Obama's candidacy reverses anti-Americanism among immigrants in Holland

A powerful example of the way Senator Obama is changing international attitudes towards America comes from Reverend Axel, a German who ministers to a church in Amsterdam, Holland. He's only visited the US as a child and has two American cousins, but his experiences of interfaith dialogue with Muslim immigrants in Amsterdam has given him a dramatic impression of Obama's candidacy. When uncommitted Superdelegate Debra Kozikowski asked people to convince her which candidate to support with her vote, Axel explained:

“I live in a very multicultural neighborhood. Within 500m around the church I work in, there is a synagogue, a small Buddhist shrine, a Hindu temple and three mosques… more than 80 nationalities are represented in my district. The majority of the young people in my neighborhood are children of immigrants from Muslim countries: Morocco, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and a few others… Since 9/11, my neighborhood has seen quite a big share of Anti-Americanism: demonstrations, lots of graffiti, the burning of the American flag... my cousin Scott from Pennsylvania... got beaten up by a gang, because of his American accent. Other American friends of mine, who lived a couple of streets away, felt forced to move to another area of town which was safer for them. Shops selling US products closed down after their windows were thrown in several times. Even in my work, Anti-Americanism flared up: In an effort to reach out to the neighborhood and to bridge religious divides, my parish, in corporation with one of the more open mosques in the area started a group called ‘Dialogue’ in 2003 which every week attracts about 50 people from all backgrounds with at least 50% being Muslim. Regularly after big political events in the US (with Bush’s reelection having the worst effect) or in the Middle East, discussions in this group quickly turn fiercely political and often viciously Anti-American. I must confess, although some people were merely regurgitating talking points of radical propagandists, over the years, I could also feel genuine pain of feeling discriminated against. And although often, people wrongly expanded their anger towards the ignorance and intolerance of the Bush administration to all things American, I often could understand or even share their dislike of American politics.”

“In a nutshell, I support Barrack Obama because of what his candidacy has changed in the mindset of many of these ordinary Muslims in this inter-religious group which I moderate together with the local Imam. Shortly after Iowa, Obama was first mentioned by Mustafa, an elderly man, who emigrated here from Morocco and never before had said anything nearly positive about America. In fact, he quite shocked me, as he interrupted Bahaar, a young Muslim of Pakistani descent, who had just started a monologue about the devilish American culture and how he wanted to kill Bush, the crusader. Mustafa stood up and told him: “Well you better hurry up, then: Bush is gone by the end of this year, and you know, I think, the next President will be much, much better: He was against invading Iraq and has lived in Indonesia when he was young!” This totally changed the tone of the discussion that night and in fact, in all meetings of our group ‘Dialogue’ since then, we hardly have discussed anything else except Obama’s rise, his stance on foreign policy, his life story, what it says about American culture and what impact it may have on how the world sees America. I have to say, that personally, after moderating this group for five years now, I’m simply overwhelmed about the impact of Obama on ordinary Muslims! The last meetings were by far the most constructive and healing we have had so far. Lots of the participants are reviewing their prejudices against America or are now at least able to differentiate between American politics and Americans. The day before yesterday, at our last meeting, hot-headed Bahaar summed it up very well: “Well, I guess if Americans vote for someone like him… they can’t be all that bad!” For him, this is a radical turn of 180 degrees!!!”

“So you see, it’s amazing, what only Obama’s run has created over here: Lots of people in my neighborhood, who until now, simply believed what the propagandists told them about American politics, got active and looked up in-depth information about the US primaries and about Obama. Often also, he got covered on Al-Jazeera and other Arab TV networks and every time, I witness the effect in my neighborhood. Yesterday, I went out shopping and suddenly spotted a poster of the Obama–campaign in the window of my grocery-dealer, who immigrated to Holland from Iran. He told me that he saw him on television and got so excited that he downloaded the poster from the internet and put it up. He would love him to become president, because with him, “finally, someone will talk to the idiot running my country!” And get this: A couple of days ago, my 73 year-old neighbor Mohammed who came here from Egypt asked me to look up “on the computer”, how he can donate €5 to Obama’s campaign, because he would love an American president who understands ordinary people in Muslim countries. He was very disappointed when I told him that only US citizens can donate. He vowed, however, to pray for Obama later at the mosque!”

“As far as I’m concerned: I cannot underestimate, how much the election of Barrack Obama for next President of the USA would improve the perception of America by ordinary people around the world and especially by people living in developing and/or Muslim countries. And quite frankly, after two disastrous Bush-administrations, I can hardly wait!!! I sincerely hope, that this little story of mine can help you decide who to support on the convention of the Democratic Party!”