EDITORIAL TheStar.com – Reaching out to Muslims
Barack Hussein Obama isn’t the first U.S. president to deliver an upbeat speech in a Muslim nation. In his travels abroad, George W. Bush mouthed all the right platitudes about Islam as a religion of peace.
Bush’s legacy explains some of the skepticism over Obama’s closely watched speech in Turkey this week. It was a carefully chosen setting, where he could speak from the heart to the Islamic world with his words beamed live by Arab satellite networks like Al Jazeera.
But where Bush came across as insincere, Obama’s words had the force of conviction. Invoking his own Islamic roots, the president offered himself up as the embodiment of American openness to change. “Let me say this as clearly as I can,” he told the Turkish Parliament. “The United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam.”
A change in tone can make all the difference in the world.
It would be easy to dash heightened expectations by failing to follow his inspirational words with concrete actions. But to his credit, Obama has forcefully restated his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
By all accounts, Obama was as warmly received in Turkey as he has been across Europe and Canada on earlier visits. It would be overly optimistic to extrapolate from Turkey – a longtime NATO ally and EU aspirant – to Islamic states like Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan that view America more suspiciously. But Obama’s early overture to Iran, with a videotaped greeting for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, also showed a deft willingness to reach out.
With his words, his tone and his sincerity, the U.S. president has sent a welcome signal to the Islamic world. Now the hard work begins.
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