Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reactions to the Inauguration

Caleb talking here...

I don't interfere with Adrienne's "Ben-fest-blog" very often because it's so much fun watching her celebrate the life of our son! But, permit me this intrusion, as I must succumb to my inner politico. I have to pay homage to Democracy in action, to triumph, to hope, and to "more of the same".

If you watched ANY news network today to catch a glimpse of history, you were bombarded with anecdotes about the significance of the event, the triumph of the civil rights movement, the comparisons to MLK Jr., and the elation of the disenfranchised masses. There was glory in today, no doubt about it, and I wonder if the stain of slavery will begin to be washed away in the collective mind of Black America. I hope for that, but that's not what I want to write about.

I didn't watch enough of the coverage or listen to enough of the talking heads to make the following claim with absolute certainty, but considering the drama of the Civil Rights talking point, I have a feeling this was not covered much: The peaceful transition of power from one administration to another, following the will of the people IS democracy. And more than that, it is a RARE thing in the governments of the world.

What you witnessed today in the passing of the torch was nothing short of a governmental miracle. Two powerful and driven men, with millions of supporters each, both abided by the rule of law and acted in a way that showed respect for each other, the institutions of government, and the will of the people. The one, holding the office, the commander of the armed forces, the most powerful man in the world, willingly giving up that to the other. And the other, ready to take power, with the backing of a majority of Americans, did not feel the need to raise a private army, or to wage an international ad campaign decrying the "atrocities of his people against mine". No, both men willingly exchanged the burden of the office without thought of violence or doubt in the other man's intentions. Could this be hope? Or how about "more of the same"?

If this sameness continues for all future generations, then I have hope for the future. Can you imagine a nation where that respect for law, for the will of the people, and for the nation's history is lost? We'd be another two-bit banana republic, or a turmoiled dark continent dictatorship. You may claim the US has lost it's cherished savior-of-the-world image developed since the end of WWII, but I say Democracy has never looked stronger. Hope can come to that man in the African hut that Obama referenced, because there is an example of it in our institutions and our people. But it comes at great cost.

I think Obama's comments about Middle East policy, terrorism, Muslims and extremists may have caught many off guard. The inclusion of those topics into an inauguration address from the President of the United States, shows just how pervasive the issue really is. Those Americans who thought this President would turn his back on a "sad chapter in American foreign policy", those who thought he would shake the sand out of Uncle Sam's top hat, need to recognize that the issue of Muslim extremism is the defining topic of the 21st century.

Obama's rhetoric on the topic was lofty, hopeful, defiant in the face of our enemies, unapologetic for being American, and sounded just like George W. Bush! This was a shock to me. "He understands!" I thought. "He gets the gravity of it!" I thought. Let the change come, let the hope come, but God please let it be MORE OF THE SAME when it comes to dealing with Muslim extremists. Maybe those pre-presidency security briefings gave him a new perspective on things, or maybe he always had this perspective, he just had to hide it from his political base. I hope it's the former, because of what it means. It means that he has set aside his idealistic comments of the campaign and has recognized the ugly truth: That western culture, politics, religion, and people are under attack. And he has decided to confront it.

Look, we are in a culture war. Iraq? Afghanistan? Those are just battlefronts. As is Somalia, Malaysia, India, France, Holland and yes, Canada. And if you thought we could just step back and let bygones be bygones then you do not understand the size of this. Story time:

Once upon a time, long ago, in a land far away, there was a great Story Teller. The Story Teller was very famous in many lands. One time he told a horrible tale of the rape and murder of generations of children in a far off place. He told the story to people of his own land hoping they would see the need for change and take steps to make it happen. Instead he was killed for telling his story and now his land lives in fear.

The place? Holland. The time? 2004. (post Sept. 11) The story teller? Theo Van Gogh. (the Michael Moore of Europe to quote Charles Winecoff) He dared to make a TEN MINUTE film about Muslim women under Islamic law. He was shot in broad daylight in Amsterdam, which is in Holland, which is in Europe, NOT in Falujah, which is in Iraq, which is in the Middle East. Want some more "current" evidence? Mumbai.

If you are one of those who blames US foreign policy for the response of the Arab Street, then look at Mumbai. They did not attack the embassy, or even a McDonalds (our two greatest symbols of capitalism!). They attacked a hotel, full of vacationers. They attacked a train station and by all accounts they shot people indiscriminately. They are not at war with the US, or Europe. They are at war with you, the way you live, and the way you think. Do you really think you would be allowed to protest, or even wear earrings, if Tehran had it's way? Just because you stop fighting them, does not mean they'll stop fighting you. The Mufdi's are calling for world domination, not a cease-fire.

Take note, just as Obama has. And let there be more of the same.

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