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President of the World: Obama and Muslims

My father’s warning to me 9 years ago, faced with my first US election as a voter, has come true today: you’re voting for yourself, and your father and your family, and your country. President Obama’s inaugural address confirmed for me today that a vote in the United States is a unique international privilege, because it is a say in the future of the entire world.

This is unfortunate. Because when the President addresses “The Muslim World” as a monolith, this being the same President you voted for because he inspired you to put your cynicism down for a second and really imagine a push for actual justice, nationally and internationally – when you hear him lump an embarrassment of diverse cultures into a single entity, you have to wonder how inflated that balloon of hope can get before it bursts.

He said that the U.S. is at war – so the rhetoric of the War on Terror will live on. He seeks with this Muslim World a “new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” and this comes right before he says that “those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict…or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you build.”

Damn. That’s so true and yet I can’t help but feel that the Muslims are being rhetorically rounded up and taught to behave, or else.

Gaza is on everyone’s mind but it wasn’t on the agenda for the speech. War metaphors abounded, but there was no notion of what to do with Israel and Palestine.

Maybe it’s good. Maybe Obama will act before he talks and not pollute the field with rhetoric. That would be fine. But you’ll be hard pressed to hear in a country like Pakistan, for example, anyone expressing the Hope™ that was the word of the Obama campaign and now the Obama administration.

CNN is saying that the new President going to get to the Mid-East crisis tomorrow if not today. I hope that’s true. And I hope it makes better sense than just saying that Israel has the right to defend its borders, because that is a necessary, but insufficient condition for lasting peace. Decimating a population is insufficient for lasting peace, in fact.

As an American, I’m looking forward with hope to the Obama administration. As a Pakistani, I’m worried by the call to be what Mahmood Mamdani calls a “good Muslim”, who likes democracy, freedom, French fries and the US of A, and not a bad Muslim. We all know what bad Muslims look like.

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