Yes we (absolutely, most definitely, damn well) can

November 5, 2008

My faith in the human spirit has been restored. Although only time will tell what is yet to unfold, something profound has happened today, with Barack Obama becoming the first black president of the United States.

That is in itself a victory.


Can a Muslim American ever become president of the US ?

November 3, 2008

On the eve of what is probably going to be one of the most momentous political elections of this decade (if not this century), viz the US Presidential elections, I am asking a somewhat dodgy question : )

Dodgy because it is perhaps a question that acts like the bogeyman of international politics…ooh….scary stuff. This issue has plagued Barack Obama, because his middle name happens to be Hussein, and his father was a Muslim. So ? And so what if he was a Muslim, which he actually isn’t ? Does that somehow make him less qualified, less suitable, less viable, less competent to hold this office?

I think that most of America, despite being so diverse is really not able to deal with difference as much as it may claim to. Deep seated doubts, suspicions and unfounded fears continue to plague the American electorate and its psyche, around the issue of the race and religion of their Presidential candidates. Black people, Muslims, Latinos, etc are seen as suspect, because of all the stereotypes associated with these communities. What I fail to understand however is, why don’t questions about people who are of the Christian or Jewish or any other faith, who commit atrocities, get raised?  After all it was White Christians who colonised much of the developing world and established slavery. It was also White Christians who dropped nuclear bombs on innocent people (albeit in a war situation), and invaded Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9 /11. Should we not then be asking whether a White Christian is a suitable candidate for the highest office in the US? But clearly because white Christian males have been in charge for so long, the possibility of any one of another race / religion  taking over, scares the hell out of some white folk. Some people would rather have a rabidly anti-feminist type like Sarah Palin, in the white house, just because she’s white,…than a black man who would do everything to give his daughters and other’s daughters all the opportunities, that they deserve.

I’m hoping Americans can get past these insecurities and make the right decision, not just for themselves but others in the rest of the world. We in Africa would like to be able to respect America once again as that example of all that is hope and promise. Please don’t let us down again.


On Powell and Obama

October 19, 2008

Well….it had to  happen….eventually. Colin Powell, the former US Secretary of State, a man who once had presidential ambitions has given his blessing and endorsement to Barack Obama, as his preferred candidate for US president. Now, lets not dwell on the obvious, ie, that it is inevitable for one black man to support another black man, etc. I’ve always maintained that Powell, despite his stupidity in having made the case for going to war at the UN, some years ago, is a pretty smart guy. You gotta be, to survive in the cutthroat space of US politics. His downfall however came, when he backed the wrong horse, viz, one GW Bush, and stood by him, for all that time. I guess, some realization eventually dawned, when he realized the error of his ways.  

The intriguing question is, why is it that Powell, after sort of being out of the picture for all this time, decides to make a public declaration of support for Obama. And he is supposed to be a Republican for heaven’s sake. I can just imagine McCain having an ulcer just thinking about this latest development. We can assume that Palin, doesn’t have much of an opinion about it. She probably reckons…aw shucks, John, dontcha worry yourself silly about none of that. We got Gawd and all dem good Christian folk on our side.

But it is something to ponder over. Is Powell looking to re-enter mainstream politics, or is it that he is trying to make peace with his conscience, supporting a man who will try and bring back US troops, from a place they should never have gone to in the first place? I think that clearly he has had to live with himself and his mistakes for all this time, and perhaps it helps him deal with it to offer support for a man (and lets leave out the black man tag on this) who might help in redeeming his tarnished legacy.

Whatever the reason, it is no doubt a coup for Obama, and for the broader anti-war campaign. Getting the Kennedy’s support was already a major boost, other prominent democrats was a bonus, and now Powell. The signs look good for Obama. Lets just hope there is no terrorist bomb that goes off in the week before the elections, which makes the US electorate jittery. The  consequences of this, are just too horrendous to contemplate.


When America sneezes….the world catches a cold

September 27, 2008

The title of this piece is an age old adage, which has come to reflect in many ways, the supremacy that the United States of America has gained in world affairs, particularly since the end of the second world war. How else does one explain the keen interest in the 2008 US national election that people around the world show, a sign that the next person who occupies the White House, does indeed have significant influence over what happens in the rest of the world, and this political reality makes citizens in other parts of the globe, extremely nervous and wanting assurances that their world will not be reduced to ever growing war zones and imperialist havens for the rich and powerful.

