Obama’s Talks to Muslims
1/4: Obama’s Message to Muslims: US President Obama chose Al-AzharUniversity, Cairo, to address the Muslim world. The choice of the venue was very meaningful. Firstly, as he said, he was invited by that institution to deliver his address. Secondly, his acceptance to speak to Muslims from Al-Azhar was quite significant……….
2/4: Obama’s Cairo address: On June 4, 2009 Barack Hussein Obama, President of the United States, addressed a gathering of receptive and cheering persons in Cairo. While they were Egyptians, and he spoke to their concerns, he reached out beyond them to the larger Muslim world of 1.5 billion.
3/4: Obama and the world of Islam: President Barack Obama’s recent address at CairoUniversity has been received in the Muslim world with cautious optimism. The Iranian response is instructive. Basically it is that the speech will be treated as just so much rhetoric unless there is a change in the ground realities. …….
4/4: Dense, devilish or delusional? It may be great for President Obama to start his speech to the Egyptians with Assalam-o-aleykum. It may be heart-warming to hear him talk of his Muslim ancestry in Kenya. It may be seraphic to learn that America is not at war with Islam. But the president walks a tight rope back home in his own country. ……..
Obama’s Message to Muslims
US President Obama chose Al-AzharUniversity, Cairo, to address the Muslim world. The choice of the venue was very meaningful. Firstly, as he said, he was invited by that institution to deliver his address. Secondly, his acceptance to speak to Muslims from Al-Azhar was quite significant.
Al-Azhar is the oldest Islamic institution of greatest significance in Islamic learning. Therefore to address Muslims of the world from there has its own importance. No one can doubt that he spoke from his heart. Every word he uttered had conviction behind it. It was not mere rhetoric or politically weighed speech. It reflected his vision and approach towards Islam and Muslims.
One can say this comes as a major paradigm shift in US policy towards Muslims in a post-9/11 world. America being a nation of immigrants has always created a powerful enemy to maintain its own unity. Earlier, it was Japan, then Communist Russia and China, and after the collapse of communism it was the Islamic world.
George Bush raised the pitch of hostility with the Islamic world and resorted to war-mongering. He sought legitimation of his policies by adding zest to views expressed in books like Huntington’s A Clash of Civilisations. A change was much needed to salvage American image which took so much beating throughout the world. Barak Obama came on the scene as America’s saviour and a visionary who brought hope.
Reaction to Obama’s historic address can be divided into three categories: One, outright appreciation and applause; two, critical evaluation of what he said and guarded optimism about his pronouncements; and three, outright rejection by some sceptics. Some of sceptics even described him as a ‘Christian Zionist’.
The most crucial part of the speech was his avowed commitment to the solution of the Palestinian problem. He obviously tried to maintain balance between Israeli and Palestinian positions which, otherwise, are totally opposed to each other. It would have been too much to expect Obama to extend unqualified support to the Palestinian cause as many of us would have liked him to do. It is just not possible for any American president to do so without qualifications.
Let us not forget that Obama has inherited a long American tradition of a pro-Israel policy what many of his predecessors have also described as very strong ties between America and Israel. He put it authentically “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known.” But he also departed from another well known American position on Israel.
He, for the first time, accepted Palestinians’ woes publicly. He said, “On the other hand… 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 neighbouring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead.”
We all know the plight of Palestinians and it is no revelation. But for this to be admitted publicly by an American president is very significant. Israel was naturally disturbed and initially Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahoo rejected Obama’s remarks. But what Obama spoke the whole world heard and weighed his words. Netanyahoo too had to make a conciliatory statement later on.
Now many critics are saying that the real test lies in what Obama does to translate his words into action. Quite true but let us not forget words have their own importance. Obama appears to be quite sincere but for even a sincere person it is not always in his/her hands to translate words into action. There are powerful obstacles to be overcome and powerful interests to be fought against.
Obama, too, like American presidents before him, is surrounded by a highly influential Zionist lobby. Zionists also control the mainstream media which moulds public opinion and, in a democracy like the US, public opinion counts much. However, it does not mean that Obama will have a convenient excuse to do nothing about what he committed himself to in Cairo. The world and especially the Muslim world will watch out for all his actions.
One thing seems to be quite likely. Israel will not be able to get away easily with its naked aggression as it did again and again in South Lebanon and in Gaza. It will not get the unflinching support of the Obama administration as it got from the Bush administration. Even that will be a great change. Recently in Germany I met a Norwagian lady who is a peace activist in Palestine; she told me that after the recent Israeli aggression in Gaza peace had little chance in Palestine. I told her let us not give up hope.
Obama has also given us, Muslims, hope and hope gives the Muslim world confidence in these trying times. Obama may not be able to finally solve the Palestinian problem but his speech has brought good tidings to the Arab, Islamic world.
