What the Muslim Child Thinks About the Next President


Reza Aslan, author of the excellent No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam has a must-read opinion piece in today’s Washington Post, titled “He Could Care Less About Obama’s Story.”
The “He” Aslan is referring to is the “young Muslim boy” that many commentators euphemistically refer to as the person who will be most impacted by the re-branding of America with someone in the White House that “looks” innately different than his or her predecessors. I should add that this should be “She” as well.
Aslan writes:

As someone who once was that young Muslim boy everyone seems to be imagining (albeit in Iran rather than Egypt), I’ll let you in on a secret: He could not care less who the president of the United States is. He is totally unconcerned with whatever barriers a black (or female, for that matter) president would be breaking. He couldn’t name three U.S. presidents if he tried. He cares only about one thing: what the United States will do.
That boy is angry at the United States not because its presidents have all been white. He is angry because of Washington’s unconditional support for Israel; because the United States has more than 150,000 troops in Iraq; because the United States gives the dictator of his country some $2 billion a year in aid, the vast majority of which goes toward supporting a police state. He is angry at the United States because he thinks it has hegemony over almost every aspect of his world.
Now, more than one commentator has noted that on all of these issues, the next president will have very little room to maneuver. But that is exactly the point.
The next president will have to try to build a successful, economically viable Palestinian state while protecting the safety and sovereignty of Israel. He or she will have to slowly and responsibly withdraw forces from Iraq without allowing the country to implode. He or she will have to bring Iraq’s neighbors, Syria and Iran, to the negotiating table while simultaneously reining in Iran’s nuclear ambitions, keeping Syria out of Lebanon, reassuring Washington’s Sunni Arab allies that they have not been abandoned, coaxing Russia into becoming part of the solution (rather than part of the problem) in the region, saving an independent and democratic Afghanistan from the resurgent Taliban, preparing for an inevitable succession of leadership in Saudi Arabia, persuading China to play a more constructive role in the Middle East and keeping a nuclear-armed Pakistan from self-destructing in the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.

Aslan has it exactly right — and it is this enormously complex and fragile puzzle that Obama, Clinton, Biden, Richardson and others should be framing in ways more sophisticated than this dictator or that needs to go — or whether a vote in Congress may have led to Bhutto’s assassination.
Flynt Leverett has written frequently about the need for some kind of regional grand bargain that tracks with much of what Aslan wrote in his piece today. These candidates should be reading Aslan and Flynt Leverett and give us their reactions and something compelling.
— Steve Clemons


10 comments on “What the Muslim Child Thinks About the Next President

  1. jhm says:

    I couldn’t help note that his description (aside from specific issues like Palestine) of a generic Muslim boy isn’t far off that of an average American of voting age: doesn’t care about “politics,” couldn’t name their elected representatives (or enough knowledge of government to pass the naturalization test).


  2. otiwa ogede says:

    “coaxing Russia into becoming part of the solution (rather than part of the problem) in the region”..
    Aslan writes and Clemons agrees with the above line. To that fictional muslim boy this is part of the problem. A world in which you either walk in lockstep with US foreign policy or you’re labeled as “part of the problem”.
    Some of those muslim boys, and their fathers too, would argue that US, not Russian, involvement is THE problem in the region. But they must all be wrong mustn’t they, thinking for themselves like that without waiting for Clemons and Aslan to articulate their hopes and dreams for them.


  3. Nathan says:

    If he was so sensitive to other cultures then how could he have made those inflammatory remarks about invading Pakistan in August? That’s what I don’t understand. This is a serious issue and he completely completely failed: violating Pakistani sovereignty if Musharraf failed to act and deploying troops to a Muslim country spiraling out of control, loaded with nuclear weapons?! Outrageous.
    I don’t believe his image as a person of deep empathy with other cultures rings true–at all. I am not a Clinton supporter, but I am becoming quite worried about an Obama presidency. I don’t see Edwards winning it and even if he does all it takes is for Obama to pull in second and he can use his vast financial advantage over Edwards to muscle his way to victory in New Hampshire and then on to the nomination (I can see Edwards endorsing him and his supporters flocking to Obama).


