In his address to the Muslim world to be delivered from Cairo, President Obama can move the wheels of history forward in the formation of a grand alliance against terrorism, oppression and extremism, or he could move them backward.
All depends on his words, ideas and concepts, many of which have been framed by advisers and experts. Based on 30 years of writings and observation of international relations and on nine years of analysis of the terror wars waged against democracies, including within the Muslim world (yet to be defined), I propose the following suggestions: First: What not to say Obama must not fall into the trap engineered by the Jihadi ideologues and their sophisticated propagandists for years: to accept the premise that America (and the West) has been waging a War against Islam. This sort of apology will only be used by the Islamist extremists to increase the dose of conviction among followers that indeed the U.S. has been waging a war on a religion. The only return to expect from the Salafists and Khomeinists is to doubt the sincerity of the new administration and withhold the acceptance of the so-called apology. Obama should not begin by acquiescing that his country was waging an unjust war on Islam but by exposing those who have been claiming such a charge and spreading it in order to inflame feelings and sourness across the oceans.
He should not project the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the highest problem in the whole region. Such a stereotype will result in emboldening the Jihadists and the authoritarians in dodging international law and further engaging in violence or oppression in their neighborhood. If the Palestinian question is presented as the sole path to resolve all other dramas in the region, bringing justice and peace to millions peoples in many countries will be hostage to those radicals blocking the resolution of just one crisis. Just the opposite, the president must commit to address injustices to nations and minorities from the Atlantic to the Indian Oceans, as one sure way to solve even the most difficult of all. Palestine, Darfur, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and beyond all suffer and must receive attention.
Defining the global threat
Obama must openly address public opinion in Muslim majority countries about the global threat to all, Westerners, Muslims, and all other cultures. He should identify what he coins as extremists in clear terms and point his finger at the radical ideology producing them. Any terminology is fine as long as he explains to the Muslim world that Jihadism is at the root of many wars and violence, including inside their countries. The president needs to stress the idea that Americans and other nations, including the Muslim ones, are and should be battling shoulder to shoulder the totalitarian and intolerant vision promoted by the Salafists and the Khomeinists; that human rights and freedoms, as well as social justice inside the Muslim world are threatened by these specific ideologies. Hence, the president must rally his audiences against the extremists who promote such doctrines and perform terror in their name. He must ask Muslim governments to condemn Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah and their likes, inasmuch the West has condemned the Nazis and fascists.
Promoting a universal set of values
Obama must urge Muslim governments and organizations to continue to recognize International Law and principles as advanced by United Nations as the highest set of legal and human values and above all religious and other considerations. The president should call on the Organization of the Islamic Conference to abandon the so-called declaration of Defamation of Religions in their own countries and on the United Nations, which will have devastating effects on reformists and democracy seeking groups in Muslim and non-Muslim societies alike. He should invite Muslim authorities to address the root causes of the so-called Islamophobia, particularly the rise of radical Jihadi ideologies which have generated violence worldwide.
Help the weak inside the Muslim world
The president must call on all Muslim governments and organizations to lend their support to the marginalized, weak and oppressed segments of the Muslim world such as: ethnic and religious minorities, women, youth, reformists, democratic groups, and human rights activists. He must ask the oil producing regimes to engage in a fair distribution of wealth within their own societies. Rich Muslim elites should share their immense wealth with poor and disenfranchised Muslim communities.
Stop Genocide and help minorities
Obama must call for a massive effort in the Muslim world to save the Muslim African population of Darfur from genocide at the hands of a regime indicted by the International Criminal Court. He should also remind his audience of the oppression of minorities such as the Berbers, Kurds, Bahais, Yazidis, Baluch, and as he will speak from Egypt, the Copts. The president must establish a parallel between integrating Muslim minorities in the West and protecting non-Muslim minorities, including Christians, Jews and Hindus in the Muslim world.
Stand by Muslims fighting terrorism
Obama must commit to help Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, central Asia, the Sahel and many other regions as they are fighting terror. He should stand by the Lebanese people as they are under Hezbollahs wrath and ask the Saudis to de-fund radical ideologues.
Standing by reformers and dissidents
The president must stand by reformers and dissidents across the region and more particularly stand by the civil societies of Iran and Syria as they strive for freedoms and pluralism.
Just solution to Israel/Palestine
The President must commit to a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict via a two states solution based on a mutual recognition between Israel and any Palestinian state to be.
Reminder of American sacrifices for Muslims
Obama must remind his audiences of U.S. sacrifices in freeing Afghanistans Muslim people from the terror regime of the Taliban and in helping Muslims and other minorities in Iraq defend themselves from massacres and terrorism. Also to recognize U.S. interventions to save the Muslim populations in Bosnia and Kosovo from ethnic cleansing and recognize the significant humanitarian assistance provided by the American people to Muslim communities around the world, particularly in zones stricken by natural disasters, as after the Tsunami in south Asia.
Dr. Walid Phares is the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracies.