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Barack and Islam: the to-do List

Barack and Islam: the to-do List

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Published by Christopher Haynes
President Barack has just given a speech in Cairo intended for an audience of the entire Muslim world. The speech was a good one–sincere, inclusive, friendly–but there is a lot more to be done.

Here is Barack’s To-Do List for Better Relations with the Islamic World.
President Barack has just given a speech in Cairo intended for an audience of the entire Muslim world. The speech was a good one–sincere, inclusive, friendly–but there is a lot more to be done.

Here is Barack’s To-Do List for Better Relations with the Islamic World.

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Published by: Christopher Haynes on Jun 06, 2009
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Barack and Islam: the to-do list
Written for menso.wordpress.com, the Menso Guide to War, on June 6, 2009President Barack has just given a speech in Cairo intended for an audience of the entireMuslim world. The speech was a good one--sincere, inclusive, friendly--but there is a lotmore to be done.Though I do not think Islamic terrorism is America's biggest problem, nor will it ever be,I do think Islamic extremism poses a serious threat to American interests. Those interestsinclude free markets, secularism, democracy and peace. And contrary to popular belief,extremism is caused far less by poverty and religious pluralism than by perceivedinjustice with no outlet through which to vent. And on this note, we begin Barack's To-DoList for Better Relations with the Islamic World.
#1: Encourage freedom and support pluralism in Muslim countries
The Barack administration needs to work with its allies among Muslim countries toensure everyone has a voice. With so many repressive states that are nominally Islamic,and so many of them (again nominally) aligned with the US, Barack and Hillary need tocontinue the pressure on people like the House of Saud to allow freedom of expression.Eliminating extremism is not a question of democracy per se; indeed, the idea of democracy has become a laughing stock among many Middle Easterners. The unpopular Bush administration promoted democracy as a panacea, and as soon as an Islamic party(Hamas) was "democratically" elected, it refused to recognise it.But pluralism and freedom are still ways to promote peace--if you disagree with me, youcan say so without getting arrested. To say they are not suited to Islam is nonsense: theywere part of Islamic civilisation for at least 500 years during the Islamic Golden Age.Without pluralism and freedom of expression, Muslim civilisation would never havemade such great scientific advances. Saying pluralism and Islam cannot coexist is likesaying Muslims speak with one voice. Yet these values are at the root of the debate going
 
on within Islam today. Having lived in Indonesia, Barack is in a good position tounderstand and sympathise with Muslims.His charm is also handy. Though I do not like the idea that charm can move mountains, itcan. They have won him his popularity up to this point, and have even slightly increasedthe United States' abysmal image among Muslims. Charm has brought him to this point, but it can take him no further. It has opened up many doors, and Barack must enter with a plan. The focus of his plan must be understanding.
#2: Foster cross-cultural understanding
Back to the president’s speech. Barack set some things straight about religious freedom inAmerica. “[F]reedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one'sreligion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200mosques within our borders. That is why the US government has gone to court to protectthe right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it. So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America.” (Youtube, 12:00)He addressed the stereotypes many Muslims hold of America and Americans hold of Muslims. He has started the intercultural ball rolling. Other people need to run with it.Start programs that teach, at all ages, about each other’s culture and religion and helpthem to see each other’s points of view. Let them see and feel the plurality of viewsamong the people, that the other side is not a monolithic or hateful mass, and the newways of thinking all of us can learn from this interaction.Even the language we use limits our understanding. It can be difficult not to speak andthink in terms of “Muslim countries”, “Islamic states” and moderates vs. extremists, butthere is so much more to the issues than this thinking implies. We need to realise that, likeeverywhere, there are nuances in the groups we are talking about that we can work withto achieve goals that benefit everyone.
 
“And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations to live in peace and security; to get aneducation and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our god.These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.” (Youtube, 12:30) Barack has begun to bring us all together in common humanity.Another part of his plan is the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
#3: Close Guantanamo
Barack said “unequivocally” that he prohibited the use of torture by any forces hecommands. This is quite the promise for an American president to make, as it isconvenient to invoke the misleadingticking time bomb scenarioand to the charge of torture plead patriotism. If no stories of torture emerge under his presidency, we should be impressed by his adherence to principle.He also said, as he has done before, that he will close Guantanamo. Great. When? Wheneveryone else agrees to take the US's prisoners? I am not clear on why the prisoners atGuantanamo cannot be shipped to civilian tribunals in the United States. This is the mostlogical answer to me. By asking other countries to take them, the US government isasking favours. Charm has made closing Guantanamo a possibility, but it will not ensurethe safe transfer and fair trial of its prisoners without costs to the US's international political capital. And that capital will run out even faster if he does not do what he promised on the campaign trail.
#4: Bring the boys home from Iraq
Barack has promised to bring the troops home from Iraq by 2012.This may or may not be a good idea; suffice it to say, it is a promise, and fulfilling it will bring him credibility(right in time for his reelection). As part of the wider War on Terror, which manyMuslims see as a war on their religion, the war in Iraq was framed as the way to keep theUS safer. Having inflamed many a Mohamedan mind with images of fear, torture andkilling, it has clearly had the opposite effect.

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