A well-meaning brother has written a principled criticism of my brief article written in the aftermath of Senator Barack Obama’s victory in the recent American presidential elections. His letter has stimulated a lengthy response from me. I have copied it below in its entirety along with my response. May Allah bless this brother. I will print any response he might write to my comments also.
Asalamu Alaikum Imam Zaid,
I hope you are well. With the greatest of respect to you, I can not fully understand why you have chosen the position you have taken on Barak Obama.
It is quite clear, I believe, that his foreign policy objectives negates any justified support for this man. As Muslims we are supposed to be concerned with the welfare of the Ummah but he has consistently stated his position on Israel at the expense of the Muslims. He said Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel which is contrary to international law and more importantly the status and wellbeing of the Muslims. He undoubtedly considers Israel’s security as his primary objective and has stated as such which means that, like all previous Presidents, he will remain silent when Israel attacks and kills our innocent brothers and sisters in Gaza and elsewhere; remain silent when Israel launches another war in Lebanon and remain silent when their lands are further occupied.
And of course there is Afghanistan and Pakistan….
He (in fact any President) will never be good news for us and so I am a little surprised at your and many other Muslims position regarding him. There seems to have been a huge propaganda campaign that has been mounted by the powers that be in the United States and man Muslims have been drawn in.
When you stated in your post: “...it is quite clear that Senator Obama valued the support he received from the Muslim community. He appointed a liaison to the Muslim community, high ranking members of his team met with Muslim delegations, and his campaign was supportive of Muslim grassroots efforts such as “Muslims for Obama.” I am left thinking what is the big issue with that? Of course that is what he would do; we shouldn’t have expected any less of him. He didn’t feel the Muslims important enough to have paid them a personal visit; he in fact distanced himself as far away as possible from us. Are we that weak, that low that even if he sends a guy to the community we become all thankful and loving towards him, where is our self respect? As for the “Muslims for Obama” campaign, they need to address their priorities…
[As for your statement] “Senator Obama’s election also opens a new door for Muslims in America.”
This insular way of thinking is one of the main problems with the Muslims today, I feel. We are one body according to our beloved Nabi (saw) and we should therefore be feeling the pain of the rest of our body, whether it is in Palestine, Afghanistan or Iraq etc, but instead we are happy and content if the Muslims in America receive a few smiles and leftovers, because that’s all it will be. Are we so happy with this situation that we will support this system and even vote for it in our muddled delusion?
I am pretty confident that not much will change for you in America and yet many Muslims will be asked on the Day of Judgment about why they supported a man and system that is actively seeking to harm Islam and the Muslims around the world. I hope they have an answer…. To buy into the propaganda machine is to sell the Muslims short.
With love and may Allah (aza wa jal) bless you and your family. amin
As-Salaam ‘Alaikum Hamza,
May Allah reward you and bless you and your family. Your criticism is fair, respectful and greatly appreciated. As you know, our Prophet, peace upon him, mentioned, “The religion is based on sincerity [and sincere advice].” Please continue to exercise your Islamic duty to give advice and to criticize. However, there are some issues that you raise which I would like to respond to.
First of all, you state, “With the greatest of respect to you, I can not fully understand why you have chosen the position you have taken on Barak Obama.” I would ask, “What position have I taken?” I am not an uncritical supporter of Barack Obama. In fact, I have been and will remain very critical of Senator Obama. In case you have not read critical pieces assessing Obama on this vey blog, i.e. “Barack Obama, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Future of America,” “Hopefully Obama is Not a Used Car Dealer,” “Drilling and Killing for God,” and other articles. I will mention a few quotes from those pieces by way of reminding you some of my criticisms:
“With his slavish remarks at the recent AIPAC conference, Senator Barack Obama, issued an uncritical endorsement of the program of the most right wing elements of the Zionist movement, and suggested, at least through his words, that he has no real interest in a fair and just solution to that problem.”
“By insinuating an unwillingness to talk with the leaders of Hamas, he compromised the most promising pillar of his diplomatic strategy, one designed to demonstrate his movement away from the Bush/Cheney doctrine of preemptive, no room for diplomacy militarism—namely, a willingness to talk, in good faith, with our enemies.”
“If Obama’s value as an “African American” candidate is largely symbolic, As Michael Eric Dyson and others, including this writer have argued, then that symbolic value extends beyond the African American community, and America at large. It extends to the people of the world. If Africans, Asians, Europeans and Latin Americans view the thus far successful Obama candidacy as a symbol of a changed social and political climate in America that is a harbinger of policies that will bring the interests of the American empire into closer alignment with the interests of the rest of the world, then the Palestinian issue is a litmus test of sorts as to the sincerity of any American politician to pursue a new type of politics. In this regard, Obama has failed miserably.”
“The election of an African American, or a woman for that matter, without an associated “revolution of values” will do no more than possibly delay, but will not stave off, this country’s inevitable spiritual demise.”
