I was not born here -- like millions of others before and after me, I chose to come to America hoping for freedom, prosperity, and a better life; in short, for the promise of the American Dream. This is the one and only country where dreams can truly come true.
That is why I have been frustrated-- in fact, rather terrified -- to witness America's compass starting to malfunction. As this country has gone off course, I have wondered why and how, as I know that the American people have the right intentions, and have been asking the right questions. However, they have been misled by false ideas and by false gurus -- whether despite their own best intentions, or because these individuals -- like the shapeshifters in the Matrix series -- embodied evil itself.
How will President Obama know how to differentiate between them? To know the real truth in any confusing situation, he needs to understand the dynamics of gender. How a man treats women should tell him all he wants to know. The French are right when they say "cherchez la femme"; women are the key to opening all secret doors. Moreover, they also embody the true spirit of freedom. That is why America's most powerful symbol is the Lady of Liberty.
The defense and protection of women needs to be the guiding principle for the incoming administration. Its core message must then be communicated broadly, especially to the so-called Muslim world.
Since 9/11, Americans have been trying to figure out what this war is about and who the enemy is. There are different explanations and different labels used to make sense; different experts give different answers, and accordingly there is much more confusion than there is clarity.
That is probably why there is so much buzz overseas over the possibility of President Obama giving a historic speech from a Muslim capital within the first few months of taking office. All the false gurus are lining up with their various suggestions. How will he choose the location? How about going directly to hearts and minds?
Since ancient times, women have symbolized truth in much of the world's mythology and literature. However, this has not been the case in the Islamic world, where women have historically been feared and hated by those who cannot deal with their own personal truths. Men unable to deal with their inner demons first attack their women: spiritually, mentally, physically and sexually. Women are covered and brought under submission -- through enforced illiteracy and through a form of veiling: the burqa, niqab or hijab.
Even if she somehow manages to escape, those terrified of the sight of a woman's hair create with new ways to subjugate her. In one way or another, they are always trying to control that which is both so attractive and so dangerous to them: free women. In some cases the fear is such that girls are buried alive or stoned to death -- after being brutally raped -- and doing all this while shamelessly invoking the name of God.
This is why it is so important to look at how a nation treats its own women -- it gives a clear indication as to what the destructive forces in Iran and Pakistan will do once they have access to nuclear weapons. As they do with their women, they will stone to death (via nuclear weapons) countries that are sources of life and accumulated wisdom.
The more I learn about the condition of Muslim women, the more I feel embarrassed by how many things I have taken for granted. Unlike so many Muslim girls, I had the opportunity to receive an education -- and one that prepared me to be able to follow my dreams from Istanbul to Stanford to Washington -- and the freedom to choose what to do with my own body, mind, and intellect. I now also realize I have been blessed by having two amazing guides: my mother and grandmother.
Together, we were among the lucky few to have been born in a country that views itself -- with some justification -- as a "city on the hill" for the Muslim world: Turkey. Our founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, raised a proud nation out of the ashes of an empire and laid the foundation for the Middle East's first democracy. In doing so, he freed the soul of Anatolia, the female wisdom that had been enslaved by the Caliphate in Istanbul. Anatolia, the main Turkish landmass that historically has been known as Asia Minor, literally translates as "full of mothers".
When establishing Turkey's new republic, Ataturk reasoned, "How can a nation soar when one half remains chained to the ground?" He thus replaced the Islamic legal code of the seventh century with the civil code of the twentieth.
Ataturk was an enlightened man -- and also a true follower of Prophet Mohammed, not by mindless imitation (wearing the clothes of 7th century or following the traditions of tribal desert culture) but in essence (clearing the way for all human beings to fulfill their full potential). Like the Prophet himself, Ataturk had many human faults; but he also possessed deep human wisdom that drove him to seek--and create -- political, cultural, and economic freedom for all Turkish people. Like the Prophet, Ataturk also lost his father at an early age -- a personal tragedy that may well be a reason why he grew up with respect for the feminine wisdom and guidance.
