IN PERHAPS ONE of the most viewed events in the history of the world, Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office for President of the United States on 20 January 2009. It was a moment celebrated around the world, from his father’s village in Kenya, to his childhood home in Indonesia, to his grandparent’s place in Hawaii where he was raised. Obama has a remarkable international appeal that made his swearing ceremony a celebration not just for Americans, but for billions around the world a new way forward. His oratory has inspired many by setting forth a vision of America that spoke to millions of Americans disenfranchised by the previous administration and to billions of people around the world discouraged by America’s recent foreign policy approach.
However, as Obama clearly stated in his first interview as President with the Saudi channel Al-Arabiya: “People are going to judge me not by my words, but by my actions.” He is right, and so far his actions have generated some reason for optimism. Dosing Guantanamo Bay, dispatching experienced envoys to the Middle East and Afghanistan, opening channels with Iran and speaking directly to the Muslim world in terms of respect and mutual interest are all important steps that were never taken seriously by the previous administration. Ultimately, the Muslim world is looking to Obama for results.
Our lead writers, the veteran journalist Abdallah Schleifer, and Firas Ahmad and Arsalan Iftikhar, offer critical analysis and perspectives on how Muslims will perceive him and what he can do to address their concerns.
The domestic economic recession will no doubt occupy Obama’s agenda, but resolution of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict remains a critical issue. It holds the key to peace in the region. Israel’s shameful assault of Gaza that left over 1,300 dead, almost 500 of whom were children, was made possible by an absence of leadership from its biggest arms supplier and donor, the United States. Under the new administration, the US can and should broker a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians – anything less will undermine peace and security in the region. Two distinguished professors, Avi Shlaim and Mark Le Vine, describe here how Israel’s action contravened international law and how its belligerence must be restrained by the international community.
A central message of all revealed religions is to urge humanity to work toward peace. Unfortunately, today many religious com- munities find themselves at the heart of conflict. To address this reality, over 138 leading religious, political and academic figures, representing all major denominations of Islam, penned a his- toric document aptly titled “A Common Word”. The document received an incredibly welcoming response from the Christian community and is set to redefine Muslim-Christian relations for the years to come. Guided by two theological axioms, love of God and love of neighbor, it will provide the platform and framework for both communities to navigate through the seemingly intractable issues that affect them. Our dossier, which includes essays by Miroslav Volf, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Abdal Hakim Winter, and also an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, covers the various engagements between Muslims and Christians under the new Common Word initiative and the seminars that took place in 2008 at Yale, Cambridge and Rome.
With this issue of Islamica we return to publishing after almost a year’s absence stronger than ever, with new management and a distinguished board of directors. The current financial climate has hit the print media industry extremely hard. In 2008 Islamica won the DeRose Hinkhouse Awards in six categories including best religious magazine, and in December 2007 it was nominated by a leading US magazine, UTNE Reader, in its prestigious 19th Annual Independent Press Awards for best “Spiritual Coverage”. This is, for us, a timely reminder of the vital need to develop media spaces for Muslims to be able to articulate the best of their tradition and be an equal partner in the debates affecting the global community.