The question however is, should this be the state of affairs? Some political theorists such as Hedley Bull have argued that the existence of a balance of power on the world stage is extremely important to stop political power being accumulated in any one region. In other words, power should never be concentrated in any one state or region, but rather distributed equitably amongst nations. Ironically however, the United States, a nation which participated in the Second World War to stop Germany from accumulating power and becoming the regional hegemon in Europe, through its Third Reich, has indeed become a modern day hegemon itself, and one may argue, with devastating consequences.

The litany of the United State’s excesses and violations of international law over the last 50 years have become legendary. It is tragic that successive governments of a country which represents freedom and liberty to many immigrants from around the world, have often sought to become involved in matters globally that have left them being resented by many around the globe. Hence the necessity arises to vaccinate oneself (collectively) against these excesses and their resultant consequences.  

Conventional wisdom would suggest that when one is coming down with a cold, one should ideally visit the doctor, take an anti-biotic, or have some ginger tea. If only such remedies would suffice against the virulent strain of viruses that American foreign policy around the world spreads through its “interventions”. From military invasions and occupations to the execution of financial practices that create panic in the global economy, the US influence in world affairs is often fatal, and continues to create the conditions where many people become extremely vulnerable to circumstances that have been created by these policies. In addition to the visible actions that lead to war and economic vulnerability, there is the level of covert actions which the US government and its various agencies have been engaging in, ostensibly to protect their citizens from security threats, however these invidious actions often lead to greater dangers for American citizens, because of accumulating resentment and hatred of such actions. In fact, the practice of extra-ordinary renditions, extraction of forced confessions through torture, violations of human rights within occupied territories, and other similar practices by agents of the United States have led to the growth of many more insurgent and terrorist elements globally, leading to greater insecurity.      

The question is, what is to be done to vaccinate the world against the dangerous machinations of the US government, and its ability to convince other governments to collude with it and follow in its footsteps. Of course the US government would not be able to carry out many of its unethical activities without support from puppet regimes and other forms of structural support from other state forces, which have formed patron-client relationships with the US and benefit in a variety of ways from such relationships.

It would seem that citizens and citizen’s groupings have to take on the mantle of defending the world from the illness inducing actions of the US government, as they have indeed been doing for many decades now. A country renowned for its friendly people, popular culture, intellectual wealth, scenic beauty and historical treasures is becoming severely denuded and despised because of the actions of its government. It has become a land that turns away citizens from other countries, wanting to visit and work in the US, because it is constantly suspicious of everyone that holds a different opinion to the American government’s status quo, and even rejects those that have no opinion at all, because of the way they dress, the name they have or the colour of their skin. Such a situation is untenable and serves only to exacerbate tensions and escalate conflicts. If the tide is not reversed soon, the United States may end up becoming the world’s pariah nation, and will sadly find itself in the position of those countries it once admonished for their lack of good governance or political accountability.

An anti-dote to the current situation must be found soon, not because it is good for America, but because this is what is needed to stop the rest of the world from becoming ill, and protecting the well-being of the global community. While all of the world’s ailments cannot be laid at the door of the United States, it is nevertheless a key protagonist in creating these ailments and proliferating political chaos, and it must be stopped from spreading any more of its germs. While the new occupant of the White House in 2008, may be considered as an agent of change (the most popular slogan of this year’s campaign), such change is pointless if it doesn’t help to heal the world. Panado’s anyone ?  

This piece has previously appeared in Al-Qalam Newspaper 

     


