Thursday, April 9, 2009

Obama and the Muslim World

What a welcome change to have a U.S. president who engages the world, rather than try to bully it. President Obama's recent trip to the G-20 conference, after which he made a stop in Turkey to engage the Muslim world, demonstrates true cooperative leadership that is bound to reap much greater long-term rewards.

The Muslim world, for example, is hopeful that relations can improve. In an AP story reported on MSNBC, "'Everyone is optimistic about this man,' Nasser Abu Kwaik, a barber in the West Bank town of al-Beireh, said Wednesday. 'He is different, and he could be a friend to the Muslim world.'

"Many in Muslim countries echoed the words of one Indonesian woman, 'I believe him.'

"'For the Islamic world,' Obama's comments 'are like a fresh breeze,' said Ikana Mardiastuti, who works at a Jakarta research institute."

MSNBC continues, "A town-hall meeting in Istanbul on Tuesday was also a strong symbol, with Obama answering questions from university students. To some it sent a message that this president talks to Muslims, dramatically different from the perception many had of Bush as domineering, warlike and imposing U.S. policy.

"Even an offhand comment that he had to wrap up the town-hall before the afternoon call to Islamic prayers showed an easy familiarity with the rhythms of Muslims' lives.

"'He's a modest person with a humanitarian view on world issues, particularly those relating to the Arab and Islamic worlds,' said Jamal Dahan, a 50-year-old resident of the Lebanese capital Beirut. 'Bush, on the other hand, was an arrogant man who only knew military power.'

"Even hard-liners took notice. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country welcomes talks with the United States if Obama proves 'honest' in extending the U.S. hand to Iran, one of his strongest signals yet of openness to Obama's calls for dialogue.

"A cleric at the prominent Shiite seminary in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf — where disdain for Bush's policies is high — was enthusiastic. 'The Islamic world should avail itself of this positive opportunity,' said Sheik Nimaa Al-Abadi. 'The opening chapter of Obama in the Islamic world might be a real turning point.'

Naysayers of course will criticize Obama as being too soft, or of "appeasing the enemy," but the comments of those who have reason to truly understand terrorism and its motivations should (but likely won't) open the eyes of neo-cons and others who claim to be driven by the goal of defeating terrorism: Obama "'will make it more difficult to recruit young Muslim men to carry out terrorist acts. They (militants) no longer have the argument to do so,' said Mohammed al-Nujaimi, a cleric on a government committee for rehabilitating militants away from extremism." In short, Obama's outreach vastly diminishes the appeal of terror groups.

What a welcome change, indeed.