The writer is an Islamic scholar who heads the Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. By Asghar Ali Engineer, Dawn, 11 June 2009
Obama’s Cairo address
On June 4, 2009 Barack Hussein Obama, President of the United States, addressed a gathering of receptive and cheering persons in Cairo. While they were Egyptians, and he spoke to their concerns, he reached out beyond them to the larger Muslim world of 1.5 billion.
Equally intriguing is the fact that Muslims heard him not only in cities but also in remote and obscure places. He went out of his way to arouse in their hearts and minds friendly feelings towards his own country and people. He brought out the fact that even though he is a Christian, several generations on his father’s side have been Muslim. He said he felt an affinity with Islam, and that it would be one of his functions as president to dispel misconceptions of Islam harboured in parts of the West.
Referring to the Arab-Israeli conflict, he observed that while the Palestinians must accept Israel’s right to exist, the Israelis must respect the Palestinian people’s right to a state of their own. They must also stop building settlements in Palestinian territory. Obama’s audience in Cairo applauded him profusely. Muslim listeners elsewhere were also pleased. A few sceptics in some places said they would wait to see the actions that followed his declarations.
A couple of congressional leaders in Washington praised the president’s speech, but major newspapers and radio and television channels gave it little attention, and instead focused on his visit to Germany. The speech was well received in the European Union offices. Indian officials and the media ignored it for the most part. As one might have expected, it evoked reservations in conservative Jewish circles in America and Israel.
A prominent journalist in Tel Aviv observed that it was the first time since the establishment of the state of Israel that an American president was treating it like a stepchild. Another journalist in the same town wanted to know why, instead of going after terrorists such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and Iran which supported them, Mr Obama was hung up on the settlements. He also disputed the view that an end to the settlements would pave the way to peace.
One may now ask if President Obama’s pleas to the groups mentioned above are likely to be heeded. A recent opinion poll showed that a slight majority of Israelis would go along with a decision to stop Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. The conservative and orthodox politicians who are coalition partners in the present Israeli government are strongly opposed to terminating the settlements. If Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accepts President Obama’s advice, they may abandon his government in which case it will fall.
Mr Netanyahu has to balance domestic pressure in favour of the settlements against the opposing American pressure. The outcome may depend on the kind of pressure the Obama administration can bring to bear on the Israeli government. Mr Obama will have to contend with the strong pro-Israeli lobbies within America. A policy of adverse pressure on Israel may not even have the needed support in the United States Congress.
Hamas and Hezbollah are militant, ideological parties with their own agendas. They favour the Palestinian cause and oppose Israel. They consider physical violence a legitimate weapon in waging their political struggles. They do not depend on America in pursuing their goals. In fact they have been getting along well in spite of intense American opposition to their aims and
modus operandi. They are said to receive some help from Iran but can probably do without it.
In any case, Iran cannot be dissuaded from helping them, if it is doing so, except as part of an overall settlement with America, which at this point is nowhere in sight. As things stand now, there is no apparent reason why Hamas and Hezbollah would want to listen to President Obama.
He cautioned fellow Americans against stereotyped images of Arabs and Muslims as retrogressive and violence-prone people, and he cautioned Arabs and Muslims against similarly incorrect images of America as a grasping and exploitative empire. His words of caution were entirely appropriate. But it should be noted also that images on each side are not made and sustained by government agencies as much as they are by vested interests and media barons, including those who own and control the ‘yellow press’. They thrive on the dramatic and scandalous, even if these are nothing more than fabrications or gossip. This is how they make money and they will see no reason to change their ways.
Images of the ‘common man’, on both sides, are also based on conventional wisdom, inherited prejudices and hearsay. Moreover, the common man prefers to blame outsiders for the failures of his own society. This relieves him of thinking, self-examination and analysis, all of which are agonising processes.
Talk with any number of Pakistanis and they will hold America responsible for all of their troubles. America, they will insist, wants to destabilise, even break up, Pakistan. You may argue that America has nothing to gain from Pakistan’s destabilisation. They will then contend that America disapproves of Pakistan because it is Muslim and, like all of the Judeo-Christian West, the US is an enemy of Islam.
President Obama’s mission of removing the mutual misperceptions of the American and Arab-Muslim peoples is doubtless noble. However, it is fraught with difficulties. But it does not follow that his endeavours will be in vain. The words and actions of an American president do have an impact on public opinion in other countries. It is possible that his Cairo address has already improved the Arab-Muslim attitudes towards America. In time, American perceptions of Arabs and Muslims may also become a bit friendlier.
