The Audacity Of Hope, Fear And Faith

Photo Credit: NYT

I hate sounding cynical. But I’m trying to be realistic here. This is not to say I hate the guy. I don’t even know him. And to be fair, it’s still his first day on the job. But seriously. Looking at how people are reacting to this. Especially the more westernized Jordanians here. You would think the Messiah has returned. And it’s not like this is ordinarily a bid deal. People are free to idolize whomever they wish. But to invest that much blind faith in a man who is bound to the predictable whims of an office? I mean Americans are free to do it. He’s their president. But for anyone in the Arab world to think things here will actually change?

Hey. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. I really hope so. But it’s like hoping it’ll snow tomorrow so you won’t have to go to work. Sheer will power isn’t going to do it. Mere faith and prayer isn’t going to make it happen.

Also. There is the general feeling that this presidency is being sold as some form of redemption for the past eight years. I recognize that tone in western media, between the lines of columnists and writers. And the truth is, it won’t be. The Arab world sees American politics as an ongoing play. Different actors might play the lead role as the years pass on, but the story remains the same. The plot remains the same. And to those who have watched the show a dozen times, the predictability remains the same. Atonement isn’t electoral. You can’t vote someone “better” in to office, close your eyes real tight and hope the past eight years didn’t happen. It won’t erase the horrors of Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine or Darfur.

And yes, Obama is indeed an elequont speaker. Perhaps to Americans that is quite a change of pace from the better half of the last decade. But for us, we live in a region where poetry has been pandered as policy for generations, and to no avail. We’ve been sold words many times.

Many. Many. Many. Times.

But. What really annoys me about all of this isn’t the poetry and prose. It isn’t the blind faith in hope and change. It isn’t the attempts at redemption. What really annoys me is the expectations. The bar has been set so high that unless Obama brings peace to our region – an act that is best performed alongside a miracle akin to parting the Red sea – then Obama will be deemed a failure. What will follow is greater disappointment. Not from our fathers or grandfathers who know better, but from us. Our generation. The young and educated who could afford a bit of faith in hope and change. Who could momentarily choose to ignore the realities of a repetitive history, in leui of something bigger. Something greater to aspire to.

And when that happens, it will send this generation and the next, in to an ever deeper abyss of cynicism.

During his inauguration speech, Obama boldly declared “we have chosen hope over fear”. And to those living in this region, nothing sounds more inspiring. Because fear is something we live with on a daily basis. You wake up to go to work one day and the country right next to you gets invaded. You wake up to go to work one day, and the country right above you gets bombed for a month. You wake up to go to work one day, and the city 300 km away is being bombed back to the stone age. And all you see for days and days and day are bodies. Burnt flesh plastered on TV screens. And if you squint real hard, you can see black smoke in the distance, from the very place that you’re standing in.

We haven’t chosen anything. Fear is signed, sealed and delivered to us on a daily basis. Like spam emails. You get it whether you want it or not. Whether you like it or not.

And as for hope…


  • Thank you for being another voice of reason… all hail Obama is a grating call. Obama may make a difference to the American public but what he will do in the interationla arena is yet to be seen. I believe in Actions not words and like you I do not think he is the be all end all for our problems.

    We woke up today and the situation has not changed. I hope the westernized Ammanis you refer to realize that and soon. Because we need to take responsibility for ourselves and where we live… we cant keep looking to a failing nation like the US to support us when it has no history of doing so.

    Now where’s that piaster?

  • i wrote a similar (somewhat) comment on my blog .. allow me to share it here ..

    so barack obama will be sworn in tonight … i said this when he won the elections and i’ll say it again now that he’s being inaugurated …
    congratulations on being america’s first black president barack … but you’re no malcolm …
    to me this whole thing feels like whenever a mega-hyped rookie is drafted into the league and everyone wants to see if he will live up to the expectations or if he will be a bust … of course it’s still too soon to tell … but let’s watch and see … i am referring of course to the american expectations of obama … as arabs we don’t and shouldn’t expect anything different from him than any of the presidents before him …

  • while i agree with the backbone of ur argument, and i am not one to believe obama’s election is going to change anything for us, but what compels me in his arguments and their reception by the american public is his boldness in calling on his nation to ‘choose its better history’, ‘rebuild itself’ and ‘rediscover its role’ … it evokes the kind of society i yearn to live in, a society in which i can contribute, build and be creative. it almost makes me want to be american.

    but what bugs me the most is that we have a history that remains undiscovered by citizens and leaders alike – a history of scientific and literary excellence that isn’t even taught in schools today (my mom for example learnt the mu3alakat when in school… 25 years later they were off my curriculum!). prophet muhammad’s (pbuh) freeing of his slave is perhaps the first precedent in history, yet we still refer to black people as ‘3abd’. we used to contemplate astronomy and the universe, now contemplation of abstract concepts is alien to our culture. we are the nation of khalil gibran, a humanist at a time when humanity was yet undiscovered, yet we are also a people who murder in the name of honour.

    what i am trying to say is maybe obama’s appeal isn’t that he is going to change our world. maybe it is that we all acknowledge the need to redeem our selves. Not from w bush, but from ourselves, for forsaking our own history and the legacy it entrusted us with.

  • great post! I was trying to say the same thing through a single-lline facebook status, only to be bashed by my friends 😛

    Now all I have to do is put up a link of your post. Thanks Nas!

  • I saw the surface of the earth before the snow melts.
    Not only to the westernized Jordanian, but unfortunately to many American ,he will be great disappointment.
    To become a president of United States, presidents must fellow a certain rules and criteria to rule over the empire ,and the most important ones are the the financial and military institutions that Obama must adhere to; or he will end up as his predecessor like John F Kennedy who tried to steer the empire into different path by ending the arm race with the former Soviet Union, normalizing relation with Cuba and ending the Vietnam war.
    His silence on the carnage of Gaza speaks loud and clear, Obama will adhere to the will of AIPAC and their supporters because he is a opportunistic politician who will be thinking of capturing another 4 years , Obama know exactly where his interests lies , and he will follow them willingly without a murmur or a word of protest.
    And here I leave you with Commentaries by Osha Neumann The Silence of Barack Obama

  • “Hey. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. I really hope so. But it’s like hoping it’ll snow tomorrow so you won’t have to go to work. Sheer will power isn’t going to do it. Mere faith and prayer isn’t going to make it happen.”

    No, you won’t be proven wrong. No change for us because we deserve none, especially if we don’t work for it.

    why the heck do we expect change to be initiated from the outside world, mainly America, when us; the people, our governments, and our leaders are barely doing anything? On the contrary, if we have learned anything form the latest massacre in Gaza it is that we agree on disagreeing (the shameful conflict on where and when to set the EMERGENCY ARAB LEAGUE SUMMIT).

    “إن الله لا يغير ما بقوم حتى يغيروا ما بأنفسهم
    سورة الرعد- آية 11

    “Verily, Allah will not change the (good) condition of a people as long as they do not change their state (of goodness) themselves.”

    Surah Ar-Rad- Part 13: Verse :11

    do we want change in our region? Yes
    do we hope for change? Yes
    do we believe in change? I don’t know
    are “we” working individually/collectively on changing the status quo ourselves? maybe there is individual effort, but on a larger scale collectively, including individuals, governments, and leaders, NO.

    So do we deserve change?? hmmm.

    Obama’s campaign message from the start was, “change you believe in.” Americans were yearning for change after 8 years of failed Bush administration. they hoped for change to take place. wanted change. believed in change. worked for change. got change.

    Congratulations America!

  • I understand your point of view. As an American who supported Obama, i have mixed feelings about the hype surrounding him. He’s untested. He doesn’t deserve the expectations placed on him. He can not possibly fulfill everyone’s hopes. However, I do believe there is power in words. You must too, or you wouldn’t write. While I don’t believe President Obama can deliver on many of his promises because of the way government works, I do believe his words can inspire and motivate the people.

