Monday, 1 March 2010

A meeting with the American Ambassador

On Friday I was invited to a meeting with the American Ambassador in Birmingham. Its purpose, he said, was to convey President Obama’s approach to the Muslim world, hopefully reassure us, and listen to what Muslim representatives had to say. The event was one of a series of meetings he is having with Muslim representatives up and down the country. There were around 10 of us there, and it was held under Chatham House rules, so I am limited in how detailed my report can be. I will focus solely on what I said.

 I used my time to concentrate on what I thought were the key issues. Primarily, my profound disappointment with President Obama’s foreign policy.  While the whole world was glad to see the back of George W Bush, the present administration has, to all intents and purposes, had more in common with Bush’s foreign policy than it has differences. US actions in Afghanistan in particular is proving a disaster for the entire region. I said that Muslims don’t hate the West. Many are desperate to come and live here. But they do hate the occupation of their lands, and Western double standards in relation to the Muslim world.

Nothing highlights US double standards in this regard than its complicity in the suffering of the Kashmiri and Palestinian people. I said that in relation to both the American government has effectively given sanction to Indian and Israeli atrocities and repression. With strong American opposition, they simply would not dare act as they do. We need strategies towards peace and conflict resolution and as Ireland and South African illustrate, a precondition for conflict resolution is talking to all participants involved in it. The US could be a force for peace in these regions. The test for the Obama administration is whether it will be.

Finally, I spoke about the impact of US foreign policy since 9/11 on the British Muslim community. The consequences have been terrible. Civil liberties have been undermined, and not just for Muslims. But the racist backlash that has accompanied the ‘war on terror’ has weighed particularly heavily on Muslims. I worry about its impact on the lives our youth.

We were told that our views would be relayed back to the President. I am not holding my breath. The best way to make the American Ambassador, and his boss in the White House to take notice of our views, would be to use this forthcoming general election to send them a message that the British people will have no truck with their wars. If George Galloway, Abjol Miah and myself get elected this May, you can be confident we will use the platform of parliament to proclaim that message to the world.