CAIR to Trump: Avoid ‘Pejorative Terminology’ and ‘Anti-Muslim Stereotypes’ in Your Saudi Speech

Patrick Goodenough | May 18, 2017 | 4:07am EDT
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President Trump plans to deliver a speech during his visit to Saudi Arabia for an Arab-Islamic-U.S. summit on Sunday. (Photo: Saudi Press Agency, File)

( – If President Trump wants to engage the world’s Muslims when he delivers a speech in Riyadh he should avoid “pejorative terminology” and “anti-Muslim stereotypes” promoted by some of his “Islamophobic” advisers.

That’s the advice the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is offering the president as he prepares to travel to Saudi Arabia on the first leg of a trip that will also take him to Israel and Europe.

“The president’s upcoming speech offers an opportunity to clarify whether or not he believes Islam should be respected as a major world faith,” said CAIR’s national executive director Nihad Awad on Wednesday.

While in Riyadh for an Arab-Islamic-U.S. summit hosted by King Salman, Trump plans to deliver what National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster described this week as an “inspiring, direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and the president’s hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam.”

The aim, he told reporters at the White House, would be “to unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies of all civilization and to demonstrate America’s commitment to our Muslim partners.”

The president himself, addressing Coast Guard Academy graduates in New London, Conn. Wednesday, said he planned to “speak with Muslim leaders and challenge them to fight hatred and extremism, and embrace a peaceful future for their faith.”

CAIR, which describes itself as “the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization,” expressed concern at reports that White House adviser Stephen Miller is helping to write the Riyadh speech.

Miller is one of several White House officials whom Awad has in the past labeled “Islamophobes” and “white supremacists.” Others include chief strategist Steve Bannon and counterterrorism advisor Sebastian Gorka.

“If President Trump wishes to reach out to ordinary Muslims in the Middle East and around the world, he should avoid the pejorative terminology, anti-Muslim stereotypes and counterproductive policies promoted by Islamophobic advisers such as Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka,” Awad said.

“Instead, he should offer a vision for a future in which Muslims and people of all faiths and backgrounds can live free of the oppression of dictators or the dictates of extremists,” he said, adding that “a truly inspiring speech would focus on the universal desire for justice, freedom and human dignity.”

Awad then offered a verse from the Qur’an: “The Word of thy Lord finds its fulfillment in truth and in justice.” (6:115)

Two speeches

Many Muslims’ views about Trump will be based on his references to radical Islam during the election campaign, and the now-suspended immigration orders targeting visitors from terror-prone, Muslim-majority countries.

Since his inauguration, he has held evidently cordial meetings with a number of Islamic leaders, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Jordan’s King Abdullah, Saudi deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Emirates crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Trump’s planned major address aimed at Muslims just months into his presidency comes almost eight years after his predecessor’s much-touted speech “to the Muslim world,” on June 4, 2009.

While President Obama chose as a venue Cairo’s Al-Azhar University – an institution viewed as the highest seat of Sunni learning – Trump settled on Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and home to Mecca and Medina, the religion’s most revered sites.

In his speech, Obama called for a bridging of the divide between Islam and the West, spoke in respectful tones about Islam and quoted four times from “the holy Qur’an”  (as well as once each from the Talmud and “the Holy Bible.”)

In one of many lines that drew hearty applause, Obama referenced the Islamic belief that Mohammed prayed with Moses and Jesus (“peace be upon them”) in Jerusalem – the story upon which Islam’s claim to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque is based.

He also spoke of “colonialism,” acknowledged the U.S.’s role in the overthrow of an elected government in Iran in 1953, and criticized Western countries for “dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear.”

Obama reiterated that America was not, and would never be, “at war with Islam,” but said the U.S. would “relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security – because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject:  the killing of innocent men, women, and children.”

Obama pressed the Israelis to accept a “two state solution” to the conflict with the Palestinians and said it was time for Israeli settlements in disputed territory to “stop.”

He also spoke in favor of democracy and women’s rights, although on the latter subject he tempered his remarks by saying the U.S. and others were grappling with the issue as well.

“Issues of women’s equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam,” he said. “In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, we’ve seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.”

Obama’s speech, according to a later news report, was drafted by his deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes, with input from political advisor David Axelrod, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and Rashad Hussain, a deputy associate counsel who would later be appointed by the president as special envoy to the 57-member Islamic bloc.

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