An Open Muslim Letter to President Obama
Dear Mr. President,
The election is over. America has again given you a historic chance to effect change. Four years ago, you came to power with a promise toshake up Washington. This promise has largely remained unfulfilled. Yet the American people have still remained gracious and patient enough to give you the benefit of the doubt. They have offered you a chance to finish the unfinished business of the first term.
With your experience as the head of an influential, powerful and critically important nation, the American people expect you to step up to the plate with vision and foresight. They expect you to serve America and to lead the world to a much better place.
Four years ago, many of us wrote you letters of support that contained suggestions. We feel that these suggestions have largely fallen on deaf ears. Muslim Americans played a critical role in the last election. In many swing states, they may have made a critical difference in this historic victory. Many of them have prayed and worked as volunteers so that you could remain victorious. We hope you will not let us down this time.
Reducing the Wealth Divide – As Well as All Other Divides
Many advocacy groups for disadvantaged voices – poor people, minorities, women, youth – gave you the vote this time. They gave you the vote four years ago as well.
In the past, American citizens felt that they could reach their potential, irrespective of their wealth, color, or origin. But in recent years, this ‘American dream’ has been robbed from a huge segment of the population. The ‘dream’ has been threatened by many difficulties – high unemployment, unfair concentrations of wealth, and an increasingly worrying connection between money and politics alongside other difficulties. Enthusiasm has dwindled into frustration among many groups of Americans. Day by day, they have witnessed special interests attempting to steal their future.
Under your leadership, your administration could set an example for correcting injustice in politics. You could help to balance the budget and address the approaching debt catastrophe. You could help to reduce the influence of big money on politics, and you could help to promote more fair tax laws for corporations and the financial services sector.
In addition, you could cut military spending without compromising America’s security and defense. Security and defense depend not only on military spending, but also on healthy societies and vibrant economies that maintain diplomatic relationships with rest of the world. Contrast this attitude with some of the more confrontational American policies in the past that have increasingly made America more vulnerable. Enormous military spending has contributed towards an increasing wealth divide, a budget deficit, and belligerent posturing with consequent antagonism throughout many parts of the world. Wisdom must work with power in order to remain effective and beneficial.
Power AND Wisdom in Diplomacy
Your leadership must help to reduce extreme inequality and injustice everywhere – not only in America, but also across the world. We have reached a risky and critical time. More than seven billion people on earth are struggling to share limited resources. Higher demand on the earth’s resources has led to unprecedented economic and social volatility. If America’s power could be used in a more effective manner, our leadership could play a vital role in bringing stability to an increasingly interconnected yet conflicted planet.
In this increasingly globalized society, national security does not depend on military strength alone. For example, America’s successes have often come from diplomatic initiatives rather than military engagements. Diplomatic undertakings such as détente in the 1970s with the Soviets as well as Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 opened the floodgates towards more constructive engagements with these archrivals finally ending the Cold War. These visionary diplomatic initiatives regained much goodwill and leadership worldwide – which was quite an achievement considering that it had nearly been lost in the proxy wars pursuing ‘containment policies’ of previous years. Similar visionary leadership is needed to reach out to ‘enemy’ parties such as Iran, Hezbollah, and Taliban forces in order to promote change these days.
Reaching Out More Effectively to Muslims
If the Obama administration wants to heal the great divide between the United States and Muslim-majority societies, it must break away with the past and launch a new visionary agenda. This region of the world must not be downplayed as backwards or irreconcilable with Western countries, as has often occurred before in Washington. In fact, this region is vital to America’s national interest. Muslims constitute majorities in fifty six countries that control three-fourth of the world’s oil wealth. If the Obama administration attempts to reconcile a few ‘sticking points’ that inflame tension between the United States and these regions, it can do a lot to decrease a longstanding confrontation.
One of the most important ‘elephants in the room’ in this region involves the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Unless and until American leadership addresses this problem as a truly impartial peace broker, America will continually lose its credibility in the eyes of Muslim-majority societies. In its second term, your administration has an excellent opportunity to take a bold stand required in order to break the stalemate and to bring about peace in that long-torn land. Israel’s colonialist demands, occupation of lands by force, and often-inhuman repression against Palestinian people, ruthless bombing and killing civilians all go against the fundamental principles on which America was founded.
Rather than making assumption about beliefs of individuals in this region, we must recognize and appreciate diversity. Young generations of Muslim-majority societies are much more pluralistic than the media might suggest, and by and large they believe in peaceful coexistence. Moreover, it is against the interests and welfare of 15 million Jewish people in the world to engage in an antagonistic and distrustful relationship with over one billion Muslims. Jews, Christians and Muslims lived together peacefully in the region for over 1300 years before the establishment of Israel in 1948 – as they do in many other nations. Your administration must reach out to game-changing voices in order to bring forth a feasible solution to conflicts such as these. Without true effort on your part, Muslim-majority societies will continue to distrust America.
If America retained the goodwill and trust that Muslim-majority societies felt for the nation prior before the Cold War, America would have attained many of its goals at a fraction of the price. It is never a good idea to maintain an antagonistic and confrontational relationship with one-fifth of humanity. Mr. President, you must tear down this ‘wall’ between America and Muslim-majority societies. You must reach out to transformational groups in the region – youth and women especially – in order to pursue a better path for the region as a whole.
In light of recent uprisings, your leadership should support and assist Muslim-majority societies in the establishment of good governance. One cannot establish peace, justice, and progress in places like Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, and Bangladesh without due process or the rule of law. In order to achieve these goals, the Obama administration must pressure elites as well as the military leaders to govern in a more democratic and open-minded manner. It is counterproductive and dangerous to simply pour taxpayer money into the militaries and elites of other countries. Additionally, we must encourage grassroots local leaders rather than simply throwing money at expensive and inefficient foreign aid programs. In this historic transition period in the Middle East and North Africa, your administration can do a lot to encourage the democratic transition process. We must focus on win-win scenarios rather than maintenance of the current status quo.
Integration: Promoting People-to-People Engagements
Only powerful transnational alliances among civil societies – involving people from different ethnicities, places, and perspectives – can bring about a decisive resolution to conflicts bred by special interests. You should encourage civil society leaders in America to spearhead such transnational people-to-people movements.
As one example of multicultural bridge-building, the Obama administration could engage more diligently in community forums with expatriate groups from around the world that consistently lobby their Congresspersons on issues in their countries. For instance, organizations of Egyptian Americans know a ton about building political consensus in Egypt. Afghan Americans have immense interest in building culturally competent humanitarian relief programs in Afghanistan. And Muslim Americans, of course, know how to bridge the gap between Islam and democracy when talking to Muslims around the world. If the Obama administration really wants to connect with Muslim-majority communities around the world, it must explore these avenues to the fullest.
The greatness of America does not lie in its military power or wealth. Rather, it lies in its success in integration of diverse immigrant peoples through an impartial rule of law. This rule of law is based on the fundamental principles of human nature: liberty, dignity and equality of all human beings. The secret of our national success ultimately depends on compliance with these principles of our nation. We have done much to support these principles throughout our history – but we have also done much to tear them down.
We can only hope that we stay on the right path, as many regional and global conflicts that we are intimately involved in are becoming increasingly confrontational and dangerous to human security. Being the superpower in our time, America should set the trend for the higher path rather, by promoting increased cooperation and greater alliances throughout the world. As the President of the United States for the next four years, we hope that you will make your choices based on the famous saying “the greatest good for the greatest number of people.” As Muslims and as citizens of the world, we earnestly request that you take the steps needed to make a critical difference in our time.