However, having said these and many other things highly critical of Obama, I cannot deny the momentous nature of his actual election and the coalition that made it possible. That is what is truly important, the grassroots coalition behind Senator Obama’s election. That is the real basis for hope, not Obama himself. It is interesting that you quote many statements from my article to support your arguments, but you did not quote this particular point. To reiterate the point I will quote it:
“However, the coalition of forces that has come together to guarantee Senator Obama’s victory represents a powerful realignment in American politics; sincere whites who were feed up with the corruption, venality, and mendacity of the cabal in Washington, young people of all ages and races (the hip hop generation), a re-energized African American electorate, progressive Latinos, particularly in Florida and the Southwest of the country, and Muslims, yes Muslims, many of whom worked just as doggedly as Senator Obama’s other supporters, despite the stigmatizing of their faith and themselves in many instances.
It is the promise that this new coalition represents as much as the inspiring leadership of Senator Obama that in the long run will translate the prospect of change that drove so many during the long electoral campaign into the reality of change. The heavy lifting that will be required to make the sacrifices necessary to usher in a new day in American society will be undertaken, on the ground, by members of this coalition.”
I ask you, how does my “position” demonstrate that I have been suckered by “a huge propaganda campaign that has been mounted by the powers that be in the United States and many Muslims have been drawn in…” as you word it, to uncritically support Senator Obama? I am not so naïve as to believe the mere election of Barack Obama will reverse the entirety of America’s domestic and foreign policies, that everything he does will be all positive for Muslims, or that his administration will lead to the immediate resolution of all of the world’s conflicts. However, I am not so cynical as to believe that his election is meaningless. Both America and the world are far too complicated and nuanced for me to arrive at either conclusion.
As Muslims, we are hopeful that we will find good in situations that confront us, this is one of the fundamental teachings of the Qur’an and in the Sunnah of our Prophet, peace upon him. The tone of your letter displays a degree of pessimism that does not allow for a positive interpretation of the potential good that might accrue from an Obama presidency. You state for example:
“It is quite clear, I believe, that his foreign policy objectives negate any justified support for this man. As Muslims we are supposed to be concerned with the welfare of the Ummah, but he has consistently stated his position on Israel at the expense of the Muslims. He said Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel which is contrary to international law and more importantly the status and wellbeing of the Muslims.
He undoubtedly considers Israel’s security as his primary objective and has stated as such which means that, like all previous Presidents, he will remain silent when Israel attacks and kills our innocent brothers and sisters in Gaza and elsewhere; remain silent when Israel launches another war in Lebanon and remain silent when their lands are further occupied.”
This statement displays an extremely unproductive approach to international politics that plagues many Muslims. First of all, you judge Obama’s entire foreign policy, in terms of it’s potential benefit to Muslims based on the Palestinian issue, and you assume that his position will not differ from other US presidents in that regard. This statement is a gross generalization. Not all US presidents have been slavish in their support of Israel. Dwight Eisenhower could be described as clearly anti-Israel, John Kennedy, vehemently opposed many Israeli policies, especially Israel’s nuclear weapons program. There are even some analysts who argue that Kennedy was assassinated by the Mossad. In 1991 George Bush Sr. suspended a $10 billion loan guarantee to Israel in order to affect the Israeli political process in a way he deemed beneficial to American mid-East policy, and clearly subordinated US support for Israel to other American policy goals. President Jimmy Carter, who has recently written a book accusing Israel of being an apartheid state, through his UN Ambassador, Andrew Young, was pursuing a very even-handed approach to the Palestinian question. You might recall that Mr. Young was forced to resign when it was revealed that he had engaged in secret meeting with several representatives of the PLO.
So to assume on the basis of some statements made by Senator Obama in the context of the election campaign, such as his recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, a position he modified a day later, or to assume that the appointment of Rahm Emmanuel as his chief of staff, a position with no real policy-making significance, means that there is no room for Obama to take a more constructive approach to the Palestinian issue is shortsighted. Senator Obama wants to be a great President and he knows that contributing to or actually bringing about a just solution to the Palestinian issue will be one of the measures of his greatness.
Cynicism and pessimism also governs your assessment of Obama’s potential position on Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yes, Obama in the context of the election campaign said some disheartening things about expanding the war in Afghanistan, and about possible strikes on targets in Pakistan. I have condemned these position on numerous occasions. For example, in my article, “Drilling and Killing for God,” I stated:
“Yesterday, September 3, 2008, United States ground forces swept into Pakistan in a raid that resulted in the deaths of 21 Pakistani civilians. This raid has evoked outrage across Pakistan, and is a clear and unnecessary violation of Pakistani sovereignty. It comes in the context of increasing attacks in Afghanistan that are resulting in the deaths of a growing number of civilians. An example of such raids is the recent one on the Afghan village of Azizabad that reportedly resulted in the deaths of over 90 civilians, 50 of them children.
