Reaction is mixed to President Donald J. Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia about U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Trump condemned terrorism and urged Muslim nations to drive terrorists out – an easy thing to say that was entirely expected.
The problem with the speech is that it suffered from the same defects as many Trump exhortations: It was long on rhetoric and short on specifics. In addition, it did nothing to allay concerns among U.S. Muslims that Trump considers them a problem.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump frequently held up Muslims as a bogeyman. On at least two occasions in the fall of 2015, he proposed closing mosques in America. He also called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” and he floated the idea of creating a database of all Muslims currently living here. (The Washington Post has a good roundup of Trump’s anti-Muslim comments here.)
President Donald Trump was welcomed in Saudi Arabia, but his Muslim Ban in America remains problematic (screenshot from CNN).
Trump has already attempted to implement at least one of these proposals: his Muslim ban. The first version of the ban was blocked by the courts, and the second is now on hold as well, because federal judges have recognized that Trump meant what he said: He wanted to keep Muslims out of the country based solely on their religious beliefs. (Americans United is among the organizations challenging the ban in court. Read more about our work to fight the ban here.)
Interestingly, Trump wants to get the United States closer to Saudi Arabia, and he excluded that nation from his Muslim ban – despite the relative tendency of the repressive monarchy to produce terrorists. Of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers, 15 were citizens of Saudi Arabia.
Trump has also said not one peep about Saudi Arabia’s dismal record on religious freedom and human rights. Those concepts don’t exist in that country. As I write these words, a Saudi man named Ahmad Al-Shamri is facing a death sentence for blasphemy and atheism. Al-Shamri’s crime? He posted videos critical of Islam online. (Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah legally defined atheists as terrorists in 2014.)
Some commentators are citing Trump’s speech as evidence of a softer tone toward Islam. That sets the bar awfully low because all Trump really did was denounce terrorism. He didn’t apologize for any of the reckless, divisive statements he made about Muslims during the campaign.
If Trump is really serious about building better relations with Muslims, he should start here at home by rescinding his misguided and unconstitutional Muslim ban.