President Obama’s Monday speech in Ankara had several audiences and as many purposes. In the United States it will be heard and read with particular care by the Muslim American community.
“So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam,” has been the line most quoted from the speech. The President continued, “In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject, but also to strengthen opportunity for all its people.”
The United States, unlike Europe and elsewhere, has not yet suffered from homegrown Islamist terrorism. Fundamental to our defense-in-depth has been effective economic, political, and cultural integration of Islamic residents. While in Europe many Muslims are treated as second-class citizens or worse, the American Muslim community overall is better educated and more affluent than average.
The President explained, “We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world — including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans.”
Muslims make up less than two percent – 2.35 million to 3.5 million – of the US population (estimates differ). A 2007 Pew Research Center survey of Muslim Americans found them to be “largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.” A Washington Post-ABC News survey completed on March 29 found, however, that 45 percent of Americans self-assess they “do not have a good basic understanding of the teachings and beliefs of Islam” and 48 percent admit to having “unfavorable” views of Islam.
There is also concern that greater difficulty integrating some recent Somali immigrants may make that Muslim community more vulnerable to radicalization.
In the substantive close of his address to Turkish parliamentarians the President offered, “There’s an old Turkish proverb: ‘You cannot put out fire with flames.’ America knows this. Turkey knows this. There’s some who must be met by force, they will not compromise. But force alone cannot solve our problems, and it is no alternative to extremism. The future must belong to those who create, not those who destroy. That is the future we must work for, and we must work for it together.”
In a joint statement the American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections said, “The American Muslim community believes President Obama’s new policy of dialogue and mutual respect will serve our nation and the cause of world peace and stability much better than past policies of unilateralism and confrontation.”
But the full AMT statement gives even more attention to “the deteriorating relations between the FBI and American Muslims, the dissemination of inaccurate and agenda-driven information by DHS-recognized fusion centers, and Muslims’ concerns about Justice Department guidelines implemented in December 2008 that allow race and ethnicity to be factors in opening an FBI probe.”
Obama’s entreaty to Islam surprises Muslims from the San Francisco Chronicle
LI Muslims praise Obama’s speech, but want action from Newsday
The Muslim next door from Newsweek
America at a Crossroads: America’s Muslims from the Public Broadcasting System