Barack Obama, the US president, lands in Cairo on June 4 as part of
his efforts to address the Muslim World, he will have arrived at the
foot of a mountain of troubles carrying two leather folders.
charismatic young president will have to resort to every trick in
his book of eloquence to convince some 1.3 billion Muslims that
America is not their enemy, and that his administration is reaching
out to 57 Muslim countries in the hopes of ushering in a new era of
cooperation, mutual respect, and combined efforts to combat
of Obama's trip is untenable at best; he will have to deconstruct
decades of belligerent US doctrine and foreign policy and atone for
what many Arabs and Muslims say are crimes against humanity.
folder is about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obama will have to
explain why the United States has blindly stood shoulder-to-shoulder
by Israel, offering unwavering support for Israeli military
campaigns which have since 1948 left hundreds of thousands of dead
men, women, and children.
will have to explain why his predecessor George W. Bush called Ariel
Sharon a man of peace after the latter was found by an Israeli
commission to be complicit in the Sabra and Shatila massacres in
Lebanon. Or why a man who bulldozed over Jenin and rejected the Arab
Peace Initiative flouted during the Beirut Arab League conference of
2002 is called a partner in the peace process.
Why, for example, has the United States led international efforts to
pursue and convict Serbia's
Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic, Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan, and
Rwandan leaders on charges of genocide but tacitly offer Israeli
leaders virtual immunity from any prosecution.
leader of the world's only superpower, which advertises itself as a
beacon of freedom and democracy, he will have to tackle the issue of
Israel's free rein during the 2006 Lebanon and 2009 Gaza wars.
also have to revisit why 61 years of US policies have allowed
Palestinian lands to be usurped, stolen, and annexed leaving almost
nothing to negotiate over when — if — peace negotiations ever do
Palestine folder is exhaustive but Obama will likely embark on
outlining what measures his administration will take to get the
derailed peace process back on track. His words will mean little,
however, because Israel is today ruled by the Jewish State's most
right-wing government which has already signalled it is unmoved by
while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been one of America's
most pressing — and bungled — foreign policy issue for several
decades, it is more recent events, and wars perpetrated by
Washington, which Obama must urgently address.
Rice, the former US secretary of state, may have been right in one
thing: This is a new Middle East we live in. The belief that a
resolution to the Palestinian issue will take care of all
outstanding crises in the region is no longer palpable.
folder, the war of choice in Iraq, has created new realities, drawn
new battle lines, and resurrected age-old distrust and sectarian
strife. Iraqis say that nearly 1.3 million people have died since
the United States invaded on March 19, 2003 (according to the UN,
some 1.7 million Iraqis died due to the 1990-2003 UN sanctions).
could, fled for their lives — to the order of some 4.5 million
Iraqis now begging for jobs on the doorsteps of western and Arab
of Iraqis since the invasion is well-documented and serves as an
immediate and recurring indictment of US foreign policy. However,
one issue that is yet to be conclusively addressed is America's
blatant disregard for human rights and war conventions, with
particular emphasis on the horrors visited on Iraqis in the
notorious Abu-Ghraib prison.
the abuses in Abu-Ghraib came to light, Iraqis had already reported
that US forces had covered up abuses at the notorious prison. The
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a NGO working with refugees and
promoting peace initiatives, published on the group's website a long
list of allegations of "verbal, physical, and psychological abuse
inflicted on Iraqis by US forces."
media — and the US administration — chose to look the other way
until journalist Seymour Hersh and others published photos proving
illicit interrogation techniques at the prison.
At the time,
US officials who had seen the extensive photographic and video
evidence said they could not allow such material to become public
domain because the severity and inhumanity of US torture techniques
would tarnish America's record.
picture would show that the US military has conducted itself in much
the same as a pariah state — like Rwanda, North Korea, or Nazi
Germany — would.
Obama's Old Promises, New Hopes
and videos will likely surface despite the protestations of Major
General Antonio Taguba, the former army officer who conducted an
inquiry into the Abu-Ghraib torture in Iraq. He did admit however
that the pictures showed every type of "indecency", and then some.
Choosing the word indecency to describe the rape and torture in Iraq
is tantamount to my choosing to call the Holocaust a bar fight or
the 3,000 deaths in 9/11 an airline glitch.
I would do
neither, of course; the crimes of the Holocaust are inescapable
realities, while the crimes committed on 9/11 are acts of wholesale
addresses the Muslim world, Obama must be made to answer why US
officials have actively participated in the abscondence of evidence
which indicts official policy and US misconduct.
commanders, who were until recently based in Basra, have been
condemning the Americans' heavy-handed and disproportionate military
tactics in Iraq. According to the Telegraph's Sean Rayment, a
British officer, "who agreed to the interview on the condition of
anonymity, said that part of the problem was that American troops
viewed Iraqis as 'untermenschen' — the Nazi expression for
'sub-humans'. (Untermenschen is the popular term a certain Adolf
Hitler used to express his disdain for what he termed the "inferior"
Jews in Mein Kamp.)
not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British
are. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it's awful."
officer accused the US Military of targeting "terrorists" even if
they are located in densely-populated civilian areas: "They may well
kill the terrorists in the barrage but they will also kill and maim
innocent civilians. That has been their response on a number of
occasions. It is trite, but American troops do shoot first and ask
questions later. They are very concerned about taking casualties and
have even trained their guns on British troops, which has led to
some confrontations between soldiers," the Telegraph reported in
Consequently, if the US Military, which can be considered the
military hand of the US government, considers Iraqis as inferior
beings, it is then academic to extrapolate that US lawmakers view
Iraqis as lesser people. Perhaps that helps explain why the Bush —
and now the Obama administration — is so fearful of releasing the
African American, Obama is sure to understand how racism and
disregard for human rights allowed slavery to flourish in America.
He should draw from the experiences of civil rights leaders in
Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and other states to
understand that if criminals are not brought to justice, hatred and
distrust will continue to thrive. Obama should look to the South
African model of truth and reconciliation.
community is made to watch re-broadcast footage of Nazi atrocities
against six million innocent Jews during the Holocaust; images of
the World Trade Center and mention of the 3,000 killed on 9/11 are
re-broadcast in North American media. But by keeping the Abu-Ghraib
pictures under lock and key, Obama is signalling that stories of
atrocities against Muslims and Arabs must be kept buried like the
hatchet, perhaps in the hopes that the blemish on the West will
somehow be erased.
East is a region where histories live on in the daily lives of its
people; if the US president hopes to make in-roads, he should start
by apologizing for Abu-Ghraib.
Obama has his work cut out for him in Cairo.