President Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia on Friday to meet with King Salman and the Saudi royal family. American Muslims widely criticized the move by Trump for meeting with a brutal monarch, who many feel is a poor custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina. On Sunday, Trump delivered a highly anticipated speech on Islam in front of the Saudi delegation and many other Arab, Asian and African nations during the Arab Islamic American Summit.
As an American Muslim who has lived in Pakistan and traveled to numerous countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, I was extremely skeptical that Trump would be able to deliver the right message to the Muslim world. I expected the President to give King Salman and the entire room the New York Salute and tell them to pay up for 9/11 or else there will be hell to pay.
Boy, was I wrong.
“We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship,” Trump said in his speech. “Instead, we are here to offer partnership – based on shared interests and values – to pursue a better future for us all.”
Did I hear that right?
“Young Muslim boys and girls should be able to grow up free from fear, safe from violence, and innocent of hatred,” Trump continued. “And young Muslim men and women should have the chance to build a new era of prosperity for themselves and their peoples.”
Is this the president who said on the campaign trail that he wanted to restrict entry of Muslims into the country and that “Islam hates us?”
“Terrorists do not worship God,” Trump said. “They worship death.”
I can’t believe it.
Despite the criticism that Trump received for “cozying up” to the Saudis while being silent on their human rights violations and bombing campaign in Yemen, the President should at least receive credit for extending an olive branch to the Muslim world.
Criticism about tangential issues misses the bigger picture. President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia exposes as false the narrative that he is a giant Islamophobe, who hates Muslims and wants to put them on a registry or in an internment camp.
Trump did not associate terrorism with Islam and Muslims. Instead he called Islam “one of the world’s great faiths.” That is a play straight out of the Obama/Bush playbook. The difference is that Trump’s meetings with Muslim leaders show that he doesn’t care about what their faith is, so long as they want to defeat the ultimate evil of terrorism.
If a President Hillary Clinton gave this exact same speech, she would be praised as a hero.
That last point is crucial. When President Barack Obama traveled to Cairo, Egypt in 2009 and gave a speech to “the Muslim world,” it had a similar tone and he was praised for his remarks. When President George W. Bush delivered a speech shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the Islamic Center of Washington, he attempted to calm the nerves of American Muslims by saying that the United States is not at war with Islam.
While Trump’s speech channeled that message, he said things would be different – and that’s exactly what he campaigned on.
“We will be guided by the lessons of experience, not the confines of rigid thinking. And, wherever possible, we will seek gradual reforms – not sudden intervention,” Trump said, attempting to deviate from his predecessors. “We must seek partners, not perfection—and to make allies of all who share our goals. Above all, America seeks peace – not war.”
It’s hard to argue with that.
The task of defeating terrorism can seem insurmountable, but the President’s speech should serve as a reminder neither President Trump nor the United States are not at war with Islam (or different sects of Islam). The President conveyed sincerity in his goal of defeating terrorism, and it’s clear he doesn’t want another war like Iraq or Afghanistan. That’s a goal we all should support. And the fact that Trump wants Muslim majority nations to lead the fight should be praised. After all, it’s the same approach that both Obama and Clinton adopted.
Trump’s speech was a big step in the right direction and we, as Americans, who value the power of words and diplomacy should give the President his due.
Watch his entire speech below: