Weekly Letter to President Obama
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
September 14, 2012
Mr. President: Just two weeks ago (August 31, 2012), this letter asked the question,
"How long will it be before these groups turn on their erstwhile supporters as they
have in Afghanistan?" The question referred to our support for religious
fundamentalist (even fanatical) groups to topple Gaddafi's secular regime in Libya,
and now through proxies in the Syrian civil war employing Al Qaeda elements from
No one expected the answer in quite such a short time. The U.S. Ambassador and
three others have been killed in an attack on their safe house in the city of Benghazi,
the cradle of the Libyan revolution. His trip from Tripoli considered safe turned
perilous in the riots following the TV revelation by an Egyptian commentator of a
"YouTube" trailer for a movie produced in California denigrating Islam and the
In the aftermath of the Libyan revolution, the lid held down by the secular Gaddafi
regime over the fundamentalist movements has been removed, and they have spread
like wildfire across the Sahel. Mali, long a democratic state with a tradition of
elections and peaceful power transfer, has been ruptured. Tuareg nomads,
numbering just three million and living across the north, have long felt marginalized in
Mali. This time their breakaway attempt was aided by Ansar Dine and, by some
accounts, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The better organized fundamentalists
have now taken over; like the Taliban, their uncompromising brand of Islam has led
them to destroy old shrines of revered Muslim Sufi saints, and introduce a strict
restrictive version of Sharia law.
Similarly enriched by the flow of arms from Libya, the once moribund Boko Haram in
Nigeria has been revived, causing fresh headaches for the elected government in a
multi-ethnic, multi-religious state.
Fundamentalist influence is no longer receding in other areas of North Africa
including Mauritania, Morocco, and Algeria. And the domino theory once applied to
Communism, particularly in Indo-China, has re-emerged in an ideology so peripheral
as to be almost non-existent a half-century ago. Yet now it serves as a spearhead for
destabilization, thanks primarily to a bungled Western policy of foreign interference.
Of course the meddling has other consequences as well, namely, the hundreds of
thousands of casualties, the millions of displaced refugees, and the many more
millions who once looked up to America as a beacon of hope but now hate us.
In Syria, the proxy wars have been escalated to yet another level. We are involved
not through proxies but through proxies of our proxies (Saudi Arabia and Qatar) -- a
kind of proxy-squared involvement which affords even less control over the situation
or the actors.
This democratization agenda, even where genuine, is blinded by ideological blinkers,
ignoring centuries old traditions of basic loyalty to family, tribe, religious affiliation -- a
combination fatal to a flourishing, genuine democracy. Thus the majority Shia are in
power in Arabic-speaking Iraq, and their Sunni countrymen are running a clandestine
war against them. Meanwhile, the Sunni Kurds run an autonomous state in the
Kurdish north fracturing Iraq. Not that failings of this nature are restricted to the
Middle East. A look at Belgium, Northern Ireland, Canada, Ukraine, the horrors of
former Yugoslavia, are quick confirmation.
The best one can hope for is that we stop stirring up the pot, and devote our efforts
instead to minimizing human suffering, even if it means curbing religious or ideological
zeal, or worse, perceived political advantage -- often wrong as Iraq has demonstrated