Beliefnet
In his State of the Union address President Bush described a new national civil service program--the USA Freedom Corps, which he said will renew "the promise of the Peace Corps." Of particular interest to Muslims was the President's promise that the Peace Corps will "join a new effort to encourage development and education and opportunity in the Islamic world."

President Bush went on to proclaim: "America will lead by defending liberty and justice, because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere. No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them. We have no intention of imposing our culture, but America will always stand firm for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity."

Taken at face value, this proposal will be viewed by many in our country as an extended hand of friendship from the United States to the Muslim world.

But how will Muslims react? Will they accept this offer as a genuine attempt to enhance mutual understanding? Will they be moved by his promise that "America will take the side of brave men and women who advocate these values around the world, including the Islamic world?"

What Bush may not have realized is that the world's Muslims--and this includes many American Muslims--paid only passing notice to his comments about promoting education and development in the Muslim world. Instead, most noted that his "axis of evil" was two-thirds Muslim (Iran and Iraq), with North Korea thrown in for window dressing. They also noted that the only organizations he categorized as terrorist were Muslim--Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Jayshi Muhammadi (which means the "Army of Muhammad").

No other groups representing other parts of the world were mentioned. Muslims do not consider this coincidental, and--coupled with the fact that the majority in the Muslim world consider three of those organizations to be legitimate liberation movements--such rhetoric does little to assuage their fears that the U.S. war is against Islam itself.

Many American Muslims were disappointed with the speech. Although the President went to great lengths after Sept. 11 to say that Islam and American Muslims are not the enemy, subsequent actions of the Bush Administration have generated fear in our community: mass round-ups and detentions of Arabs and Muslims by immigration authorities, FBI interviews of community activists, continued use of secret evidence, tacit approval of ethnic profiling, and shutting down three of the largest Americam Muslim charities during the holy month of Ramadan. American Muslims have begun to question our government's commitment to preserving civil liberties. To our dismay, the President said nothing in his speech to allay the fears of Muslims and Arab-Americans, who overwhelmingly supported him in the Presidential election.

In addition, conspicuously absent from President Bush's speech was any mention of the rights of the Palestinian people to freedom and statehood. Instead, his only mention of Palestinians was his inclusion of Hamas and Islamic Jihad among terrorist organizations. From the perspective of many Muslims, the issue of Jerusalem (one of the holiest cities in Islam) and Palestinian rights--and the blind unconditional support of Israel--is the primary source of resentment held by Muslims toward the United States.

President Bush seemed to ignore the daily humiliation and subjugation of the Palestinian people, locked in their towns by massive Israeli military closures and victims of home demolitions, army raids, political assassinations, and a creeping Israeli reoccupation of lands under the control of the Palestine Authority. Muslims ask: How does this square with the President's pronouncement that "America will lead by defending liberty and justice, because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere. No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them."

Indeed, President Bush's bold words about defending liberty and justice rang hollow to an audience that was waiting to hear him affirm that such universal principles are applicable to the Palestinians too.

Since Sept. 11, there has been much talk about winning "the hearts and minds" of the Muslim and Arab worlds in order to earn their support in the U.S. war on terrorism. President Bush has given serious consideration to this matter, at least from the public relations point of view. He assigned Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Charlotte Beers the unenviable task of implementing this global public relations campaign.

Some possible strategies to market America have included buying airtime on the popular Arabic satellite network, al-Jazeera, or funding an alternative pro-American satellite station for the Arab world. More recently, the New York Times reported that Muhammad Ali had agreed to film a public service announcement on behalf of the United States to be aired in the Muslim and Arab worlds.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus