A dear friend of mine, whose soul is suspended between India and the United States, has established a fine tradition of hosting a bagels and cream party every four years, on November 7 at 5.00 am to watch the American Presidential election results, exactly when the carnival begins in the US.The 2008 party was sensational: America is inventing itself, handing the reins to America’s first black President. I can never forget Jesse Jackson unable to control his tears. Vistas to a new world were opening up. But where has it fled, the visionary gleam?
So I refused to attend this year’s party.
“Why?” my friend asked.
“I am disappointed with Obama”, I said.
“Give me one reason?” he persisted.
“He couldn’t even close Guantanamo Bay!”
He fixed me in a sympathetic gaze. He did not say anything, but I knew what was going on in his head. He had worked out in his orderly mind all the reasons why Obama actually won, but this Guantanamo bit surprised him. I am aware of his own disgust with the notorious facility but what startled him was: that in my emphatic prioritization of plaints, Guantanamo ranked so high.
Somewhere here is also a clue to an item which, if Obama can place on his list of things to be done in the four years of his Presidency, he will go down in history as a President who restored to America that admiration which has over the years been replaced by fear, awe, a nagging sense of injustice, generating anger and rage.
To take up this agenda, Obama has to first recognise the reality: 90 percent of the world’s 2.3 billion Muslims nurse varying shades of anti Americanism. It cannot be a comfortable feeling that two fifths of the world population has a negative focus on a nation of which you are the leader.
I must be some sort of a romantic, but I really did believe that an opportunity came our way to calm anti Muslim sentiment in the United States in July 2010 when – it appeared then – that New Yorkers led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had agreed to build a 13 storey community centre two blocks away from Ground Zero in Manhattan. The tragedy is: that project was obstructed just because it was named Cordoba House!
A colossal irony attends this obstruction. Cordoba, an exquisite city in Southern Spain, was in medieval times the high point of cultural and religious tolerance. It was built by Muslims, Jews and Christians.
Yale Professor, Maria Rosa Menocal’s remarkable book “Ornament of the World” dwells on Cordoba as an example of how great civilizations can co exist, exactly the opposite of the horrendous lessons of the Crusades.
No sooner was the project announced, than Ms. Sarah Palin was at her shrillest. Anything associated with Muslims, she seemed to suggest, had a natural tendency towards fundamentalism, extremism or worse. Never mind if the proposed multi faith centre would accommodate a 500-seat auditorium, theatre, a performing arts centre fitness centre, swimming pool, book store and a memorial to the victims of September 11 attacks. Was Ms. Palin justified in throwing a ginger fit if such a facility were to also accommodate some worshippers – Muslims as well as others?
Remember, the Mosque at Cordoba remains to this day one of the world’s great monuments inside which is a functioning Church.
Here is a small idea which can go some distance in toning down anti Muslim sentiment by simply acquainting a forgetful West of the world’s most glorious phase of cultural harmony.
Surely, hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must know a few things about Andalusia, of which Cordoba was once the capital. His father Professor Benzion Netanyahu, specialized in the history of the Jews in Spain!
This is just an idea in passing. The larger point I am making is this: to make his legacy a memorable one, Obama can, with some determination, retard Muslim alienation which turns to rampaging anti Americanism, which, step by step transforms itself into rage, the stuff of terror which, to reach the ends of the earth, waits for just that Drone attack to generate more anger and augment terrorist ranks.
Author is a senior journalist and political commentator and can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org