It is true that the president does not control all of the opinion-makers, vested interests and their lobbies in America. But it is safe to assume that the chiefs of the American armed forces, intelligence agencies, diplomats and policy planners in the State Department, and those who manage the federal bureaucracy will listen to him and, within limits, carry out his policies. If these policies work well and bring advantages to the American people, even the media barons and hitherto sceptical politicians may begin to take a new, and perhaps more sympathetic, look at the Muslim world.The writer is professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts.
By Anwar Syed, Dawn, 14 June 2009, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Obama and the world of Islam
President Barack Obama’s recent address at CairoUniversity has been received in the Muslim world with cautious optimism. The Iranian response is instructive. Basically it is that the speech will be treated as just so much rhetoric unless there is a change in the ground realities.
And by this the Iranians mean that they do not want the carrot method of Obama just as they did not want the stick method of Bush; that they will continue to act according to what they perceive is in their national interest.
The Arabs agree that President Obama has conceded that certain Israeli settlements are illegal and even that there should be two states — one for the Palestinians and the other for the Israelis. However, the US leader says in the same breath that his country’s relations with Israel will remain the same.
So, conclude the more cynical voices, there cannot be much real change. In Pakistan, while there is optimism, there is also a general sense of disappointment that there has been nothing regarding a solution to the Kashmir issue or any promise about stopping the drone attacks in the tribal areas.
Yet, every neutral person will concede in all fairness that this is a new voice from the White House. After years of Bush’s talking in terms of black and white, harking back to the visceral emotionalism of the Crusades and threatening the Muslim world this is a president who at least tries to find soothing words. It may be the beginning of a new relationship with the Muslim world and, even if it does not work in the end, it is worth welcoming.
Presidents of the United States are not medieval emperors so it is naïve to assume that they have to say something for it to happen. They function in the give-and-take of realism in the realm of possible politics which, in a nutshell, is balancing the interests of the groups which vote their parties into power and what the establishment sees as the core interest.
What is possible is that Obama sells the idea to the most powerful lobbies of his country that it is in the long-term interest of Israel, and of the US, to buy peace for land and give some other concessions to the Palestinians. It is also conceivable that he will persuade the American right-wing that its policies have made too many enemies and that it makes better sense to woo the Muslim moderates in order to defeat Al Qaeda and Taliban elements. This is the kind of policy which may have allowed some military action in Afghanistan while altogether preventing a useless war in Iraq. It would have allowed preventive measures and better security without allowing the horrors of secret and illegal prisons and the suspension of human rights.
But does Obama have a relationship with the Muslim world? There are people who point to the initial ‘H’ of his middle name Hussein and conclude that either the US president has a sneaking sympathy for the Muslims or is more against them than other presidents so as to satisfy white Christian America that he is one of them.
Let us delve into the interesting roots of ‘Hussein’, part of Barack Obama’s name, to understand this. My source of information is Barack Obama’s biography entitled Dreams from My Father (1995). Like Alex Haley’s Roots (1976) this book is also a quest for identity, for origins, roots.
Both writers have been through the traumatic experience of being black men in America which means having been subjected to prejudice, stereotyping and deprivation. But Obama was not the progeny of slaves brought to the United States in an age of unabashed colonialist exploitation. His father was born in Kenya on the shores of Lake Victoria in a place called Alego.
Obama’s father was called Hussein Onyango Obama and he was a farmer of the Luo tribe. Hussein was a Muslim though by no means a strict one. He does not seem to have cared that some of his sons dropped the Muslim faith while others retained it at least as far as their names were concerned. (When Barack Obama travelled to Kenya he met two uncles with Muslim names: Yusuf and Sayid.) Anyway, this young student from Kenya met a white American girl called Ann from Wichita, Kansas — from a modest but ordinary Protestant family — and married her.
Later he got a doctorate from Harvard and went back to Kenya where he became a powerful civil servant until he fell out of favour and died. The mother remarried an Indonesian and Obama spent his childhood in Indonesia where he attended Quran classes as well as those for Christians. And then, when the mother and son returned from Indonesia when the marriage did not work out, we are told in true dramatic fashion that it was Obama’s mother who had decided to divorce her Kenyan husband because she would not go back with him. But the point of the quest is about race and family not religion. Obama works for the Catholic Church in Chicago as well as other Christian and secular groups but never for religious reasons. Always his focus is to serve the black man in a white man’s world. And in Kenya too he lives in a family where, but for the names, there is no distinction between Muslim, Christian or animist.
Does this portend well for the Muslim world? I believe it does. For we no longer have a US president who looks at the world in the manner that Bush inherited from his vision of history coloured as it must have been by the Crusades and the anti-Islam rhetoric of recent memory. Indeed, we do not have a
member of the white establishment in office at all. This means that we need not look for the burden of the history of both religion and colonialism.
