Online Journal
Front Page 
 Special Reports
 News Media
 Elections & Voting
 Social Security
 Editors' Blog
 Reclaiming America
 The Splendid Failure of Occupation
 The Lighter Side
 The Mailbag
 Online Journal Stores
 Official Merchandise
 Join Mailing List

Commentary Last Updated: Jun 3rd, 2009 - 01:06:01

Wanted: A new direction
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jun 3, 2009, 00:18

Email this article
 Printer friendly page

When US President Barack Obama says he wants to reach out to the Muslim world, he�s on the right track. Judging by polls conducted in this region and beyond, the rift between Muslims and the US is vast. And who can blame them when Iraq and Afghanistan are still under US occupation while there has been no progress toward a Palestinian state?

But those who are waiting with bated breath for Obama�s much touted speech scheduled to be given at Cairo University on Thursday shouldn�t expect too much. Obama may be a maestro at delivering pretty phrases designed to bolster his popularity, but mostly his speeches are long on noble sentiments and short on substance. Will this one be any different?

According to some pundits, Obama may use this opportunity to speak from the heart of the Arab world to disclose his plan for a 57-state solution, a comprehensive peace plan that would include not only Israelis and Palestinians but also the entire Muslim world from Morocco to Indonesia. But given the current stalemate between his administration and the new Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who can hardly bear to utter the words �two-state solution,� I wouldn�t bet your home on it.

In any case, even if he does bring up this innovative and ambitious strategy, he would be perceived as having his head in the clouds, someone who wants to run before he can walk. He can, however, show that he means business by talking tough on Israel�s continued settlement expansion and the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. He must also refrain from employing the same tired old clich�s so often used by American leaders to chastise the Palestinians, who are, after all, the victims of a six-decade-long occupation.

We�ve heard enough about the overwhelmingly homemade rockets of Hamas which mostly land on sand. Now is the time he should show his sympathy with the people of Gaza who have endured an Israeli onslaught that robbed 1,400 lives and still subsist under siege, which he has thus far failed to do. This should not be an occasion to pander to the Israelis or AIPAC or attempt to display faux impartiality. He must come down on the side of right or risk being dismissed as someone who wants to fudge the issue rather than risk offending his country�s prime Middle East ally.

If he�s serious about winning Muslim hearts and minds, he should use this moment to unequivocally make his feelings known on the Iraq war waged under false pretexts that harmed millions, and he must reassure Iraqis that he does, indeed, intend to withdraw US troops in 2011.

Further, he should apologize to the Muslim world for the crimes committed against ordinary Muslims by the previous administration, which post-Sept. 11, 2001, tarred all Muslims with the same extremist brush. In particular, he should say sorry to the thousands of Muslims who were rounded up following that tragedy and incarcerated for months in secret American facilities without being allowed to contact lawyers or family, and who, without exception, proved to be entirely innocent. I still recall how many were bumped off flights merely for wearing a T-shirt with Arabic writing or because they were praying, while others were held under suspicion because they donated to a Muslim charitable organization. He needs to display disgust over the bestial way detainees at Abu Ghraib were treated even if he has refused to allow the publication of new photographs due to concerns over a backlash against American troops. And he should make it clear that he intends following through on his promise to close Guantanamo within a year of his inauguration even if he does come up against logistical problems.

Moreover, he should clarify his Iran policy. Prior to his election, he promised to open talks with the Iranian leadership without preconditions but, so far, he has made no progress in this direction apart from a jolly video New Year message to the Iranian people. The people of this region need to know whether he really favors the use of diplomacy to allay fears of a nuclear-armed Iran or whether he will give Netanyahu the much-coveted green light to strike Iran�s nuclear facilities.

In the meantime, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should refrain from lecturing Egypt on human rights. For one thing, now is not the time, and for another, people in glass houses shouldn�t throw stones. As long as Guantanamo exists and as long as detainees are deprived of habeas corpus, no representative of the US has the appropriate moral standing to judge another country�s actions. Provided Obama�s speech shows genuine contrition for all the pain and indignity that has been heaped upon Muslims over the last eight years, he will be able to mend bridges. But the likelihood of that is remote as America�s right wing is already complaining loudly about the commander in chief�s propensity toward apologizing overseas.

Here, in Egypt, most of the people I�ve spoken to concerning Obama�s fleeting visit are either skeptical or disinterested. They don�t want words, they want action. I personally believe President�s Obama�s motives are good but whether he has the courage to stand firmly on his principles, I doubt. Let�s hope that this time he proves us all wrong.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

Copyright © 1998-2007 Online Journal
Email Online Journal Editor

Top of Page

Latest Headlines
9/11 �special master� appointed czar to oversee executive pay
Attractive new covers for the same old book
Clearing up myths about the EFCA
Beyond the soaring rhetoric of Obama�s Cairo speech, a toxic innocence at home
Fear is eroding American rights
The current battle against the State Secrets Privilege
Obama�s doublespeak on Iran
Is Wells Fargo too big to jail?
Can Obama change Netanyahu?
Why the Chinese laughed at Geithner
The ooze of piety: Peace be upon you?
The privatization of �Obama�s War�
After Dr. Tiller�s murder, where to for abortion rights?
Oslo redux: Fool�s gold in Israel/Palestine
A �debate� without civility and a murder
The AIPAC espionage case: We can�t even take the law into our own hands
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- why the U.S. should care less
The US Army blows Israel�s nuclear cover
Wanted: A new direction
On Dr. Tiller�s death: �Common ground� is a deadly illusion; abortion on demand and without apology!