The relationships between the United States and the Muslims have been so damaged after eight years of the Bush administration that the whole world is now wondering: What Barack Obama is going to say to the Muslims? What should he say that could restore confidence and trust? It might be necessary to analyse the main causes of the deep mistrust we find today, not only in the Muslim majority countries, but among the African, Asian and Western Muslims as well. For decades, and especially since the 11th September 2001, the Muslims around the world are getting disturbing messages from the States in both their substance and their form.

The former President George W. Bush was perceived as aggressive, often arrogant, narrow-minded and even deaf when he had to tackle Islamic issues and matters related to the Muslim majority countries or the Middle East. Beyond his words of respect, Muslims always kept in mind his first spontaneous religious references and words mentioning the “crusades” and the “axis of evil”. The “war on terror”, the bombing of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, the lies about the weapons of mass destruction, the extraordinary renditions and the revealed tortures are cumulative elements testifying that the Muslims’ lives and dignity seemed to be of almost no value. Beyond the Bush’s rhetoric, his administration showed neither respect nor any sense of justice towards the Muslims, and its blind and unilateral support of Israel was and added testimony.

Barack Obama has this legacy to reverse. During his campaign he had to repeat several times that he is not a Muslim as if it was still a problem per se for the American society to be a Muslim, as Colin Powell once aptly put it. So it may be that the first thing one may expect is for President Barack Obama to deliver a message to the Muslims, the substance of which he is ready to bring back home. Talking to the Muslims, Barack Obama should talk to the United States and the West for the scares of mistrust are deep and critical. Obama has been very smart and cautious in delivering his political messages during the first months of his presidency: he has been working on discourses and symbols. He repeatedly expressed his respect towards Islam and the Muslims, announcing the closure of Guantanamo and cessation of torture and even by being tougher towards the Israeli Government regarding the settlements. These are positive steps one should not deny.

Yet, symbols and speeches are not enough. What we can expect from the new President is a change in attitude as well as effective and necessary actions to be taken. Humility is a key factor. In our global age, the United States might still be the most powerful nation in the world but it has not the monopoly of the good and the right. To be open to the world starts by being open to all the civilisations and by acknowledging the potential positive contribution of every religion and culture. Islam is a great civilization and Barack Obama should bring a true and deep message of respect by announcing that we all have to learn from each other and that he will commit himself to spread a better knowledge of cultural and religious diversity in the United States itself. Humility means we all have to learn from one another and American should be ready to learn from Islam and the Muslims as well as from the Hindus or the Buddhists. Paradoxically, how Obama intends to deal with education and religious diversity at home will be the true indicator of his real policy towards Islam and the Muslims in the world.

No civilization can claim to have the monopoly of the universal values and no one can claim to be always faithful to his own values. President Obama must stress on the ideal values and human rights the United States stands for but he has also to acknowledge the mistakes, the failures and the contradictions when it comes to their implementation. The lack of consistency is a global weakness shared by all the nations. The best way for the President to be heard when he calls for human rights, democratisation and announces the start of a new era with the Muslims would be to start by being constructively self critical and acknowledging that the US can do– and are going to do – much better in respecting the values they stand for and implementing just policies towards the Muslim world as well as the poor countries. This humble attitude based on the imperative duty of consistency is not a position of weakness but the exact opposite: hence, he can remind the leaders as well as the ordinary Muslims of their own contradictions and duties. Only a consistent and self critical US President can remind the Muslims that they have to act against corruption, extremism, dictatorships, lack of educational policies, discriminations towards women and poor people, etc., and to be heard with a minimum of trust.

Muslims are waiting for actions and they know from experience (with the States as well as with their own governments) that politicians are good at words. Barack Obama has a very special status today in the world and especially in the Muslim world. He is one of the only US President who has both the background and the capacity to be more than only a symbol spreading around beautiful words. It would be sad to lose this historical opportunity and one is hoping he has a vision and a step by step efficient strategy for his country and the world. On the domestic issues, when it comes to discrimination, security, immigration and equal opportunities, Barack Obama, must help us to forget that he is an African-American by promoting equal rights and justice. At the international level he should help us to forget that his father was a Muslim by refusing to be shy or apologetic and respect the right of both the individual and the populations in Palestine, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, etc. The message he is to send to the Muslims should come from a President positioning himself beyond specific colour and religious belonging with humility, consistency and respect. While delivering his speech he should make it clear that after many years of deafness in Washington, he has eventually heard them.



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