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What Does Obama Hold for Muslims?

In his Second Term
By Micah Shapiro
Freelance Journalist
George-W-Bush-and-Barack-Obama
For some, the last four years pose of countless failures by Obama in falling short of ending Bush's endeavors.
What Does Obama Hold for Muslims?

Obama walked away from the presidential campaign victorious, in a heated election which comprised of an ever growing sense of discouragement among people in their presidential choices.  More Americans have come to the conclusion that they are voting for the “lesser of two evils.” This view may correlate with early reports stating overall voter turnout is lower than in 2008, and in many states lower than 2004.

It can be speculated that some of Obama's shortcomings were in result of avoiding changes to already established protocols, which could have jeopardized reelection. The next four years will better reflect Obama's true stance on existing issues, and hopefully provide more vigor to make necessary changes. Whether he will pursue interests which he may have truly desired to implement in his first term or confirm he has no such ambitions after all, a clearer picture of where Obama is heading should emerge over the course of the next few months or year.

Disappointment among American and foreign anti-war activists, progressives, and Muslims is especially evident.  Their views of the last four years pose of countless failures by Obama in falling short of ending Bush's endeavors, and in many cases even expanding upon them. Foreign Policy magazine went as far as stating that "Barack Obama has become George W. Bush on steroids." 

Obama’s Challenge at Home: US Muslims

Obama's May 2011 renewal of the Patriot Act just minutes before its midnight expiration was seen as the ultimate betrayal to many Muslims and non-Muslims.

A survey conducted by a research firm for the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) stated that 66 percent of American Muslims felt they aligned closer to the Democrat's party over the Republicans. However, the survey also pointed out that more than half of American Muslims did not believe the Democrat's party was friendly towards Muslims. Astonishingly, 25 percent of American Muslims were not sure who they would vote for around election time, which clearly demonstrates Obama's failure to address Muslim concerns positively.

Aside from overseas ventures, domestic spying at home is likely a huge factor that has inflicted mistrust between Muslims and the Obama Administration. Obama's May 2011 renewal of the Patriot Act, just minutes before its midnight expiration, was seen as the ultimate betrayal to many Muslims and non-Muslims.

With an influx of non-Muslim Americans who are also concerned with these issues and the systematic destruction of constitutional values, significantly radical changes are still unlikely to come in this arena, considering Obama also signed the NDAA and other bills resembling similar hallmarks. Obama has already made clear his stance on these issues with statements.

Illegitimate Drone Attacks

Only a mere one percent of Yemeni civilians believed that the US is best situated to help Yemen.

If Obama is sincere in stating that the best is to come, and it is not a political ploy, there should be no idealistic expectations about what the package will entail as far as foreign policy is concerned. Obama's drone assassination program, one of his most controversial foreign endeavors among Muslims, is unlikely to be changed or backtracked, due to the resources and money already invested into manufacturing the drone fleets and expansion of air bases in the Middle East and Africa. If this was an issue he planned on addressing in his final term, then he likely would not have gone through great lengths at expanding it throughout the entire course of his first term.

Change in this arena will not happen without large public backlash and pressure. This is unlikely to happen anytime soon since most Americans continue to believe Obama's claims that drones are precise and that civilian deaths are rare, despite studies from Stanford University and New York University law departments and many other cases which demonstrate otherwise.

Drone attacks in a country such as Yemen has been causing direct backfiring against Obama’s efforts to combat militants. According to a 2011 security survey by Glevum Associates on the security situation in Yemen, the former president and US ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was least popular in Shabwah province, one of the key areas most afflicted by drones and the base of Ansar al-Shariah, Yemen's most active militant group. This group surfaced in early 2010, literally weeks after the December 2009 US air strike, which killed 53 women and children and galvanized thousands in protests in the south. That particular air strike took place in Shabwah province also. Such events rendered Yemenis to believe that the US is not at all able to help Yemen; according to the survey, only a mere one percent of Yemeni civilians believed that the US is best situated to help Yemen.

Beyond drones, there are few additional issues which, if resolved, would be significant enough to provoke the necessary leverage to “win hearts and minds” of Muslims, making the issue of Palestine all the more critical to resolve.

Every US President’s Failure: Palestine

However, following the US veto against the UN Security Council's resolution to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank, few were left believing in past assurances Obama spoke of in his now-infamous 2009 address to the Muslim world in Cairo. As recent as last month, the US continued to threaten the Palestinian Authority with harsh consequences and criticize European nations should they support the enhancement of Palestine's status at the UN. US previously cut funding to UNESCO after giving recognition to Palestine as an official nation.

