Sunday, January 20, 2008

Unreasonable Men: Martin Luther King to Barack Husain Obama

"A reasonable man adapts himself to his environment. An unreasonable man persists in attempting to adapt his environment to suit himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man." So said the famous British playwright George Bernard Shaw a century ago. The "unreasonable Man" label applied well to the famous civil rights leader Rev Martin Luther King in the 1960s and applies well today to US presidential candidate Senator Barack Husain Obama. As the Americans celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday today, we are reminded of the struggle he led in 1960s to make it possible for Obama to make history by recently winning the first of the presidential primaries in Iowa, a predominantly white state with very few Blacks or other minorities. When MLK started his non-violet civil disobedience movement (emulating Mahatma Gandhi), few thought he would succeed. But his sincere methods, powerful oratory and great persistence convinced a large number of Blacks and Whites to join in and eventually made it possible for civil rights legislation to pass. MLK did not live to see the day as he was assassinated in 1968. About 39 years later, as Barak Husain Obama spoke after the history-making Iowa win, he said, "They said this day would never come. Our time for change has come."
Here's a video of Obama's victory widely-acclaimed speech in Iowa:

Barack Hussain Obama's historic win in Iowa caucuses clearly signals that desire for change in America is strong and all-encompassing. The scope of this change includes a new willingness to accept a black man as commander-in-chief, a break from the Bush policies such as the choice of military force over soft power and diplomacy in international affairs, and increasing concern to provide ordinary citizens with broader access to healthcare and education. The people of Iowa strongly endorsed Obama's message of change and rejected Hilary's message of experience as continuation of the business-as-usual rather than a strength. Obama's victory speech carried live on national TV was widely well received. Some even compared it with the memorable speeches of FDR and MLK. The Obama candidacy has energized a lot of people, including a large number young men and women, and brought them into the electoral process. Just look at how large a presence Obama supporters have on Facebook and college campuses.
It seems that this nation appears ready to judge a person by the content of his(her) character rather than the color of the skin, as dreamed by Rev Martin Luther King in the 1960s.
From his message of change, it is clear that Obama wants to tap the clamoring for change in America by all, including Republicans. He wants to be a unifier to lead this effort for positive change in America.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome of this race, Obama has already made history by winning in Iowa as the first black presidential candidate. The fact that it happened in Iowa, the first state to vote in primaries and the state with more than 90% whites, is particularly encouraging for those of us looking for big changes in the US.
Comparing the hard-fought primaries for the political parties here in the US with the political parties in Pakistan, the less said the better. In Pakistan, Hilary Clinton would have already been crowned the leader of her party for life. It would be quick and efficient and still be considered entirely "democratic".
I have received a number of questions from my Pakistani friends on Obama's views from Pakistani perspective. Here is how I explain what Obama's win is likely to mean for Pakistan:

The US presidential elections are won mainly on domestic issues except the last election in the aftermath of 911 where security issues figured prominently and George W. Bush won.
Obama made statements about unilaterally sending US troops into Pak
that were widely ridiculed in the US. He has since backtracked on
those statements. US presidential candidates (with a few exceptions)
are not very knowledgeable about the world and rely mainly on experts
when the time comes to make policy. Obama will do the same, if he gets any further from the first two or three primaries. Democrats in general tend to favor democracy and human rights (since the Carter administration) rather than dictators often favored by Republicans. Democrats also tend to be more pro-India and pro-Israel
but usually are not pro-war. They are likely to emphasize soft power and diplomacy if they win the White House. A Democrat in the White House is not going to be good for President Musharraf,unless Musharraf really changes his ways.
The Democrats will probably reach out more to the civil society and political parties in Pakistan. The bottom line will still be to support secular forces and weaken the religious elements. Maulana Fazlur Rahman may be an exception to this. He is seen as someone who can help neutralize the anti-US elements in NWFP and Baluchistan.

1 comment:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from a story in the Guardian about growing wealth gap between whites and blacks in America:

"A huge wealth gap has opened up between black and white people in the US over the past quarter of a century – a difference sufficient to put two children through university – because of racial discrimination and economic policies that favour the affluent.

A typical white family is now five times richer than its African-American counterpart of the same class, according to a report released today by Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

White families typically have assets worth $100,000 (£69,000), up from $22,000 in the mid-1980s. African-American families' assets stand at just $5,000, up from around $2,000.

A quarter of black families have no assets at all. The study monitored more than 2,000 families since 1984.

"We walk that through essentially a generation and what we see is that the racial wealth gap has galloped, it's escalated to $95,000," said Tom Shapiro, one of the authors of the report by the university's Institute on Assets and Social Policy.

"That's primarily because the whites in the sample were able to accumulate financial assets from their $22,000 all the way to $100,000 and the African-Americans' wealth essentially flatlined."

The survey does not include housing equity, because it is not readily accessible and is rarely realised as cash. But if property were included it would further widen the wealth divide.

Shapiro says the gap remains wide even between blacks and whites of similar classes and with similar jobs and incomes.

"How do we explain the wealth gap among equally-achieving African-American and white families? The same ratio holds up even among low income groups. Finding ways to accumulate financial resources for all low and moderate income families in the United States has been a huge challenge and that challenge keeps getting steeper and steeper.

"But there are greater opportunities and less challenges for low and moderate income families if they're white in comparison to if they're African-American or Hispanic," he said.

America has long lived with vast inequality, although 40 years ago the disparity was lower than in Britain.

Today, the richest 1% of the US population owns close to 40% of its wealth. The top 25% of US households own 87%.

The rest is divided up among middle and low income Americans. In that competition white people come out far ahead.

Only one in 10 African-Americans owns any shares. A third do not have a pension plan, and among those who do the value is on average a fifth of plans held by whites.

The report shows that a typical white middle income family, earning
about $30,000 a year, has accumulated $74,000 in assets, five times that of a black family in the same class which has only about $14,000
in wealth.

The gap is even wider when it comes to families with an income above $50,000 a year."