We've already seen in this election cycle a real sensitivity in the Obama-ogling media to any suggestion that Obama be mischaracterized as a Muslim. But will the media allow the Obama campaign to have it both ways, as Muslims voice hope that his upbringing in Islamic Indonesia will allow him to bring the echoes of detente to the "so-called war on terror"? Agence France Presse reports:
Delegates at a US-Islamic forum voiced support on Monday for U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama, although some warned against expecting any radical policy change irrespective of who captures the White House.
Obama, who is vying to become the first black president of the United States, won overwhelming support in a mock election by more than 200 American and Muslim delegates at the US-Islamic World Forum in the Qatari capital. His Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and Republican candidates won only a handful of votes.
Around 280 public figures and academics from 32 countries, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the US ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, attended the fifth edition of the forum due to end in the gas-rich Gulf state later Monday.
Many Muslim delegates said they hoped to see Obama win the Democratic nomination and go on to be elected next November to succeed US President George W. Bush.
"I would like to see Obama become president of America because he champions 'change and hope', which we Muslims need as much as the Americans do," Islamic television preacher Amr Khaled told AFP.
Khaled told the forum that he speaks "on behalf of millions of Muslim youth who seek work, respect and freedom," and urged the next US administration to "solve the political problems in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, and not to mix between Muslims and extremists."
"The Indonesian people would love to see a (US) president who has studied at an elementary school in Jakarta," Din Syamsuddin, chairman of Muhammadiyah, one of Indonesia's largest Islamic organisations, told AFP in a reference to Obama.
But Dhiya Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on terrorist groups, warned that US policy under the next president would be "a continuation of current policies, though in a less extreme way than the conservative Republican administration".
The Bush administration has "planted landmines everywhere" for its successor, making it impossible for the next president to suddenly reverse course, Rashwan said.
One example is the arms deals concluded by the Bush administration "to counter Iran and terrorism ... The arms industry will not give up these deals under any circumstances," he said.
The Bush administration has also "imposed phobia" on the Americans, something US politicians will find difficult to change, Rashwan added.
The Bush administration is generally unpopular in the Middle East and Islamic world due to the US-led invasion of Iraq, the "war on terror" which is often associated with anti-Islamic sentiment, and Washington's perceived bias for Israel.
A major theme in the 2008 election will be over the perceived need to improve America's image internationally, just as John Kerry insisted in 2004. Is the job of commander-in-chief to keep America safe, or make America popular? They don't have to be mutually exclusive, but what if the Democrats place popularity abroad above security at home?