As I mentioned below, I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to process what learned in India and Morocco into legible prose, and preparing for my next trip. Today, though, like much of the world, I am sure, I spent much of the day watching the inauguration.
It is hard, in a way, to react to the inauguration as a white Canadian. He doesn’t represent my country, and while I can imagine the intense joy African Americans must feel at Obama’s ascendance I cannot begin to relate to it. Still, I teared up twice during the telecast today. It wasn’t during Obama’s speech, inspiring though it was. And it wasn’t during the wonderful poem or the beautiful final blessing. I wept when they showed George Bush leaving the White house for the last time, and again when his helicopter lifted off from behind the capital building to take him back to Texas. I’ve been waiting a long time to see the back of that man. Good riddance, Mr. Bush.
Bush’s began his presidency at roughly the same time as I began my writing career. During the Bush years I traveled a lot through the Islamic world. As I slowly learned about the cultures of Islam, George Bush dropped bombs on them. I discussed Bush’s policies with Muslims in Iran, Turkey, Palestine, North Africa and Kashmir. In some of these places, I found a surprising respect for the man – nowhere more than Iran where many young Iranians told me they would like to see Bush rid their homeland of the mullahs the same way he removed Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. Mostly, though, I met Muslims who felt that George Bush’s America was in direct conflict with their values. And I watched as the politics of fear turned every Muslim into a potential terrorist; a rival in some great clash of civilizations.
Will the end of the Bush presidency mean that Islam and the West will suddenly get along? Not likely. It is promising that the US is now led by a man who was able to find Iraq on a map before his daddy bombed it. Obama is a thinker, not a cowboy. While he may never live up to the expectations that he’s been laden with – Canada’s Frank McKenna actually used the word ‘messiah’ this morning – there is no doubt in my mind that things will be better.