US Elections : Turning the Tide of History

September 27, 2008
If there was ever a moment in time that could turn the tide of history, and set into motion a set of events that would seal the fate of the global community for the next 4 years, it would be November 2008. If this sounds melodramatic (and I concede it is somewhat), think back to 2000, the year a fella called George W Bush, became president of the United States. Who would have thought, that the world could change so dramatically, in just 4 years? But it did, and it only got worse over the subsequent 4 years.
So, the 36 million dollar question is: what is going to happen this November 2008, when a new US president is voted into office? The amazing thing about presidential elections in the US is that they make the entire world sit up and take notice, in a way that other elections don’t because the actions of American presidents have a tendency to shape and decide what happens in the rest of the world. This was never more evident than, over the presidency of George W Bush, who has left a legacy of destruction, war and disunity globally, a state of affairs that the new occupant of the White House, will have to deal with from day 1.
So who then is really equipped to do the job, and do it in such a way that the damage that has been done to America’s reputation both abroad and amongst even its allies, may be be repaired?
Some say a man called Barack Obama, a black man born to a Kenyan Muslim father and an American white Christian mother has what it takes. Together with his more experienced running mate, Joe Biden, they can bring about change: the word that has defined this election campaign.
On the other hand, there is John McCain, former army man, captured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and his attractive moose hunting, hockey mom, running mate, Sarah Palin, who opposes abortion, even in cases of rape.
Hmmm, this is clearly a tough choice for those hardworking American citizens who have to decide between having a young black man or an older white man, as leader of the free world, and I have to admit, I am more partial to the younger black man…it appeals to my lefty political world view.
But it is scary to think that about 300 million people, well at least those that are eligible to vote, will bring into power, someone who can clearly influence and decide what happens globally, impacting on the lives of 6 billion people. Those American citizens who remember the events of September 11, and who do not wish for any such repeats, will undoubtedly be more partial to someone who articulates a strong militaristic position –  one which affirms the tough rhetoric of keeping the nation safe – and going after the ”bad” guys. Those citizens that understand that the military world view – perhaps necessary to some degree since national security is not about making friends – will hopefully choose somebody who will not continue to invade other countries and sanction the killing of innocent citizens, all in the name of going after the ”bad” guys.   
So the second 36 million dollar question here is, who will be the best person for the job of the next US president? I have to say I don’t know (despite all my expertise on the subject of politics).
Barack Obama has disappointed already, when the day after he won the primary elections for the democratic party’s nomination, he addresses the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, pledging that he will always look out for Israel’s interests; to ensure that Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, completely ignoring previous United Nations resolutions on this issue.
Furthermore, the fact that some Muslim women wearing scarves at a rally at which he spoke, were asked to move out of the background, where they were visible to cameras behind him,  does not bode well in terms of advancing multi-cultural relations in a country which is made up of so many different race, religious and ethnic groups.
Meanwhile, John McCain is a man who is too close to the Bush legacy to imagine that he could distance himself from the disastrous policies of the current administration. Republican presidential candidates are generally more conservative, and Republican presidents have traditionally increased budgets for military expenditures, sanctioned the invasion of other sovereign territories and cut domestic funding for important progressive agendas, on the home front.
The fact that the Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin opposes abortion, sends a very dangerous signal to the US women’s movement, who have worked very hard to win the right to choice for women. The fact that she is supportive of a teenage daughter who has become pregnant out of wedlock, may be commendable, on one level, however, she is basically sending the wrong message to the youth by saying that it’s okay to be sexually active before you turn 18 and it certainly is okay if you become a mother, while you are still a child yourself. For a campaign that is supposed to be driving a family values agenda, this is a very strange position indeed.
In the final analysis, it is a fact that whoever becomes the next president of the United States, will continue to have a very major influence on what happens in the rest of the world. There is not much the rest of us can do about this, except pray and hope that the person will have the wisdom, understanding and insight to know that he cannot keep his  country safe by sending US troops to kill the citizens of other countries. He will have to realise that America’s decision to continue with imperialist agenda’s such as having military bases in other nations; dominating the global economic landscape with unsustainable and unfair trade policies and infringing on the civil liberties of people across the world in the name of fighting terror, will only create further resentment amongst other global populations, and make the US more unsafe.
Whoever it is, change will have to mean completely undoing US policies of the last few decades and starting afresh. I hope though it is the young black man, and I hope that he is able to learn from whatever mistakes he has made so far.   

This piece can also be accessed at


On debates and deliberation

September 27, 2008

The first debate of the 2008 US presidential elections took place on 26 September. It’s always fascinated me how the guys standing for office of the president of the US will stand in front of a podium and then have a go at each other, trying to score political points, on who said what before, and why the other guy is wrong. Such is the nature of the cut and thrust of US politics.

But this time round, these debates are somehow far more important and significant than they have ever been before. The reason for this is that US policy in the rest of the world has over the last 8 years, been so utterly destructive (more so than it usually is), that the next occupant of the white house has to deal with, apart from a declining state of affairs on the home front, a range of issues on the international stage, which if handled as badly as they have been by the Bush administration, will simply be signalling the nail in the coffin of the United States’ status in the rest of the world.

So who won the debate ? Well I’d like to think that Obama was a bit more eloquent, although he still has some serious reflection to do on how to deal with issues in the middle east.  As for McCain, well he keeps on reminding us of his time as a POW, as if thats gonna solve all the current dillemmas that have to be dealt with.

Perhaps what is needed here, is less debate and more deliberation.