RIYADH: Even as his administration fights for its travel ban from several Muslim-majority countries, President Donald Trump is using the nation that is home to Islam’s holiest site as a backdrop to call for Muslim unity in the fight against terrorism.
Trump’s speech, the centerpiece of his two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, will address the leaders of 50 Muslim-majority countries to cast the challenge of extremism as a “battle between good and evil” and urge Arab leaders to “drive out the terrorists from your places of worship,” according to a draft of the speech obtained by The Associated Press.
Trump, whose campaign was frequently punctuated by bouts of anti-Islamic rhetoric, is poised to soften some of his language about Islam. Though during the campaign he repeatedly stressed the need to say the words “radical Islamic terrorism” and criticised his opponent, Hillary Clinton, for not doing so that phrase is not included in the draft.
The speech comes amid a renewed courtship of the United States’ Arab allies as Trump is set to have individual meetings with leaders of several nations, including Egypt and Qatar, before then participating in a roundtable with the Gulf Cooperation Council and joining Saudi King Salman in opening Riyadh’s new anti-terrorism center.
The address also notably refrains from mentioning democracy and human rights – topics Arab leaders often view as US moralising in favor of the more limited goals of peace and stability.
“We are not here to lecture to tell other peoples how to live, what to do or who to be. We are here instead to offer partnership in building a better future for us all,” according to the copy of his speech.
Two different sources provided the AP with copies of the draft of his remarks, billed as a marquee speech of the trip. The White House confirmed the draft was authentic, but cautioned the president had not yet signed off on the final product and that changes could be made.
Trump may seem an unlikely messenger to deliver an olive branch to the Muslim world.
During his campaign, he mused, “I think Islam hates us.” And only a week after taking office, he signed an executive order to ban immigrants from seven countries Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen from entering the United States, a decision that sparked widespread protests at the nation’s airports and demonstrations outside the White House.
That ban was blocked by the courts. A second order, which dropped Iraq from the list, is tied up in federal court and the federal government is appealing.
White House officials have said they consider Trump’s visit, and his keynote address, a counterweight to President Barack Obama’s debut speech to the Muslim world in 2009 in Cairo.