A New America? Lets Shut Guantanamo First, Please.

By Farish A. Noor

Needless to say, the news that Barrack Obama has become the new President of the United States of America has spread worldwide and already the world rejoices over the timely demise of the Neo-Con empire of Bush and company. In Asia in particular the news of Obama’s victory has been greeted with a collective sigh of relief, and genuine jubilation in places like Indonesia for the Indonesians have claimed Obama as one of their own, no less. Time will tell if this historic sea change in American politics is indeed historic, but for now we can at least recover some meaningful respite from the simple fact that momentarily at least America’s vast arsenal of destruction has been laid to rest. But for how long?

Obama’s campaign was, from the outset, driven by a simple message that nonetheless resonated with a vast cross-section of American society: The time has come for change. The old crumbling power structures that has for so long been dominated by the same incestuous community of white, upper middle class, elite men whose genealogies date back to the founding fathers of America seems to have been opened up for a while, allowing for this rupture in the collective imaginary of the American people and forcing all of us to question some of the settled assumptions that have guided our understanding of America for perhaps too long.

But before we all don our rose-tinted glasses and celebrate a second Woodstock, let us pause for a moment and consider the hurdles and obstacles that will have to be overcome by Obama and the American people before we can utter the phrase ‘change has come’ with due and warranted confidence. Those of us who reside in Asia would have our own set of questions that ought to be put before the latest resident of the White House, and there are lingering dilemmas and quandries that need to be laid to rest before we herald the coming of a new order.

For a start, let us begin with the claim that the victory of Obama will lead to a new America, one that is confident and strong. Obama’s promise was to restore to America and Americans the sense of pride that was severely compromised during the Bush years and to recover much of the credibility and standing that America has lost since the fateful invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now to this question we pose the following: If America’s pride and dignity are indeed to be restored, then how? A strong America is not necessarily a bad thing, and even worse would be the prospect of an America falling apart at the seams and sending debris all over the world. But for too long, America’s political elite have understood this grand project in terms that were decidedly militarist and hegemonic. A strong America need not and should not be understood as a licence for greater American hegemonic influence, and certainly not greater military clout and beligerent prowess. This was precisely the fatal error of successive American governments beginning with the Reagan administration that sought to restore American pride following the country’s graceless exit from Vietnam in 1975. Yes, we welcome a strong America that is grounded on universalist principles, but no, we do not welcome a strong America that arrives on our shores with humvees, stinger missiles and B-52s. (And lest we forget, B-52s do not make good ambassadors of goodwill.)

Related to this is the question of America’s moral standing and its moral credibility today, which is at an all time low. Mr Obama has reiterated his claim that he will seek to restore the image and moral credibility of the United States in the eyes of the world, but let this not be a vain boast for the sake of posturing and political correctness. America has been using human rights and the promotion of democracy as a bargaining chip since the time of the Helsinki accord at the peak of the Cold War, and the Carter administration was keen to highlight the human rights abuses of other countries then, provided they were all in the Soviet bloc or showed signs of harbouring pro-Leftist sympathies. During this period, both Democratic and Republican administrations paid scant attention to the horrendous human rights abuses that were taking place in countries that were firmly allied to American interests, ranging from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel to Indonesia and the Philippines.

No, Mr Obama, we will not take seriously your claims to defend fundamental liberties unless and until you personally see to it that institutions such as the prison at Guantanamo Bay are shut down during your watch. (And dont wait 4 years to do it, or you may end up like the incumbent leader of Malaysia who was also known to have waited too long before attempting his reforms). Only then can America preach human rights with confidence and credibility, and when doing so please focus your attention on those countries most closely allied to your own American concerns too.

