Feature

Muslims wait for U.S. change

Will President Obama's message to the Muslim world be backed by changes in policy?  

President Barack Obama has “won the hearts” of many Muslims, said the United Arab Emirates’ Gulf News in an editorial. In a landmark speech delivered in Turkey earlier this month during his first overseas trip as president, Obama said that going forward, the U.S. relationship with the Muslim world would be based on more than just opposition to terrorism. “We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” he said. “We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground.” Most important to Muslim ears, he rejected the idea that Islam is an enemy of the West. “Let me say this as clearly as I can,” he said. “The United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam.”

Those are welcome words, said Aijaz Zaka Syed in Saudi Arabia’s Arab News. America’s “first president with a Muslim father” has certainly lived up to the expectation that he would reach out to the Muslim world. “But those words will remain mere words and empty rhetoric if they are not followed up by action on the ground.” It’s all very well to proclaim that the U.S. is not at war with Islam, “but right now two Muslim countries are occupied by U.S. forces.” Muslims cannot believe in Obama’s message of change until American policies change to match his rhetoric.

Remember, we’ve heard this sort of thing before, said the pan-Arab Al Quds al-Arabi. “The Bush administration twice promised to establish a viable Palestinian state,” in 2005 and again in 2008. Both times, it ended up supporting Israel blindly, even to the extent of tolerating “the construction of the racist separation wall” and supporting Israel’s “savage war” in the Gaza Strip. How Obama deals with the Palestinian issue will be the first true test of his commitment to rapprochement with the Muslim world. “Any delay will confirm suspicions of his inability to change U.S. foreign policy.”

Yet even if Obama does manage to reorient U.S. policy, the Muslim world won’t be able to relax its vigilance, said Lebanon’s Daily Star. After all, the U.S. voters who elected him are the same people who elected George W. Bush—twice. How can a country choose leaders with “such contrasting styles and policy agendas?” Muslims may well wonder “whether we might arrive at a given accomplishment today, only to see it disappear tomorrow, under a very different leader.”

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