HOLLOW WORDS OF OBAMA
By Mehreen Saeed.
President Barack Obama’s signing of the historic health care reform bill into law amid the perceived political risks and racial slurs by Tea Party protesters epitomizes his seriousness about delivering tangible change. But the passage of health care reform is merely one of many promises the Obama administration has yet to fulfill. The mainstream media pundits incessantly remind the president of his various noteworthy promises like job creation, education and immigration reform; however, the pledges Obama made to the Muslim world of two billion in his June 4, 2009 speech remain largely overlooked.
At the outset of his Cairo address, the president lauded the contributions of Muslims toward Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment making specific references to developing the order of algebra, medicine, printing and the magnetic compass. Perhaps President Obama was alluding to the catalytic role Muslims played in discovery of the Americas – as without the navigational tools invented by Muslim scientists, Columbus and other Europeans might not have been able to reach the continents. The president also praised the role of nearly eight million Muslim Americans who make key contributions to educational and economic sectors of the U.S.
Unfortunately though, 10 months after Obama’s Cairo address there is no sign of constructive outreach from the White House toward Muslims at home or abroad. Not only has he been inert regarding legitimate apprehensions of the Muslim community, the president has already retracted from his promise of closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. By keeping the notorious prison intact, President Obama is practically aligning himself with Bush’s policies of adhering to gross human rights violations including torture. Aside from Gitmo, many Muslims, including American citizens, continue to be held in isolation in U.S. supermax prisons where they remain caged in their cells approximately 23 hours per day – a violation of United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
While underscoring diplomacy in his speech, President Obama censured the use of military power alone in fighting
extremism; yet he has proceeded with a troop surge of 30,000 in Afghanistan igniting a seemingly perpetual series of suicide bombings even in Pakistan. America’s failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden for almost a decade after investing billions of dollars in the Afghan war exudes cynicism among Muslims about America’s intentions toward the region. President Obama’s admission to CIA’s involvement in over-throwing Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 was certainly a positive gesture during the speech, but he seems to waver on his rhetoric of diplomacy over the country’s uranium enrichment program.
Undoubtedly, Obama administration’s recent stance against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recalcitrant right-wing government over Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem has earned the White House some approbation from the Muslim world. But in order to genuinely mitigate the grave distrust permeating many Arabs and Muslims toward the U.S., the Obama White House must implement the promise of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.
Needless to say, Obama’s speech was full of eloquence and drew applause numerous times as he exhibited his acquaintance with Islamic cultures and quoted verses from the Quran. But clearly Muslims were not in attendance merely to commend the president’s knowledge of Islam nor did they seek a lesson on Quran from him; they regarded him as the first American president who was eager to build alliances with them.
In simplest terms, the U.S. needs the Islamic world to continue to thrive as a nation in a globalized world, and that is precisely why the president made the historic speech in Cairo. Instead of continuing to antagonize Muslims by keeping 13 Muslim countries on the U.S. watch-list and humiliating Muslim passengers at airports, Obama administration must immediately play its role in reaching out to the Organization of Islamic Conference and the Arab League in order to collaborate on socio-economic development issues and interfaith dialogue.
The U.S. cannot expect to be respected in the world so long as our military continues indiscriminate bombings of innocent men, women and children in poverty-stricken regions – a major reason for people around the world to believe that America fights without honor.
President Obama is receiving praise from his supporters as regards the health care reform for accomplishing in his first year more than any president since Franklin Roosevelt. Now, he has a chance to make history again, this time by making genuine alliances with the Muslim world instead of continuing the hostile policy of division between Islam and the West. This will not come without repugnance from among his constituents, but the vilifications will be worth bearing and it will prove to be mutually beneficial to the Muslim world and the U.S.
Hopefully, unlike his predecessor’s, President Obama’s legacy will not carry the word ‘shoe.’
Mehreen Saeed is a free lance writer from NJ, USA, who keeps a critical eye on US relations with the Muslim World. Besides writing for Opinion Maker. She blogs at Chai Time.