WASHINGTON // A coalition of Islamic organisations issued an open letter to the president-elect Barack Obama yesterday, calling on him to run an inclusive administration and make good on his campaign pledge for change, particularly with respect to US policy in the Middle East. Representatives of the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections urged Mr Obama to make the Muslim community a partner and make Middle East talks a priority, even at a time when prospects for peace look dim.
"Nothing would be more effective in turning the tide in favour of the United States than playing a leadership role in finding a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Agha Saeed, the founder of the American Muslim Alliance and chairman of the task force, said in Washington. Muslim leaders urged an end to the violence in Gaza, condemning Israel for its "immoral and illegal" bombing campaign and asking the United States to help end the conflict - without taking sides. The United States has placed the blame squarely on Hamas for provoking the violence by firing missiles into Israel and breaking a six-month truce during which the number of missile attacks decreased but did not end; US officials have urged Israel to avoid civilian casualties.
"Failure to take steps to end the Israeli attacks and restore the ceasefire will damage efforts to bring peace with justice to the Middle East," said Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of AMT's members. "We are demanding our US government to be even-handed," he said. "I believe we can. 'Yes we can,' as Barack Obama said, and 'yes we can,' as Americans."
Mr Awad said the US should "exercise its leverage" and "tell Israel there is no blank cheque". Mahdi Bray, the executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, said the US government, and world governments, should do everything possible to lift the embargo that is preventing humanitarian relief supplies from reaching the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza. He quoted the famous line "Give me liberty or give me death", uttered by Patrick Henry during the US war of independence, in describing the situation there.
"Every day this is the cry of the Palestinian people because their situation is a life-and-death situation," Mr Bray said. "No human being in the 21st century should have to live like the people live in Gaza, reduced to boiling grass to eat. Babies dying at checkpoints because they can't get to the hospital. Water polluted, unfit to drink. I'm appealing to the conscience of the nation, the American nation: no human being should have to live like this."
Mr Saeed said Mr Obama will enter office next month with "unprecedented goodwill" from US Muslims - 89 per cent voted for him despite the fact that many felt slighted during the campaign - as well as Muslims around the world. He urged the president-elect to use that goodwill "wisely and effectively and in a timely fashion". "We are ready to be your partners for peace," Mr Saeed said. In its open letter, the American Muslim Taskforce called on the president-elect to abide by his pledge to close the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; it said he should use the federal court system for the prosecution of any terrorist suspects headed for trial. It also called for the repeal of "manifestly unconstitutional" clauses of the USA Patriot Act signed into law by George W Bush after September 11.