Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obama Engaging (and Embracing?) the Muslim World

President Obama looks like he's starting his term by keeping at least one of his campaign promises: reinventing engagement with the Muslim world.

In the first nine days of his presidency, Obama has moved to show evidence of the new attitude he hopes his new administration will take towards the Middle East and Muslims around the world. Rob Reynolds, Al Jazeera English's senior Washington consultant, notes several examples of the U.S. president's new position on the Muslim world:

Just minutes after taking office, President Obama extended a hand to the Muslim world by asking to create a relationship based on mutual respect. Later, he made his first telephone call to an international leader: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In addition, Obama has spoken about the humanitarian cost of the Gaza crisis "as a concern in and of itself, rather than a product of Hamas provocation." Finally, Obama is now calling on both Palestinians and Israelis to "return to the negotiating table" - emphasizing that both sides must be willing to make difficult compromises to achieve what has been an elusive peace.

But Reynold's analysis doesn't even cover it all. Obama recently gave his first interview as president, with none other than the Arabic news network Al Arabiya. In doing so, he sent a clear message to the citizens of the Arab and Muslim worlds - stating that the United States is ready to address them, not as pawns in some political game of Middle Eastern conquest, but as full human beings, as equals whose hopes, needs and dreams matter. He also sent Middle Eastern and Muslim governments messages of their own: their interests will be considered more fairly in the U.S.'s new foreign policy, and the time has come for a paradigm shift in American-Middle Eastern relations .

As Steve Clemons of the Washington Note said, Obama "has provided a new punctuation point in American foreign policy," and these acts of "humility" towards the Middle East can provide the basis for a completely new relationship with the region.

Not bad for the new President. But there is still a long way to go.

Israel's fresh assault on Gaza through its bombing of the Rafah tunnels - a lifeline for ordinary Gazans unable to access basic necessities like bread because of Israel's economic sanctions - will be the first practical test for Obama's policies towards the Middle East and Muslim world. How he handles this situation may indicate just how seriously the President will take the promises he has made to the people of those regions. That, in turn, will affect the extent to which the world's 1.5 or so billion Muslims will be willing to cooperate with the U.S. President on building an international community based on peace, trust and reconciliation.

Watch President Obama's Al Arabiya interview below, and read the full transcript here.



12 comments:

Saad said...

I think Mr. Obama will definitely be better than Mr. Bush. But in some ways, he'll be the same. I'm not sure if US policy will stay the same towards Pakistan or perhaps get worse. The missile strikes will probably continue. And US support for Israel will undoubtedly continue. Mr. Obama may be more open to talking to Hamas, but Israel will certainly not. In fact, Israel seems ready to elect hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu. If that happens, the prospects for peace will worsen.

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