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US-Muslim relations one year after Obama's Cairo speech

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Message Abdus Sattar Ghazali
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From the moment President Barrack Obama, a powerful orator, took office, he seemed eager to change the tenor of America's relationship with Muslims worldwide. With his very positive rhetorical outreach in the early months of his presidency he raised a lot of expectations. On June 4, 2009 President Barack Obama delivered a speech in Cairo that elicited a near euphoric response from most officials and editorial writers across the Muslim World.

Not surprisingly, during 2009, the first year of his presidency, the approval-rating of American leadership increased by a significant margin in most Arab and Muslim countries when compared to 2008, George W Bush's last year in office.

The numbers rose (according to Gallup June 1, 2009 polling) most impressively in Tunisia (from 14% to 37%); Algeria (25% to 47%); Egypt (6% to 25%); Saudi Arabia (12% to 29%); and Syria (4% to 15%). However, in Lebanon (25% to 22%) and Palestine (13% to 7%) they continued to fall.

During the last 17 months, Obama administration has taken a number of measures to woo the Muslim world.

1. The Obama administration is revising national security guidelines that strip references to "Islamic radicalism" and other terms deemed inflammatory to Muslims. President Obama and other administration officials stopped using terms like "Islamic extremism" shortly after taking office and are now purging "Islamic radicalism" from the National Security Strategy policy document.

The current National Security Strategy document, prepared by the Bush administration, states that "the struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century." President Bush had gone further and used such meaningless terms as "Islamo-fascism" to justify his now doctrine of the war on terror and pre-emptive strike.

2. In April, Obama administration reversed guidelines that singled-out passengers on flights arriving from 13 Muslim countries, and Cuba, for mandatory screening. The guidelines were implemented in January 2010 after the attempted bombing of an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day.

3. Swiss-Muslim scholar Dr. Tariq Ramadan entered the U.S. for the first time in six years after being barred by the Bush administration. Dr. Ramadan, who has been critical of U.S. foreign policy, told the New York Magazine he believes Obama has shown he knows how to communicate with Muslims, but not much else. "Obama has the vision and the words, but does he have the power? This is problematic," Ramadan said. "It seems he is limited."

4. The Obama administration has dispatched American Nobel Prize winners to advise Muslims scientists, economists and other professionals on how to improve their research and better manage their institutions.

5. At the end of April, the U.S. government hosted a Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship in Doha, Qatar, with some 500 mainly Muslim entrepreneurs attending.

6. Obama's outreach has included appointing Deputy Associate White House Counsel Rashad Hussain as special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. "As a hafiz [memorization student] of the Quran, he is a respected member of the American Muslim community," Obama said in the announcement. President George W. Bush first named a representative to the OIC in 2008 under similar objectives of outreach to the Muslim world.

However, one year after Obama's widely-publicized speech in Cairo, Muslims remained skeptical about his administrations' core policies towards the Muslim world, particularly the Arab-Israeli dispute. To borrow Radwan Masmoudi, President of the Center of the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID), the "hope and excitement in the Islamic world" that greeted Obama's speech "began to turn into disappointment as people realized that turning promises into reality is not always easy or possible."

Obama's policy towards the Muslim world hinges on a number of major factors: the issue of Palestine; American presence in Afghanistan and Iraq; US drone attacks in Pakistan with heavy civilian casualties and the US policies towards Iran.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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