More articles by
Yacov Ben Efrat
Translation: Howard Klevansky
The war of civilisations which has horrified the world since the events of September 11th 2001 ended in a wave of Barack Hussein Obama's magic wand with the opening of his speech at the University of Cairo last week. The words A-Salaam Aleykom go far deeper than their literal meaning. They express reconciliation, recognition, humbleness, and especially, they go hand in hand with Islam and its holy book – The Koran. Obama has decided to fight fundamentalist Islam with its own weapon, The Koran. He came to Cairo armed with verses from The Koran and their latest explanations proving that there is no reason for the schism dividing America and Islam. He came to win over the million believers who had supported Al Qaeda and who had reveled in the collapse of the twin towers. Obama succeeded.
He succeeded because the very opening of his speech clarified the clear cut break from the policies of his predecessor, George Bush. Obama’s speech was not intended to only win over the hearts of the Moslem masses. It was meant to close the chapter of American colonial policy, which inflamed the hatred of suppressed peoples. Obama's statements received further credibility for he is the first African-American president; because he spoke like a preacher on the pulpit, trying to calm his flock; because he presented himself as an African-American with roots in Kenya, who spent his childhood in Islamic Indonesia, and grew up in Chicago in the shade of the African-American Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King. Obama succeeded because he is the only one, not Reagan, Clinton nor Bush, who can create such credibility.
The timing, and not only the place, helped in delivering the message of Obama's speech. Obama comes to Cairo at a time when America is exhausted after eight years of war against the axis of evil. On the other hand, the Islamic fundamentalists' forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine cannot point out remarkable achievements with their war against America and its ally, Israel. His speech addressed millions of Moslems, tired of the Islamic "resistant movement," and of the wild speeches of its leaders. At the same time he approached the American people who have tired of the war of choice against Iraq, the war conceived in a lie, with its huge price tag.
The American people chose Obama to save it from the clutches of the Christian fundamentalist right, which seeks to embark on a crusade against Islam on its way to conquer the world; the same right wing which protects the interests of the wealthy, disregarding the misery of the poor. Obama was chosen because America has reached rock bottom, its economy collapsed and the whole world dragged down with it. The American people expect Obama to free it from the jaws of the big banks, which swallowed the workers’ savings, repossessed their homes, and left them jobless and without a future. Obama knows that he cannot fulfill his promise for a change, without ending the war his predecessors ignited.
Tel Aviv in defensive alert
When Obama, in Cairo, addresses the Moslems, Tel Aviv moves into defensive alert. The absolute separation from Bush's policy innately implies a change towards Israel, which based its policy upon the concept of an axis of evil. Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran and Syria were an ideal excuse for rejecting any political arrangement. US leaders' speeches, meant for Israel, have started with the word “Shalom," in Arabic “Salaam”, but its meaning was opposite – peace for Israel, suppression and occupation for the Arabs. Obama’s election is not only the change of a president, but also a change of the face of America. America is not the same, and its exclusive domination of the world has worn out. The speech in Cairo expressed it clearly and left no room of doubt in the Israelis, who, so far, find it difficult to digest the new reality.
The fact that Israel has not grasped the change in the White House is shown in the government's makeup. Binyamin Netanyahu established a right wing government, negating the idea of two states for two people, and committing to settlement expansion. Ehud Barak, who already proved zero understanding of political processes, rushed in and joined Netanyahu's coalition, passing Tzipi Livni's Kadima on the right. No doubt that Obama's agenda matches a different kind of government, one that comprises a coalition between the Likud, Labour and Kadima, sidelining the right.
Netanyahu's problem lies in the five month period between Obama's election and his speech in Cairo. During this period, narrow political considerations overcame long term considerations. Thus, Netanyahu now finds himself attempting to manipulate a magic cohesive solution between Israel's extreme right and Obama; between the anti-Arabic racism of Lieberman and Yishay and the African American first president.
Obama's historical speech in Cairo embarrassed Israel and forced Hamas to moderate his messages. However, it may evaporate and be remembered as an innocent declaration of intent if it does not bring with it actual changes. The Islamic extremists’ primary weapon is the living conditions of millions of believers who suffer from poverty and hunger, from ignorance and lack of human rights, suffocating under the rule of totalitarian regimes. Obama can end the cultural war by means of the word, but in order to end the war between the haves and have-nots, more than words are needed. To uproot Islamic radicalism, one needs to root out that which enables its growth. One cannot reconcile the Arab masses and at the same time support regimes which violate their fundamental rights.
America needs to find a way out of the Middle Eastern quagmire into which it has sunk throat deep. The end of Obama's first term in 2012 is the dead line. By that time, the American army must have left Iraq for good, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to be solved upon the basis of two states for two people. Obama's goals are tremendous and path to their fulfillment is complicated and hard. Obama must defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan; he must prevent the take over by extremists of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal; he must reconcile the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds in Iraq; he must stop the growth and spread of Iran; force Hamas to recognize Israel and unite Gaza with the West Bank No wonder that it appears to Binyamin Netanyahu that if he waits long enough, he will see Obama's vision turn into an unfulfilled romantic memory.
Together with this, as hard and as complicated is Obama's task, the real challenge he faces is not reconciliation with Islam, but rescuing the US from its deep economic crises. That’s what he was chosen for. World peace is not in danger from extreme Islam, but from the control of a few billionaires, who gamble in the global stock market on the future of mankind. The enemy of the American people is not a deranged religious man who hides in the Tora Bora caves, but the American bankers who control politics and the global economy. They are the main cause for poverty, lack of democracy, violation of human rights, and for them and in their name George Bush conducted his global wars.
Obama's speech in Cairo expressed the retreat of the American Empire. It has sunk into debt and is not managing to control the multiple conflicts that it created with its own hands throughout the world. The American people want work, education, health and some other basic needs which their leaders cannot provide. How will America fight poverty while millions of its citizens lose their jobs and their homes?
No doubt that Obama is gifted with impressive rhetorical abilities and profound knowledge, but he was not smart enough to include the right people in his administration. The bankers' representatives control the White House corridors. Obama wants to save the system, the market economy, rather than change it. For this reason, Obama will disappoint anyone who expects him to acknowledge that the capitalist system has collapsed. Obama calls for and preaches for change, while what is needed here and now is a revolution.