    Whenever I travel the world, I want to apologize for my country and I hear over and over again that people understand it is our government who is at fault, not the average citizen. So if the average citizen and their ideals can be mobilized to be more involved in government, then change can’t help but come. For the past few decades we’ve been pulled into a culture of consuming. The current economic crisis has brought new priorities to people. That, combined with a true leader who asks sacrifice and service of us, could literally change the world. Will it? That remains to be seen. I have hope, because he’s the first president in a long time that has asked for help and involvement from average citizens.

    I don’t believe anyone in America believes a new president can erase the past 8 years anymore than we believe we can erase our history of slavery, segregation and racism with one black president. But we can learn from the mistakes of the past, incorporate those lessons into our present and hopefully put them into practice in the future.

    I hope the new president doesn’t bring more disappointment and cynicism to a new generation. That’s why I plan to support him in his efforts while also criticizing him when he falls short of his promises. That’s democracy for you.

  • After reading the comments above, I felt I just had to point something out. Hopefully an American perspective will contribute a little.

    Shalabieh said above that “we need to take responsibility for ourselves and where we live… we cant keep looking to a failing nation like the US to support us when it has no history of doing so”.

    Many of Americans actually share these exact same sentiments! That is why Obama is our president now. We all feel like our nation is failing right now, and that our government has not been supporting us. People think that Obama is different because he’s been telling us that it’s our job to change things, not his.

    The big question isn’t whether he actually wants to change the direction this nation (and to some extent, this world) is going (it’s irrelevant). He is surely an over prideful, self-entitled politician who wanted to be president. He may have some enlightened goals, but he obviously can’t be trusted to sacrifice himself or his career for them.

    The thing is this: to keep his power, he may actually be willing to work very hard to live up the standard being set for him. And that would be a first for a politician at that level, at least around here.

  • While it is true that the world doesn’t change over night, the reality of the language Obama is using along with the hope and acceptance of people should tell us something. Change is right there infront of our face. The difference in speech between Obama and Bush is tremendous. There is no more on terror. There is no more enducing of fear and waging war. The guy is telling the world that he choses hope not fear for his nation. Can’t we do the same for ours? Isn’t it hope that we really need now?!

  • I watched the inauguration ceremony on Aljazeera English because I wanted to hear the speech for myself & get a feel of the words & the meaning behind them. My family kept telling me: why are you watching this? who cares what he says? what is he going to do for us? well, I know for sure that he’s not going to do anything for us. Until we stop waiting for others to change the situation, it won’t change. I was simply watching because it was a historical event – very moving to see the pride & hope on all the faces. 2 million people braving the bitter cold to see the new president being sworn in, when did that last happen??

  • he will be good to americans (anything better than bush) and bad to arabs (As will every US president forever)…

  • Reading the above comments, especially the ones from Deena, Lynette and Thomas, are more touching on the reason behind why so many people are moved to listen to the words of this man. Words are power, hope is power… not from the top down but from the bottom up. I have learned this here in Jordan over the past month more so than anywhere, which is why I was so surpirsed to read this cynical post on seeing an entire people celebrating a man who motivated them to get off their couches, turn off their Ipods and actually DO SOMETHING.

    Isn’t that the point? He is human – of course he will make mistakes, and his hands will be tied, and the legacies and reputation of America will haunt his actions. As a Canadian political Science/International Business masters student, one of my favorite past times is bashing the american empire, throwing pebbles of criticism over the border at the lumbering over-inflated giant that stomps over the world in search of whatever it seeks to satiate itself…

    But, as lynette said, those are the governments actions we are speaking of, ones that have been condoned and catalyzed by the inaction of all the American citizens who have stood passively by… the only responsibility they could take before was to say that ‘that did not speak for all of them’ while the channel was turned. I understand the frustration – those inside and outside the border have felt the ripples of American policies over and over. Criticize all you want – he invites it – that’s what democracy is made of. His first step, after taking steps to shut down guantanamo and call the leaders of the middle east, was to insert transparent governance for the first time into american politics. But if people find this man inspires them to reach farther, to do more for themselves, then they are getting his message in a way that he intends for all of us to hear it.

