan Ekher, a Turkey journalist chosen as one of the prestigious “Muslim leaders of tomorrow” programme, told me: “If Obama really wanted to give a friendly message to the Muslim world, he would have definitely found a way to denounce the civilian deaths in Gaza in a diplomatic way, as he must know that it is the most sensitive issue for the majority of Muslims around the world at the moment.”

Noorjahan Ali Boolay, a Thai Muslim from Payap University, concurred: “I have to admit that my hope is high from listening to what Obama said [in the interview] but my heart is full of doubts and fears…. No matter how wrong, bad, or unfair the actions are, Israel will get full support and protection from America.”

For a loquacious man like Obama, who stirringly denounced the terrorist Mumbai attacks and spearheaded an economic advisory team even before taking the oath of office, his relative silence on the Gaza crisis was shameful and surprising.

Moreover, Obama’s rhetoric from the interview implies he will continue the US’s dangerously belligerent offensive in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where pilotless drone aircraft attacks have killed more than 300 people – overwhelmingly civilians – over the past year. Obama promised the US is going to be “decisive in going after terrorist organisations that would kill innocent civilians, that we’re going to do so on our terms, and we’re going to do so respecting the rule of law.”

However, Obama must note that “our terms,” which are unnecessarily aggressive and unilateral, will not necessarily be welcomed by the beleaguered population of Central Asia, already hostage to eight years of Bush’s reign of unmitigated violence. Even though the US might consider civilian deaths as collateral damage, they inspire despair and anger which can be exploited by reactionaries for their Islamist jihad agenda.

The 30-year failure of such a myopic policy towards Pakistan and Afghanistan can easily be witnessed in the blowback of violence and virulent anti-US sentiments espoused by extremists, who are housed in countries ruled by ineffectual and incompetent leaders. The same can be said about Israel and Palestine. Ultimately, Obama declared the “language we use has to be a language of respect … the language we use matters.” So does enlightened diplomacy. Let’s hope Obama ushers in real change by implementing both.

wajahatmali@gmail.com

About these ads

Written by Wajahat Ali

January 28, 2009 at 9:34 pm

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I fully agree with the main thesis of your column. And now that he has won the election – his next goal is self preservation. So do not count on principles.
    He has already trimmed the mission of Holbrook to Pakistan and Afghanistan (no Kashmir resolution) and Pakistan has been informed of continued raids by Predators. Brace for more turmoil.

    Anwar

    January 29, 2009 at 4:22 pm

  2. Black Obama is a Nubian Jew or at any rate a east African politician with plenty of guile and cunning – see Mugabe, Neyree and others. As to his Jewish pedigree see his political pedigree in respect of his mob based politics in Chicago.
    He was denied a place at Howard University – a premier seat of learning for Negros whereupon a seat was procured at Haarvaard by his Jewish patrons by virtue of affimative action and the like.
    The fellow otherwise is a stupid fraud. Alim

    alim

    January 30, 2009 at 10:39 pm

  3. Respect is not enough – it is naturally expected in all civilized human interactions. U.S. President Barack Obama was very disingenuous when he spouted this pablum. The fawning interviewer on the quisling Al-Arabiya TV channel did a disgusting job questioning the American president. Al-Jazeera would have been the more respectful choice of venue, but Mr. Obama chose otherwise.

    I think it is offensive to describe the worldwide Islamic community as merely the “Muslim World”, thus splitting it off from a “Real World.” Attempting to patronize these people by saying, “I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries,” is even worse.

    The issue of the unconscionable brutalization of Palestinians by Israel is not a Muslim issue. It is an issue for all fair-minded people, whatever their faith.

    Fil Munas

    February 1, 2009 at 6:46 pm

  4. Somebody once said that “Politics is the art of the possible.”

    While I agree with every point that Fil Munas makes, small steps have taken first. Please give President Obama six months.

    billibaldi

    February 2, 2009 at 12:38 am

  5. Giving an interview means nothing, especially on channel that nobody watches.

    La Voz

    February 2, 2009 at 11:01 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 664 other followers

%d bloggers like this: