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Sharing Muslim common ground with the world

By Syed Mahmood

June 4, 2009 was a very significant day in the history of the United States of America. President Barrack Hussein Obama delivered a very special speech from the Capital of a very important Muslim country; Cairo, Egypt. The specific purpose of his speech was to address the 1.5 billion Muslims around the Globe.

It was a very timely and courageous leadership undertaking by President Obama. His eloquent speech had every ingredient of sincerity. He invited the Muslims around the world to start a new beginning with the United States on the basis of mutual interest and respect to promote justice, progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings. Obama has won the hearts and minds not only among the Middle East Muslims but Muslims from around the World. The Neocons, ultra right wing Republicans and pro Israeli groups are not very happy to see the possibility of improving relationships between the Muslim World and the United States.

It is unprecedented in our history that a Christian leader of a superpower felt compelled to reach out to the Muslim World. Obama started his message with the Islamic greetings, Assalamu Alaikum (peace be with you).Quoting references from the Holy Quran; “Always speak the truth. That is what I will try to do – to speak the truth as best I can.” 

Obama acknowledged civilization’s debt to Islam. He also recognized the contributions of Muslim educators, scientists, mathematicians, and the innovation of Muslims in developing the order of algebra, the magnetic compass and tools of navigation. He also mentioned, “Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”

He also reminded the Muslim World that American Muslims have enriched the United States and fought in our wars. He wanted them to know that one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson had a copy of the Holy Quran in his personal library. That same Quran was used by the first Muslim American elected to Congress to take his oath of office last year.

Why, at this juncture of world history, would an American President want to address the Muslim Community around the Globe? After the tragic event of 9/11, the relationship between the Muslim World and the Christian dominated countries of the West and the United States have reached a point of no return. The leaders of these civilizations have failed to come to the conclusion; how to stop this World’s bloody disorder.

The so-called “War on Terror” has provoked violence and spilled the blood of innocent people. The cancer of violence, suicide bombing, the killing of civilians regardless of their faith, does not seem to have an end. The American war machinery in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan has caused over half a million civilian deaths. Millions have become refugees. So far, more than five thousand American soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over fifty thousand American soldiers have been injured in this endless war. A large number of them have become permanently disabled. Conspicuously, the Elite Americans and their family members are absent from this theater of war.

President Obama, an intelligent individual with the experience of living with Muslims in different countries, gives him a broader perspective of International affairs. He sees that two great religio-civilizations, Christianity and Islam are heading towards a disastrous confrontation. He also realizes the limitation of the military solution.  On the one side, the mightiest military power is fighting an unwinnable war against the rag-tag insurgents; suicide bombers, al Qaida, Taliban and Afghan resistance forces against occupation. In the Middle East, Hamas, Hezbollah and other Palestinian forces are fighting against the Israeli occupation. Masses in the Muslim world see that Israeli and American forces are fighting together against the Palestinian forces. They believe that fighting against the occupation is their religious duty. Any Muslim ruler or government that does not take any action against the forces of occupation, are labeled as non- Muslims. These “non”- Muslims are the targets of the extremists.

The long endless unjust political and social exploitation of weaker communities and Nations by the stronger powers have also radicalized a huge number of our global population.  In the Muslim world, colonial powers used the philosophy of divide and rule. They created small monarchies and supported dictatorships for their own political benefits. These monarchs and dictators first priority was to secure their dynasty, following the directions from the big powers. The general public in these Nations lacks education, infrastructure, income opportunities, health care system, freedom of speech and the choice to elect their rulers.

Monarchs and Dictators took the money from the national treasuries and hid it in foreign banks. They did not invest money to improve the conditions of their own people.

The under-current movements against this unjust exploitation are getting stronger every day.

President Obama talks about some of the following issues in his speech:

Confront violent extremism in all of its forms. 

Obama made it clear, “that America is not –and never will be – at war with Islam.”  He said, “America did not go to Afghanistan by choice, we went because of necessity. We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan.” He will bring every American soldier back to the US when there are no violent extremists left in Afghanistan and Pakistan who are determined to kill Americans.

In the last seven years fighting with US forces, the Afghans have proven again that conquering and occupying their land is going to be a very expensive venture. NATO has lost around 1200 soldiers and US forces have lost over 700. Other than Afghani soldiers, al Qaida and Talibans, a large number of Afghani civilians including women and children are dying because of NATO and the US bombings.

The plan to invest $1.5 billion per year for the next five years in Pakistan and more than $2.8 billion in Afghanistan to help build schools, hospitals, and roads and to improve the economy is a good first step. However, there has to be an effective accountability system. The corrupt political leaders and bureaucrats should not be able to siphon money into their pockets. The big question is why were US or NATO forces unable to train a viable Afghan armed force in the last seven years to take care of their own security?

