Barack Obama : Hope without naivity

The eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency have accustomed us to so many errors, lies, wilfull distortions and political manipulation. Let us hope that a page is turned in the history of the United States. Since September 2001, the Bush regime has been obsessed by the “global war against terrorism” and the “wars” against the Talibans, Saddam Hussein, or the “Axis of evil.” Over time, Americans have awakened to the emptiness of these bellicos and arrogant slogans. Barak Obama is now the new President and this is an event to be welcomed for several reasons. Yet we must not be lulled into complacency by naive estimates of what lies ahead.

Barak Obama’s roots and his multiple cultural identities stand in stark contrast to the profiles of George W. Bush. His understanding of the countries of the world—particularly of the global South— point to a different outcome. Taken together, his life and experience make hope for a new understanding of domestic and international issues possible.

Barak Obama’s roots and his multiple cultural identities stand in stark contrast to the profiles of George W. Bush. His understanding of the countries of the world—particularly of the global South— point to a different outcome. Taken together, his life and experience make hope for a new understanding of domestic and international issues possible. Colin Powell had laid out the terms of reference : Barak Obama is not a Muslim ; he is Black and Christian. But, in the final analysis, what if he were a Muslim ? What is wrong with being “African-American” or “Muslim” in today’s America ? While it now appears that the U.S. can live with the election of a Black American, indications are that a new, virulent anti-Muslim racism has arisen in the wake of the events of September 2001. Given such fears, and the hardening of religious and ethnic divisions, Barak Obama’s origins should make it possible for him to emerge as “everybody’s president”. In rejecting manufactured divisions, cultural biases and the “religionization” of social issues, Barak Obama should become the symbol of a new United States simply by wielding his stature as president to promote domestic policies that favor justice and equality, the battle against racial discrimination on the job or in housing, not to mention new domestic policies designed to improve urban life ; broaden opportunity, and empower citizens of all origins. The first black president’s greatest achievement would be to cause people to forget his color, and to implement more equitable social policies without regard to color. His first speech as a president had the right tone.

International perspective

On the international level, Obama should be able to lay to rest the deafness of the outgoing administration, which spared no effort to persuade Americans that they were “the victims” of “aggressors” who hated their civilization.

Above and beyond the condemnation of terrorist acts, which must be unconditional, the criticisms and grievances of the entire world must now be heard. The policies of the Bush administration have produced a world-wide rejection of the United States. The new president must begin with symbolic actions to demonstrate that the life of an Afghan, an Iraqi or a Muslim is worth no less than that of an American. The time has come to put an end to the language of bullying and intimidation ; to close the dungeons of shame at Guantanamo and other similar prisons around the world. Obama can no longer justify, in the name of American national security, the deaths of the innocent, legalized torture, extraordinary rendition and other discriminatory measures, including the granting of American visas. The campaign has made it clear that we must entertain no illusions.Change may be significant in certain areas ; in others, it is bound to be limited. The Palestine-Israel conflict is central to world peace. Yet Barak Obama has taken such an outspoken pro-Israel stance (before the American pro-Israel lobby) that significant change on this issue is extremely unlikely. Nor is much to be expected in questioning neoliberalism while dealing with the international economic crisis. Both issues seem to constitute untouchable dogmas.

We must not succumb to irrational hope. There can be little doubt that some positive change can be expected under a Barak Obama presidency. Any such change should be welcomed ; at the same time, our critical vigilance must not be relaxed, especially with regard to the sacrosanct dogmas of a political and economic establishment that cannot bring itself to acknowledge the dignity of the Palestinian people (and more globally the Africans and the Arabs), or the devastation wrought by an economic order that has plunged millions of American families into debt, and cast thousands more into the street. Muslims in the States and around the world are mainly satisfied : they hope to see the end of the politics of fears, mistrust and polarization spread around by the Bush administration. Still, they have their share of responsibility : to get rid of the victim mentality, to be more consistent with their own values, to get out of their intellectual ghettos and to be positively and critically proactive in order to feel they belong to this “We” committed to reforms while repeating “Yes, WE can”.

By: Tariq Ramadan