There is a huge difference between the way the Obama administration dealt with the recent terrorist operations and the way the administration of former president George W. Bush dealt with similar operations. Obama’s administration, on all levels, was eager to deal with American-Pakistani Faisal Shahzad’s attempt to blow up a car in Times Square in New York with a lot of deliberation and without hastily issuing statements, also avoiding any suggestions of a link between terrorism and Islam.
After the failed terrorist attack, Obama said that his country would not be intimidated and that the investigations will seek to determine if the suspect in the case had links to “foreign extremist organizations.” He did not once refer to the religion of Faisal Shahzad and avoided mentioning Islam in discussing the terrorist operation.
A few months ago, following the botched attempt of Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalib to blow up a US airliner over America on Christmas Day, Obama spoke about the detained terrorist as a member of the Al Qaeda organization but he did not speak about him being a Muslim. Even when he spoke about Al Qaeda, Obama noted that it was not the first time that the network had targeted America, ignoring the links that were made in the past between the organization and Islam or when it was put in the context of “Islamic extremism.”
When Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people at the Fort Hood military base in Texas last November President Obama “cautioned against jumping to conclusions.” In all of his statements after that crime was committed, President Obama focused on troop morale and the issue of psychological pressure as a result of the war, ignoring the fact that Nidal Malik Hasan is a Muslim and of Arab origin.
The Obama administration took the initiative to remove the term “Islamic terrorism” from its documents and official transactions after the US President announced that he wanted to turn a new page with regards to the Islamic world. There is recognition today of the fact that terrorists are benefiting from the creation of an anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim atmosphere after any terrorist operation, and that issuing statements or taking steps that target Muslims employed by extremist groups further spreads hostility against the US, the West, and even moderate Islamic states.
Moreover, the war on terror is a universal war; it cannot be won without international cooperation. Terrorism does not target the US alone; the Islamic states were victims of terrorism long before it reached the American borders.
Because the policy of invading countries as a strategy to confront terrorism cannot be followed, as this policy has human, military, financial and moral costs, the US is no longer responding to extremist voices that call for targeting the countries to which the terrorists belong. The identity of the terrorist does not necessarily implicate the country he belongs to, in the same way that other adherents of the religion the terrorist follows should not be condemned. The person who attempted the recent explosion in New York was Pakistani and it is believed that he carried out his attempt with instruction and training from the Pakistani Taliban; this doesn’t mean that Pakistan is involved in the case or that it must be subjected to US strikes, which is what some extremist voices call for. Pakistan is engaged in a war against the Taliban and its cooperation in the war against terror is considered vital and necessary for fighting this disease.
The paradox lies in the fact that the case of Faisal Shahzad destroys the logic of extremists from the core because the perpetrator comes from America itself, where he lived and worked and has US citizenship. Moreover, the person who is said to have influenced his thinking is Sheikh Anwar al Awlaki who also has US citizenship. More importantly, it emerged that Major Nidal Malik Hasan and the Nigerian Omar Farouk Abdulmuttalib were also influenced by al Awlaki.
The Al Qaeda organization used youngsters of different nationalities in terrorist operations and at first it succeeded at having an impact on America’s relations with the various countries that those operatives belonged to. The organization benefited from the atmosphere of suspicion that prevailed in America’s relations with numerous Islamic countries just as it exploited the anti-Islamic atmosphere in order to add fuel to the fire of anger and extremism. Despite numerous attempts by moderate voices, the Bush administration remained captive to the Big Stick policy and slogans of “you’re either with us or against us,” which caused the popularity of the US to wane not only in the Islamic world but in numerous countries around the world.
When Obama entered the White House, his election was not a message of hope and inspiration to America alone but to the entire world that welcomed the message of change. Since day one, the new president has extended his hand to the Islamic world; he delivered speeches from Ankara and Cairo and he appointed an envoy from the Organization of the Islamic Conference. More importantly, US discourse has changed and the tendency to link every terrorist operation to the religion of the perpetrator has disappeared. In the speech Obama made to the Islamic world from Cairo last year, he pledged that he would confront the negative stereotype of Islam…there is no doubt that he is trying to do that as demonstrated by the American discourse following the recent terrorist operations.