The Muslim World Meets Obama, by Tariq Ramadan
Thursday 2 April 2009
In a recent article I discussed the critical role the European Union must play now that Barack Obama has assumed power in the United States. In order to make international politics truly multilateral, I argued, the European countries must exert an influence to match their fundamental responsibilities. In the predominantly Muslim countries of the Arab world and of Asia, we witness the same euphoria, a contagious “Obamania” in which the new “American Messiah” will act rapidly to solve their problems. Beyond the naivety of such expectations (American policy, after all, is quite distinct from the symbolic value of one man and of his skin color), it is imperative for us to re-examine our prospects, to distinguish our responsibilities from our hopes.
During a recent symposium on relations between the United States and the “Muslim World” held in Qatar, some one hundred delegates debated the complexities, the advantages and the ambiguous nature of these relations. Madeleine Albright, Barham Salih (Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister), General David Petraeus (former commander of US forces in Iraq) and Anwar Ibrahim (former Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition in Malaysia) participated in one of the meeting’s key panel discussions. Mr. Ibrahim was adamant: the glorification of Barack Obama, and expectations that accompany it, must end; predominantly Muslim societies must first put their houses in order. Ibrahim’s declaration was a welcome one: we must insist, loudly and clearly, that predominantly Muslim societies-in their domestic policy and local conflicts (from Palestine to Iraq and Afghanistan, including threats against Iran)-bear primary responsibility for their fate; for governments as well as peoples, the time has come to throw off the cloak of victimhood. Palestinians, Afghanis and Iraqis are victims of their aggressors, of course. But they are also the direct or “collateral” victims of the cowardice and hypocrisy of the States and governments that rule over predominantly Muslim societies.
Looking beyond the economic crisis now raging, these societies appear politically, intellectually and culturally paralyzed. Dictatorships, an absence of open debate, a creative deficit in the artistic and cultural fields (with the exception of two or three countries) are the rule. A powerful movement of genuine, far-reaching democratization must be set in motion if we truly seek to change the existing order, and bring about a reawakening in the “Muslim World”. Such a movement must be based on a wide-ranging struggle against the corruption that cuts across predominantly Muslim societies, from east to west. There can be no hope; nothing can be attained without basic transparency, without bringing an end to the privileges of a powerful elite, to cronyism, to bribery, to influence peddling, to the non-respect of institutions. But today’s Muslim World is fraught above all with the most stubborn form of corruption: the constant invocation of Islam and of Islamic ethics alongside the most hypocritical practices.
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