This article comes on Day 28 of our special Altmuslim/Patheos Muslim Ramadan #30Days30Writers blog project, in which we are showcasing the voices of 30 Muslim leaders, activists, scholars, writers, youth and more (one on each day of Ramadan) as part of our commitment to own our own narratives and show how we are one Ummah, many voices. To demonstrate how our Ramadan experiences are shared yet unique to each of us.
As many of us heard via social media, President Obama made a statement at the 2014 White House Iftar in support of Israel’s right to defend itself against Rocket Fire from Hamas. I, like many American Muslims, was very upset after hearing this and wondered how and why the President, who I supported and voted for in 2008 and 2012, would say something so disrespectful to an audience of mainly American Muslims at a White House Iftar.
But after thinking about it and reading articles and feedback from several different points of view, I realized that it was actually a good thing for Muslims in America to hear.
Why? Well first let’s look at the actual statement (which was only a few lines from a much longer speech about Ramadan, Freedom of Religion and the Giving back of American Muslims to the greater communities in which they live). You can read the full text of the speech here:
The few “controversial” lines of President Obama’s statement are as follows:
“And I will say very clearly, no country can accept rocket fired indiscriminately at citizens. And so, we’ve been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas.”
Naturally, I nor most other Muslims I know really agrees with this statement, because from our point of view Hamas is defending itself against an occupation force in Israel and the Palestinians are the ones who are under constant threat, attack and confinement in Gaza and other parts if Palestine from the Israeli government and military. We may not agree with Hamas firing rockets into civilian populations, but I’m not living in the open air prison of Gaza which is blocked on all three sides (including the sea) by Israel and its one shared border with Egypt, the Rafah Crossing, is also blocked by the Egyptian military!
Nor, in my opinion, does the U.S. government have the right to say “no country can accept rocket fired indiscriminately at citizens” — because that is pretty much what the U.S. military does with its drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries (mostly Muslim majority) around the world! So it’s very hypocritical of the President to say something like that, especially to a group of Muslim leaders, activists and representatives from around the world who attended the white house iftaar.
So now you must be thinking, why do I say it was a good thing President Obama said what he said at the White House Iftar? There are several reasons:
- Many American-Muslims are under the impression that voting in elections and supporting a handful of candidates is all we need to do to make a change in the system. This statement from the President clearly shows that we have a long way to go in terms of our political clout and influence in this country. Most people don’t realize that the Zionism movement in the United States started in the 1880’s. And, they began making in-roads into local media and congress in the early 1900’s. So they have been involved in both political and media arenas of the United States for more than 100 years! Muslims just recently got involved with U.S. politics, maybe 40 years ago with the help of people like Dr. Agha Saeed with the American-Muslim Alliance. And now we think everything should fall into our laps! No, it takes a lot more work and effort on our part, and we have only just scratched the surface of the U.S. political system.
- The standard party line for both Democrats and Republican parties is to support the State of Israel. I repeat: BOTH parties have it in their party manuals to show unconditional support for the State of Israel. And again, this goes back to the ground work laid down by Zionist movements in America, well over 100 years ago (to read more about it, check out the book, “Against Our Better Judgment: The hidden history of how the U.S. was used to create Israel” by Alison Weir, which you can order on Amazon here)
- If you read the full text of President Obama’s speech, he does in fact mention about the plight of the Palestinian civilians in Gaza and how the United States wants to continue its efforts to help end the conflict and bring about peace between both sides. Here is the text of his statement (this is immediately after his line about Israel’s right to defend itself):
“At the same time, on top of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza that we’ve worked long and hard to alleviate, the death and injury of Palestinian civilians is a tragedy, which is why we’ve emphasized the need to protect civilians, regardless of who they are or where they live. I believe further escalation benefits no one, least of all the Israeli and the Palestinian people. So we’re going to continue doing everything we can to facilitate a return to the 2012 cease-fire. We are encouraged that Egypt has made a proposal to accomplish this goal, which we hope can restore the calm that we’ve been seeking. More broadly, however, the situation in Gaza reminds us again that the status quo is unsustainable and that the only path to true security is a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, where differences are resolved peacefully and in ways that respect the dignity of all people.”
Do I support everything that President Obama said in his statement at the White House Iftaar this year? No. Do I agree with those people who say we as American Muslims should have boycotted the iftar? No. The reason is because we need to look at what works in the U.S. political system. Yes boycotts have some effectiveness, but in this situation it will not. Because if American Muslims are not at the table or “in the game,” then other people will be speaking on our behalf and playing the game for us.
The Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. was at the White House Iftar (he also had his own iftar at his home). Why? Because he understands how to play the game. Israel has been playing this game for well over 100 years. When the Zionists were being rejected by the State Department and military advisors, who did not support the creation of state of Israel in the early 1900’s, they did not give up, nor did they do any boycotts or distance themselves from American politics or media. In fact they did they complete opposite.
They got more involved, put more money and put more pressure on the Congress, candidates, local media and so on in support of their cause to create the State of Israel with the help of the United States.
So now it’s the American Muslims turn to do the same thing. With Facebook, Twitter and other social media, it is much harder for tyrants and occupation forces such as the IDF to hide their crimes from the world to see. More and more media outlets are starting to criticize Israel and its policies when it comes to bombing Gaza indiscriminately and killing more than 70 percent of innocent Palestinian children. Now is the time for American Muslims to be more politically involved — not less.
Obama’s statement at the White House Iftaar was a wake-up call for the American Muslim community. It was a good thing for us to hear, and now it’s our turn to respond in a positive and effective way to help change the tide in our favor. Hopefully it won’t take us 100 years to see the fruits of our labor, but we must start working now to help create the world we want to see for our children, Insha’Allah.
Irfan Rydhan blogs at “Al Mihrab” on Patheos Muslim and is an experienced architectural designer as well as a Halal Foodie.