Barack Obama, Fear, and Islam

The day Barack Obama was elected, Nov 4th, just happens to mark the 29th anniversary of the Iran Hostage crises of 1979. It was a year when the whole world had its eyes fixed on the Middle East, as an uproar of nationalist and religious fervour took over Iran. Students poured into the American embassy in Teheran and laid seige to it until the hostages were eventually released.

Perhaps the West’s first major media obsession with Islam, it set the tone for further coverage for the past 30 years throughout 9/11, Iraq and the ongoing Is-Pal crisis. Pictures of the stern Khomeini, the masked Muslim mob, and angry gun-totting nikabs filled the television sets of the nightly new on ABC, NBC, CBS, etc…

Has the West changed its public opinion today? Hardly: the Bush administration has found it helpful to reuse the same types of sound bites and visual feeds to build upon that old fearfulness for his wars, Guantanamo Bay, and the Patriot Act. The results have been FOX News, a breach on civil liberties(1), international tension, and a LOT of dead people–innocent people. All of this created by a tapestry of lies and fear. The world divided over artificial lines and the pundits occasionally darken them with cries of a purported “clash of civilizations”(2).

Barack Obama, throughout his campaign, talks grandly about stopping the “politics of fear”. I’ve heard all his speeches, and no one can deny the quality of his political campaign. The rest of the world watches as if this is sport, but in the back of their heads they know what the effects of the US presidency can have on the world. At least he’s a decent fellow from afar, most people say. But so was Carter, and HIS record isn’t even clean. Far from it (3). So the challenge, besides a crippled economy and a melting planet, is if Obama can live up to his promise of stopping fear. If he can, analogues to Iraq will be difficult in the future. The Patriot Act and its international army of minions (4) will will have almost no illusions to stand on. The international community with its obscenely overlooked conventions and laws will not look upon the US through the lens of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and torture (that is, if you overlook the rest of US history).

Being a black president, symbolically anyway, refers back to black history in a way that mirrors the characterizations of Muslims today. In fact, both Muslims and black people share much in common: both hated at one point or another in history, both feared for manufactured reasons, and both accused of resisting via violence and more hatred. Will a black president understand?

America must not forget that hatred works both ways, that is, the laws of physics do apply. Fuck up a country, and you’ll feel the resistance (911). Yeah, people are like that. The Algerians fought the French for 130 years. Barack Obama, in all his purported glory, has a chance to withdraw from two wars, end the disproportionate suppourt for Israel, and scratch the Patriot Act. He will not fully do the first (wants to increase the surge in Afghanistan), will not do the second (have you seen his AIPAC speech?) and I can’t say whether or not he’ll do the third.

It looks like Obama needs the help of ordinary people like us after all. That this God of a man is actually restricted by his professional conditions. It seems that the people’s history of resistance isn’t irrelevant and must continue to exist for Obama to live up to his own verbiage.

(1)Sami Al-Arian for example.
(2)See Samuel Huntington’s “classic” of the same name.
(3)Gave Indonesia weapons to slaughter East Timoris, propped up puppet regime in Cambodia (and saying no debt was owed to Vietnam on the part of the US), and refusing to accept Haitian refugees under Baby Doc Duvalier.
(4)Anti-terror act in Canada for example. Similiar examples found in the Philippines and elsewhere.