  4. yahye says:

    the only solution i see in solving the problems between Palestine and jews is to look at where the problem had started. then to take an appropriate steps towards it.


  5. Carroll says:

    The little boy is right, it only matters what the US does.
    The “Grand Bargin” the US should make is offering a peace treaty and mutual defense pact to every single state in the ME on the condition they all sign the same agreement with each other.
    But then that would require a real “change agent” with “vision”.
    I don’t see any. Unless the next “leader of the free world” gets an “attitude adjustment” on the US relative to the rest of the world his or her bag of new tricks and stragaties for the same old US game won’t mean crap.


  6. Linda says:

    You’re right about Obama’s mother having sensitivity to many cultures. She was an anthropologist.


  7. Koshembos says:

    Aslan exposition is not new nor is it impossible. It eventually works for every side in the conflict. The difficulty is multifaceted: it will take several years to accomplish; the right sequence of smaller solutions is not clear, but a priority has to be achieved; it will take, probably, more than a full presidential term and domestic issues cannot be relegated to second class.
    The Israeli/Palestinian conflict can be solved because both side desperately need each other and peace. This conflict, as I see it, should be one of the easier to solve. A truly evenhanded approach that considers the long term good of both sides will make a lot of progress as long as one moves away from the silliness of achieving peace in 2-3 months of negotiation.


  8. JohnH says:

    On Obama and ‘identity:’ I haven’t seen a good discussion of this. But I am intrigued by his ability to successfully cross cultural divides. Because of his skin color, people naturally want to label him black. Yet he is competing with Hillary for white votes. When he was a child, he lived in Indonesia. His mother must have had an unusual degree of interest, sensitivity, and RESPECT for other cultures, which appears to have carried over to Obama.
    So what I find intriguing about Obama is that he may well have an interest in understanding foreigners in a way that few politicians do. Most politicians are really quite parochial. They understand their own people and how to shake down funders and manipulate swing voters. But they could care less about foreigners and have no interest in understanding what they have to say and why they are saying it. Besides, foreign accents are just annoying!
    But Obama may have a broader interest in knowing where people are really coming from. Instead of simply slotting foreign leaders into the usual categories, his upbringing may mean that he is interested in understanding their values and the pressures they face. In turn, he may be able to develop truly outside the box ways of dealing with them. His willingness to take a public AIDS test in Kenya may be an indication of such possibilities.
    When he talks with Putin, Ahmadinejad, or Chavez, he may actually be able to LISTEN to what they have to say. It’s not easy to set aside the American world view and try to understand a foreigner’s perspective, particularly when the entire national security mafia and broadcast media is intent on pushing the traditional stereotypes and agenda. But if anyone can do it, I think Obama may be the one. And it could open up a lot of possibilities for solving or successfully managing a whole set of seemingly intractable problems.
    Needless to say, this would be extremely refreshing after 8 years with a President who didn’t listen to anybody, because he already had his mind made up.


  9. Chris Brown says:

    Given the one sidedly pro-Israel USA political infrastructure methodically constructed over the last thirty years, I am guessing that, if ultimately elected, none of the candidates, from either party, could change the USA policies that have enraged a good portion of the world’s Muslims, even if they wanted to.


  10. Dan Kervick says:

    Yes, so far this Bhutto assassination hasn’t generated much intelligent Middle East policy discussion from the presidential candidates. Too much of the talk has focussed on the idea that Bhutto was “Our girl in Lahore.” And there has been something of a kneejerk application of the “Hariri formula” to this assassination.
    I’m still waiting for someone to paint the big regional security picture in realistic terms, and show that they understand where the very troubling case of Pakistan fits into it. I’m also a bit surprised that no one has yet used the opportunity to broaden the discussion to take in the larger issue of nuclear non-proliferation and de-proliferation, and how to get those efforts back on track. As I see it, the nuclear question is issue #1 as far as Pakistan is concerned.
    However, I would caution that how Middle East boys would or would not react to the election of any particular US president is an empirical question, and cannot be answered by a single expert “intuiting” the answer.


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