Mr Obama would also do well to relieve us Asians of the blight and burden of being designated as the ‘Second Front in the War on Terror’. During the cold war, Southeast Asia was likewise called the second front in the ‘war on Communism’, and the net result of this was the promotion of military dictatorships, the use of draconian laws, the wanton murder, torture and incarceration of millions of innocent Asians deemed dangerous due to their Leftist sympathies, and the annexation of East Timor that took place under the nose of Washington. Mr Obama should realise that the War On Terror has been nothing more than a blanket excuse used by the governments of Southeast Asia to curry favour with Washington, and to build a vast network of anti-terror centres, prisons, detention facilities and to further perpetuate antiquated colonial laws used to detain even more Asians, ostensibly to protect Americans and American foreign interests. To expose the anti-terror scam for what it is, that is nothing more than an elaborate fiction and lie that serves the economic interests of repressive regimes, arms companies and the security industry would not only raise the image of the America that Mr Obama wants to save, but also prove to us that America may still be able to redeem itself.

Thus for all these reasons, we hope and pray that that America under its new President with prosper; but let it prosper with the world and not against it. American strength and pride should never be at the cost of the weakness and humiliation of other nations. I know you are not personally responsible for what your successors have done Mr Obama, but for your sake and the world’s I and many others hope you succeed. God bless.

  1. #1 by undergrad2 on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 7:01 am

    Farish A Noor, are you looking for a job in the Obama Administration?? Do you need a reference?

  2. #2 by vsp on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 7:15 am

    “A strong America need not and should not be understood as a licence for greater American hegemonic influence, and certainly not greater military clout and beligerent prowess.” — Farish Noor


    To put the above statement in our local context:

    A strong UMNO need not and should not be understood as a licence for greater UMNOputra hegemonic influence: Ketuanan Melayu, dubious social contract, destruction of temples and stealing of dead bodies, one-sided contracts for a narrow coterie of parasites and pirates, and certainly not greater ISA-inspired clout and belligerent prowess: imprisonment of innocent people instead of racists such as Mahathir, Toyol and Ahmad Ismail, the conversion of the police force into UMNO goons and the sanitizing of the judiciary and the press into total UMNO toosl of repression and suppression. Need I go on further…

    So UMNOputras goons, soon the eyes of the people will be opened and you will be history.

  3. #3 by k1980 on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 8:43 am

    Wonder how the world will react if Osama turned out to be Obama’s long-lost twin brother….

  4. #4 by Samuel Goh Kim Eng on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 9:11 am

    Americans don’t simply choose a president just because he’s black
    They merely exercise democracy and elect who they think is best
    In exercising their basic fundamental rights there is no slack
    After the big election they still put the president to the test

    (C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng – 061108
    Thur. 6th Nov. 2008.

  5. #5 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 9:14 am

    Guantanamo is but a tiny figment of the US firmament. Why single this out? How about the big picture? The whole world’s economy is crashing down and people are losing their jobs and houses and you worried about Guantamera, gua he lah guanta lah berah.

    How about worrying about your own country of birth? Guantanamo is no more a than a recent pale imitation of Malaysia’s ISA which had been around in Malaysia for decades. How about getting rid of ISA and detention without trial in Malaysia first, before telling other countries how to run their own countries?

  6. #6 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 9:23 am

    Why the fascination with Guantanamo with Dr. Noor? For the sake of consistency with his stand against Malaysian govt? This tit-4-tat between US and Muslim world really has so many level that its just ridiculous.. Its like ancient historical emotional divorce baggage.

  7. #7 by k1980 on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 9:29 am

    What’s the difference between Guantanamo Bay and Kamunting? Both hold government opponents indefinitely without trial. So it is not proper to criticize one without criticizing the other

  8. #8 by OrangRojak on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 9:42 am

    I imagine many of us have a long shopping list of things we’d like WASPs all over the world to stop doing. Barack Obama will have his work cut out. I don’t agree with the assessment of the ‘old power structures’ as ‘crumbling’. They just ran out of money while they were doing what an earlier majority of USAlanders thought God had Blessed them to do: impose the American Way on the world. We should probably thank Asia for ruining America’s ability to make money before it finished its project. Ideologies are a powerful thing, but they don’t pay the mortgage.

    I suspect before Guantanamo is shut, he’ll be looking to cut bigger costs first. I’m looking forward to an early announcement of ‘job well done’ (the only other option is ‘more to do’ – they cannot admit a mistake) in the Middle East, and a removal of their troops from the region, unless someone can be convinced to pay the entire bill. It’ll be a difficult proposal to put to the USA: those from the ‘old power structures’ will be screaming ‘coward!’ and many will believe them.

    Guantanamo, while it’s a human rights embarrassment, won’t be that big a deal for the new administration. I suspect it’s fairly cheap, and there are few countries of any global importance who can claim the moral high ground where it comes to systematic human rights abuses. I think some country should ‘do the right thing’ as far as detention without trial is concerned, as a shining example, but I suspect there are few contributors to this blog who have a passport from a country that doesn’t have its own Guantanamo. Rather than shrieking at other countries, perhaps we could work harder in our own.

    What the USA have done is shown the world that they have come a long way in terms of racial equality – equality of opportunity that is. That is what they’ve done first. You can ask them to do something SECOND now, but how many things does the USA have to do before our own countries demonstrate some progress?

  9. #9 by NewDAP on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 9:51 am

    We salute the voters of USA
    A gold medal to the voters of USA as they had voted one of the best Americans to lead their nation….
    Americans really go for the best people to lead them….BUT, we in Malaysia, we did not go for the best people to lead us, we only go for the right colour to lead us.

    Malaysia vote for colour instead of brain.
    Colour Before Brain
    Right colour with stupid brain is qualified to be the PM of Malaysia
    The Best brain with wrong colour can never be the PM of Malaysia

    Congratulation to Osama…..Ops….typo error…should be Obama….

  10. #10 by Justin Cho on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 9:56 am

    What about an African-Malaysian as PM of Malaysia?


  11. #11 by pratamad on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 9:57 am

    Very well said, Farish. And you suggested is indeed a good start for Obama.

    In response to TheWrathOfGrapes’s comment, Guantanamo Bay was singled out, rightly so by Farish, for its huge symbolic significance, that America has degenerated itself to the league of authoritarian governments in its pursue of war on terror. Haven’t you heard enough stupid justification from our ministers whenever they are confronted with the ISA issue: “America also has a Guantanamo Bay, which is worse than ISA detention”?

  12. #12 by Thinking Two on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 11:14 am

    Member of parliment (BN) elected to the august house for screaming at Opposition member with a word “Bastard”?

    Perhaps it is the result of the recent visit to Taiwan.

  13. #13 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 12:12 pm

    pratamad – you got it backwards. Malaysia got its ISA first, decades earlier. Which gave the US the excuse to create the Patriot Act and Guantanamo.

    Anyway, shouldn’t Farish – a Malaysian or ex-Malaysian – be more concerned about Najib than Obama? More concerned about Kamunting than Guantanamo? Clean your backyard first.

  14. #14 by yellow on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 12:34 pm

    What happened to the Perak government’s plan to shut down the detention center in Kamunting? Shouldn’t you be asking this question first?

  15. #15 by passerby on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 12:37 pm

    Before we get carried away, let us ask ourselves seriously who and what type of people got detained there? Are they political detainees, people in peaceful gathering, speaking the truth or people just detained to teach a particular racial group a warning?

    No, they are not and all those who were detained down there were terrorists involved in gun battle with the US or planning to commit terrorist act in the States. Do you have any problem with these kind of criminals detained down there? If you have, then we know where your heart lies and what kind of person you are.

    Some of us may not agree to US leadership but no one can deny that US for all its faults and omissions has been a benevolent one. You may owe yourself to US leadership for the job or wealth you have if not for the peace and freedom that US has created and maintained since after WWII. If you think the communists, socialists or the islamists can provide you this kind of reasonable leadership, system and freedom for you to prosper, you must be dreaming in technicolor!

  16. #16 by k1980 on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 12:55 pm

    Those jihadists in Guantanamo Bay must be thanking their lucky stars that they are being held in America. Had they been captured by the Russians or Chinese, they would now be romping happily on their camels in the Big Desert In The Sky

  17. #17 by max2811 on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 1:18 pm

    The G Bay should be reserved for those UMNO elitists. They deserve to be housed in the GBay. So many more that give bigotic statements, wield keris and issue warnings should find a permanent place there. Many of these ppl can be found in Parlimen.

