January 25, 2013

A Muslim's Perspective on the Inauguration, MLK and the Universal Story of Hope and Fear

Alp Aslandoğan *

Billions of people around the world of all races, religions, nationalities and political persuasions were inspired by the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. It was not only President Obama's message but the message of hope that underscores everything that America can represent for the world, including peaceful affirmations of power, progress and opportunity.

As a Muslim who was born and raised in 1970s Turkey, a nation of deep and sometimes bitter divides at the time, I could not help but be inspired by the scene of hundreds of thousands of Americans gathering in peace to witness the inaugural festivities. That crowd represented people from all walks of life in America. It included rich and poor; young and old; white and black and every other race represented on earth, all standing shoulder to shoulder. Despite the political divide between the supporters of the two major political parties and the apoplectic nature of cable news shows, the hallmark of the United States remains its ability to tap out a steady rhythm of peaceful political transition that dates back more than 200 years.

Equally noteworthy is the fact that every four years and particularly for the last two inaugurations, the United States, has shown how important it is for a nation to embrace its history, all of it, the good and the bad. President Obama chose to be sworn in using two different Bibles, one belonging to President Lincoln, who lead the nation through the Civil War, the other belonging to Martin Luther King, Jr., who followed on Lincoln's legacy by the leading the fight for Civil Rights. Many nations would deny such divisive periods, particularly during solemn nationalistic celebrations such as an inauguration, but the United States embraces its past, transforming internal struggles into strengths instead of weaknesses.

In the areas around the world who suffered under colonialism, including many Muslim communities, two responses developed to everything associated with the West. One extreme vision is driven by anger and fear. This is the vision offered by radical groups who focus their rhetoric on the involvement of Western military power in international affairs and ignore their achievements in science, arts, democracy, human rights and freedoms.

But there is also a different vision that is driven by hope and held by the vast majority of Muslims. That vision is one that often gets pushed aside by the media's disproportionate attention to negative news coverage. That vision is one that embraces peace, progress and opportunity. It is a vision where hope reigns supreme against fear, and Martin Luther King Jr.'s saying "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend" finds resonance in the minds and hearts of people. While the fear-driven vision denied girls opportunities for education, the hope-driven vision produces woman teachers, professors, business and political leaders and television newscasters. While the fear-driven vision produced suicide bombers, the hope-driven vision produces scientists, entrepreneurs and Nobel-laureates.

People around Dr. King were driven by the hope of an America where anyone would have an equal opportunity to become anything they wanted to be. People who were opposed to them were driven by the fear of losing privileges or status. It took America more than 200 years to overcome the fears that fed slavery and discrimination. Many would agree that it is still a work in progress in the minds of American people. It will take time for Muslim communities around the world to heal the wounds of colonialism and dictatorships, and focus on the hope of dignified presence in the world scene.

America gave its citizens the hope of opportunity through democracy, human rights and liberties. The work is not complete unless the same hope can be spread to the world by supporting democracy, human rights and liberties everywhere. Muslims around the world want the same opportunities for themselves and their children that have benefitted President Obama, that have allowed him to reach the pinnacle of accomplishment and leadership. It will take the effort of people who embrace the message of hope to bring the same opportunities to the whole world.

* Dr. Y. Alp Aslandogan is the President of the Alliance for Shared Values, a non-profit organization serving as a centralized, unified voice for dialogue and cultural organizations associated with the Hizmet movement in the United States.

Published on Huffington Post, 24 January 2013, Thursday
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