Saturday, June 6, 2009



Hopes of Mumbai Muslims were raised by the overall substance in the speech made in the Great Hall of the Cairo University by the President of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama, on Thursday, June 4, 2009. At least this is what appeared from the post-speech discussions organised by the American Centre in Mumbai. Those who contributed to the discussions were Muslim scholars, clerics and the common Muslims. It was generally agreed that Peace was of paramount importance, and that those who opposed peace were only the “fringe extremists,” who should be isolated, if Peace was to be given a chance. It cannot be doubted that the positive sentiments of the Mumbai Muslims are shared by all the Indian Muslims as well as the Arabs and rest of the world.

Let’s hear what Obama said at Cairo. Drawing applause at his traditional Islamic greeting of “Assalaam Alaykum”, Obama praised the City of Cairo as the city of tradition and progress. He boldly outlined the historical causes and the sweeping changes of modernity and globalisation that have led the modern Muslims to view the West as hostile to their aspirations and the tradition of Islam. According to him, it was this hostility that has been exploited to the hilt by the violent extremists who represent only a small number of minority Muslims. On the other hand, violence against the civilians by this fringe group has led some of his country-men to view Islam as ”inevitably hostile” to America, the Western countries, and the human rights. It was with the view to ending the mutual discord and suspicion, that he had come to Cairo, “to make a new beginning between United States and the Muslims round the world based on mutual respect and mutual interest”.

Obama interspersed his speech with many verses from the Holy Qur’an, some from the Bible, and one from the Talmud, drawing a huge round of applause. The koranic verses were quoted in right context, stressing that one must be God conscious and always speak the truth; that killing of one innocent person is tantamount to the killing all mankind; that saving of one person is tantamount to saving all mankind. He also spoke on the proud tradition of tolerance in Islam that he had personally read in history and seen for himself in various countries. He enumerated the achievements of the Muslims in various fields including Maths and Science, Arts and Architecture in the past that had led to the renaissance of Europe, and stated that Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds on the possibilities of tolerance and racial equality. Therefore, religious tolerance, freedom and diversity must be upheld. He categorically stated that Islam was an important part in promoting peace as against the narrow hatred of a few.

Obama stated that there were 7 million Muslims in America, who are playing important parts in enriching America. In fact, an American Muslim was elected to Congress and he took the oath to defend American by swearing on the Holy Qur’an that one of the founding fathers of America, Thomas Jefferson, used to keep in his library. He stated that education and innovation being the currency of the 21st century, America will encourage more Muslim internship and exchange programmes for Americans to study in Muslim communities, and invest in online learning. He, however, expressed the need to isolate the extremists in Muslim communities sooner, so that sooner will all the people be safe.

Obama also dwelt at length on democracy, Women’s Right and Muslim women’s education the deprivation of which was the deprivation of her right to equality. According to him, it was not right for the western countries to dictate what the Muslims should or should not wear in pursuant of their religious beliefs. According to him, having known Islam on three continents, his conviction was that partnership between America and Islam should be based on what Islam is, - and not what Islam isn’t. Therefore, it was the negative stereotypes of Islam that America is fighting against. Obama explained that just as the Muslims don’t fit into that crude stereotype, America, too, must not be viewed by the Muslims as the crude stereotype of a “self-interested empire.”

The misdeeds of the Bush regime, and the invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq on the false assumption of finding the weapons of mass destruction there, and its aftermath, must have been surely weighing on Obama’s mind. He admitted that the trauma of 9/11 had led America to act contrary to its traditions and ideals, but he was doing to set the things right and had in fact taken steps such prohibiting the use of torture by the United States, and closing down of the Guantanamo Bay by early next year. He rued the Sunni-Shia conflict in Iraq. As regards Afghanistan, he was heard saying that he does not want American troops in Afghanistan, but that since the violent extremists who perpetrated the 9/11 are unrepentant and hiding in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, and planning more attacks on a massive scale, compels the U.S. to go after them. The fact remains that the Karzai Government has not been able to deliver, and the Taliban presence pose a strong threat. Obama assured everyone that America is not, and never will be at war with Islam.

Strongly reaffirming America’s commitment that no nation holds the nuclear weapon, Obama stated that no nation should pick and choose which nation should hold the nuclear power. Specifically naming Iran, he also spoke about the nations’ right to access peaceful nuclear power, but that it was the responsibility of such nations to comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This means that Obama will pursue his policy on this front.

Regarding the Palestine issue, Obama merely pointed out the plight and persecution of the Jews down the centuries in Europe - which is, of course, not denied. He admitted that the bond between the US and Israel was unbreakable. Naturally, he never stated how out of the original Palestine the State of Israel was carved out in 1948 and the original inhabitants hounded out of their homes. With more and more Israeli settlements still coming up, this trend continues to this day, thus drastically shrinking the size of the original Palestine for the Palestinians. Now, it does not require a Pandit to tell us that the conclusions in this regard are foregone, yet it will be interesting to know what steps the U.S. will take under Obama in creation of the State of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital. This is one gray area where the sense of Justice and Equality, enshrined in the American constitution, is yet to see the light of the day. Besides, it is well-known that the Jewish lobby which has great clout in Capitol Hill with many known supporters in administration, will never support the creation of the home for Palestinians. Not to speak of the strong opposition by the Netanyahu Government in Israel to the pressure from the U.S. How Obama will walk his talk is anybody’s guess. Was that a soft diplomacy to brighten the image of US worldwide? But then, appreciation is in order that he has openly talked about the Palestinian State while of course pointing out Israel’s right to existence, stirring up mixed feeling in both the camps.

Though some might criticise Obama’s speech as pursuing the administration policy of telling the Muslims what Islam really means, or his reiterating the known policy on Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Arab-Israel conflicts and democracy, still all said and done, Obama’s speech has been accepted with cautious optimism in the Arab world. However, Obama has a greater chance in enhancing the reputation of America in the Muslim World, since he is not the stereotype President. What’s more, though he is a Christian, he comes from the humble Muslim background and knows a lot about the psyche of a Muslim and the world that he lives in. He has chosen to address the Muslim world, knowing that it is important to have the Muslim world on his side without whose help America can never win the war against Terror. Who knows Obama might go down in history as the first United State President who worked the miracle of bringing about an everlasting peace in the Middle East and the entire world.


No comments:

Post a Comment