A Muslim Woman’s Breakdown of the State of the Union

Flurries of encouraging posts, “Thank You Mr. President” comments, and nostalgic photos of the last eight years of Presidency overtook the internet after President Barack Obama delivered his final State of the Union speech last night. Sure, there were some promising reforms around education, paid sick leave, health care, minimum wage, accountability for the one percent, promise of criminal justice reform, equal pay, clean energy and more jobs.
Obama should have left it at that.
Unfortunately, though, the President’s last #SOTU address became a dangerous call for the expansion of the American empire, white supremacy, racism, xenophobia and imperialism.
Here are five of the most disturbing things that were said during last night’s coverage:

1. Foreign policy

Obama stated the threat to America comes from failed states. The first and main region he focused on was the Middle East.

2. Terrorists

Specifically, Muslim/Islamic groups were the focus of terrorism in the President’s State of the Union. He bragged about the dead leaders of terrorist groups and his body count. Of course, this was used to justify the millions bombed, killed, and droned by our military. It is the logic of collateral damage, which is built upon the dehumanization of Muslims and the centering of terrorists, so all of us are seen through that prism.

3. Africa

There were multiple mentions of Africa as a region where the U.S. will increase its military presence and “interests.” However, one point that really was racist was when POTUS stated that, by fighting pandemics in Africa, we could prevent them from coming into America. That’s oreintalist/colonialist/racist rhetoric that has historically been used to justify the looting and exploitation of Africa. We don’t feed Africa. Africa feeds us via the resources that are looted from African countries.

4. Islamophobia

Obama followed up with this weak statement on Islamophobia and the crux of the statement was let’s not have violent political rhetoric against Muslims because we don’t want to embolden ISIS. The problem with this statement is it feeds the national security paradigm we have been placed within and decenters our humanity.

5. Cover-Ups

POTUS ended with this colorblind and post-racial statement about how he sees us as all as American. Of course there was zero mention that he has deported more immigrants than any other President. Then he quoted the white-washed version of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a speech that betrays the very radical anti-war, anti-capitalist and anti-racist work Dr.King embodied.

Though Obama’s last State of the Union was meant to be a positive reflection of his values, it just became a disappointing highlight of the problematic elements in that line of static thinking that continues to perpetuate further stagnancy. It was a suggestion of benefits for few citizens, a promise of imperialism for the East, and a nearsighted look into Eastern “problems” caused by violent Western intervention. More Syrians have been killed by the regime than ISIS. More Iraqis have been killed by Americans than ISIS.
It’s frustrating to see President Obama miss on such an important opportunity to address the roots of global and national issues head-on. Unless someone starts being honest about the United States’ complicity in the creation of global violence, we can’t expect actual change to come.

Written by Darakshan Raja