Obama-mania, Arab style!

Amman, Jordan

First, let me say that my faith in American democracy has been restored. Regardless of who won this election, I was hoping that we wouldn’t have the same quagmire we had in the last two elections, with no one quite sure who really deserved to win, even four and eight years later. I’m glad that McCain and the xenophobic, bellicose GOP right and especially Sarah Palin didn’t win, but I’m mostly glad that the election was an unambiguous one.

Those Jordanians who had a preference in the recent election are also mostly pleased by the result. I can’t tell you how many people, upon seeing me for the first time after the election, have said “Mabrouk! [Congratulations!]” So tonight in my adult English class at AMIDEAST, I decided to ask my students for their thoughts on the election. Most Jordanians I’ve spoken to tend to agree that as far as the Middle East is concerned, the two candidates are basically the same. On Palestine, the same. On Afghanistan, the same. On Iran, Obama is calling for more dialogue, but is not significantly less belligerent.

Wait a minute, I said. All of that I can agree with. But what about Iraq? Don’t you see a difference there?

No, said Ghassan. Whether it’s a few hundred troops, or thousands, both candidates want to leave a troop presence in Iraq. They came for the oil, he said, and that hasn’t changed.

However, everyone here seems to recognize that, while there isn’t a difference where Arabs are concerned, for Americans there is a huge difference between McCain and Obama on domestic issues. All the Jordanians I’ve spoken to here know that Obama is calling for national health care, and they will all tell you that he has the better plan to help ordinary Americans in their current financial crisis. On domestic issues, all the Jordanians I’ve met would say that Obama is clearly the best choice.

And, of course, all the Muslims I know here are delighted that America has elected the son of a Muslim. I haven’t actually asked anyone why yet. I can think of two likely reasons, though. First, under Islamic law and tradition, any son or daughter of a Muslim is and always will be a Muslim, so although he’s been a practicing Christian for years, many Muslims may be telling themselves that America has a Muslim president. The other, probably more likely reason that comes to mind is that, whether Obama is Muslim or Christian, Muslims in America have come under an awful lot of not-so-flattering scrutiny in America in the last seven years, and at the very least, Obama knows something about Muslims. I think that Muslims may well be hoping, as I am hoping, that an Obama administration will be sympathetic to the troubles of both Muslims and Muslim Americans, or at the very least, will be more rational.

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