By Muhammed Qasim – Washington
Sensing a genuine desire on his part to turn a new leaf in America’s relations with the world, particularly Muslims, experts and community activists believe President Barack Obama needs to bring down old policies.
"President Obama is on the right track with his repeated messages to the Muslim world of mutual respect and dialogue," Hussam Ayloush, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) California chapter, told IslamOnline.net.
"[He] has a major task ahead of him to undo the damage caused by eight years of reckless policies by the former administration."
On the campaign trail and after election, Obama promised to reinvigorate US foreign policy, in order to restore the country’s battered image worldwide.
He has vowed an ambitious foreign policy agenda that includes withdrawing from Iraq, an olive branch to longtime foes, including Iran, and a new leaf in America’s relations with the Muslim world after eight rocky years under wartime predecessor George W. Bush.
Ronald Stockton, a Professor of Political Science and Arab American Studies at Michigan-Dearborn University, sees a particularly difficult challenge for Obama in the Muslim world.
"After September 11, the US focused upon violent elements within the Muslim community. This…made all Muslims feel that the US was hostile to them," he told IOL.
Stockton says some Muslims see Obama as another version of Bush and doubt his sincerity.
"But he is very sincere in his respect and admiration for Islam."
Obama has seized upon his visit to Turkey, his first to a Muslim country since assuming office, earlier this week to break the ice with the Muslim world.
"Let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam," he told the Turkish parliament on Monday, April 6.
"We will listen carefully, bridge misunderstanding, and seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree."
Experts note that as genuine as Obama might be about chartering a new foreign policy, he needs to take practical steps to convince skepticals.
"Now he needs to advance policies that unequivocally end the use of torture and illegal detentions, help bring justice and peace to Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, and reiterate America’s respect for Islam," Ayloush said.
Hatem Bazian, an academic at the University of California, sees a set of standards that should govern a new American foreign policy.
"Equality of all mankind regardless of race, gender, nationality or religion," the Palestinian-American expert of Eastern and ethnic studies told IOL.
"All are equal under the law, both domestic and international law. We have had a double standard in our application of international law."
Bazian insists Obama should distance himself from the policies of his wartime predecessor and embrace the principle that "war is not an option," but rather a "last resort".
"Military intervention can delay or shield us from the real problems. But it alone can’t change the conditions on the ground.
"The Muslim world needs less militarism, less troops, no occupations, no more torture, less double standards, no more dictators, no kings and no despotic governments."
Another critical change should be offering an even-handed policy to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and end the bias toward Israel.
"The US government should uphold the articles of the 4th Geneva Convention and hold Israel to the same standards that we hold our own soldiers in the conduct of war."
– Muhammed Qasim is a correspondent for IslamOnline.net. (Published in IslamOnline.net)