Instead we have a man who has proved his sincerity to the oppressed black people of America, people he closely associated with, and who may transfer the same sympathies to the oppressed people elsewhere — Muslims among them. This is the best one can hope for because, as I said before, the presidents of the United States are not medieval emperors.
By Dr Tariq Rahman Dawn, Saturday, 13 Jun, 2009
Dense, devilish or delusional?
It may be great for President Obama to start his speech to the Egyptians with Assalam-o-aleykum. It may be heart-warming to hear him talk of his Muslim ancestry in Kenya. It may be seraphic to learn that America is not at war with Islam. But the president walks a tight rope back home in his own country.
His citizens don’t like to see the most powerful man in the world bowing before King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia or telling the Muslims that he respects their religion because he grew up listening to azaan (Islamic, prayer call) in Indonesia. The neo-conservatives, all those white puffy faces on Fox News smear Obama and his recent tour of the Middle East. They insist on calling it an 'apology tour'. They call him ‘Apologiser-in-Chief’.
Conservative media loudmouths accuse him of 'raising American flaws in virtually every speech he’s been giving' and “running down his own country'. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer claimed that Obama 'came bearing a basketful of mea culpas' and 'indicted his own people for arrogance, for dismissiveness and derisiveness, for genocide, for torture, for Hiroshima, for Guantanamo and for insufficient respect for the Muslim world'.
The worst of these white fellas is a jerk called Glenn Beck. Gosh the guy is lethal and makes funny faces when he talks about ‘Mozlems’ and how hateful they are.
The 24/7 trash spewed out against Obama’s foreign policy speech to the Muslim world in Cairo by the uneducated and ignorant hosts of Fox News is unbelievable! Joining the hatemonger Glenn is Liz Cheney, daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney. As Fox News analyst, Liz’s poison-dipped tongue about Muslims and that it’s critical to torture Muslims at Guantanamo prison so that Americans can be kept “safe” is such perverted logic.
Obama alone cannot win the hearts of Muslims around the world when they know that ordinary Americans are being fed hate about them and their religion. 'This generation of old white fools will soon be the minority!' writes a blogger. 'Thank goodness for that. Ten years from now, there won’t be a Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh or Dick Cheney to assault our ears and minds,” he says about these men who appear on Fox News. 'All the old white senators and representatives from the southern states will be replaced and this is what is scaring them to death.
While it’s good to know that Americans have chosen a president who does not represent anti-Islam feelings, yet what do you do when an ignoramus like Limbaugh says about Obama: '[H]e pretty much told them today that he’s one of them, he’s got Muslim roots, and he grew up in three different countries with Muslim people, relatives and so forth. Then he says he’s gonna close Guantanamo. ‘We’re gonna stop the torture. I’ve made it unequivocally illegal, and we’re gonna close GuantanamoBay’. Of course, we’re harming ourselves. That’s why they (Muslims) love him.'
What is the matter with these bullies? Are they dumb, devilish or delusional? Don’t they get it that most of the world has no respect for America, to put it charitably?
Anne Coulter, Sean Hannity’s female counterpart has recently written a book called Treason. 'Liberals have a preternatural gift for always striking a position on the side of treason,' says Coulter. 'Everyone says liberals love America, too. No, they don’t.' They (from Truman to Kennedy to Carter to Clinton,) have contained, appeased, and retreated, often sacrificing America’s best interests and security. With the fate of the world in the balance, liberals should leave the defence of the nation to conservatives.' She like Hannity hates Obama.
Obama quoted from the Qur’an. He even said he respected the Islamic traditions and Muslim women wearing whatever they wanted to wear as long as they were not coerced into it.
'We love you!' rhapsodised a man in Arabic after Obama ended his famous address in Cairo.
Mohsin Hamid, author of the Reluctant Fundamentalist was the only voice of reason when he told Wolf Blitzer on CNN that Obama’s speech lacked realism as far as Pakistan was concerned. He was surprised that Obama while laying down his foreign policy towards the Muslims concentrated on the Arab world and bypassed Pakistan, (India), Bangladesh and Indonesia where a vast number of the Muslim population lives.
Ambassador Husain Haqqani is meant to have floored Jon Stewart, the host of Comedy Central, with his ready wit and sharp repartee. 'Haqqani was simply great and was so entertaining. I wish the rest of our ambassadors were as sharp-tongued as our ambassador in Washington,' said someone. Indeed, the show was most entertaining and Haqqani was in his element. Meanwhile if Obama is really serious about trying to win Muslims’ hearts, he must also rethink America’s role in Pakistan. The State Department needs to post people in Islamabad who are level-headed as opposed to swollen-headed. They need to be more respectful to their host country, just as their president is towards Muslims.
By Anjum Niaz, Dawn, Sunday, 14 Jun, 2009 <http://www.anjumniaz.com>
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