All of this is occurring during the evolving American election campaign in which both major party candidates, the Republican John McCain, and his Democratic rival Barack Obama, have identified Afghanistan as the “good” war that America should be directing the bulk of her military resources towards. If indeed America decides to expand its role in Afghanistan, then it is headed into a serious confrontation with grave implications for this country.
First of all, any expanded role for America in Afghanistan will necessitate an expanded role for American air power, a role that will inevitably result in more widespread Afghani civilian casualties. The rising number of civilian casualties will lead to a more popular and widespread Afghan resistance. As the Afghan resistance expands into a full-fledge Jihad, it will be far more than a fight against isolated Taliban units, although America will present an expanded conflict as a fight against the Taliban in order to maintain domestic support for what will be an increasingly unjust war.”
However, to assume, as you do, that “He (in fact any President) will never be good news for us” is overly pessimistic, for it assumes that all US Presidents are the same, and that the policies they pursue do not differ in their implications for the Muslim world. The inaccurate nature of your assumption is revealed by the fact that Obama and his team are already drafting plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and to extend constitutional protections to the prisoners there. That is a stark reversal of President Bush’s policies. He is going to dismiss the heads of both the CIA and military intelligence as part of a sweeping effort to dismantle the regime of legalized torture constructed by Bush. All of these plans have deep implications for Muslims, and they are in stark opposition to his presidential predecessor. Hence, to argue that the person of the president of the United States is meaningless as far as Muslims are concerned is a debatable position.
As for the relations between Obama and American Muslims, had Senator Obama overtly identified strongly with our community he would have probably lost the election, it is that simple. The opportunities such identification would have provided for the right wing propaganda machine would have been enormous and difficult for the Obama campaign to have overcome. However, to imply, as you do, that Obama’s position on the Muslim community and that of the McCain campaign or the Bush administration is one and the same with no positive implications for Muslims, is simplistic thinking.
At the end of the day, had Senator Obama strongly identified with the American Muslim community, would we have his back covered? Would we have spent tens of millions of dollars to counter what would have been an expanded “Obsession” campaign by creating and then disseminating DVDs that showed Islam and Muslims in a positive light? Would we have held house gatherings of the type sponsored by “Move On” to explain our positions and beliefs to our non-Muslim neighbors? Would we have stepped forward with millions of dollars to offset the campaign contributions he would have lost? The answer to each question is, no. If that is the case, why would we even expect Senator Obama to make strong overtures to our community when we know that as a community, we would not have done what is necessary to justify him taking the risk?
Despite the risks, Senator Obama did reach out to Muslims in the ways I mentioned in my article. You can also rest assured that he vetted and approved of Colin Powell’s defense of Islam and Muslims in the statement he made when he endorsed Obama on “Meet The Press.” You dismiss these issues by stating:
“I am left thinking what is the big issue with that? Of course that is what he would do [that]; we shouldn’t have expected any less of him. He didn’t feel the Muslims important enough to have paid them a personal visit; he in fact distanced himself as far away as possible from us.”
The big issue is that the McCain campaign did none of the above. There was absolutely no outreach to Muslims at any level. Furthermore, as opposed to what Obama and his campaign actually did or endorsed, elements in the McCain camp were mounting a smear campaign to link Obama with Islam and to link Islam with terrorism, fascism, and irrational anti-American violence. In light of that situation, the position taken by Obama, his campaign and his surrogates was a very big deal deserving of Muslim support.
You imply that it is wrong for Muslims in America to consider a strategy rooted in our specific interest. You state in that regard:
“This insular way of thinking is one of the main problems with the Muslims today I feel. We are one body according to our beloved Nabi (saw) and we should therefore be feeling the pain of the rest of our body, whether it is in Palestine, Afghanistan or Iraq etc, but instead we are happy and content if the Muslims in America receive a few smiles and leftovers… because that’s all it will be. Are we so happy with this situation that we will support this system and even vote for it in our muddled delusion?”
There are several issues in this statement that demand attention. First of all, it is oxymoronic, for you mention Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Are not the Muslims in each of these countries doing what they feel is best for themselves based on their “insular” view of their situation? Do you think a Muslim in Palestine is giving a second thought to what is in the best interest of Afghani Muslims when he is deciding on how to get fuel delivered to the Gaza Strip to get electricity to hospitals turned on? Of course not! He or she is looking at the immediate situation that he or she is confronted with and how he or she can best affect that situation with his or her direct action.
Does this mean that he is she does not care about the situation in Afghanistan? It does not. However, as I mentioned in my original article, all politics are local, and if we cannot begin to address local issues in a meaningful way and to organize locally, first and foremost, we are never going to be able to affect events at a national or an international level.
Your statement also implies a bad opinion of other Muslims here in the U.S., namely that we do not feel the pain of Muslims suffering in other parts of the world. I would argue that Muslims here in the U.S. are as concerned about Muslims in other parts of the world as Muslims in other western countries, if not more so. However, we realize that if we do not subordinate our global concerns to that of forming a viable strategy that can unite us here in America, and build real strength in this country where we can eventually have a far more positive impact on foreign policy formation, then we will never do great things elsewhere.
You mention at the end of your letter:
“..and yet many Muslims will be asked on the Day of Judgment about why they supported a man and system that is actively seeking to harm Islam and the Muslims around the world. I hope they have an answer…”
Here is my answer. O God! In this past presidential election campaign Muslims in America were presented with a clear choice: One candidate, Senator Obama, committed to the proposition that America is a constitutional democracy where the rule of law should be respected, and another candidate whose running mate derisively dismissed the rule of law, on the night before that candidate accepted his party’s nomination to run for president, by quipping that Obama wants to “read terrorists their rights.” We were presented with one candidate, Obama, who stated that American military power should be used judiciously as a last resort, and another, McCain, who was committed to a hundred-years-war, in principle. We had a choice between one candidate, Obama, who built a wide coalition that represented the youth, disaffected whites, and racial minorities, who promised the prospect of meaningful change consistent with the changing nature of American society, and another, McCain, who presented an increasingly narrow message that promised holding on to old prejudices and denying the changing nature of American society and the world. We had a choice between one candidate, Obama, who promised to protect our environment, and another, McCain, who promised to complete the destruction of all of the environmental protection standards that had been started by his predecessor. The callousness of McCain’s apporoach in this regard was captured in a slogan his campaign popularized, “Drill Baby Drill!” Finally, we had a choice between one candidate, Obama, who was shaped by a pastor who fiercely condemned the excesses of American power, and the injustices in American society, and another, McCain, who sought the endorsement of a pastor, Rod Parsley, who believes it is the historical mission of America to destroy Islam. That the overwhelming majority of American Muslims, under these circumstances, supported Obama is nothing we should be ashamed of or apologize for.
Does that mean everything promised by Senator Obama will be delivered? No. To again reiterate, “The heavy lifting that will be required to make the sacrifices necessary to usher in a new day in American society will be undertaken, on the ground, by members of this coalition.” FDR did not run on a platform that promised the sweeping reforms of the New Deal. It was pressure from below that pushed him to make those reforms. LBJ did not run on a platform that promised sweeping civil-rights legislation. Again, it was pressure from below that urged those reforms. Major advances in America have always been motivated by pressure from below. However, that pressure from below has to be met by a president with vision and courage if it is to translate into any meaningful change in American policies and institutions. In that regard, if we as Muslims do what we must do, along with others, to generate real pressure from below, then we are hopeful that President Obama will make a real difference in the quality of our lives and the quality of the lives of many people around the world, both Muslims and others.
This ability to hope is what makes America, for all of its many abuses, excesses, and imperfections, such a unique place, and as we know, hope is one of the fundamental virtues advanced by Islamic teachings. Hence, until the verdict of history proves otherwise, can we contribute to a better world under President Obama’s leadership? Yes We Can! That, at least, is our hope.
asalamu alaikum Imam Zaid, i hope you are well. May Allah (swt) continue to bless you
Thank you for taking time out to reply. I know you are really busy. The pessimism you found in my original comment is, in my opinion, not pessimism, it is rather a position of clarity based upon history and the removal of his (Obama’s) rhetoric. The USA has, since 1945; been directly responsible for the destruction of 50 governments, including democracies, and 30 popular liberation movements, causing the deaths of countless (10’s of millions) innocent men, women and children, let us not forget the 1 million plus Muslims in the past 5 years. The lies told to the world about these events were deep and shows us, if we care to look, that the hadith of our beloved Nabi (saw) is true where he is reported to have said:
“The time of the Dajjal will be years of confusion. People will believe a liar, and disbelieve one who tells the truth. People will distrust one who is trustworthy, and trust one who is treacherous; and the Ruwaybidha will have a say.” Someone asked: “Who are they?” He said: “Those who rebel against Allah and will have a say in general affairs.” I do not feel this behavior will change because of the promises of a new liberal black man seeking office, despite what the illusion of change may appear to be. He says he wants to build up US military power; and he threatens to ignite a new war in Pakistan, killing yet more Muslims.
I am not going to be fooled into buying into his idea of “Change” when that just means a change of location for more Muslim deaths. We should remember that although Obama distanced himself from Bush during his campaign, Obama voted to give Bush what he wanted for the wars.
I also cannot and will not separate his foreign policy positions from his domestic ones because for me they are related. However, I hope you are proved right, and that I am proved wrong. Just because the face has changed it doesn’t mean the things we care about will.