By Moez Masoud
America, a nation that understandably prides itself on the ideals upon which it was founded, failed to demonstrate self-control in the past decade or so. The primary victim of this temporary insanity: the Muslim world. Now comes President Barack Hussein Obama, a multicultural living symbol of America’s ability to live up to its ideals. So far, Obama seems keen to reconcile.
While Obama’s speech in Cairo is an opportunity to start the overdue and much-needed dialogue that must take place between the U.S. and the Muslim world, it’s also a chance for Obama to teach his fellow countrymen. Obama needs to figure out how to explain to ordinary Americans, many of whom currently harbor anti-Muslim sentiments, how to clearly differentiate between the mainstream Muslim majority and the zealot extremist minority.
It is highly detrimental for Americans to unjustifiably hold a strongly negative view of a quarter of the planet’s inhabitants. It needs to become common knowledge in America that, as a scholar once put it, “terrorism is to Jihad what adultery is to marriage”, and that classical Islam – and not ‘no Islam’ – is the antidote to intolerance and extremism.
According to Gallup statistics, the majority of Muslims and half of the American public itself feels that the West does not respect the Muslim world, and Muslims feel that their faith has been singled out for disrespect under the guise of freedom of speech. When treated with justice and respect, the greater majority of the Muslim world is more than happy to peacefully co-exist in and develop a globalized world that recognizes and respects the religious and cultural particulars that exist in the world population.
In the Koran, a verse reads: “O Mankind, We have created you from a male and a female and We have made you into peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most pious and God-conscious.” In other words, the Qur’an teaches that the diversity of mankind is a Divinely ordained blessing.
In the verse immediately before that, believers are commanded to avoid suspicion when dealing with others. If America has extended the hand of friendship, then we too are to extend our hand, and, instead of wasting our energy analyzing invisible intentions, it would be more fruitful to see Muslims in the days to come articulating various ways in which we can cooperate with the U.S. on key universal issues like lowering unemployment and poverty rates worldwide, protecting human rights and the environment, and eradicating terrorism.
The Muslim world will wait and see how Obama will handle Palestine, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the withdrawal from Iraq. If he fails to get these issues right, Muslims will pay no attention to anything else he says or does. A prerequisite for peace is justice, and with regard to the Muslim world it is time that America sheds behind it what Noam Chomsky wittily called its ‘distorted morality’. No more occupation of any Muslim land can be justified under any name and for any reason. It needs to be made clear that the ‘theocon’ agenda of the past administration no longer represents the US: hopefully, unlike his predecessor, Obama does not think God talks directly to him. The hands-off policy with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to become a bad memory, and it would be nice if some memories of the Carter years were to be revived. Obama will give the talk. Then the Muslim world will wait to see America walk it.
If Americans truly adhere to core American values, and Muslims to core Muslim values, the world may very well travel a long way forward in a relatively short period of time.
Moez Masoud‘s popular show “Al-Tareeq Al-Sah” (The Right Way) is watched by millions of people across the Arab world. His institute’s documentary and musical productions air regularly and top the charts. He was recently named the most influential religious figure in Egypt for 2008.