Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On the new American President

Thank you, America.

Some of us have been writing against American policies for quite a while now and in the process of doing so have been accused of being anti-American. I have always insisted that I am not anti-American and have referred to my various sources of religious inspiration and guidance that are American in origin. Much of what is happening within 'Western Islam' is American in origin: intellectually, culturally and spiritually. It was always a strand of the American experience that people like myself have argued against. That strand has now been consigned to the dustbin of history. I hope that history will be fair in its judgement on Cheney, Rumsfeld and co. 'You fool me once...'

America has reasserted its greatness through the election of Barack Obama to its Presidency. It's been a long time since I have felt inspired by political events - politics or news has in the main meant bad news. But this week, politics became good news, for several reasons. I am still considering the importance of this election and wondering whether there has been any singular more important political event in my lifetime, and I cannot think of one. So let's work through this.

First of all, though he may not read this, thank you to Barack Obama for daring to dream. This is good news for dreamers. I have - I can now proudly say - been accused of being a dreamer on many occasions - the Pakistani insult is 'Shaykh Chilli'. But Obama brings good news to the dreamers. He began as a dreamer and it is really eye-opening to watch his early speeches again after this election. His rawness, his sheer 'audacity of hope' - this was clearly a man who had seen something of the future in his imagination and decided that he was going 'to get there'. There are very few dreamers around today, let's hope that this victory will inspire some more.

Secondly, thank you to the democratic party for choosing Obama as your presidential candidate. The party could always have said that the country would not vote for an African-American to be President, but they didn't. This has been Labour's great failure on race equality. It has not believed that it could convince its own electorate to take race equality seriously. That is why they shied away from it in their second term and that is why they have little to show for it after ten years. The argument goes that it is the white working classes who will reject Labour if they appoint senior, serious ethnic candidates. This is why the Democratic party is to be applauded and thanked. It did not bow down before a milder form of racism.

Thirdly, thank you to the American people who voted in a clear majority for an African-American. The great danger for Obama was not McCain but not-Obama. Obama is to be congratulated here for articulating a vision that was beyond-race and the American people are to be congratulated for choosing a man who comes from one of their ethnic minorities as President.

It is difficult to state at this moment how much will change but which mean-spirited soul will deny that this election is one giant step forward in making the world a fairer place?

And then to Grant Park. Here is an account I've received from an associate who was there on the day:

'The atmosphere at Grant Park was a mixture of excitement and anticipation. I think everyone knew that this could be one of those days that would go down in history as a turning point. However, I think people were not entirely convinced or couldn’t believe that this was actually happening until Obama won Pennsylvania and his electoral vote was more then 270. The crowd at Grant Park can be drastically contrasted to McCain’s crowd in Arizona when he was giving his final speech. Nine or ten jumbo train TVs were set up all around Grant Park and they were all showing CNN. McCain supporters all looked like upper class, elite, conservative 'Caucasian' families. CNN showed the crowd at Grant Park and even the CNN commentator recognized the diversity of the Grant Park crowd. It was one of those few moments in history where all races, religions and cultures, regardless of status or income, came together for a common purpose. I mean, it’s not everyday that you see different nationalities, Muslims, foreigners, Hispanics, African Americans from the south suburbs and Caucasian’s from Wrigleyville, all in ONE location! I would say a good percentage of the population were young, between 18-29 years old. I even saw French tourists holding signs that they love Obama! A few of my friends had tickets to enter Grant Park and some of them came out before Obama even began to talk because they felt too crowded. There were people literally inches away from you. I was outside Grant Park with about 150,000 other people. We could hear Obama’s echo when he was talking. Reporters were everywhere asking people their opinions. A few of us got interviewed as well! After Obama’s speech, everyone was heading back walking on Michigan Avenue and it honestly reminded me of the Muslim pilgrimage. I would never say the experience is similar, but just seeing a diverse crowd walk together peacefully gave me that image. I’ve been to protests and demonstrations before, but nothing in this magnitude'.

Spike Lee in an interview after the election said that everything will now be BB or AB: Before Barack or After Barack. I thought that this was Spike being his hyperbolic self, until I read Mathew D'Ancona (the most astute conservative commentator) this weekend who said pretty much said the same thing, but in relation to British politics. That if before last week, the uber-fugure in British politics was Tony Blair and we could only tell who you were and where you stood in relation to him (so Cameron calls himself 'the hier to Blair'), well today, now, people like Cameron, Gordon Brown, Sarkozy etc. will all need to define themselves against, in line with or behind Barack Obama.

And if this is not about his personality, then it is about his message. And one final, important aspect of his victory. The use of the internet. The media - the print media, the US television networks - was weaker in its influence in the most important election on this planet. The internet - websites, Facebook, youtube, e-mailing - has allowed the masses to bypass media gatekeepers. It has made the marketplace of ideas more equal and in doing so has given power to the individual. This election in its result and in the way that it has been won is one great leap for mankind.