By Navaid Hamid
President Barrack Hussein Obama would be on an official visit to India, the homeland of the second largest Muslim community in the world, between 6-9 November 2010, the first one to the largest democracy after assuming office at White House.
It is a coincidence that President Obama would be visiting India before his visit to Indonesia which has the highest number of Muslim population and where President Obama is expected to address the Muslim world, for the second time in his tenure at the Istiqlal mosque in Jakarta on November 9, after his first one at the Great Hall of University of Cairo in 2009.
In that famous and ‘historic’ speech at Cairo he had proclaimed "Islam has demonstrated the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality. Islam has always been a part of America’s story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States, starting businesses and contributing in bringing about many of its achievements.”
During that Cairo speech Obama had appealed to the Islamic world to open a new chapter with the United States on the grounds that “America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
There is a sense of curiosity about what new President Obama would say to the Muslim world and how he would argue America's case during his speech in Jakarta. One thing is clear that Obama definitely had chosen the venue for his second address to the Muslim world very adeptly for being the homeland of the largest Muslim population after his first one at Cairo's university which is the seat of the most revered Islamic institution and in the heart of the Arab world.
While minutely scrutinising the events after his first address to the Muslim world, a perception can be built up that there is a significance change in the attitude of the American policy planners in post-Cairo speech or in Obama's tenure at large. We don't see any visible signs of targeting the Islamic society or the Arab World in the foreign policy of the United States though its also true that the Muslim World at large had not seen any progress in the solutions of the issues which are in the hearts of every Muslim and in which America has a significant role to play.
Before his address in Cairo, Obama might have envisaged the slow pace of the confidence building between America and the Muslims in his post-Cairo address period which might have prompted him to caution, “no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts .There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other, as the Holy Qoran tells us”.
It would be a great injustice if one expects that the discourses and speeches alone would bridge the gap between America and the Muslims around the world. The world Muslim community wishes a more proactive American role in the solutions of the tangible issues which haunts them without break and the most significance is the issue of Palestine - the issue of the return of their hijack rights, the issue of the halt on the new Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands, the issue of the end of Gaza siege, the issue of the right to Palestinians to independently choose their leaders, the issue of the creation of independent and secure Palestine State.
The most important unimagined developments occurred in recent past and it might be the rarest of rare development as far as America-Israel relations are concerned. There was a repeat of the deepest chill in the relations of the American-Israel relations number of times in 2010 on the issue of Palestine. The Vice President Joe Biden during his visit to the West Asia - Palestine and Israel have used strongest words against Israel and condemned the arrogant State for building Jewish settlements on the Palestinian lands. He asserted that Washington would hold both sides accountable for any actions that inflamed tensions and prejudiced the outcome of the talks. American spokesman strongly condemned the timing of the illegal building of the settlements during Bidens' visit March 2010.
Again the chill was widely visible when Israel's PM, Netanyahu visited Washington and had a private meeting with President Obama on 24th March 2010. There was neither official banquet nor ritual hand shaking pose to be photographed.
In clear words President Obama disapproved the misadventure of new settlements in East Jerusalem and the chill can be gauged by the briefing of the White House spokesperson when he cursory informed, “The President and Prime Minister met and had a full discussion about issues related to the US- Israel relationship, including regional security and peace efforts. The President asked the Prime Minister to take steps to build confidence for proximity talks so that progress can be made toward peace.”
“There are areas of agreement and areas of disagreement, but the conversation is ongoing,” he said.
“President Obama and the Prime Minister met privately for an hour and a half — the atmosphere was good,” Netanyahu spokesman said in an even curter statement to the Israeli press after the meeting between him and President Obama.
Press reports commented that the meeting was so disastrous that Israel PM was forced to request for a second special meeting of 40 minutes after President Obama curtailed the talk.
With his blunt stance, Obama tried to send a message that US can be an honest broker in middle east crisis. It was a rare public demonstration of the assertion in contrast to the history of US-Israel relations.
On 1st June, 2010 Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to cancel a meeting planned with President Barack Obama, which had aimed to help repair fractious relations between Israel and the US and aid the stalled Middle East peace process, after Israel military attacked Turkish aid convoy Freedom Floatila to Gaza, Nethanyahu was forced to went back to his home from Canada without even touching Washington.
Though not much have progressed in the realizations of the ending of the sufferings of Palestinians because of the restart of negotiations between Palestine and Israel, the recent direct negotiations between President Abbas of Palestine and Nethanyahu is an offspring of intense diplomacy of President Obama.
The Muslim World is keen and expects that before he concludes his tenure in White House, Obama should concentrate more for the creation of the full fledged independent and secure Palestine state and end of the sufferings of the Palestinians.
One of the major irritants in the minds of the Muslims against US is the continuous presence of American forces in Iraq. President Obama had honored his election promise to a certain level by announcing the withdrawal of the combat forces from Iraq and the promise to recall 50,000 troops from Iraq by end of 2011. One can not dispute that the step is a major decision on the Iraq's Independence. What Muslims still desires is the earliest exit of all foreign forces and an apology by the US administration over the misadventure in Iraq.
Two other major concerns haunting Muslim world are Iran’s nuclear issue and the American silence on the repression of China's Uighur community, though the American administration has given political asylum to Rebiya Kadeer, voice of the Uighur community in Xinjiang province of China and her colleagues. Similarly the Muslims do rightly expect the proactive role of the US in resolving the crisis in Chechnya.
President Obama while keeping the importance of engaging with the Islamic countries and initiating the efforts to repair the relations with Muslim world appointed two political envoys, Rashad Hussain for OIC and Farah Pandit for Muslim World. The idea seems to be innovative and the envoys are constantly visiting different parts of Muslim concentrated regions to know the pulse of the Muslims and there have been continuous frank discussions between them and the Muslim community.
Indian Muslims should understand that Obama has taken a legacy of biased mentality, hostile temperament and demonizing attitude of the Bush administration but by a number of his bold initiatives Obama is trying to undo the damage and repair the spoiled relations between America and the Muslim World.
Being from the oppressed race, Obama needs a patient hearing, given an ample time to fulfill his task and good wishes for his peace initiatives and opportunity to travel extra mile to explore drastic changes in coming years. The acrimony and the distrust between the US and the Muslim society have a history of more than half a century. To undo the damage let us patiently wait for some more time before reaching to any conclusion.
Navaid Hamid is Secretary of South Asian Council for Minorities (SACM) and Member of National Integration Council, India and can be reached at email@example.com