The entire globe is anxiously awaiting the Muslim world’s reaction to President Obama’s recent speech in Cairo, Egypt. The Islamic Information Center commends President Obama for taking the initiative to address the Muslim world in a productive manner. News reports have examined whether Muslims will accept his words and thus accept the new political philosophy espoused by the Obama administration. The truth is, however, that by and large each Muslim will likely have two simple reactions to the President’s speech: the first of which is that the President has made some truly wonderful remarks, and within his speech has demonstrated his respect for the Muslim people and the Islamic faith. He made references to the Holy Book of Islam, the Qur’an, he honored the rights of Muslims in America and around the world, and he vowed to move forward with mutual respect. The second likely reaction from Muslims will be based in pragmatism. The Muslim world is very familiar with the concept of verbal gestures of friendship, but as the President recognized, “no single speech” can change the world situation. Accordingly, while Muslims will react positively to the speech, eyes around the world will be watching for a change in policy.
A change in policy regarding Arab monarchies and dictatorships is something Muslims will watch closely. It is a sad reality that there are a great many Arab governments that regularly oppress their native Muslim populations, especially along sectarian lines, in addition to other minority non-Muslim groups. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen actively persecute large segments of their populations, most often the sizeable Shia communities, as well as other Christian and Jewish minorities, in the name of fabricated sectarian ideologies, (that are not based in Islam). Despite this, the United States remains a proud friend of the Saudi Royal Family, has signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement with Bahrain, and has made Yemen an ally in the Bush administration’s “War on Terror”. Obviously, these ties were developed well before President Obama came into office, but it is time to deal with the present and prepare for the future.
While Muslims welcome President Obama’s gestures of friendship and mutual respect, platonic relationships with oppressive governments will only exacerbate the current situation. What most Muslims realize – and unfortunately Western analysts sometimes gloss over – is that it is primarily the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen that are the sources of extremism, inter-sectarian tensions, and hostility towards the United States. What Muslims want from the White House is an end to support for governments that harm their own populations, whether they are Muslim or not, and whether it is militarily expedient or not. It should also be noted that Osama Bin Laden was born and raised in Saudi Arabia’s capitol city of Riyadh, maintained bases and training centers in Yemen, and used the Bahrain International Bank to allocate funding for terrorist purposes. The Muslim world knows that bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban are engaging in a war of cowardice and desperation, that these governments contribute to this problem, and that leadership on this issue from President Obama would go a long way in gaining widespread support amongst the Muslim victims of terrorism around the world.
Muslims will respond well to the President’s extensive knowledge of Islam and the history behind various conflicts. President Obama’s speech notably included mention of the need for ensuring that Muslims in America have the ability to fulfill their religious duties, such as the Islamic concept of zakaat, or charity, and the verses he selected from the Holy Qur’an show a genuine interest in dialogue, neither of which will go unnoticed by the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. Yet as much as Muslims will appreciate his words, and raise their hopes for a brighter future, they will accordingly expect new policies to reflect the President’s words.