Unlike so many men throughout Islamic history, Ataturk did not fear women; he respected them. He witnessed his adopted daughter becoming the first Turkish female aviator and the first female combat pilot in world history. He also gave Turkish women the right to vote and be elected into office much earlier than even European and American ones.
Sadly, there are few other examples of enlightened Muslim leaders; more often than not, they bring death and despair for women. What else can come from a man too afraid to see eye to eye with a woman or to shake her hand? In some extreme cases, the neurosis reaches such a degree that these men even end their lives in this world in pursuit of the promised 72 virgins in the next one.
As mainstream Christianity deals with its past sins towards women (including the original one and later burning them at the stake) and promises them a better future, mainstream Islam is moving in the opposite direction: its promised future lives in the past. Yet even within mainstream Islam, men are in denial. It simply is not possible for a man to call himself a Muslim and not allow women learn to read: the Koran starts with the command "read"--which is for both men and woman.
Many men say they follow the path of the Prophet -- yet even their blind imitation is not correct. The Prophet's first wife, Khadijah, was an accomplished businesswoman 15 years his senior when they married. In fact, Mohammed originally worked for her! Mohammed had no other wives during Khadijah's lifetime (she died when he was 52). All these examples were exceptional for men of his time, but they receive little attention in present-day mainstream Islamic circles. Instead, we see Muslim men marrying much younger women.
Even some of the most respected and moderate Muslim men are primarily concerned about the "image" of Islam. They do not ask themselves why so many people can so easily lose all common sense over cartoons, yet remain unmoved at the sight of girls and women being violated in so many ways.
As with the witch burnings of past centuries in the Christian world, Muslim women suffer brutal killings resulting from an extreme misunderstanding of religion among mainstream believers. As long as we continue to tolerate this violence, we will never see the end of terror. The silence, along with the concept of "us versus them," needs to be replaced by a loud "we." Only then can we build a better future for all.
President-elect Obama has inspired millions of people with his audacity of hope. Now, tens of millions of girls and women in the Muslim world will be watching and listening to him, waiting to be inspired by him so they can dare to dream. Ronald Reagan will forever be remembered for having challenged the Soviet Union to tear town its walls; President Obama can be the one who can inspire the tearing down of the next set of walls and expand the next frontiers of freedom, thereby banishing the prejudices that still haunt many mainstream Muslim communities to the previous centuries where they belong.
President-elect Obama unleashed America's real power -- the enlightened one -- at his historic speech in Philadelphia on March 18, 2008. He showed two different paths going forward, and reminded Americans what they have always known: at any moment it is possible to say "no more."
The task starts at home -- literally. Men (the main offenders) who claim to be followers of a faith or members of a religion need to understand the sin they are committing when they hurt the female spirit (including Mother Earth). Believers and non-believers alike need to receive the appropriate punishment in case of an offense so they understand why they need to change. At the same time, women need to be empowered to know their own value while being provided with the tools to defend and protect themselves. They also need to know where and how to get help, and such places, including shelters, need to be available. Rape needs to be punished severely since it is a form of murder -- it kills the spirit -- which is why it is used so systematically in wars.
The biggest threat to those trying to control or kill the spirit is children and women laughing, dancing and singing freely. That is also what is most forbidden in most parts of the Islamic world. President-elect Obama wants to heal some of the wounds left by the past eight years; he can best accomplish this by taking another look at reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite billions of dollars spent, hatred keeps growing: against America and against those from different sects, ethnicities, and religions. Why not allocate some money for the most important reconstruction and rehabilitating these countries need: the spirit of the girls and women living trapped in lands with little hope for a better future.
Unfortunately the future is also starting to look bleak for girls and women in Pakistan, which is gradually being Talibanized. There is talk about sending a special envoy for the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India dynamics. The ideal envoy would be one who would protect and defend women; a master negotiator, capable of looking the evil in the eye without blinking.
Forces of evil have been winning for too long. A wake-up call to America came during Christmas: a killer dressed as Santa gunned down a family in their home--yet the girl that opened the door, in complete innocence and hope, survived. We need her to stay alive--she is the future we need to protect.
Zeyno Baran is director of the Center for Eurasian Policy at Hudson Institute. She is writing a book on integration of Muslim youth in the West.