O.C. Muslims voice support for Obama's message
BY VIK JOLLY
The Orange County Register
Barack Obama's speech before the Turkish parliament today also was heard back home and generally welcomed by Muslim Americans while a UCI Iranian expert said the president's continued overtures towards the Islamic community portend real policy changes likely will follow...
In a 25-minute speech in Ankara, Obama declared that the United States "is not and will never be at war with Islam."
On his first visit to a Muslim nation as president, Obama continued his efforts to push for a respectful relationship with the Muslim world.
Calling the consistency of his message good, UCI Prof. Nasrin Rahimieh, a linguist and an expert in Iranian literature, said the speech will be viewed as a welcome change in the posture that the United States has adopted towards both the Muslim world and Muslim Americans.
"Some of these people come from countries where Islam is the dominant religion. So President Obama's valorization of the contribution of Muslim Americans will also indicate a positive change," said Rahimieh, the director of the Dr. Samuel M. Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture at the university.
Obama told Turkish legislators: "I also want to be clear that America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism."
"We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. … 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. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country I know, because I am one of them," he continued.
Rahimieh said she was fascinated that Obama referred to his extended Muslim family "which positions him to better understand how it feels like to have an entire population feel isolated and marginalized in the U.S. and globally (and) so be seen only as potential terrorists and risks for security."
"But I believe that we'll see more consistent policy action because of these speeches and they indicate changes to come," she added.
One Orange County Muslim cleric said the president needs to lay out specifics of how he can help achieve lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians – a subject Obama also touched on in his speech today – and he must reassure Muslim Americans the same way he is reaching out to Muslims worldwide.
"As much as we liked his appeal to the greater Muslim community out there, we want similar appeal to the greater Muslim community in the United States … which feels that either we're guilty by association or we're targeted," said Yassir Fazaga, the imam or religious leader at the Orange County Islamic Foundation mosque in Mission Viejo. "We don't want to feel left out here."
Urging a greater partnership with the Islamic world in an address to the Turkish parliament, Obama called the country an important U.S. ally in many areas, including the fight against terrorism. He devoted much of his speech to urging a greater bond between Americans and Muslims, portraying terrorist groups such as al Qaida as extremists who do not represent the vast majority of Muslims.
"Let me say this as clearly as I can," Obama said. "The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical ... in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject."
The U.S. president is trying to mend fences with a Muslim world that felt it had been blamed by America for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The sentiment that America is not against Islam bears repeating, said Munira Syeda, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Anaheim.
"I would say that as American Muslims we welcome and applaud President Obama's message of bridging the gap between America and the Muslim world in particular his statement that the U.S. is not at war with Islam," she said. It "is a positive message that should be restated every time."
The message represents a change from the attitude of the Bush administration, local Muslims say.
"In general, Muslims here and abroad have been waiting for such reconciliatory gestures and moves," Syeda said. "The past administration took on the approach of confrontation and took unilateral positions and President Obama's administration is a shift towards mutual respect and dialogue and will further the cause of world peace and stability."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact the writer: 949-465-5424 or email@example.com