Wednesday, January 27, 2010
What Arabs and Muslims hope for from President Obama's speech tonight
American Arabs and Muslims on hopes for Obama
By Ray Hanania
President Barack Obama tonight delivers his State of the Union address, as he rounds the end of his first year in office.
I brought the topic up on my radio show “Radio Chicagoland”and also discussed it on NPR and a few other programs around the country.
What are Arab and Muslim Americans expecting from Obama? And what do they hope for?
Obama is from Chicago, so he is a familiar face to me where I have covered politics as a journalist for more than 33 years. We always knew he was inspirational as a speaker, but we also knew that his inspirational chatter doesn’t always deliver in legislation.
He was a so-so member of the Illinois Senate, close friend of several slippery Chicagoland Arab American activists and as a U.S. Senator, he was a celebrity more than an effective leader driving through important legislation to help his state, Illinois.
But everyone wants inspiration, especially after the tragedy of eight years under former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney – who I call “the anti-Christ” in my standup comedy routine, reflecting his vicious policies that have driven America into near economic ruin. Of course, to be honest, that is very unfair to the anti-Christ.
Obama delivered inspiration. Sometimes that’s all we need to restore confidence, hope and rejuvenate our efforts towards justice.
But there were problems and many Arab American especially recognized those problems right away.
No one pushed Obama to “get tough” with Israel, but Obama did it demanding that Israel’s rightwing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who could change, maybe) that the expansion of illegal settlements must change.
Well, we all know how that car crash ended. Netanyahu snubbed his nose at Obama and he is still expanding illegal settlements, undermining Middle East peace and fueling continued conflict there.
But it was Obama’s speech to the “Muslim” World that set off many Arabs. The Middle East conflict is NOT a Muslim issue, although Muslims are a large part of the conflict. It is a secular problem involving Arabs who are only a small percentage of the World’s Muslim community. In fact, Arab Muslims are a minority in the Islamic World just as Christian Arabs are a minority in the Arab World.
So when Obama, who has experience in the Muslim World and a Muslim father, characterized his speech as being to the “Muslim World,” many secular Arabs were concerned that maybe Obama doesn’t even understand the fundamentals of the Middle East conflict. So, how can he resolve the problems there?
It’s not a unique problem for Obama. It is an American problem. When the nation’s first daily Islamic radio program launched several years back, it received national media coverage.
When the nation’s first daily Arab radio program launched two years later, the media ignored it.
Worse in all this are Obama’s non-Middle East troubles.
How can you expect President Obama to resolve the Middle East conflict when he can’t even control his own party of Democrats? Nor can he get even a fundamental package through to give universal healthcare to all Americans, something most other world nations that don’t claim to be the “leader of the Free World” offer to their own citizens.
It is, after all, only Obama’s first year. But it is a good lesson in the damage one can cause by giving people expectations that are too high and maybe unreasonable. Unreasoned expectations, apparently, are the fruit of inspirational speeches.
What does he need to do? Listeners to my radio show, Arabs and mainstream Americans across the board seem agreed on this:
He can put his foot down and challenge Israel’s Netanyahu. Freezing settlements is a simple act that Israel could easily do if the government there genuinely supported peace.
Obama could also get tough on the rebels in the Democratic Party and among Republicans in districts with strong Democratic votes.
Why did Obama allow U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman to retain his perqs and committee chairmanships after Lieberman torpedoed Obama’s health care reform legislation? Lieberman opposes “government run healthcare” in the United States, but not in Israel a foreign country where Lieberman spends most of his Senatorial efforts to help.
Obama should get tough. Legislators who refuse to support his programs should be punished, not rewarded or allowed to retain their leadership positions.
But the bottom line is this. Despite all of his failings, Barack Obama is a far better president than Bush ever was.
And in American politics, it is not about “who is the best.” Politics is sadly only about “who is better.”
- - Ray Hanania hosts America’s only morning daily Arab American radio show, www.RadioChicagoland.com. This column first appeared at PalestineNote.com