What Obama Should Tell the Muslim World
January 23, 2009
During the transition, aides to President Barack Obama indicated he wanted to travel to a Muslim capital and deliver a speech early in his administration. Improving relations to the Muslim world is a goal he stated Tuesday in his inaugural address:
"To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy."
In anticipation of the President's planned speech, the Investigative Project on Terrorism asked two anti-Islamist Muslims for their input about what he should say. Their essays reflect their opinions and not necessarily those of the IPT.
Ali Alyami is the Executive Director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. Here is the opening of his essay:
Obama and Muslim Autocratic Regimes
Faced with economic crises at home and globally, threats of nuclear proliferation, unresolved conflicts in the "Greater Middle East," grinding poverty, conflicts and spread of deadly, but curable diseases in Africa, President Obama has a formidable agenda to deal with. There is no more appropriate place to start his fight against these daunting issues than in the Middle East, where the root causes of destabilizing religious extremism, intolerance, use of religion as a deadly tool to achieve political objectives, rise and exportation of deadly ideology, Wahhabism, are posing ominous threats to the world's economies, peace and preservation of democratic and humane values.
A recent article published by President Obama's hometown newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, wondered "Which Muslim capital will Barack Obama choose?" The article was predicated on speculative reports as to what Muslim country Mr. Obama might visit to start a healing dialogue with Muslims. Arab and Muslim regimes, their controlled populations and severely censored media have been celebrating Mr. Obama's election and expect him to apologize for, or at least acknowledge publicly, that America has wronged them, especially in recent years. Arab and Muslim regimes expect President Obama to embrace them, solve the Arab-Israeli conflict as proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002, and retreat from advocating transparent democratic reforms, power-sharing and respect for basic human rights in Arab and Muslim tyrannically-ruled societies.
President Obama will be ill advised - and America and the international community will continue to pay a very high price - if he heeds advice from those who might encourage him to be an apologetic and appeasing president. As the leader of the free world and representative of the most democratic and powerful nation on this planet, Mr. Obama should start his first speech to Arabs and Muslims, rulers and ruled, moderates and extremists, by making it unequivocally clear that the international economies, peace and preservation of democratic values must be on the top list of every Muslim regime's agenda.
He should make it clear that the root causes of religious extremism and its byproduct, terrorism, must be ended by those who created them in the first place. The President must make it clear to Arab and Muslim autocratic regimes that all governments' owned and financed religious schools and mosques that advocate intolerance of non-Muslims, ethnic and religious minorities must be either transformed from the ground up, be closed without any delays or face dire consequences. The leaders of non-compliant countries must be banned from participating in international organizations and forums, banned from traveling and have their assets frozen.
The rest of Alyami's essay can be seen here.
M. Zuhdi Jasser is the President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, a community activist, and a physician in private practice. The opening section of his essay follows:
President Obama's Message to the Muslim World: Walk the walk and then we'll talk the talk
Recently, President Obama's transition staff announced that he would like to deliver a speech in the first 100 days of his administration in an Islamic capital to improve America's image in the Muslim world. The best venue for this speech is certainly Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The following is the speech President Obama will never give to the Muslim world. But it never hurts to dream…
Thank you. As we begin to lay the groundwork of my administration, I have been looking forward to this, my maiden voyage as President of the United States into the Muslim world. As the son of a Kenyan immigrant to the United States, I cannot help but understand the plight of minorities in the Muslim world and the desire of so many who live in Muslim majority nations to flee to the United States in order to live in freedom. I have fond memories of my childhood years in Indonesia but still thank God every day for my family's desire to live in the land of freedom in the United States.
But I know we can see a day when Muslim-majority nations can be lands of freedom. Yes we can. But first we must usher in change. Change from the despotism and militant Islamism which has ravaged the human rights of those living in Muslim nations. But the first step is doing away with denial. On my inaugural I said, 'To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." I am here to extend a hand to all of your citizens and especially those who believe in freedom.
The Saudi royal family has certainly been generous to our universities and Presidential libraries. But it is not a surprise how little criticism of Wahhabism or political Islam comes out of those universities. How can we be a beacon of freedom for your people, for the world, when our human rights standards vary with the highest bidder? The opportunity I have had in America to become President is the sign of a nation which honors the rights of every citizen equally before the law.
Yes, you can see a day where every Saudi, every Egyptian, Syrian, Iranian, and Pakistani has the same opportunity. But that needs real change, real education, real human rights. It is time for the Muslim world and its nations to honor the rights and opportunities of every one of its citizens who happen to come from outside the tribes in control.
Every human being living in Saudi Arabia should have the right to build a house of worship, not only Muslims. Theocrats have enabled a shar'ia based legal system which is an anathema to liberty and basic human rights –all in the name of the religion of Islam. Your Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has tried to make any discussion in the United Nations on this subject illegal by pretending to just want to protect the name of Islam through what are clearly blasphemy laws. I will not stand idly by as the OIC turns the UN into an Inquisition. I am here to tell you that I will do what I can to stop U.S. funding of the U.N., which dishonors its charter and what Eleanor Roosevelt and her colleagues in 1948 described as "the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all people."
I will also remind you of another warning uttered by Eleanor Roosevelt, "we must not be deluded by the efforts of the forces of reaction to prostitute the great words of our free tradition and thereby to confuse the struggle."
The rest of Jasser's essay can be seen here.