Obama's on-target message to Muslims
OK, the US is not at war with Islam. Now what?
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Still, enough has been said to recognize that the president wants to unite with Muslims on a broader agenda than fighting Al Qaeda – and to see what he's up against as he tries to turn hopeful rhetoric into meaningful policy.
So far, his outreach has consisted of feel-good words and symbols. This is not a criticism. After all, he's been in office less than three months and has an economic crisis on his hands.
And bridge building does begin with words and attitudes. Since inauguration day, Mr. Obama has been consistent in his message. "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," he said on that bright, cold January day at the foot of the Capitol.
He repeated this phrase multiple times in Turkey. It is what Muslims most want from the United States and the West – or at least the "respect" part is, according to Gallup's multiyear study, "Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think," released a year ago.
At the end of January, in an interview with Al-Aribiya, Obama reiterated the "respect" line and added another message: "My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy." A variation on this theme made headlines in his speech before the Turkish parliament this week. "The United States is not at war with Islam," he emphasized, plainly and unequivocally.
Obama has underscored his sincerity by anchoring his words in his own person, referring to his own Muslim family members and his own childhood in a Muslim country (Indonesia).
Added to this are a multitude of symbolic gestures: early phone calls to Arab leaders, the announcement that the US will close Guantanamo Bay, the appointment of former Sen. George Mitchell (of Northern Ireland peacemaking fame) as special envoy to the Middle East, an overture video to Iran, and the trip to Turkey itself (followed by a surprise stop in Iraq).