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Only in America

November 08, 2008


AS much of the world celebrated Barack Obama`s victory on Nov 4, I received a summary of a khutba, or address, at a mosque in Baltimore by Kaukab Siddique. As this missive was carried on a website that claims to be America`s biggest Islamic site, I assume many people read it.

I am including a few excerpts here to give readers a flavour of the kind of thinking that informs many educated Muslims living in America

“Look at the people who are PLANNING, ORGANISING, IMPLEMENTING and FUNDING the campaign of the new `saviour`. All of them, at the national level, are Zionist Jews.

“He [Obama] came from a racially oppressed minority but are there any black leaders in KEY positions in his campaign? None! Not one!

“He is preparing for a bigger war than Bush and is openly talking of crushing the Islamic resistance in Afghanistan and is boasting of going into Pakistan and `getting` Osama bin Laden. This is a recipe for disaster. If Bush, with a much larger army and a very aggressive policy could not `get` Osama, what makes this man think he can do it.
“Muslims, including those who are planning to come here and become Americans, should realise that if they do not have an Islamic programme, they will be shattered by what the forces of evil are doing to America.

“There is much good in America but there is also evil. When we came here, we could not have known that homosexuality will be legitimised and adultery and fornication will be glorified. The price we have to pay for coming here is that we lose our children to a way of life which defies all decency and morality, be it Muslim or Christian. Zionism is strangling the soul of this nation....

“Making overtures to the campaigns of the Democrats and the Republicans is spiritual suicide. When the mass culture is controlled from coast to coast by forces hostile to Islam and all decency, the conservative forms of religiosity cannot save us, our families or our children....

“We cannot survive as Muslims by becoming part of the system which is strangling the soul of this nation. We must organise, mobilise and act OUTSIDE the power structure. Stay away from the oppressors who rule here and reach out to the people....”

Advising Muslims to remain outside the society they have chosen to migrate to is a recipe for marginalisation and seclusion. Indeed, what Mr Siddique is saying to his congregation is the message many other Muslim leaders in the West are conveying to those foolish enough to follow them.

Over the years, many English friends have asked me why Muslims choose to live in England if they hate its civilisation and values so much. I have been unable to offer any convincing reply as I don`t understand this phenomenon myself. But surely, even people like Mr Kaukab Siddique should be able to see the significance and transformative power of the recent American election.

As Barack Obama`s stunning victory has proved, America remains a vibrant democracy that renews itself and evolves. Unlike so many Muslim societies, it is not stagnant and unresponsive to changing circumstances. These are the societies millions have fled to make a better life for their children. Mr Siddique`s khutba would have been more convincing had he been able to offer an example of a Muslim state that gives its citizens greater opportunities, security and peace of mind than the United States.

A couple of days ago, I got roped into a televised discussion on the American election. Two of my four panellists kept saying that Obama`s win would change nothing for Pakistan. But surely the American election was not about us. Pakistan only figured as an issue because it is a focal point of Islamic terrorism. Obviously, any American president will be guided by national interests.

As Obama has already said, he would authorise strikes within our borders if bin Laden was located, and our forces were unable or unwilling to take him out. Beyond that, he has supported a renewed American engagement to help India and Pakistan solve the Kashmir problem. In addition, he has promised to make more funds available for economic and social development, changing the focus from Bush`s almost exclusive military aid. These are all changes in emphasis that should be welcomed, instead of being the subject of anti-American whingeing and carping that have come to characterise our chattering classes.

Obama`s victory speaks volumes for the distance American society has travelled in a single generation. While much of the world has been appalled by the arrogance and bullying displayed by the Bush administration these last eight years, most foreigners who have spent time in the United States are aware that this is not the true face of America. This is a country that has welcomed millions of immigrants over the years, and in the process of assimilation has become transformed.

The reality is that the Obama story could not have happened anywhere else in the world. Where else would a relatively unknown politician from a minority community be elected to the highest office in the land? Certainly not in any European democracy. And while Obama`s victory might have finally closed the chapter of slavery and discrimination in America, the struggle for equal rights has not ended. Nevertheless, this momentous occasion does mean that all Americans, irrespective of their colour or creed, can now dream of following Obama`s path.

Many fundamentalists oppose elections on the grounds that it is somehow `un-Islamic` and urge other Muslims to boycott the democratic process. The convoluted logic they base this argument on is beyond me, but the reality is that they are aware that they would be rejected by voters if they did try to fight an election. So rather than waging a losing battle, they try to discredit the whole process. And they justify their murder of civilians by saying that their victims are not really innocent as they voted for the government against which these fanatics are waging their jihad.
This is the mindset we have to contend with, but hopefully Obama will bring a more nuanced approach to bear when he is facing these people. While Bush recruited more foot soldiers for his enemies through his crude and ignorant tactics, we can hope that Obama will heal some of the wounds his predecessor has inflicted on the world, and on America`s image abroad.