Of noteworthy attention is the fact that we have not been fighting formal-Nationalized Armies. We have not been fighting a dedicated population all of one mind, determined to defeat us, or the West, or the non-Muslims – if you will. But rather, we have been confronted with extreme elements who have not quite accepted their position in society. The extremist seems to have his own belief which has stretched beyond what is appropriate or acceptable to his community. They exist in all communities in some degree ranging from “quaint and strange to radical and extremist.

In general terms, extremism is a mental psychological disorder which could affect an individual, a small group of people or a large community. Recently, in America, a mentally disoriented right wing Christian individual murdered a doctor who performed late pregnancy abortions. Also, an anti-Semitic white Supremist opened fire in the crowded Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., and killed a security guard. Indiscriminate shootings in schools, colleges and shopping malls are also an example of this mental disorder.

This goes right back to our confrontation with extremists such as al Qaida and the Taliban. They have not developed an army, but have gathered a number of “followers” whom we have loosely described as “terrorists”. These “followers” have only gained their education from their leader “extremists” and have maintained some semblance of organization as the Taliban, perhaps due to the training received from America during the Soviet excursion into Afghanistan some years before, when most of them should have been school children.

How do we deal with this hate-monger attitude and misguided religious beliefs?

The process of an on-going education and dissemination of positive information and knowledge about the religion, culture and history of other communities, including their own, will be a very positive step in the right direction. The United States has enough resources to set a tone of reconciliation among the civilizations and communities. The United Nations can also play a very important and positive roll. Following this, Journalists, educators, media elites, legislators, and religious leaders will become part of the growth.

It is a very obvious and known fact that since the birth of the state of Israel, there is a very sophisticated and highly organized strategy in action to keep the Muslim world and the United States at bay with each other. Anti Muslim and anti Islamic propaganda was, and still is, a regular phenomenon on American TV, newspapers, Hollywood movies and in the legislative bodies. In reaction, the anti-American feelings started simmering in the Muslim world. Senators and Congressmen behind closed doors will acknowledge these facts. They will also admit that they are not strong enough to resist the pressure of the pro Israeli establishment. They could lose their jobs.

President Obama stated that America and Islam share a common principle of Justice and progress. He believes in using diplomacy and building an international consensus to resolve our problems.

He stated that the second source of tension is the situation between the Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab World. President Obama has presented himself as an honest broker.

The third source of tension is the nuclear issue of Iran. He said that he is willing to move forward to improve relations with Iran without preconditions. Iran’s nuclear issue can not be discussed and it will not bring any resolve without also discussing the nuclear weapons of Israel. At present the balance of power in the Middle East is overwhelmingly in favor of Israel. Iran will never give up the option to have nuclear power as long as the Israelis are in control of nuclear weapons. The Israelis could have peace and security, only through a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian issue.

President Obama has offered his vision to bring peace and security between the Christian and the Muslim world. It is not going to be an easy task. Opposing forces on both sides are going to sabotage this effort. Obama could consider the following suggestions:

In this era of economic interdependency, we have to share resources with each other:

    • Acknowledge that foreign policy should be flexible for every body, particularly American foreign policy.
    • Define each other not by their religion but by their contributions to humanity.
    • Refrain from stereotyping each other.
    • Listen to international grievances and focus on accountability, our own for example.
    • Focus on economic development and education in poor Islamic states or any third world country.
    • Condemn Muslims extremist views and identify the damage they have done by performing acts “in the name of Islam” in order to justify what they are doing and lend credence to it.
    • Identify the word “extremist” and let the truth be known that it also applies to America and Israel.
    • Recognize that Iran considers Nuclear weapons “Haram” and that it does not have any. Recognize also that Iran is serious about developing permitted atomic power for restoring electric power to their communities.
    • Restore Palestine to a productive state so all local countries may benefit from its products and promote self-sufficiency to the state.
    • Develop partnerships between conflicting states. Our most infamous is of course Palestine and Israel.
    • Recognize and compare that Democracy is not alien to Islam, but is part of Islam and should be implemented in these third world Islamic countries in place of installing Dictators or Kings to rule the country.
    • Upon establishing our own Government as being transparent and focusing on accountability in our Democracy and this being a shining example of American Democracy, then promote discussions on Islamic Democracy and discover that we are living under the principle of Islamic Democracy.
    • Promote projects involving American businessmen and those in Islamic countries. The resulting development could increase their standard of living , so they would purchase goods from American, therefore helping our own economy.

Syed R. Mahmood is the founder president of the American Institute of International Studies. He was Republican candidate for 13th Congressional District in 2002.