Sunday, February 26, 2012
Obama and a Failure of Leadership
In 2008 Obama’s bid for the Presidency of the United States of America became embroiled in controversy because of his support for his pastor and long term friend, the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright. In support of Obama’s dubious associations a journalist and great nephew of Martin Luther King, writing for the Chicago Tribune, (also named King) advised Senator Obama to support his local church and its pastor because he was black and it was part of his identity.
In what was for me a remarkably succinct note (two short paragraphs) I emailed Mr King and reminded him that the second word of the country in which he lived was ‘United.’ I explained further that in order to be electable Senator Obama would need to convince people that he could be the President of all the people and not just his Afro-American constituents. The fears expressed that this potentially divisive, controversial and close personal friend might have tainted Barack Obama’s views were reflected in the column inches given to the Reverend Wrights pronouncements.
What defines leadership is the ability to rally others towards a common goal. It is in times of crisis that leaders provide comfort even in the face of ongoing terror. What defines a great leader from the mediocrity with which they are often surrounded is that during periods of uncertainty and confusion they guide their flock.
What is happening in Afghanistan is an abomination.
The last time someone committed violence against the Koran (in April 2011), in Afghanistan over a dozen people working for the UN were slaughtered, some were beheaded. The press initially suppressed this fact because they wanted to show the virtue in Islamic outrage. And now it has happened again. But this time the Taliban are alleged to have hidden instructions to prisoners in a copy (or copies) of the Koran sent to their people. The over-enthusiastic guards discovered this and subsequently burned the book (s) in which the instructions were concealed.
The apology delivered by President Obama to the Afghan people for the destruction of a copy of the Koran had no balance in the face of violence and murder by a population so enthusiastic for killing.
Why should we demand balance? We should not forget that the barbarians chipping away at Rome’s empire in the 4th Century AD (CE) were not devoid of culture. ‘Barbarian’ was simply a derogatory term for one who came from outside the Roman Empire. A lopsided condemnation encourages violence by people who need none, and it sends a message to the barbarians that we will not defend the values we cherish.
What has come to pass in Afghanistan over the last 33 years can only be recounted with shame. The ethnic cleansing of Eurasian Muslims by Islamists has been all but ignored as has the destruction of The Buddha’s of Bamiyan (two 6th century monumental statues, the tallest in the world, carved into the side of a cliff, they were dynamited and destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001). Between 1980 and the overthrow of the Taliban following 9/11 (also in 2001), it has been estimated that 1,800,000 Afghani’s died in the series of conflicts that took place there (Gunnar Heinsohn and Daniel Pipes).
I do not understand why we keep silent when our values are attacked or trampled into the dust. In Saudi Arabia a bible carried into the country is thrown into the garbage by passport control since no religious books other than Islamic ones are allowed into this state of malevolent bigotry, described as the centre of the Muslim world. The humiliation of non-believers has been a too common practise of missionary faith for all of human history. When a sacred Jewish site in the West Bank was destroyed, the conquering Muslim ‘freedom fighters’ murdered the 6 soldiers guarding the site who thought that by their surrender they would protect the edifice and its contents; in an act of execration they defiled Torah scrolls and dozens of Jewish prayer books before burning them. Missionary theology seeks humiliation and violence as proof of superiority.
We are not perfect. Some years ago a secular member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, made some disparaging comments about King David. Ancient Jewish personalities are human, so unsurprisingly, they display human foibles. Being mortal, from time to time they erred. It is the lessons we have learned from discussing their all too human failures that has helped to make humanity better. King David plotted the demise of his love rival. An ultra-orthodox member of the Knesset was furious that the secular could criticise King David. But it is a sanitised version of David that is the abomination and not the criticism. I was not surprised an alienated and secular society would ignore the challenge of reclaiming David’s narrative; it is what one expected of a leaderless and mediocre Knesset.
Celebrating brutality and the propensity for taking Islamic tribalism to its logical extreme; enjoying a savagery and contempt for human life makes Afghanistan a tainted country. It is a land that has enjoyed Pakistani, Saudi as well as Iranian spiritual, military and financial support. We tend to place all the blame on Soviet and American proxy wars but omit the Islamic angle at our peril.
Leadership means more than displaying a talent for oration and embracing every photo opportunity. Barack Obama must manage his diplomatic global responsibilities based on an American vision and that means having tolerance towards book burners of all faiths. He has no obligation to placate his diabolical Afghani ally. Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, all of them want geopolitical control of Afghanistan. It is the choices we make as well as the choices we fail to make that define our place in history. President Obama’s shallowness is his greatest disappointment to me. The president represents not just America but also the free world. What the New York Times described as ‘visceral disgust’ (23rd February 2012) is what I feel for this kowtowing to religious hysteria.
If it is wrong to destroy a book written by humans because we worship the book or what the book stands for then we are guilty of idolatry. It is wrong to commit murder in the name of a deity, or their saints, or their prophets. And if it is indeed correct to do so then humanity is incapable of salvation. The enemies of civilisation and their acolytes take comfort from the blood sacrifice.
President Obama has not been the global statesman we expected of the so called leader of the ‘free’ world. As The Leader this is his greatest failure.