FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama’s Al-Arabiya Interview

by WAJAHAT ALI

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 Guantánamo 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.

WAJAHAT ALI is a Muslim American of Pakistani descent. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist and Attorney at Law, whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders” is the first major play about Muslim Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His blog is at http://goatmilk.wordpress.com/

 

More articles by:
June 30, 2016
Richard Moser
Clinton and Trump, Fear and Fascism
Pepe Escobar
The Three Harpies are Back!
Ramzy Baroud
Searching for a ‘Responsible Adult’: ‘Is Brexit Good for Israel?’
Dave Lindorff
What is Bernie Up To?
Thomas Barker
Saving Labour From Blairism: the Dangers of Confining the Debate to Existing Members
Jan Oberg
Why is NATO So Irrational Today?
John Stauber
The Debate We Need: Gary Johnson vs Jill Stein
Steve Horn
Obama Administration Approved Over 1,500 Offshore Fracking Permits
Rob Hager
Supreme Court Legalizes Influence Peddling: McDonnell v. United States
Norman Pollack
Economic Nationalism vs. Globalization: Janus-Faced Monopoly Capital
Binoy Kampmark
Railroaded by the Supreme Court: the US Problem with Immigration
Howard Lisnoff
Of Kiddie Crusades and Disregarding the First Amendment in a Public Space
Vijay Prashad
Economic Liberalization Ignores India’s Rural Misery
Caroline Hurley
We Are All Syrians
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail