The Arabs And Obama
Last week Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Tamara Coffman Wittes reported from a conference in Qatar that Barack Obama's candidacy is all the rage in the Arab Gulf states.
A friend from the Gulf tells me her young relative was so excited about the Democratic candidate that he tried to donate money over the Internet, as he'd heard so many young Americans were doing. Then he found out he had to be a U.S. citizen to do so. Another young woman, visiting from next-door Saudi Arabia, said that all her friends in Riyadh are “for Obama.”
The symbolism of a major American presidential candidate with the middle name of Hussein, who went to elementary school in Indonesia, certainly speaks to Muslims abroad.That's an interesting way to make a point lost on most American commentators: Barack Obama's father was Muslim and therefore, according to Islamic law, so is the candidate. In spite of the Quranic verses explaining that there is no compulsion in religion, a Muslim child takes the religion of his or her father.
The point of course is not that Obama is really a Muslim, because in America he is whatever he says he is. American ideas about such things as choice, religion, freedom of expression – including the freedom to choose your own faith – are different from the rest of much of the world. For us, a man is whatever religion he wants to practice, or not practice. But for Muslims around the world, non-American Muslims at any rate, they can only ever see Barack Hussein Obama as a Muslim.
It's useful keeping in mind that difference between how Americans see our lives and our actions and how others see us, given that one of the chief conceits of the Obama campaign is that a president of his biological identity will redeem our reputation around the world after George Bush enflamed the better part of humanity by invading two Muslim countries.
Or, as Fareed Zakaria put it:
We're moving into a very new world… For America to thrive, we will have to develop a much deeper, richer, more intuitive understanding of them and their peoples. There are many ways to attain this, but certainly being able to feel it in your bones is one powerful way.
Perhaps this is the only obvious strategy available to a presidential candidate whose Washington experience to date has afforded him little time to grasp the niceties of policy-making. And indeed there's already evidence that some Middle Easterners, or the people in whose part of the world the United States has expended vast human and material resources over the last six years, are not impressed with Obama.
Over at From Beirut to the Beltway, Abu Kais gives low scores to a recent Obama recent speech about Lebanon.
From Now Lebanon:
“Washington must rectify the wrong policy of President George Bush in Lebanon and resort to an efficient and permanent diplomacy, rather than empty slogans,” [Obama] added. He also said that the US must cooperate with its European and Arab allies to sponsor an inter-Lebanese consensus on a stable and democratic Lebanon.
To which Abu Kais replies:
What kind of diplomacy that has not been tried before by the “Europeans and Arab allies” will help Lebanon? I am not going to defend the Bush administration's policy in Lebanon. It may reek of “empty slogans” at times, but how does talking to criminals create solutions? And pray explain how supporting the Hariri tribunal, as Obama said he does, can be reconciled with chatting up the ones who killed him?
Lebanese journalist Michael Young and Iraqi blogger Iraqpundit have expressed their reservations about one of Obama's foreign policy advisers, Samantha Power. The self-described “Genocide Chick” seems to them insufficiently concerned that an American withdrawal from Iraq will lead to genocide. Her solution? Move people from one area to another and give money to Iraq's neighbors to stabilize the country. You can't blame her for basically parroting the egregiously cynical recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, but in reality this means that US forces should be complicit in the sectarian cleansing of Iraq and pay off countries like Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia that have themselves funded and supported death squads targeting Iraqi Shias, Kurds and Sunnis as well as US troops.
It's true that the Lebanese and Iraqis have benefited, and suffered, more than anyone from the Bush White House's regional transformation program, so you can't hold it against them if they're more interested in a man's ideas than in the faith he professes or the color of his skin.
Read the whole thing.