Barack Obama: Right for America or Just Right on Time?
by Tariq Nelson
Recently, I was talking to a friend about reasons Barack Obama’s message of Hope and Change may be resonating with so many Americans. I believe that much of the attraction is not so much about Mr. Obama himself, but rather post 9/11 era fatigue. September 11, 2001 began a dark and gloomy era for America that has lasted until now; and the American people yearn to see a parting of those dark clouds. Americans are ready to go back to a modicum of normal (pre 9/11) life and to leave behind the endless state of emergency of the post 9/11 era.
Who can forget witnessing the shocking sight of commercial airliners being flown into buildings and those buildings crashing down with people inside? I never will. That day, it was impossible for me to fathom the fact that these horrible acts were being committed in the name of religion—much less my own. But, without time to fully understand what had happened, or to recover from the initial shock, many Muslims were being put upon—questioned by media with microphones being shoved into their faces demanding condemnations.
I can still remember the sick feeling in my stomach when I woke up on September 12, 2001; and seeing those planes flying into the towers over and over again in my mind; followed by a media parade of the gruesome details that included people jumping several hundred feet from those towers to death on the streets below.
In the aftermath, the politics of fear would begin anew as discredited (but opportunistic) bigots came out of their closets to restart careers in new cyber-kennels by relentlessly attacking Muslims who had nothing to do with the attacks. These skilled demagogues would smear not only innocent Muslims—anyone who opposed George Bush’s policy (even in intonation) was vilified as anti-American and smeared as a “terrorist sympathizer.” In the words of George W. Bush, you were: “with us, or against us.” The administration was being duplicitous in overtly calling for American unity while being covertly divisive; and emotions were running high, while critical thinking was in short supply.
Then there was an anthrax scare, color-coded security alerts (that immediately began to yo-yo), airline travel became overwhelming and tedious, and sniper killings had people in the D.C. area ducking for cover while pumping gas. The War in Afghanistan blazed across the headlines; and we began to see pictures of marred victims of war. Later, we would witness via TV the crazed kidnapping, beheading and gruesome murders and threats of murder to Westerners. Bombings in Madrid, London, Casablanca and countless other places followed. This would continue for years.
Eventually, a level of societal insensitivity to violence began to set in, even as violence overwhelmed the periphery of our collective consciousness. Now, reports of bombings in Iraq or other places and the fact of violent death—often of hundreds—are no longer shocking.
Post 9/11, George Bush, a near messianic figure riding high in an environment of alarm and hysteria inspired the American people to join a mass-movement with an emotional appeal to irrational passions to justify a “preemptive” war in Iraq. No citizen could oppose this war without being vilified, as a champion “for Saddam Hussein,” or worse, a threat to national security. And as it became obvious that the rush to a morally unjustifiable war in Iraq had become hideously expensive, incompetently bungled, while no weapons of mass destruction were ever found and countless tens of thousands killed; we sadly had grown even more numb.
Compounding this psychological numbing was the shocking bombardment of the scandal of Abu Guraib with horrific images that consumed national news and resulted in Congressional hearings. The next shock wave came with disclosures of secret and not-so-secret networks of US supported or condoned torture camps around the world, overt trampling of civil liberties, secret Executive powers and an arrogant contempt by the Executive for any citizen who dared to speak out against the subversion of these civil liberties.
In 2005, during Hurricane Katrina, we saw an entire section of a major American city under water; resulting in the loss of homes and homelessness for thousands. Television brought home the stark reality of American citizens—stranded by the surge of water—sitting atop their homes for days with no help from their government. Many of those citizens, to this day, still live in cramped travel trailers. An added note in the chapter on the violence we have faced post 9/11 is the general rise in violence in our educational institutions—a violence brought once again to national attention following the recent tragic Virginia Tech campus shootings. Add to this a bad and worsening economy, a health care system in much need of repair and crisis in housing brought on by sub-prime lending and a mounting foreclosure rate; and there is no wonder that American people are hungry for change.
The past seven years have truly been dark times. As I was reading on this topic, I found an article written February 13, 2008 which stated:
“Long after Sept. 11, 2001, Americans’ terrorism-related thoughts and fears are associated with increased depression, anxiety, hostility, posttraumatic stress and drinking, University of Illinois at Chicago researchers have found.”
UIC researchers examined the extent to which the strength of people’s post–Sept. 11 beliefs and fears, as assessed in 2003, predicted a range of psychological distress and alcohol abuse in 2005. Data were derived from a mail survey, which began before Sept. 11 and continued in 2005
Richman and others have shown that the events of Sept. 11 have been associated with feelings of distress and anxiety, and these feelings have led to problematic drinking. However, previous research focused on distress at the time of the traumatic event, and predictions about future negative behaviors were hard to assess.
In the new study, 30 percent of participants reported feeling very or extremely more pessimistic about world peace, and 27.6 percent reported they had less faith in the government’s ability to protect them. [end quote]
Besides confirming that Americans are tired of post 9/11 fear mongering, this article also shows the amazing resilience of the American Muslim community, which by far bore the heaviest brunt of this ruthless onslaught, yet continued to function. All Americans, Muslim included, are hurting, looking for a little “hope, ” and want “change.” It’s not surprising that Rudolph Giuliani’s campaign of fear and smear (against Muslims) gained no traction. Americans are sick—literally sick—of the darkness of the post 9/11 era. This is what underlines the reason that Barack Obama’s message of hope has attracted such attention. People want and need to hope for better times.
When Barack Obama appeared in the midst of post 9/11 gloom bringing a message of hope and change rather than fearful demagoguery; people began asking themselves, if Obama could be the one that would lead American out of this era of darkness, pain and despair and into a more normal and hopeful time.
Americans need a change from the last seven years. Americans are tired of terror alerts and alarms. Americans are tired of the carnage. Americans are just tired.
I certainly am not claiming that Barack Obama is miracle worker, or even endorsing him. I am describing the environment that has allowed his mantra to resonate with so many. Obama has tapped into the mood of a large segment of America. Most Americans want to move past the post 9/11 era of suspicion and fear to become friends and neighbors. As Muslims, we should be ready and willing to do the same.