  18. #18 by monsterball on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 3:44 pm

    Farish A. Noor better focus ..telling UMNO to abolish ISA….and stop playing race and religion dirty politics.with clear massive mismanagements and huge corruptions…right at our own country.
    Why talk…so much..similar to Mahathir….so smart…to judge others..when he is an established cunning crooked dictatorial politician?
    Why not Noor..write something .. and tell us .why some Malays..still think Mahathir is the best of all PM..or why UMNO should rule forever?
    Lets debate on our country’s issues….and stop minding others business…and yes…USA government..can MIND OUR BUSINESS…as they have shown to liberators….world policemen….while we also know…they also know..the are cunning crooks. But it looks like UMNO hero worship USA government..all their lives. Why belittle …your crooked master?
    But Malaysians love Americans way of life and real smart voters.
    I is better…Fasih A. Noor..start praising American voters…and stop divert our inspirations…and aspirations..to change the government.
    USA have created history…through VOTERS.
    We will do this in Malaysia…and be done with all twist and turn sly foxes…like Fasih.

  19. #19 by ryan123 on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 5:27 pm

    I don’t agree with your views. Dr Farish being a research fellow in RSIS, he has a bird eye view of the world political scenes. Why asking him to restrict in discussing about Malaysia’s political scenes? If we can’t learn from others’ faults, we are losing great opportunities to reflect upon ourselves and improve on it.

  20. #20 by monsterball on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 6:05 pm

    More so Dr.Farish should use his knowledge..to discuss homeland problems…so many….starting with…why few Muslims still treat Mahathir…like he was the best PM?
    Who cares about world political scene…when we are lured into the bad after effects….due to bad managements and massive corruptions..by UMNO…for so so long…and still on going.
    And lets discuss….is that true or not.
    Mahathir is labeling Malaysians…as CARPING at him..we are talking nonsense….no proof. So why not protect or expose him..to let young voters know the truths?
    2 million new young voters..is what matters most to our future generations…not world affairs..for them to decide who to vote and why.
    In commercial companies…bosses discuss their own weaknesses ..find PERMANENT SOLUTIONS…and have no time to talk world affairs…and these bosses are far far more educated and experienced blokes….. than Dr.Farish.
    One needs to look out the hidden agendas…why one talk this way…or that way.
    Do I have a hidden agenda? Sure I do.I want CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT……and let anyone debate me on this..
    I am only interested to know.. ….what’s wrong with our country…and teach youngsters…the truth of it all..so they will come with me… with their votes…to change the government.
    CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT…matter most ..and those young voters want to learn who..why … which party to vote for ….in Malaysia…not some world affairs. So make it a simple learning process… and not into one…so complicated ..discouraging…young voters.. not need to vote coming election…because so…. complicated…must know world affairs too…not ready yet.
    Why not smart Dr.Farish contribute….to enlighten young voters..prepare them..how to vote..next election.

  21. #21 by monsterball on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 8:30 pm

    I had a one hour discussion with a pro Mahathir…anti Dollah..UMNO man..asking him….why he treats Mahathir…..as best PM.
    Briefly he said….
    1. He made the Malays strong and proud..have confidence.
    2. He made..the world…pay attention to Malaysia..
    3.He is the smartest of the lot.
    I said…he is not that smart..but a brave man. That’s not hard to get…one like him. I said…go trace his speeches..these few years.
    Some..like spoken by a lunatic…some…from one blaming others.twisting and turning….some simply.from one..who knows no shame at all..which means..sometimes.he has others to guide him…and sometimes….he has no assistants.
    Many can be as smart as Mahathir. What he stood out unique…..is his cunning and sly fox character and mentality…second to none…and that it because….smart ones…do not want to learn that sickening art.
    I asked him…does he believe Mahathir was a Dictator? Does he believe he put Anwar in jail…for his personal benefits.
    I said…I loved Mahathir and appreciated what he did for the country for first 10 years…which I noted…DAP was silent…nothing to complaint.
    Then..the exposure of BMF case..which got… one Muslim.. Bank Bumiputra auditor murdered in HongKong…case not solve yet..got me to pay attentions…on Mahathir’s movements..and noted.the massive corruptions…race and religion dirty politics…plus within his own party…in fighting…so much so..thousands small companies closed shops…due to International Banks demanding loans back. He does not care….as most are Chinese.
    He has the label of a 10% commission man…and noted…less than RM100 million commission..he is not interested.
    Then look at all his projects…all more than RM1billuion.
    So the 10% must be true.
    My friend replied…it is natural..as all politicians are sworn to protect and make money for party and race.
    I said…that’s bunkum. That’s UMNO ..not the ways of other political parties.
    In conclusion…he did not deny….Mahathir amassed huindreds of millions..for party….self and cronies. He said many Chinese also benefited. I said…those are not Chinese. Those are pimps.. will sell their wives……for a one night stand…to please their chosen masters.
    Surprisingly…he agreed..that’s why…he is a Muslim…never had any help from UMNO..because .he refused to be a yes man.
    We parted as friends.Then he said…he has resigned from UMNO…to join PAS.
    I said….because his hero resigned….and he will resign from PAS…once Mahathir join..UMNO again.
    No reply.
    Finally ….I asked….if election is on…who do you think will win.
    He said…opposition..but did not say..how he will vote.
    But told me…he voted for opposition….in the 12th election.
    He said….he learn to swing his votes from smart Chinese voters.

