Does one Iftar at the White House change anything for Muslims in the US?

Published: June 29, 2015
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Barack Obama hosts Ramadan Iftar Dinner at the White House. PHOTO: WHITEHOUSE.GOV

President Obama speaks as he hosts an Iftar dinner in the State Dinning Room at the White House.
PHOTO: AFP Barack Obama hosts Ramadan Iftar Dinner at the White House.
PHOTO: WHITEHOUSE.GOV

Ever imagined life in a constant state of perpetual rush, whereby an individual is desperately trying to keep things together in an effort to please everyone, starting off with one thing but unable to ever finish any task before moving on to another, pulled in different directions and not knowing what the end objective is?

Sounds like an exhausting and frustrating journey of a good natured guy, right? Indeed! This is how Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House has been – presiding over a fractured Washington and putting out wild fires one after the other, ending up aimlessly drifting without achieving any concrete results.

Let’s recognise that it’s been a hectic six years. While Obama’s mantra was ‘yes, we can’, those adamant at his election as president made sure that the sense of optimism this dreamer and idealist tried to inject into the system was soon turned into a hard ‘no, we can’t’ strategy to destroy his legacy every step of the way.

Years of negative trends and distraught behaviour that has characterised the Republicans, his opponents in the Congress, and elsewhere, has left the president flabbergasted and demotivated, forcing him to give vent to anger vociferously on more than one occasion.

While addressing a recent gathering of fellow Democrats, he said,

“I am frustrated. You have every right to be frustrated because Congress doesn’t work the way it should. Issues are left unattended. Folks are more interested in scoring political points than getting things done.”

Yes, that’s exactly right. Scoring political points is all that matters.

The consequences of never getting stuff done have been far-reaching and monstrously painful. Beyond the George W Bush-Dick Cheney time, we were all keeping fingers crossed that peaceful coexistence based on better understanding across all major faiths would no longer be a distant reality.

Jews, Christians, Muslims, and the ‘unfaithful’, like yours truly, who supported Obama, were looking forward to a visible trust rebuilding effort to get America out of a quagmire that made many feel that the country had been mortgaged to the far-right’s bigotry.

We, the people who held our hands up and prayed that all the post-9/11 demons, friction, and hatred will peter out were proven utterly wrong. While religious and race-related freedoms are still guaranteed by the constitution and whereas we are all, each one of us in God’s green United States of America, protected by ironclad laws that ensure civil liberties, there are certain elements in the society that simply cannot refrain from instilling fear and hatred based on typical ignorance and uncharitably non-blissful attitude that has harmed the country much more than benefitting it.

Hate-mongering suckers, far-right dogmatists and white supremacists have made life quite uneasy for those who stand for freedom, liberty, and believe in the good old American values based on humane and pragmatic principles. We find ourselves strangulated and suffocated when a Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Dylann Roof, Sarah Palin, Pamela Geller, or a Bill O’Reilly spits race or religion-laden anger at minorities or the oppressed classes.

While none of us are children of a lesser God, these imbeciles have made it the mission of their lives to prove to the lesser enlightened class of people that only certain groups of folks are above board slash privileged and there are some communities that pose a threat to our existence and hence the public must be leery of their presence amongst us.

So, when our poor president says “we’re all one family” at the annual White House Ramazan dinner, I would agree with and believe him, but not have high hopes if he would ever be able to deliver on his words. He’s got too much on his plate and cannot be expected to fulfil all his promises. The tide somehow is always against him. He probably doesn’t even have a priority list anymore. It’s one day at a time. Even if he had a priority list, I think that he’d go after the gun lobby before anything else. Race is a damning concern that is refusing to simmer down. Issues like ISIS, the Taliban, the two wars and the national debt are breathing down the president’s neck. Intra-religious understanding may not even feature on his list of priorities.

Is there any hope in today’s America that is seeing a comeback of the moral majority days? Well, there is still some light at the end of the tunnel. Just like me, millions of immigrants come to this land of hope and promise to settle down for better lives and try to make it day in and day out. That vision and those values have not yet exited the ecosystem and while I may think that the president is forcibly going through the motions of hosting a White House Iftar reception, I appreciate the fact that despite the climate of gloom and doom, the tradition has continued and there is a recognition and a desire in the highest echelons of power that we must stand together and fight the evil of the dreadful disseminators of hate and contaminators of peaceful coexistence.

As America struggles to stay relevant, while the president’s energy and enthusiasm have certainly gone down, he’s done incredible things for us. There’s another 18 months or so to go before he bids farewell to the White House. While the list of challenges is rapidly growing, knowing that Obama is a strong-willed character, it is safe to expect that he’ll be working hard to spread the spirit of unity and goodwill.

While anti-Muslim sentiments are on the rise, the faithful must stay on course and not indulge in acts that they may have to regret committing later on. It takes two to tango and that’s precisely what’s needed. Granted there are a few organisations already active, a strong and an effective grassroots movement to work for the betterment of the community is direly needed before an expectation can be set from the powers that be to intervene. Muslims must work hard to reform their religion. That is one peaceful way to counter the far-right’s propaganda as well as mitigate the ill effects of extremism that has settled into the faith’s arterial system.

In the meantime, the president should be urged to use his swagger and his will to fight against odds. He may not be fired up and ready to go yet but there’s always hope that things can change one day. All we need is preservation of human dignity, protection of people’s rights and peace with honour. With constitutional safeguards already in place, that’s not too much to ask for.

Ahson Saeed Hasan

Ahson Saeed Hasan

The writer is a proud American, a peacenik who has traveled well over 80 countries and lived in four continents. He likes to share his experiences and reflect on the worldly surroundings. He tweets @tweetingacho (twitter.com/tweetingacho)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.