    No matter what the spark, no matter what the motivation, the action of common citizens is what will define the future – and if ‘westernized’ Jordanians find hope in this man, what’s the problem? If they listen to his words and are motivated to action do you feel it somewhat less legitimate?

  • I try to be optimistic however sometimes sigh and think noway…America will stay close to the original policies…America will always give Israel the upper hand and the benefit of the doubt…America will remain bias…we will still be seeing uncle Sam at work long way yet until we see uncle Leroy…

    Peace over’n’out

  • There’s such a Catch-22 in all this conversation here in the Middle East about President Obama and whether or not he can and/or will change the Middle East. There’s certainly plenty of debate as to how much power the American government even has over the issue of Israel/Palestine, or of democratic and human rights reform anywhere in the region. Certainly the United States pumps plenty of money into controversial regimes in the region, starting with Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but definitely not ending there! On the American side, there are plenty who question why we should help people in the Middle East who don’t seem to want to help themselves. Of course, Black Iris made an eloquent argument in the post “Somewhere Near the Israeli Embassy In Amman….” for why it is so difficult for people in this region to press for change and reform from within. On the other hand, change and reform will never be successful if they are imposed entirely from without.

    Hope or Action is a false choice. The Soviet Union didn’t fall because of America, or because of its own people. It fell as a result of both forces. It fell because Americans applied pressure from without, because people within believed in external promises, but also because the citizens of the USSR worked for change from within. I say, by all means, hope that an external force can and will help you, but work as if only you can help yourself. This is true of the economic crisis, the Gaza crisis, the Iraqi crisis, the Afghan crisis, the health care crisis, the education crisis, the Darfur crisis….

  • I am so disappointed that some Jordanians don’t get it. Its not whether Obama’s Middle East policy will transform the Middle East solving all our problems (which I suspect will not be radically different from that of his predecessor), but rather the story of Obama’s ascendance from an average citizen to a president of the United States, a two-year campaign to reach this position, the functioning of democracy which despite its shortcomings remains the best form of government, the smooth transition from one President to another, the strict adherence to the Constitution, the confirmation hearings for every secretary (minister), the daily press briefings to justify every policy to every citizen; it is accountability, it is the open political system that accomodates different political strands, it is the voice and choice of every citizen…Let’s not personify this episode; its so much more than Obama, its an example we should strive to emulate if we are interested in ever solving our problems.

  • Nas, I have to say that I personally appreciate your honesty. Lots of platitudes go around, but I think that the average Palestinian (inside and out) would be foolish to place too much hope in Obama. I also think that the average American is foolish to place such hyped-up, MTV-bling hope in him. I agree that what Obama has done is change the conversation from one of uniting through fear to one of uniting through the call to be better than we are. Anyone who expects a 180 degree change overnight is foolish. The American pendulum swings from too far right to too far left nearly every single time. But, it swings and eventually seems to balance out. Turning the American government’s policies and actions isn’t like turning a sailboat aout… it’s more like te minor inches of difference made when you change direction in a battleship.

    For me, my expectations (and hopes) are realistic… 1. Don’t screw up the rest of the world as badly as your predecessor, 2. Listen to two sides of every situation and then make the best decision you can, and 3. Inspire people to continue to be more than they are.

    Overblown hopes and expectations are a call to failure, as are the underblown. My biggest hope, though, is that Obama will find a way to change the dialog and perception of America world-wide, so I don’t have to be embarassed to be American every day as I live in this wonderful place… At least he speaks more coherently than the last guy. He won’t be literally the laughing-stock of the world. Sigh. Keep up the conversation.

  • Well, no doubt the guy us very smart and a seld made intellectual, but let’s assume he realy wants to change the middle east, do we have adequate leadership in the Arab world? Who can the poor guy address? We have burnt out regime sysrtems as well as Fanatics.

    Let’s fine him someone first, should I start looking?

  • Alot of the presidential rhetoric is nothing more than talk. I would agree that Obama is not the messiah that many have sub-conciously hoped him to be. Though, he does seem to be breaking from some tradtions of American foriegn policy, for example, the dismantling of the prison at guantanamo. Isn’t this a small step towards international justice?

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