  22. #22 by ryan123 on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 8:38 pm

    He has done so in the past. You can check past entries. And his works and ideas, in my opinion, are quite inspiring.

    In studying political science, things are always not easy. Non-Malays cannot easily understand the fear in Malays, and Malays will not understand why others seem to be so eager in robbing away their heritage and rights. What you have mentioned is from a narrow perspective, without thinking that the root of the problem lie with our mentality and cognitive development. Racial problems are not simple, and there are multiple factors.

    Just drop by at chedat.com, look at the blind fanatics who are indulged in racial politics. Do you think it is that easy to make them awake?

  23. #23 by monsterball on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 8:39 pm

    For the 10% commission label on Mahathir….you all better believe it.
    I wilL not tell you…from which horse mouth…closest to him..told me..and confirm by another horse mouth…all from UMNO.

  24. #24 by monsterball on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 8:52 pm

    I have noticed simple company policies…….made purposely to be complicated…by so call Dept. managers…feeling safe and secured…working under that conditions.
    This is rampant in local companies.
    But try that with welknown International companies…he/she will be sacked immediately..and if govt. interfere…these guys are willing to throw off their investments…and move out…empty handed.
    Similarly…managing our small country with Malaysians…all willing to learn and listen..are being made complicated by UMNO purposely…to rojak it…so that voters will depend on UMNO all the time….as master and protector. Worst still supported by BN parties.
    What political science does one needs to know… basic truths of our country….why like that..and who caused it…and for what ulterior motives???

  25. #25 by king cobra on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 9:10 pm

    1st African American had been elected to lead the great Superpower. its the 1st in American history. However whether to shut down Guantanamo , its up to Americans to decide on their own , we should concentrate on our own domestic issues instead.

  26. #26 by monsterball on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 9:20 pm

    Taxi driver…farmers….village head men…fishermen…crooks …all can be law makers…in Malaysia…and for a voter to understand …must study political science??
    I have spoken to few with degrees on political Science.
    I am not impressed by their knowledge…without real practical experiences.

  27. #27 by monsterball on Thursday, 6 November 2008 - 9:37 pm

    Who made some Muslims blind and be fanatics?
    It’s the obsessions of UMNO and PAS….going all out to control minds…to promote Islamic religion with fears put into the child’s mind.
    They are the real selfish…good for nothing…teaching…others how to be worst .good for nothing..no worry…join UMNO govt. .no need to work….get good salaries..on and on….until……all good for nothing are no better than those good for nothing UMNO buggers.
    So the stage is set..now wear and look smart…drive Merz/BMW..no money …go steal millions….make sure.it is ‘commission”….live in big house…and dress up with Datuks…Tan Sri …Tun…titles…..all fanatics..will go crazy…their heroes are coming…..giving hand phones….bicycles….motor cycles…..watches….etc etc etc!……making sure…all will faithfully vote for UMNO!
    So….who makes Muislims…fanatics and half past sixes???
    Who fed them with one sided history….in schools??

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