It will be a long road ahead for Obama to reinvigorate enthusiasm among Palestinians and Muslims abroad in hopes of progress towards a two state solution. This period of time should play as a vital opportunity to capitalize upon, especially that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is also not running for re-election which provides him more room to offer concessions to Israelis. This extra leeway should enable Abbas to pursue productive initiatives with Israel and the US, without having to worry about repercussions from his own supporters.

Last week, Abbas clearly stated that Palestine is composed of 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital, and the rest is Israel's. He also boldly assured that there will not be a Third Intifadah during his presidency. Both Presidents have more leverage to take initiatives and solidify achievements in their limited time and it is pivotal to capitalize on.

Losing Egypt?

Demonstrating vital progress or a solution to the Israel-Palestine crisis will also be instrumental in rebuilding alliances with Egypt's Islamist-led government, and enhancing perception with the Egyptian public. It is well recognized that US-Egypt relations are at an all-time low. The general consensus of the US on the streets of post-revolution Egypt is that of an enemy. Before the revolution, the greatest criticism of the US policies was the unconditional support of Mubarak's tyrannical regime until the very last moment when it became clear that the revolution was not slowing down.

It became immediately clear to observers that the US administration was merely siding with the key players they viewed would be the inevitable winners anyway: the revolutionary opposition. This caused even more alarm among observers that the Obama administration would begin to entrench itself once again into the new Egyptian democracy and play a counterproductive role against their legitimate aspirations. There is still much suspicion over the whether the US will try to pursue its long-running foreign policies in Egypt, traditionally composed of alliances with Arab governments that are often subservient to American interests while ignoring their own.

Following the recent riots against the US Embassy in Egypt, Obama referred to Egypt as not being an enemy, but also not a friend either, when President Morsi condemned the anti-Islam film before addressing the rioters. It is inevitable that the US will continually work to rebuild ties, at the very least for the sole necessity that Egypt is Israel's neighbor and there are long-term security perimeters in concern. However, it is detrimental that Obama initiates new changes to the very foundation of US foreign policy in Egypt by building partnerships seen as equal by all observers. It would be foolish to once again underestimate the Arab world's capacity to observe and take note of the US’ true interests when such alliances are up to their old tricks.

Burma: An Easy Shot Obama Can Get

Whatever nation is first to take strong and sustained measures against this ongoing issue will certainly earn acclaim with the Muslim public.

There are also many stand-alone conflicts US could work to resolve, which could offer a lot of leverage as a partner for peace among Muslim societies. Matters in Burma (Myanmar) have been nearly silent among the media and generally quiet among politicians in concern of massacres of Muslim minorities and the removal of entire village populations.

The massacres in Burma are a particular issue that has caught on fire in the social media, and drawn fury sometimes rivaling the events in Syria. Whatever nation is first to take strong and sustained measures against this ongoing issue will certainly earn acclaim with the Muslim public.

This is a good opportunity for Obama to spearhead this issue. Even if it may strain developing relations with Burma, the gains may be worthwhile in resolving a conflict that may currently be second to Syria in terms of international grievances around the Muslim world.

With greatly reduced numbers currently in Guantanamo's prison, it may also be a priority for Obama to finally fulfill his original promise in closing it. It would have symbolic significance to Muslims, human rights activists, and anti-war activists. It would remove a stain on Obama's legacy to which many felt was the first to come in a continuation of false promises. A long delay in fulfilling this promise would be much more forgivable than a false promise.

Obama's Legacy

While it would be greatly idealistic to believe Obama will resolve each and every crisis, there is still plenty of opportunity to make positive alterations in the political arena, and even settle for some compromises. Leaders naturally reflect on what kind of accomplishments they will achieve in their career and how people will remember them. The next few months or year should give us a taste of whether Obama has been saving hopeful aspirations for his final term, and whether productive initiatives in foreign policy are on that priority list.

While it is unlikely that the Muslim world will have a change of heart towards Obama and American interests, there is still plenty of opportunity for Obama to convince Muslims that the US can be a viable benefactor and partner, though maybe not a sincere friend anytime soon. Being a beneficial partner can still provide the means in solidifying security at home, sustainability abroad, and an era beyond Obama in which the US has new opportunities to begin the long road of restoring its international credibility.

Related Links:
Minorities Lead Obama to White House
Obama Win Bad Omen for Pakistan Muslims
Obama Re-election Spells Trouble for Israel

Micah Shapiro is a freelance journalist specialized in conflict zones in the Muslim world, with special expertise in the Chechen conflict. Along with his vast travel experience in conflict zones, Shapiro graduated from Evergreen State College with a Middle East Studies major. Mr. Shapiro can be contacted through mshapiro83 [at] gmail.com.

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