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Middle East Peace Programs

S.M.T. Tabassum: Obama’s Middle East Visit and the Possibilities of Peaceful Religious Coexistence

US President Barack Obama launched a new beginning between the US and the Muslim world at Cairo University in Egypt on June 4, 2009. The relationship between the US and the Muslim world had been marked by ongoing mistrust, discord, and suspicion for several decades. It was particularly tense during the last eight years of the Bush administration. This was due to the fact that after the tragic event of 9 / 11, the “War on Terror” targeted the Muslim countries of Afghanistan and Iraq, causing discord between the Muslims and the United States.

During the US election, the Muslim world had a strong hope that Obama, if elected, would change the policies of Bush and rectify the human rights violations in Palestine and Kashmir. Everybody harbored hope for the closing of the Guantanamo Detention Center, which had fanned anti-American sentiment across the globe.

President Barack Obama's recent visit to Saudi Arabia and Egypt offers hope for the resolution of the long-lasting Arab-Israeli conflict. Obama said that he laid out a new blueprint for US-Middle East policy, vowing to buckle mistrust and to defuse the nuclear showdown with Iran. Obama's statement was greatly welcomed and appreciated by many Muslims. He said that the Palestinians have been suffering for decades and that Americans will not turn their backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. The situation of the Palestinian people is intolerable. The two-state solution is the key to solving the decades-long Middle East conflict. Israel has acknowledged that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. Israel must live up to its obligations to ensure the Palestinians can live, work, and develop their society.

The Obama administration is interested in promoting democracy and peace in the Middle East. A White House official has said “this trip is an opportunity to continue the President's outreach both in the Middle East and in Europe, and it follows up on visits to Washington on May 18 by the Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinian Authority President on May 28 on how to resume the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

The tension between Muslims and the West started on 9 / 11 and garnered strength from the 7 / 7 event in London. Obama said that he seeks a new start based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and that we share common principles, principles of justice, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings. The overall problem can be resolved through devising the best strategy for peace involving the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League and other influential Muslim institutions.

President Obama delivered a strong inspiring speech at Cairo University. Obama explained the concepts of democracy and religious freedom and expressed appreciation for the practical efforts of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia through conferences on interfaith dialogue in last two years. President Obama said that “problems which the United States and Muslims worldwide confront must be dealt with through partnership and progress.”

He gave assurances about the removal of all US and allied military forces troops from Iraq by 2012. He appeared upset about the countless deaths of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama acknowledged Iran's right to have access to peaceful nuclear power.

The US President's speech marked a major change in American foreign policy, but we must wait patiently for its concrete implementation. He directly enlisted a religion to build global peace and to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, to end nuclear proliferation, and to stop terrorism. He said the US is not at war with Islam and Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism but rather is an important part of promoting peace.

The reality is that Islam is a religion of peace and harmony. Islam protects and promotes human rights, harmony, and understanding. Unfortunately, there are many violations in various Muslim states with Muslims killing each other. In Iraq the Sunnis and Shias are in constant dispute. In Darfur, two Muslim tribes are killing each other. In Pakistan, there are dozens of terrorist and suicide attacks and thousands of innocent Muslims civilians have been dying as a result.

If we apply Islamic law, values, and principles, peace can emerge in the world. We must live up to the tenets of Islam and show that religious coexistence, understanding, and an ideal relationship between all members of the family of Abraham is possible. With the USA and the West engaging in a dialogue of understanding with influential Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Pakistan, it should prove to be fruitful for the solution of all major and minor disputes and conflicts.

Islam guides the mutual relationship among people's movements and cultures. Muslim values, traditions, and principles belong to all mankind. Islam protects human dignity and human rights regardless of color, race, and creed.

Dialogue is extremely important. Firstly, dialogue must start between religions and continue on a social, cultural, and diplomatic level, and even within military circles too. Arab countries must establish democratic governments incorporating a responsible interactive dialogue between Islam and the West. Government in Muslim countries must adopt and apply Islamic law and democracy, not dictatorship. Dictatorship is the worst system of government. The three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam must work together.

President Obama traveled to the Middle East to improve the image of the United States in the Muslim world. Time will measure the success of the American President's tour to the Middle East.

The UN, European Union, Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and other influential institutions have a big responsibility to resolve current dangerous and long-lasting conflicts through dialogue. Israel and India should start a comprehensive and durable peace dialogue with Palestinian and Kashmiri legitimate leadership and representatives. Time goes by quickly, and serious human rights violations, killing of children, abuse and rape of women are committed everyday.

US President Obama, European Union President Barrusso, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, OIC Secretary General Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and other leaders  and organizations must also play a more active role to stop brutality around the world, especially in Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, Congo, Chechnya, and Kosovo.

Finally, I strongly endorse the suggestion of Dr. Moon, founder of the Universal Peace Federation, to establish a permanent global interfaith council, similar to the United Nations, that is comprised of representatives of the family of Abraham as well as recognized religious scholars, renowned intellectuals, and experts on peace to discuss and resolve the religious, social, and cultural conflicts in the world. I hope that peace is not too far away, but we need to have determined faith and commitment.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, Sardar Muhammad Tahir Tabassum, Ambassador for Peace and Executive Director of the Belgium-based NGO Institute of Peace and Development. Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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