It’s no secret that the rest of the world is mesmerized by the phenomenon of Barack Obama. There are two elements to the story arc: one has it that America has finally overcome its legacy of slavery, while another narrative pushes the idea that America is the land of opportunity. But I fear that the Middle East is engrossed in the darker subplots of this story, and what speaks to them about Obama’s ascendency has little to do with what is good about America.
Arabs and Muslims don’t really care about the odiousness of slavery. Although African-Americans who convert to Islam are beholden to the notion that their new faith is egalitarian, their unpleasant blind spot fudges the fact that the Muslim code, or shari’ah, never outlawed slavery.
For now, Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East see two things in Obama: to them he’s a walking, talking apology, and an infiltrator. He’s an apology for the Bush years; America’s gift basket to the rest of the world for the fault of protecting itself. The hatred that has been whipped up against President George Bush by the Arab media—much of it owned and directed by America’s alleged allies, the Saudis and other Persian Gulf dynasties—has been unprecedented, much like the adulation presently, and temporarily, being given to Obama. However, Arab and Muslim fascination with Obama rests on the idea that he is their Trojan horse into the highest office in America, the gleeful whispers describe him at times to be a secret Muslim, and in another light, an ‘anti-imperialist’ leftist.
Obama will not only apologize for America’s imperial pretension, but shall work to reverse it. So the lofty expectations go.
But there are two powerful opinion makers in the region that cannot afford to do away with the convenience of hating on America and its leaders, and those would be the ruling regimes and their most ferocious enemies, the jihadists. A popular Obama is dangerous since it deprives both camps of a distraction, a focus for white-hot rage; for the regimes, anti-Americanism, like anti-Zionism, is a most useful tool for deflating the wrath of the gathering mob, a mob whose numbers will swell as the world becomes poorer and resources turn scarcer, and oil profits are bled, while the jihadists need the seething anger to enlarge their recruitment pool. The faster that Obama can be turned into a hated figure, the quicker that matters revert to how things were.
Adding to their anxiety is the likelihood that Bush’s policy for spreading democracy will be adopted by the starry-eyed Democrats carried into power, albeit with some important modifications, namely on the question of who is an Arab or Muslim moderate. For these newly minted masters of policy, the reflexive and ultimately mistaken answer lies in the ranks of political Islam, and specifically the trunk and many offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, a group feared and despised by both the regimes and the jihadists.
So the task at hand for these regimes and jihadists is to turn any association with Obama into an embarrassment, and that would be by transforming his strengths into liabilities.
And that’s pretty easy to do: Obama will be pitched as a proselytizing Christian infiltrator into the land of Islam, rather than a secret Muslim in the White House. Obama the apostate had turned his back on his Islamic birthright and early childhood for the opportunism afforded by Christianity, and that is America’s grand plan for fixing the Middle East: turning it Christian—or so goes the conspiracy theory.
History tells us that nothing riles up the masses of Nejd, Damascus, Cairo, and Istanbul like the fear that Christians are out to convert Muslims. It is only a matter of time before Obama’s biography, once thought to be the harbinger of international goodwill, will be distorted into yet another reason to hate America.