- July 4, 2008
Obama Should Lead in the Fourth World War against Extremism
The best advice for Barak Obama to “fight the smears” was published in the July 3, 2008, issue of the Wall Street Journal by Junaid M. Afeef under the title, “Obama Should Embrace His Muslim Heritage.”
Mr. Afeef, who is Director of Public and Government Affairs at the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, introduces his article with the lament, “Many Muslim voters love Barack Obama; they love him even if he doesn’t love them back.” He credits “Muslims’ enthusiasm for Senator Obama to a perceived promise of a ‘brand new, informed international perspective’ … [and to] a broad and empowering message of hope and change in a tumultuous time of trouble and strife.” “Many see a reflection of themselves in Mr. Obama,” writes Afeef, “a person who looks different, has a funny name, a sense of the world beyond our borders, and at the same time is very patriotic. This is how most Muslims in America view themselves.”
“While his heritage may include Muslims,” says Afeef, “Mr. Obama is a Christian, and when his religion is incorrectly identified he rightly corrects the record. The problem, however, is the manner in which he corrects the record. He vociferously denies being a Muslim as if it were a slur.” “Obama does not need to take this approach,” says Afeef, because “He knows how to smash through barriers. He brought whites and blacks together in the primary, no small feat in a nation that still struggles with race issues.”
Afeef’s solution is simple: “Every time Mr. Obama is incorrectly labeled a Muslim, he is also handed a golden opportunity to burnish his egalitarianism by challenging Islamophobes and debunking their bigotry. This would serve the purpose of correcting the record. It would also serve to elevate Mr. Obama to a higher moral ground. This is the same moral high ground from which he eloquently spoke out against racism in a speech in Philadelphia last March.”
This is the easy part of leadership. More difficult but equally productive might be an Obama decision to launch a Fourth World War against religious extremism of all kinds, but especially Muslim, because alienated and hate-filled Muslims are trying to hijack Islam as a religion for their own diabolical purposes. Muslims perhaps naturally are sensitive about attacks on Muslims, but they would admire anyone who would urge them to do precisely this because he understands that only Muslims can win this war against the terrorists in their midst.
The time for Muslims to wage such a Fourth World War has now come, as best evidenced in the article by Geneive Abdo, entitled “False Prophets,” which was published in the July-August, 2008, issue of the world’s second most prestigious foreign affairs journal, Foreign Policy, the first being Foreign Affairs. Abdo is a fellow at the Century Foundation, author of several books on Islam, and a leader in Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Alliance of Civilizations, which was established in 2006 to identify the roots of the divide between Western and Muslim-majority societies and, ultimately, to curb religious violence.
Her experience of two years interviewing Muslim leaders both in the streets and in the hallowed halls of government throughout the world have led her to conclude that the Alliance of Civilizations was a flop because it focused on lovey-dovey interfaith initiatives and was unduly influenced by Muslims who hoped to create a more favorable view of Muslims by downplaying the “threat.” “They condemn the violent acts carried out by extremists in their respective faiths and bond over how much their religions have in common.”
This she believes is not simply irrelevant, but nearly so. She concludes with the stern warning, “If it all sounds like a healthy if insufficient first step, it probably is. Interfaith discussion distracts from uncomfortable but necessary questions and should be considered a hindrance to concrete and effective foreign-policy approaches to counter extremism. A far more effective effort would be to appeal to the disaffected youth in Europe and the Islamic world who loathe the United States and much of what it represents. Another necessary step – widely debated during former President Jimmy Carter’s trip to the Middle East in April – is to begin official negotiations with groups with widespread power and influence, such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood. The fact that these organizations are the future leaders of the Middle East cannot be ignored.”
Geneive Abdo concludes, “Until we force ourselves to deal with the most immediate crisis at hand – the devastating failure of U.S. foreign policy and an Islamic world that is growing more conservative, religious, and hostile toward the United States with each passing day – we will have done nothing to address the true conflict, one that remains threatening, enduring, and real.”
The ultimate failure of U.S. foreign policy is rooted in the paradigm of peace through power. Success will come only when the governing paradigm shifts to peace through compassionate justice, and when it is carried out in specific programs of revolutionary change. An example of this might be to address the growing wealth gap within and among nations by broadening capital ownership through institutional reform, such as demonopolizing the state-owned oil in Iraq through equal shares of inalienable and voting stock to be owned by every person living in the Fertile Crescent. The details for this as a real program of justice that would change the American image forever have been published on October 20, 2007, in the ezine, http://www.theamericanmuslim.org, under the title “A Grand Strategy for Peace through Justice in Iraq.” Burnishing the American image through expensive public relations without major changes in public policy is like the Greek Sysiphus who was eternally condemned to roll a great stone up a hill only to have it roll back down again.