America voted and the world celebrated. Well,
most of the world.
The Week's Susan Caskie says that while there was much global exuberance, editorials in the Muslim world tempered expectations with a healthy dose of skepticism.
BOB GARFIELD: According to one German paper, America was resurrected this week. Across Europe, the captions boldly declared the rebirth of America and America’s second chance. And in newspapers all over the world, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech served as the backdrop in articles and editorials about Barack Obama’s historic achievement.
But as The Week’s Susan Caskie explains, in some countries, especially in the Muslim world, reaction to Obama’s message of change was mixed. Caskie says the news coverage reflected hope for better relations with a U.S. led by President Barack Hussein Obama, but editorialists across the Muslim world warned - not so fast. SUSAN CASKIE: On news coverage they'll have kind of man-in-the-street interviews, and the people interviewed would say, we think it’s great, I think he’s gonna definitely be more sympathetic to Islam and we're going to have more understanding in the United States about what Islam is.
But then, you turn in those same newspapers - and I'm talking about newspapers from Egypt, Jordan, United Arab Emirates - if you go to their commentary pages you don't see that. They're saying, well, we expect him to be an American president much like any other.
And then, in fact, in one of the Indian papers, an Indian editorialist said that he thought that Obama might actually be harsher on Muslim countries because, he said, he’s got to overcome the burden of this name and he’s going to have to show that he’s not Muslim.
But do you remember that comment that a voter made to McCain, who said, you know, he’s - I won't vote for him because he’s an Arab? WOMAN: I, I have read about him. He’s a – he’s an Arab. JOHN McCAIN: He’s a, he’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen - SUSAN CASKIE: That comment got picked up - BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] SUSAN CASKIE: - all over the Arab world, and there were all kinds of commentaries pouring in about that, saying, you know, why can't you be both an Arab and a decent family man? There was definitely relief that McCain was not the one who won because there was some sentiment against him because of that statement. BOB GARFIELD: Susan, you mentioned the papers in Egypt. Now, reading the newspapers there, and many other places in the Arab world, is kind of an art because you have to presume that whatever is said in the editorials, to some degree or another, represents the position of the government. At least there are borders which editorialists may not stray beyond.
Can the Obama administration learn anything about its future diplomatic relations in the region by what has been said in the editorials? SUSAN CASKIE: It depends on the country. Egypt - much of the press is state-owned, but that’s not true of all the countries, and it’s certainly not true of all the newspapers, even in Egypt.
In Iran, all the reformist papers seized upon this, and there are several. In one of the Iranian reformist papers, in particular, they were mentioning that the victory of Obama proves that all the hardliners in Iran who said that the U.S. power structures would never allow a black man to come to power were wrong. They're using the U.S. election to kind of make digs at their own government, saying, you said that this could never happen in the U.S., and look, it did happen.
And, of course, Iran is looking forward to a presidential election next year, so there’s certainly a lot of interest in electoral politics right now.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to ask you about irrational exuberance. My wife, who is newly an American citizen, was reading the papers, and said, Garfield, the Russians [IN RUSSIAN ACCENT] want missiles out of Poland. The Palestinians want Israel off their back. Europe wants global varming solved. This is such a list. Obama is not the global president. He is already the global husband.
Were these [LAUGHS] papers a collection of honey-do lists for the new president to attend to right now? SUSAN CASKIE: You know, it’s funny you should say that because on day one, right after the election, most of the editorials and commentaries were, oh yay, Obama and change and America.
On day two, already you were starting to see commentaries and editorials saying, you know, he’s not the messiah. Certainly the global economic crisis is on everyone’s lips and it’s certainly in all the papers, and that is one area where they don't expect an incoming president to have much of a difference, initially. It’s something that everyone knows is going to take a long time.
And, in fact, there have been outpourings of sympathy for Obama [LAUGHS], especially, I noticed, in the Asian papers. Like Singapore and Hong Kong, they tend to have lots of business newspapers and business commentary, and in Malaysia, as well, and those areas have been saying, you know, we don't envy this guy coming in here. BOB GARFIELD: There’s one theme that I wonder if it was explored at all, in particularly the Middle Eastern press, and that is we have just witnessed an exercise in democracy such as the world has actually never seen. What can we learn? SUSAN CASKIE: Many newspapers ran editorials, especially in African papers, in fact, more than Middle Eastern ones, but a few Middle Eastern – and, in fact, Iran, I think, was another one that mentioned this – saying, we can take this as an example. We can take heart that you can have an election where people disagree so very vehemently, and yet when a winner is declared, the loser bowed out very gracefully and threw his support to his new president. That’s something that we should take as a model for ourselves.
And it's interesting because just eight years ago, the U.S. election - of course, Bush v. Gore - that ended up in the Supreme Court, that was held up as a model not to follow. And now we seem to have redeemed ourselves. BOB GARFIELD: All right, Susan. Thank you so much, as always. SUSAN CASKIE: Thank you, good to be here. BOB GARFIELD: Susan Caskie is the international editor at The Week Magazine.