Waiting for Obama

By Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai

A fellow traveler, who has been religiously batting for Barack Obama, wrote in this week: "I think through divine intervention, good luck or whatever, Obama has it wrapped up. We can go to sleep now and wake up on November 5th to a President Obama in the Oval Office! I have no illusions about Obama but I’m sure he will at least be less belligerent and that itself will undo some of the mess the Bush administration has created in the past eight years…"

I understand the innocuous enthusiasm of my friend. There are millions like her around the world who are already celebrating Obama’s victory even though the world’s costliest and grandest electoral battle is far from over.  In fact, it hasn’t even begun yet in real sense of the word.

Clearly, having suffered the neocon antics for the past eight years, the world is more eager than America for Bush’s successor. And it has already concluded that it will be none other than the first African American candidate, who epitomizes the best of America and breathtaking diversity of our world like no other candidate ever has.

I wish I could share the infectious optimism of my friend. Of course, Obama is leading in all opinion polls. He has electrified America and fired up the imagination of the whole world like no other politician ever has.

For the first time in the US history, newspapers from across the political divide have joined hands to endorse the first black candidate. No candidate anywhere has generated so much euphoria, so many news stories and commentaries and so much television footage.

This unprecedented popularity of the candidate is reflected in the delirious crowds he attracts wherever he goes, across the so-called blue and red states.

In another first, 44 million young Americans will be casting their vote for the first time on Nov. 4th. And most of the young and restless lot has thrown its weight behind the young Illinois senator.

In Dubai, thousands of miles from the US shores, my 10-year old who doesn’t understand the first thing about democracy keeps clapping in excitement every time she watches the sea of humanity surge around Obama on CNN and Al Jazeera. 

It seems nothing can stop our hero now from reaching White House. Faceless multitudes like us everywhere are excited about a President Obama in Oval Office, even though we are not going to take part in this vote. 

And we hope to God this ‘supercool dude’ – in my kid’s words – is the one who remains standing at the end of this ultimate thriller. Just as the magical Muhammad Ali, that other African American who too gave his people a reason to smile, always did.

Logic and numbers say Obama should win, the Bradley Effect or not. But deep in my heart, I am afraid that anything could happen before November 4. Given the chequered history of the US democracy, this fear is not entirely unreasonable. You can never be certain of victory until the last knock, as Ali would tell you. The Republicans can do anything to win, springing up a last minute, nasty surprise to turn the tide.  Besides, the US voters are notoriously fickle-minded.

Many in and outside the US are still looking out for the R factor (not the Recession, silly!). Despite Obama’s numbers, there are many pragmatic minds that suspect the Race factor could still play a key role in this race.

At work, some of us have actually wagered on Obama with our bets locked away in an exquisite little box. My boss, ever the realist, is convinced America is not ready for a black President. The Bradley Effect could prove a spoilsport too (According to Bradley Effect theory, race-conscious US voters lie in opinion polls to conceal their choice that may be determined by the race factor).

If that happens, it would be a tragedy not just for America but for all of us. For this is a historic opportunity for the US to undo all that our neocon friends have inflicted on the country and the rest of the world.

Of course, nothing can undo what has been done to Iraq and Afghanistan. You can’t bring all those innocent lives – more than a million — back. And perhaps it’s too late to do anything about the fine mess on other fronts as well. The carnage on the Wall Street has hit everyone around the world where it hurts the most. And the worse may be still ahead of us.

An Obama victory offers America an incredible opportunity to rediscover itself as the land of the free, the original promised land that has for long inspired men and women everywhere with dreams of freedom, democracy and prosperity.

Not long ago, America was lionized as the champion of freedom and democracy here in the Middle East too. The people here saw America as the ultimate utopia and loved everything that it stood for. Today, calling someone American or pro-American is akin to abuse. No prizes for guessing who got America here. This worldview can change overnight if you have a President Obama in the Oval Office.

America has come a long way in allowing an African American with a Muslim father to run for the top job in the land.  I don’t think this would be possible anywhere in the world, perhaps with the exception of India. This wouldn’t be possible even in the ‘liberal, multicultural’ Europe. I can’t imagine Barack Hussein Obama in Elysee Palace in Paris or 10, Downing Street in London.  So what we are seeing now is history in the making. 

As boxing legend Don King puts in Financial Times, this is a great time to be alive. Picking up a black man to run for the White House – this is a giant leap for a country which not long ago witnessed the blacks being sold and bought like cattle. This historic journey of America would be incomplete if Obama does not reach 1600, Pennsylvania Avenue.

Otherwise, whether Obama wins this battle for White House or not, he is already a winner in every sense of the word.  It’s the Americans – and all of us – who stand to lose if Obama’s opponent wins. So can America keep its date with history? Can America do it? The world is waiting.

-Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: aijaz@khaleejtimes.com.

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