Obama and the Bitternessof Facts on the Ground

I wanted to share in the enthusiasm of those who applauded for Obama when he delivered his speech in Cairo. I admit that I tried, in moments of naïve, wishful thinking, to convince myself that some statements in the address might imply a major change in American politics toward the Arab and Islamic world.

I remembered that any Arab or Muslim being taught history in a Western university might have been shocked upon hearing that history moves from the Classical Ages, which ended with the fall of Rome in the fifth century AD, to the Dark Ages, which ended when the Age of Enlightenment began in the 17th century, with no mention of Islamic civilization. Not mentioned is Islamic civilization, which carried the flame of human civilization throughout Europe’s Dark Ages – without whose light the Enlightenment in Europe would never have been kindled to lead the way out of deep lethargy to the Renaissance.

I said to myself: “At last, a president of the leading Western nation has come to set that thankless history right and to admit – for the first time – that Islamic civilization enlightened vast areas of the world, while the West was sunk in the ages of deepest darkness.”

I said to myself: “At last, there is a president – of the nation that, for decades, has been and continues to be a fundamental obstacle to Palestinians practicing their right to self-determination in their homeland – who acknowledges that the plight of this people did not start in 1967, and that their suffering from displacement, homelessness and deprivation of national dignity, security and peace began more than 60 years ago.”

While I heard him talking about John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, I said to myself: “Perhaps this new American president wishes to rebuild his country’s 21st century foreign policy along the lines and principles set by early founders back in the 18th century, after the signing of the Treaty of Tripoli. Morocco had gone further than any other country in recognizing the new republic, when John Adams, the second president of the United States, declared that this new republic shall not be aggressive against the laws of Muslims nor to their religion or way of life.”

I had the opportunity to feel enthusiastic towards the nice and sometimes right words. But it is the nature of things that stubborn facts on the ground are stronger than any illusion. These facts raise questions no speech can answer.

Among these stubborn questions, from which no one can escape when listening to Obama’s speech, is that if he is really willing to establish relations of mutual respect and joint interests with Muslims, then why does the U.S. continue to imprison Muslims and torture them – different from [the treatment of] any other people in the world – in prisons spread all over the world, including those within Islamic countries, not only in Guantanamo, which he decided to close?

And why should Obama, according to U.S. newspapers, deprive detainees in the large prison in Bagram, Afghanistan of the right of habeas corpus? Why did he go back on his word to make documents and photos related to torture publicly available? Is it among the initiatives toward showing more respect for Muslims that he assigns suppressive Islamic governments the mission to torture Muslim detainees handed over to these governments, specifically for this reason?

Why do U.S. forces continue to occupy Islamic countries, killing civilians with unmanned aircraft? Why do they find it inappropriate to declare the number of civilians killed by hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why are a million and a half Palestinians in Gaza still living in a vast prison, deprived of the most basic needs of life? Why didn’t Mr. Obama say a word, before or after he was elected president, about incinerating children, women, and men – both Muslim and Christian – in Gaza, with U.S.-made white phosphorus bombs?

It is true that Obama is very different from Bush, because his image and speech, unlike those of Bush, do not endanger the nervous system of the viewer and listener, especially those who are Arab and Muslim. And it is true that he expressed his respect for Muslims and did not call for a crusade, as Bush did. But the bitter fact on the ground is that the U.S. still deploys troops in the Muslim world, with numbers 20 times greater than the number of troops deployed during the Crusades fought on Muslim lands in the 12th century.

Is it a sign of respecting Muslims to establish all those vast military bases, extending from Iraq to Afghanistan, and from the Arab Gulf to Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan?

The stubborn question that lingers in mind of one who listened to Obama’s speech about his respect for Muslims: Did he decide, after decades of looting and ransacking, to yield to the people of the region those oil resources and facilities extending from the Middle East to the Caspian Sea? Or does this overt respect for Muslims imply a covert intention to assign the mission of implementing the policies of the empire in the homeland of Islam to some local agents? I don’t mean to snub the sweetness of nice words and respectful phrases, but I deplore the bitterness of facts on the ground.

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