OBAMA WINS, MUSLIMS DIVIDED
By Dr. Daniel Pipes
Barack Hussein in Arabic means "the blessing of Hussein." In Persian, Obama translates as "He [is] with us." Thus does the name of the presumptive American President-Elect, when combined with his physical attributes and geography, suggest that the End of Times is nigh – precisely what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been predicting. Back down on earth, the Muslim reaction to Obama's victory is more mixed than one might expect.
American Islamists are delighted; an umbrella group, the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Election, opined that, with Obama's election, "Our nation has … risen to new majestic heights." Siraj Wahhaj, Al-Hajj Talib Abdur Rashid, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Circle of North America, and the Muslim Alliance in North America responded with similar exuberance.
Hamas, and Islamist movements in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines delighted in Obama's election. Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch generalizes that jihadists and Islamic supremacists worldwide showed "unalloyed joy." The New York Times finds public reaction in the Middle East mostly "euphoric." John Esposito of Georgetown University emphasizes the Muslim world's welcome to Obama as an "internationalist president."
But plenty of other Muslims have other views. Writing in Canada's Edmonton Sun, Salim Mansur found John McCain the "more worthy candidate." Yusif al-Qaradawi, the Al-Jazeera sheikh, endorsed McCain for opposite reasons: "This is because I prefer the obvious enemy who does not hypocritically [conceal] his hostility toward you … to the enemy who wears a mask [of friendliness]." Al-Qaradawi also argued that twice as many Iraqis died during Bill Clinton's two administrations than during George W. Bush's.
For tactical reasons, the influential Sunni sheikh Yusif al-Qaradawi wanted John McCain to win.
Iran's hardliners also favored a McCain victory (according to Iran's former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi) "because they benefit more from enmity with the U.S., which allows them to rally the Islamic world behind their policies and, at the same time, suppress dissent at home." The Taliban took note of Obama's election promise to increase U.S. troops in Afghanistan, warning that, should he fulfill this plan, "jihad and resistance will be continued."
Iraqis are intensively divided about Obama's plan quickly to withdraw U.S. troops from their country. That plan, plus promises to end U.S. dependence on Middle East oil and to negotiate with Iranian leaders, rattled the leaders of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf governments.
Some commentators argue that Obama cannot make a real difference; an Iranian newspaper declares him unable to alter a system "established by capitalists, Zionists, and racists." Predictably, the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Obama's White House Chief of Staff confirmed Palestinian perceptions of an omnipotent Israel lobby. A commentator in the United Arab Emirates went further, predicting Obama's replication of Jimmy Carter's trajectory of flamboyant emergence, failure in the Middle East, and electoral defeat.
In all, these mixed reactions from Muslims suggest puzzlement at the prospect of a U.S. president of Islamic origins who promises "change," yet whose foreign policy may buckle under the constraints of his office. In other words, Muslims confront the same question mark hanging over Obama as everyone else:
Never before have Americans voted into the White House a person so unknown and enigmatic. Emerging from a Hard-Left background, he ran, especially in the general election, mostly as a Center-Left candidate. Which of these positions will he adopt as U.S. President? More precisely, where along the spectrum from Hard-Left to Center-Left will he land?
Looking at the Arab-Israeli conflict, for example, will Obama's policies reflect Rashid Khalidi, the ex-PLO flak he befriended in the 1990s, or Dennis Ross, his recent campaign advisor and member of my board of editors? No one can yet say.
Still, one can predict. Should Obama return to his Hard-Left roots, Muslim euphoria will largely continue. Should he seek to make his Presidency a success by moving to the Center-Left, many – but hardly all – Muslims will experience severe disillusionment.
© Daniel Pipes 2008
Originally Published in the Philadelphia Bulletin, November 12, 2008
Republished with the Permission of Daniel Pipes
Reprinted from the Daniel Pipes Mailing List, November 12, 2008
Article URL: http://www.danielpipes.org/article/6017
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Dr. Daniel Pipes, a Ph.D. in Islamic History (Harvard University, 1978), is the Founder and Director of the Middle East Forum, the Founder of Campus Watch, a signatory of the Project for the New American Century, a former board member of the U.S. Institute of Peace, a former adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Golden Circle supporter of the U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon, a former member of the U.S. Department of Defense Special Task Force on Terrorism and Technology, and a former lecturer at the U.S. Naval War College, Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Pipes was the Director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute from 1986 to 1993.
Author or co-author of eighteen books, Dr. Pipes is a regular columnist for Front Page Magazine, the New York Sun, and the Jerusalem Post. His analyses of world trends and of forces and developments in the Middle East have appeared in numerous North American newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He frequently appears on American network television, as well as at universities and think tanks, to discuss the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamist threat to the U.S.A. and the West. He also has appeared on BBC and Al Jazeera, and has lectured in approximately twenty-five countries.
Dr. Pipes is a Polish-American Jew whose parents fled Poland in 1939, immigrated to the U.S.A., and assimilated well into
American society and culture. His father is Richard Pipes, an American historian specializing in Russian and Soviet history
and serving as Professor of History at Harvard University from 1950 until his retirement in 1996. During the Cold War, the
worldview of Richard Pipes was strongly anti-Soviet and anti-Communist.
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