If any of us were looking intensely for the moment that President Obama differentiated himself from the Eurocentric, Western apologist presidents of the past, he had it in his first official interview. Al-Arabiya broadcast the newly minted head of state speaking in realistic terms about the potential for renewed mutual respect between the Arab world and the U.S. When the events of 9/11 tested our understanding of enemy extremists lurking abroad, that confusion awakened anew an anti-foreign sentiment that America scarcely needed. For all of our years of domestic racism against American Indians and enslaved Africans, we had similar spells of distrust for Europe’s first immigrants, Catholics, Asians, Latinos and every possible shade and creed in between. The problem with distrust in our melting pot is that it impedes our ability to work and to welcome new workers to our cause as a nation.
Islamic fundamentalists have espoused the separatist ideologies of violence and calculated terror as a response to the financial exclusivity of Western powers. That’s not to say that violence is ever warranted, but it does explain, in part, the continued animosity in that region. Barack Obama wears his mixed heritage on his sleeve, the man of multiple races and of multiple nationalities. His boyhood schooling in Indonesia was cause for speculative fear during the campaign, but now he can use it as a strength. Turning so-called weaknesses into strengths has been his prime asset as Americans come face to face with the demons of a divided past. Still, who could have thought that he would be so willing to state his position on Muslim affairs a week into the presidency? If he’s demonstrated anything thus far, it’s that our reputation of tolerance has given us more leverage in the battle for world peace than our defensiveness. Few presidents, even the scholars among them, would admit to reading the Qu’ran or having the openness to sort through its lessons. President Obama has changed the trend for power-grabbing nations, extending the olive branch of humility and respect where there was only vitriol and paranoia before.
The United States remains tethered indefinitely to Israeli interest, and acts as a moral enforcer on the behalf of several other nations who back the nation-state. The politics of choosing sides in complex international struggle belies our usually moderate stance here at home. Indeed the imperatives of a peacekeeping stance since World War II has made America a timely interloper and a vicious ally to single-minded dictators. We proceed with caution when millions suffer, afraid to undo the sovereign institutions that sanctioned their oppression. We act with bold reprise when there is a money interest attached to the moral dilemma. We cannot give justice over to a sliding scale, or make our judgments skew only toward historic friends.
The parallel destinies of Christian and Muslim faiths demand we give respect to the billions of Muslim followers who have no intention of harming innocents. However, in our fear complex — fueled in part by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s militance — we have alienated the entire Muslim world for the sins of their brothers. As the Taliban weakens, and their internal disagreements grow after years of perfunctory hostile attacks, we might do better to win the hearts and minds of the young Muslims who have not formed an unforgiving opinion of the United States. The Muslim Americans who attend college, work in our economy, strive for similar marks of achievement represent a group of invaluable citizens who will soon make the call for equal rights to match their contributions. In fact, Muslim American population growth rivals that of the Black and Latino communities in the making of a new darker nation. The Muslim nations with a doctrine of peace and tolerance will not hesitate to join the United States if our motto echoes those feelings. In his language about the ongoing relationship with the Muslim world, the President has emphasized respect and common ground where fearful verbs had once dominated. The more we attempt to force the concerns of Palestine, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq out of our shared conversation of cooperative existence, the more likely it is that we’ll miss out on the unimaginable resources those countries have to offer.
Sadly, we live in a disjointed America of religious factions, gender teams and apprehensive admixture. The election season typified the still furious schisms between the progressive (if naive) parts of our nation who prefer an end to social division, and the conservative wary parts who look to distinguish between “real” American values and false ones. At a base level, Muslims are still largely a brown people. Although the slim majority of whites in America is a fading reality, its population has all the powerful initiatives of a ruling class and the attendant traditions of a transitioning empire. As with any empire in flux, we will see the threat of fascist tendencies and the wounds of oppression come out through talking heads and dubious news networks. President Barack Obama might be deemed a Muslim sympathizer the way that Lincoln was deemed a Negro sympathizer. Neither connotation was positive. For his efforts to ring universal, our populace has to engender not simply tolerance to Muslim Americans, but outreach on a grand scale. George Bush and his son played the impressive ruse of defending Judeo-Christian values in a Judeo-Christian nation while taking the oil money from Muslim nations like Saudi Arabia behind closed doors. It’s that kind of fork-tongued modus operandi that has us in a bind with a growing slice of the human population. To make good on the ideals of democracy, we must unlink it from religious dogma and Eurocentric fraternity. A true democracy recognizes the right of other nations to practice other forms of government. A true democracy thrives on dissent and difference. President Obama has a Christian background and a Muslim background, even though he is a practicing Christian. We should not press him to exclude one because he chooses the other. He balances.