Such was the artificiality of the hype surrounding the election of Barack Obama at the beginning of November last year — only two months ago — that the elation has largely dissipated even before he has taken office. For many Americans, the realization that nothing much is likely to change has emerged from his appointment of establishment political figures to all major offices in his administration. For many of those Muslims foolish enough to allow their pleasure at the humiliation of George W. Bush and the neo-cons to extend to positive expectations of his successor, the realization has been based on the obvious pro-Zionist bias of his staff, particularly with Rahm Emmanuel as White House chief of staff. Another notorious Zionist, Dennis Ross, has been appointed to deal with Iran, which makes a mockery of the idea that Obama will be any more reasonable than the neo-cons in dealing with the Islamic state.
Of course, there will be changes in the US approach to dealing with the Muslim world. But these changes will not be based not on any ideological difference on the American side, or on a different understanding of the US’s role in the world, but on the simple fact that the approach taken by the Bush administration in the last eight years has proved an unmitigated disaster, and has done immense damage to the US and its interests. The Obama administration will simply have to cope with these failures. The US will still assume the right to try to dominate the world for its own interests and purposes, but it is now widely acknowledged that this will have to be achieved by different means; the Obama administration will have to deal with the fact that its hegemony will be challenged by competitors seeking to take advantage of its setbacks. It is these geo-political realities, and the constraints imposed on US policy by the global economic crisis largely created by the failures of rampant capitalism in the US in recent years, that will be responsible for the changes we see in US policy once Obama takes over, not any change of outlook and attitude attributable to Obama.
In time, Muslims and others are likely to realise that the crashing and burning of the neo-cons is not in fact the end of US hegemony, as some Muslims may like to think. Instead, the Bush years are likely to be seen, in historical hindsight, as a period of aberration in American history when the usual subtleties of US hegemonic policy were temporarily replaced by a crude militarism that set the US back for some time before the damage was repaired by Bush’s successors; and that these successors were aided by allies who may have enjoyed seeing the US taken down a peg or two, and were happy to expand their own spheres of influence at the US’s expense, but were too fearful of unforeseeable consequences to allow any fundamental or lasting change in the world order.
It is not only the patterns of Western and global politics that have been distorted by these brutal years. Many Muslims, particularly but not only in Western countries, have allowed their understanding of the Islamic movement and the struggles facing it to be defined by their perception of the threat and power of the US as well. The result has been a focus on anti-Americanjihadism at the expense of other priorities of the Islamic movement. The global media focus on purely jihadi elements in the Islamic movement has also contributed to this.
One can only hope, therefore, that the passing of the neo-con era in the US will contribute also to a decline in the undue profile and importance given to the salafi-jihadi movements who are in many ways — such as their crude and unsophisticated understandings of the processes of history, political and social change, and their emphasis on military action to the exclusion of other forms of struggle – the Muslim equivalents of the neo-cons. While jihad, in its place, will always be an essential part of the struggle of the Islamic movement, the emphasis must be returned to the intellectual work required to plan for the future of the Ummah – the absence of which has been largely responsible for the tragedy of Iraq, where the Islamic movement has been unable to benefit from the successful resistance to the US — and the challenge of confronting and defeating authoritarian dictatorships in Muslim countries.
Without the political maturity that comes from a sound intellectual basis, the sacrifices of mujahideen on the frontlines of the struggle against the power of kufr are bound to be in vain.
Iqbal Siddiqui publishes a personal blog, A Sceptical Islamist: http://scepticalislamist.typepad.com.