City of Brass

City of Brass


Obama’s credibility gap in the Muslim world begins at home

posted by Aziz Poonawalla
I don’t think there’s much reason yet for anyone to complain about Obama’s foreign policy to the Muslim world, especially given that we haven’t even hit the 100-day mark yet. I personally would have preferred to see the “major speech in a muslim capital” occur in that first 100, but the reality is that Obama’s plate was piled higher and deeper than any president since Reagan’s even prior to taking office. Still, by any reasonable standard, Obama has thus far gone above and beyond with respect to Obama’s engagement with the Ummah.
Of course, given the realities of our nation’s foreign policy priorities, the muslim world dominates the agenda, so Obama’s active stance is as much necessity as it is outreach. However, Obama has a credibility problem with the ummah, that centers on two issues: 1. his ambiguous stance on the Israeli-Palestine issue and 2. his keeping the domestic US muslim community at arms’ length. 
With respect to Israel and Palestine, it is worth noting that the newly-elected extreme right wing government headed by Bibi Netanyahu is making it easier on Obama, somewhat ironically. For example, consider the constant refrain from Israeli partisans that the Palestinians do not “recognize Israel’s right to exist.” In actual fact Fatah and Arafat recognized it as far back as 1988, and even Hamas has implicitly conceded this point, by indicating they would accept a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. It is actually Israel that refuses to acknowledge Palestine‘s right to exist – Netanyahi has yet to affirm his support for the two-state solution and the other major figures in government are explicitly against the idea of Palestinian statehood altogether. Obama’s response thus far is what Richard Silverstein calls a tectonic shift – Obama has refused to meet with Netanyahu in May during the AIPAC conference and has said he’d like to see a Palestinian state by the end of his first term. Birth pangs of a new Middle East, indeed!
Still, that remains talk, not action. So while there is cause for optimism on that front, the kudos have yet to be earned, as far as the muslim world is concerned. It is indeed a positive sign, but just that – only a sign. Trust requires more. 
In contrast, Obama’s policy towards muslim Americans has been one of omission – from minor
symbolic gestures like visiting an American mosque, to outright timidity regarding potential “associations” with any muslim-American who might however tenuously be tarred as a terrorist sympathizer or worse, pro-Palestinian advocate. The frankly crass abandonment of Mazen Asbahi by the Obama campaign was instructive, as is the continued distance Obama now keeps from Rashid Khalidi, whose long friendship with Obama became politically inconvenient. This is a pattern of capitulation by Obama to fears of muslim associations, starting with his refusal to confront the “Obama is a muslim” smear when it first surfaced with the same clarity and courage he marshaled in his historic speech on race.  All Obama needed to do was say in response, not just “I am not a muslim”, but also “so what if I were?” In essence, Obama considered racism a less of a threat than muslims to his political ambition. Yes, it was a close election and even closer primary – but on all these issues, a principled defense would have been easy, especially for someone with Obama’s rhetorical and charismatic gifts.

One opportunity President Obama has in regaining credibility here is to permit European muslim intellectual Tariq Ramadan entry to the United States, formerly barred by the previous Administration from accepting a faculty position at Notre Dame University. However, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that score. 
Related – Asbahi’s close friend Rany Jazayerli writes a passionate defense and scathing critique of the McCarthyite slander campaign against him. Shahed Amanullah points out the chilling effect that Asbahi’s persecution has on any muslim-American seeking to enter the political sphere or serve their country. With regard to Rashid Khalidi, Scott Horton in Harper’s Magazine ably refutes the beneath-contempt accusation of anti-semitism, and Jake Tapper points out the hypocrisy of McCain’s attempt to use Khalidi as an attack – which only underscores how craven it was for Obama to surrender the issue. Lastly, it should be noted that Tariq Ramadan’s main message to European muslims that their loyalties should lie to their adopted host countries, not to some vague and diffuse notion of Ummah. The American prospect had an interview with Ramadan a few years back that really illuminates his thinking. 



