Barack Obama’s impassioned and eloquent speech in Egypt was seen as the advent of a new era. His emphasis on human rights, freedoms and mutual understanding between Islam and West was particularly noteworthy and inspiring. He said, “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
Since George W Bush launched the War on Terror in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, US foreign policy has been largely shaped by the determination to confront militant violence across the Middle East and beyond. In his last year in office, Barack Obama dropped more than 26,000 bombs – the vast majority of them over Muslim –majority countries.
Following the United States’ two catastrophic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama’s election represented hope and a new beginning towards recalibrating US foreign policy and rethinking its position in the world. This was particularly important in rehabilitating US relations with Islamic world. Despite the hope generated by his famous 2009 Cairo speech promising “a new beginning” to America’s relationship with the Muslim world, Obama’s presidency did not fulfill the public expectations. The lowlights of his administration’s actions on human rights include: the large scale use of drone strikes outside active war zones, sale or supply of far more weapons than any administration since World War II, failure to close Guantanamo Bay, and a complete lack of leadership on the unprecedented refugee crises across Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
Yet despite all its failings, Obama did not intend to trigger a sense of fear and hatred, through harsh rhetoric, between Islamic world and the America. He stated the truth in attractive way as, “freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion,” and added, “Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life….”
Moreover, the election of a black president was in and of itself good news for the United States and for the world which bespoke of non-discrimination. In other words, a black man in the white house was a unique milestone in the history of America and the world believed that it would be the end of discrimination on the grounds of one’s race, color and creed. But still streams of blood were shed on the basis of their racial and religious backgrounds. For instance, terrorist groups killed Muslims and non-Muslims alike and some Muslims were insulted since members of terrorist networks happened to be Muslim.
Moreover, the “war on terror” gave the desired fruit neither in Bush nor in Obama’s administrations, although the Taliban’s founder Mullah Muhammad Omar passed away, al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden and Omar’s successor were killed in Pakistan under Obama’s authorization. To our unmitigated chagrin, the escalated militancy still inflicts heavy casualties upon Afghan nation and the innocent men, women and children are bleeding due to violence and insurgency. After all, once a peaceful Iraq has changed into a war-torn country. That is to say, the terrorist networks and militancy are believed to increase.
During his short but impassioned inauguration address, Donald Trump listed just one specific foreign policy objective for his administration: The battle against “radical Islamic terrorism”, which he pledged to “eradicate from the face of the Earth.” Terrorism is a highly challenging issue before Trump’s administration. He has vowed to continue the “war on terror” began during Bush’s presidency when there was no sign of the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
But his first approach which is signing Muslim bans has triggered a nationwide backlash. The order seems to fly in the face of the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees which updated the post-World War II Refugee Convention of 1951, and other international human rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or national origin. President Trump has publicly stated that his order will protect national security. But the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, acknowledging states’ legitimate interests in maintaining public security and combat terrorism, has warned against the effects of making exceptions, or, in his words, “the erosion of long-standing refugee protection principles.” While the order does not bar all Muslims from entering the US, baring immigration entry from seven majority-Muslim countries, especially when paired with his national security team’s record of Islamophobia, leaves no doubt that Muslims are the target of this order.
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, or ICERD, to which the US is bound, requires states parties to “guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, color, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law.” It is believed that the war on terror has been ushered in with wrong policy which stems from simplistic view of Islamic world. In such a case, the battle against the “radical Islamic terrorism” is unlikely to come to fruition unless a more effective strategy is adopted.