Thursday, June 4, 2009

Reaction to Obama Speech: Amusing and Insightful

Submitted by Guest Blogger Faisal Qazi

The coverage from today's speech in Cairo from our Media has it's usual array of amusing elements. The Yahoo headline stated Obama offering an "unclenched fist to the Muslim world", a poor attempt at sensationalization. The McClatchy News boasted "In speech to Muslims, Obama rejects Israeli settlements", projecting some sort of a unique link despite the fact that the settlement freeze notion is a longstanding although non-applied US policy and an international requirement. The Fox News after not getting any attention to it's rants about why Obama didn't visit Israel during this trip knowing full well that the objective of the trip was to address the Muslim world that would have not been possible in Tel Aviv and after not getting any substantial support for questioning why Muslim Brotherhood members were invited to the speech, something that US Embassy has done in the past when other officials (VP Cheney) have visited the Embassy, the headline today stated "Obama Embraces Islam". This one was really comic in nature.

What of the reaction of Muslims, Muslim leaders and their partners? Although not likely to get headlines, it may be the more substantive part of post-speech analysis.

The expectations were constantly being lowered prior to the speech by most experts and one leader even suggested that it's the same play different actor. The overall excitement amongst the Muslims was simply under-reported and still is under assessed.

One could gauge some of that excitement in commentary post speech where Tariq Ramadan suggested on NPR that President Obama has presented a "new vision" and Shibli Telhami noted a "new discourse" altogether. James Zogby called it an "effective speech". Arsalan Iftikhar in his commentary in CNN underscored more of the usual complaint that he hasn't visited a local mosque but also rightly pointed out that compared to prior years, Obama's speech was a "concert of enlightenment". It may also be worthwhile noting that previous Presidents including Bush have verbally recognized Islam's contribution to world civilizations but to most Muslims these just resonated as hollow words and mostly not believable.

Nihad Awad from CAIR appreciated the courage of Mr. Obama to speak to billions of Muslims with "clarity, decisiveness and sincerity". However there was a noticeable difference between the African American commentators that seem to fully appreciate the message and immigrant Muslims. One African American Muslim female attendee at a gathering of Muslim leaders watching the speech in DC found it to be "very encouraging" while Rahim Jenkins at this same event suggested that "stage has been set for real atonement and reconciliation" and called on the world to "embrace the words of this leader".

This optimism is in slight contrast to skepticism of others but may point towards a divergence in the world views of these two segments of Muslims in America, although it could be argued that the immigrant community has no real world view of their own, at least not yet.

I think the critics of the President, both Muslims and non-Muslims have missed out on enjoying an event of historic proportions at least to the fullest. Those that contend that Obama kept a distance from the Muslims during the campaign, those that complaint that he didn't comment on the Gaza war during last days of Bush are left puzzled but certainly mesmerized with the nature of the initiative (even though they'd never admit it) hopefully should now be able to see that this man is measured in his approach and it's better to work with him to gradually achieve lasting results. And there are those that are left wanting of action to follow words but are fairly realistic of our domestic politics that is unlikely to allow Mr.Obama to make broad gains given the significant negative views that America holds against the Muslim world. Nevertheless they should also enjoy the moment and take a chance in believing that it could be made right just like the President took his chances in Cairo.

(Sources for this paragraph includes various media websites and video clips)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Remember SeaQuest?

I was a fanatic when it came to Seaquest. If you dont remember, it was Spielberg's made for TV sci-fi program that followed Seaquest- a submarine- trolling the Earths oceans after the world divided them up amongst economic confederations that were constantly on the verge of annihilating each other.

Seems like a wonderful ocean twist on the space adventures of Star Trek, kept me entertained.

Anyway, I started watching a couple of episodes on NetFlix and I wondered whatever happened to the actors that appeared on the show. To my sad surprise I found out Johnathan Brandis, the young computer whiz kid that found his way on to Seaquest committed suicide years after the show ended- in 2003 to be exact.

It's quite sad to think that fame, money and that sort of lifestyle creates such a psychological state and expectations. I was reminded while reading this tid-bit about Abu Hamid Al Ghazzali (Tusi) from the voluminous "Alchemy of Happiness" the chapter "On the Treatment of Love for This World":

"The Messenger (SAW) said: 'Whoever seeks the world for swagger and self-glorification will see God wrathful against him; but if he seeks it in order to be independent of others, he will come on the Day of Resurrection with a face shining like the full son' So, the world is that in which there is immediate pleasure of the self for which there is no need for the Hereafter. Everything that one needs for teh Hereafter, since it is for the Hereafter, is not of the world; just as the fodder for the beasts of burden on the road for the pilgrimage is a part of the provistions of pilgrmiage. God Most High has called whatever is worldly 'desire': ...In another place He has collected five things together and has said: (Know that) the life of this world is play, sport, adornment, self-glorification among you, and rivarly for wealth and children. (Q. 57:20)...This is happiness of people in teh world."
The idea is about balancing the needs of this world and the responsibility for the hereafter, and each person is responsible for his (or her) keep. Though I am not trying to reflect on Brandis's life, however, in his death and what those around him suggested as his depression and desolation from his inability to take his career anywhere, reflecting on the balancing of life and the hereafter is important, no matter how popular or simple folkish you maybe.