  • http://marypmadigan.wordpress.com Mary M

    Mazen Asbahi had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Tariq Ramadan also has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Rashid Khalidi is a former PLO spokesman who supports political actions that would bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power in the Palestinian territories (and, if the “right of return” was allowed, in Israel too).
    Obama’s treatment of the Muslim world has been nothing but fair, but he does not appear to be showing the Muslim Brotherhood the respect it probably feels it deserves.
    By showing disrespect to the Muslim Brotherhood, Obama is doing the entire Muslim world a huge favor. The Brotherhood’s consistent call for the establishment of a purely Islamic state ruled by Sharia law in any nation it inhabits is not in the Ummah’s best interests.
    Sharia laws are based on the idea that the Muslim man is superior to all other men, to all women and to every form of life (that is not a deity, of course) in the universe. Therefore, Muslim men tend to support sharia laws.
    But Sharia laws also prevent free expression, because if anyone was allowed to speak their minds, they would probably, at some point, have to note that Muslim men are not inherently superior beings, which would destroy the foundation of these laws.
    Unfortunately, free dialogue (prohibited by Sharia) also leads to innovation and technological progress. A country or a group of people can’t wage war or succeed economically without free thought, innovation and technological progress. So, in the end, Sharia laws guarantee that Muslim men and the nations they ‘rule’ will, in their effort to enforce their belief in their inherent superiority, always be ten steps behind everyone else.
    By showing the Muslim Brotherhood the contempt it deserves, Obama is working in the best interests of the Ummah.

  • thabet

    Aziz, what about your ties to the Muslim Brotherhood?

  • Your Name

    Obama at all instances have the fullest right and power to do or support whoever he wanted to.I have no further comment,besides, what
    Obama says and believes,in accordance with the law,he in no time,
    these muslim and ummah will receive what is due for them if there is,
    their best interest in accordance with the law of Obama.

  • Lisimba Tafirenyika

    The question of the Zionist and Palestine will not and should not be settle by the president. What are we as Muslims willing to sacrifice to have Palestine free. We want the non-Muslim President to do more than we are willing. We keep money in the very banks that prop up the Zionist regime . So we should take our own action rather than demand or ask for others to do what we ourselves are not willing to do.

  • Your Name

    I beleive we, as Americans ,should justify Muslims cause. I hate it when I hear those Neocon point the fingers at Muslims trying to stamp them as anti-semite, Muslim Brotherhood followers, or Hamas Supporters, and so on. But, we forget the fact, that Jewish lobbies here steal our money and send it to Israel, our political establishment gives Israel unlimited supply of military equipments: Airoplanes, rockets, phosphoric bombs, artilaries, tanks.. Almost every thing the Israeli army needs to become subjugational force upon Palestinians in their land??? And no body, even, dare to point any finger? What that tell you? We are so obssessed with the zionest propogandas. We become slaves in our country??? But for what and for how long we are going to be on the same case? It is really upsetting? Ironically, we don’t know where our interest lies? Of course, it is in the Muslim’s hands, but we still are blind? Our energy from the Muslims’fields, our goods sold in the Muslim’s markets, our trade has a strong base on the Muslim’s land, and our stratigic depth is on this vast world? Hey, Neocon! what are we getting in retun from Israel, except we pour our tax money to support a country and what we got in return? nothing..zero…zilch??
    I wonder why Muslims in this country or everywhere don’t raise their voice and make the Americans support to Israel as a charge to accuse whoever support Israel as criminal issue as those NoeCon accuse whoever support Hamas as law breaker? why not this applies to whever support Israel, accuse the person(s), entities of companies, associations, media, or any group as law breakres, too. Make any dealing with Israel as crime, aginst the USA interest?
    Muslims should use the internet in the open, should hire eloquent, and expert people, or hire good company to do that for them. It is a spit of image, got to be strained from what most Amricans picture Muslims with?
    I am a Christian, but I beleive that Muslims are degraded, and looked at a pariah in the West, and the Durbon cofrence which was held two days ago is not far away? We, Americans, overwhilmingly, are taken to unlimited borders with that lies the Jewish machines have fed us all along the years.We should wake up before it is too late?

  • Georg

    Well, as an American I support doing Europe a favor and say they can keep the great intellect who is still being denied entry here. Heck, I wouldn’t want to join a club that didn’t want me, unless………
    On the Palestine issue, why is it when the Arabs controlled the land they didn’t ever set up this current dream of theirs?

  • http://www.quranreading.com/ Quran Online

    well Obama knows well about Quran and Islam and still he not defending Islam.Well he know about Muslim culture as it was in the newspaper that Obama knows the Indonesian people culture and their life styles.Well its a diplomatic policy of Jews and Christians.Well we all must be carefull from the such conspiracy against islam

  • http://www.al-hidaayah.travel/ Umra

    What perplexes me is the need and reason for Obama to rebut any lurking suspicion of the denomination he wishes to adhere to. I would have thought the liberal American to consider at nought a person’s religious denomination even though he were a President.

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