By: Dalia Ziada*
More than forty years ago, in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr., the young motivated religious leader, declared his dream of giving equal rights and achieving coexistence between American blacks and whites in his famous and most motivating public speech ever “I Have a Dream.” King, his followers, and supporters who translated this dream into a nonviolent campaign that changed the history of the United States were verbally and physically assaulted, humiliated, and taken to jail. Martin Luther King himself was assassinated. He planted the seeds of his dream in the hearts of Americans while alive and irrigated them with his blood after being murdered. On November 5th, the sweet fruit of King’s plant was harvested by Barack Obama, the “skinny black kid with funny name” – as he used to describe himself – who has become the first Afro-American, not to mention the youngest, President of the United States of America.
“Change has come to America!” Obama, the eloquent leader said in his first speech immediately after wining the presidential elections of 2008. Proceeding from the fact that the American President is the leader of the whole globe in the age of globalization and information technology where illusionary borders between countries are removed, we would like to ask Mr. Obama if the “change” that he has brought to America can be reflected positively on the raging battlefield of the Middle East. There are many unsettled files in the region, including but are not limited to Iraq, Iran, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the human rights movement led by young native activists who look at Mr. Obama as an inspirer and a role model in their struggle for achieving the “dreams of change” they embrace.
During the elections, Mr. Obama delivered dozens of speeches full of rosy promises. However, the credibility of his promises was affected by some mixed signals that aroused our concerns regarding the way Mr. Obama is thinking of handling tough issues of the Muslim world. In June, two Muslim women in headscarves were moved from their seats behind Barack Obama's stage where they would have been visible on video monitors. This makes us wonder if he is going to marginalize American Muslims under his reign!
One of Mr. Obama’s greatest promises was “taking American troops away from Iraq” immediately after he comes to office. He was able to attract unlimited number of supporters in US and the Muslim world by making such a declaration. However, the most important question here is not about “when” Mr. Obama will start taking the troops away from Iraq. It is about “how” the troops will leave Iraq in such chaos.
Mr. Obama should have given us an applicable realistic promise with reforming and rebuilding Iraq and fixing the huge mess there. Innocent women, kids, and seniors are bombed and killed every day by terrorists and extremists spread everywhere. No body is safe in Iraq any more. That is while the American troops are there. So, what the situation will be after they leave? Iraq will simply turn into a playground for extremists and sectarian street-fighters. Moreover, if the American troops leave before Iraq gains its strength back, it will turn into a weak prey for the greedy surrounding hunters, particularly Iran whose power is growing day after day in a way that threatens the whole region. Actually, what matters more for us, Muslims and Middle East natives, more than taking the troops away; is to know about the plans of the new American administration towards rebuilding Iraq and keeping it safe from expected dangers coming from terrorists inside and neighbors on the eastern borders.
The struggle for civil and human rights in the Middle East is as tough and furious as the political battle taking place there. Newspapers and websites are full of Mr. Obama’s statements towards many controversial issues that show his dedication and support to several human rights issues. In addition, by winning presidential seat, Obama has given a vivid example to the democracy that US enjoys and every citizen in the whole world dreams to have. The question now is how Mr. Obama is planning to support human rights movements in the Middle East which are mostly led by young advocates; how Mr. Obama is going to spread the democracy invented and practiced by his country to the whole world. Is he going to deal with rulers and corrupt regimes rather than working directly with young sincere and dedicated activists as his ancestors used to do? Mr. Obama is an inspiring model for thousands of young Muslims and Middle Easterners who fight fearlessly for their rights in their conservative communities. Will he, then, help those advocates to put this inspiration into action?
We cannot claim that we have the absolute answer for the aforementioned concerns. Mr. Obama needs a time to be tested by the American people and other citizens all over the globe. However, we are looking forward that Mr. Obama will meet the high expectations he created by his motivating speeches and eloquent words. We hope that he will prove to the whole world that he is the man of influential action, not the man of eloquent words!
* Dalia Ziada, regional director of North Africa Bureau of the American Islamic Congress