Thursday, 22 January 2009

Obama Inaugural speech: A promise of serious change or was it rhetorics of the same?

Barack Obama has been officially sworn in as the 44th president of the United States in front of a crowd of millions in Washington DC, the US capital.

In his Inauguration speech he promises "mutual respect" to the Muslim world and all other nations who “seek a future of peace and dignity”.

Does his speech reflect promises of a serious change or was it nothing more but rhetorics of the same of his predecessor?

The friendly message to Muslims, "a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect", simply did not address the pictures of the Gaza bloodbath at which the world has been staring in outrage, writes Independent journalist Robert Fisk .

“..it would have helped if Obama had the courage to talk about what everyone in the Middle East was talking about.”


Robert Fisk: So far, Obama's missed the point on Gaza...

Thursday, 22 January 2009

It would have helped if Obama had the courage to talk about what everyone in the Middle East was talking about. No, it wasn't the US withdrawal from Iraq. They knew about that. They expected the beginning of the end of Guantanamo and the probable appointment of George Mitchell as a Middle East envoy was the least that was expected. Of course, Obama did refer to "slaughtered innocents", but these were not quite the "slaughtered innocents" the Arabs had in mind.

There was the phone call yesterday to Mahmoud Abbas. Maybe Obama thinks he's the leader of the Palestinians, but as every Arab knows, except perhaps Mr Abbas, he is the leader of a ghost government, a near-corpse only kept alive with the blood transfusion of international support and the "full partnership" Obama has apparently offered him, whatever "full" means. And it was no surprise to anyone that Obama also made the obligatory call to the Israelis.

But for the people of the Middle East, the absence of the word "Gaza" – indeed, the word "Israel" as well – was the dark shadow over Obama's inaugural address. Didn't he care? Was he frightened? Did Obama's young speech-writer not realise that talking about black rights – why a black man's
father might not have been served in a restaurant 60 years ago – would concentrate Arab minds on the fate of a people who gained the vote only three years ago but were then punished because they voted for the wrong people? It wasn't a question of the elephant in the china shop. It was the sheer amount of corpses heaped up on the floor of the china shop.

Sure, it's easy to be cynical. Arab rhetoric has something in common with Obama's clich├ęs: "hard work and honesty, courage and fair play ... loyalty and patriotism". But however much distance the new President put between himself and the vicious regime he was replacing, 9/11 still hung like a cloud over New York. We had to remember "the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke". Indeed, for Arabs, the "our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred" was pure Bush; the one reference to "terror", the old Bush and Israeli fear word, was a worrying sign that the new White House still hasn't got the message. Hence we had Obama, apparently talking about Islamist groups such as the Taliban who were "slaughtering innocents" but who "cannot outlast us". As for those in the speech who are corrupt and who "silence dissent", presumably intended to be the Iranian government, most Arabs would associate this habit with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt (who also, of course, received a phone call from Obama yesterday), King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and a host of other autocrats and head-choppers who are supposed to be America's friends in the Middle East.

Hanan Ashrawi got it right. The changes in the Middle East – justice for the Palestinians, security for the Palestinians as well as for the Israelis, an end to the illegal building of settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land, an end to all violence, not just the Arab variety – had to be "immediate" she said, at once. But if the gentle George Mitchell's appointment was meant to answer this demand, the inaugural speech, a real "B-minus" in the Middle East, did not.

The friendly message to Muslims, "a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect", simply did not address the pictures of the Gaza bloodbath at which the world has been staring in outrage. Yes, the Arabs and many other Muslim nations, and, of course, most of the world, can rejoice that the awful Bush has gone. So, too, Guantanamo. But will Bush's torturers and Rumsfeld's torturers be punished? Or quietly promoted to a job where they don't have to use water and cloths, and listen to men screaming? Continue here ...



6 comments:

pemerhati said...

Barack Obama's failure to refer directly to the war on Gaza has left some in Arab world sceptical.

While there is hope he will adopt a more neutral stance in the Arab-Israeli conflict, many believe he simply does not have the power to change the course of US foreign policy.

muslimah said...

He cannot be expected to make bold decisions especially with regards to issue on Palestine. That will be an act of betrayal in the eyes of Israel, the US’ strongest ally in the region. He won't dare to offend Israel.

Didn’t he choose to ignore Muslims in his election campaign? Nothing can be expected to change in his presidency for Muslims!

And now that Hilary Clinton, a stauch supporter of Israel, has been appointed the State Secretary, it will be the same of the old.

Anonymous said...

I had a hard time finding all the search engine sites to submit my blog url. I have made a list.
Here is a great list of url submission sites.

matt said...

Come on. Give him a chance, man. He is no messiah. He is facing a huge mess left by Bush's reign, both domestically and externally.

But I wish him well.

Good luck Mr. President, the world is waiting to see good old-fashioned diplomacy once again!

Anonymous said...

It is heartening that he wasted no time & went straight to work on the second day after taking office by putting the Middle East conflict top of his foreign policy agenda.

matt says: Come on. Give him a chance, man. He is no messiah.

Fair enough but his speech on the appointment of mitchell as the US envoy to the middle east followed a “familiar path” – that Israel has the right to self defense.

Understandably Hama’s response to that is: Obama’s seeing it “through Israel’s eyes”.

What the Palestinians want for the US to find the cause of the problem/conflict...that is the occupation of their land and have Israel out of both Gaza & the West bank.

Until that is done, no amount of diplomacy can solve the conflict.

lkh said...

President Obama has promised many things during the election campaign and in his inaugural address.

We will have to wait to see whether he has the personal strength and political power to actually deliver what he promised to do.

It's too soon to judge him.