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Muslim World is Here, Not There (originally posted at Sepia Mutiny)

My buddy Taz over at Sepia Mutiny just posted a very good commentary on the hyped up and highly anticipated Obama address "to the Muslim world."  I was looking forward to finding out what she thought about the speech, as a Bangladeshi American (yes! that's Asian American!) activist who is Muslim. Personally, I think she's being awful kind to President Obama, who had a lovely speech, but is policy going to change to stop the slaughter of Palestinians by Israel? Like Taz, I hope he starts to really build bridges and we can move toward the end of U.S. support for Israeli terrorism against Palestinian human rights. 

...originally posted at Sepia Mutiny...

There was a lot of hype this week about President Obama’s address to the “Muslim world” that he delivered some time Thursday early morning in Cairo. I looked upon this delivery with skepticism - as a Muslim in America, to me the Muslim world is here, not there. Being Muslim is a faith, not a region. As if reading my mind, The White House released the [video above].

One of the questions that I did have about President Obama in regards to the Muslim community was how there was a lack of representation in his administration. [sic] What we see in the video is three prominent Muslims (two of them Desi) serving in the White House administration, yet, it still seems to me that their positions are not high profile enough to influence international and domestic policy.

I’m not totally bashing on the President for his Muslim politics. In fact, Obama’s speech today does take a surprising amount of ownership over the power the United States has inflicted on the “Muslim world.”

We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam. [newyorktimes]

His speech is articulate and smart. He continues to talk about his personal relationship with Islam, as well as the intertwined history of Muslims in America.

I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America’s story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, “The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.” And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. T… And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson – kept in his personal library. [newyorktimes]

To me, the video and the speech are both what I as a Muslim in America wanted to see at minimum come out of Obama’s leadership when I voted for him. His first hundred days plus some have filled me with slight skeptism that he was just another cog in the wheel. His boycott of the United Nation’s Conference on Racism reinforced this in my mind. Though I realize change can’t happen over night, I do feel like this week he has finally taken the right steps to start building bridges. I guess we’ll just have to see how the rest of the Muslim world accepts his speech and how soon action to words follow.

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Calvin Prashad on Thu, 06/04/2009 - 19:10

We can't expect any change so long as Muslim-Americans and Islam has replaced communism as the "enemy".  Rather than addressing Muslims in Cairo, the president should be addressing Muslims here and make meaningful strides toward ending the scapegoating and campaigns of hate directed toward these communities.  Rather, all I've seen is him and his administration bending over backwards for AIPAC and supressing criticism over a certain nation's heavy handed actions in "protecting itself".

Fairness and dignity are two things I hope too see from this administration.  That being said, I'm glad President Obama is trying to build bridges.  Eight years of cowboy nonsense got us nowhere.

divinestyler on Fri, 06/05/2009 - 10:34

The question here is whether or not the new administration is really building bridges, or simply paying lip service while doing quite the opposite. 

The decisions of the administration to continue rendition, illegal wiretapping, indefinite detainment without charge, unilateral drone bombing of targets inside the terrority of soveign nations like Pakistan, does nothing to help to build these bridges of diplomacy.

cohashi on Sat, 06/06/2009 - 21:12

I don't disagree with the above 2 points, but how are we to fault the Obama administration and Obama himself?  He never ran a campaign promising to be an FDR.  How can he expressly do what progressives want him to do in a country where Faux News is the No. 1 news program?

It also doesn't help that Democrats happen to be so chicken shit in Congress compared to the Republicans.  And I say that the reason is that the system no longer serves to help communities, the system can only help constituencies--so unless we address those areas that challenge the current infrastructure of government through for eg. Campaign Finance Reform and IRV, how much can we expect a liberal President to really be able to accomplish anything progressive?

I mean in terms of the Predator drones--we have a mega-industry, entire states that survive on how many missiles we fire a week.  People are still to this day being beaten and tortured in Guantanamo Bay by the "Extreme Repression Force."  We live in a country too chicken shit to establish direct diplomacy with North Korea, while our businesses interact with the DPRK on a daily basis at the peril of our American journalists.  We have an administration that's brave enough to appeal for Roxana Saberi's release, but not brave enough to advocate for the release of other jailed American journalists.

To expect "change" when we elected a liberal is delusional.  I think we should focus on keep working at the cracks the Obama administration is leaving for us to work on. 

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