Obama denounces anti-Muslim bias

Baltimore: US President Barack Obama extolled the contributions of Muslim Americans to society, including sacrifices by Muslim service members, while acknowledging that a fringe of the faith uses a “perverted version of Islam” to justify terrorism in his first visit to a US mosque.In a visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, his first to a mosque in the United States as president, Obama recited phrases from the Quran and praised US Muslims as a crucial part of America’s history and vital to the nation’s future.“And so if we’re serious about freedom of religion — and I’m speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country — we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths,” Obama said.Obama’s speech was intended as a deliberate rebuke to Republican presidential candidates who, White House aides say, have stoked Islamophobia and bigotry in the aftermath of Daesh-inspired terror attacks across the globe.He drew on US history, including remarks by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and others sympathetic to Islam, and quoted from the Koran to argue that the faith is not antithetical to democracy and is ingrained in the nation’s culture.

“At a time when others are trying to divide us along the lines of religion or sect we have to reaffirm that most fundamental of truths: we are all God’s children,” Obama said at the Islamic Society of Baltimore.“We are all born equal, with dignity. Mere tolerance of different religions is not enough. Our faiths summon us to embrace our common humanity. ’Oh mankind,’ the Koran teaches, ’we have made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.’”Muslim leaders say that the trip represents an important symbolic gesture of solidarity at a time when incidents of anti- Muslim prejudice are on the rise.But the White House also saw the visit as an opportunity to draw a sharp leadership contrast with a Republican presidential field that has demonstrated what Obama’s aides consider an alarming and offensive eagerness to marginalise Muslim Americans.

“Recently we’ve heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in a democratic nation,” Obama said in his remarks, which lasted for almost an hour.Donald Trump, who has led Republican primary polls for much of the campaign, has proposed a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration in response to terror attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 and San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 2. Jeb Bush has said the US should focus on admitting refugees from Syria’s civil war who could prove they were Christian.And Ted Cruz, the victor in Monday’s Iowa caucuses, has said he “understood” Trump’s proposal but favoured his own ban on refugee immigration from countries where Daesh and Al Qaida control territory.Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s former senior adviser, said in an e- mail that the president’s visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore “sends a powerful signal that the Islamophobia coming out of the Republican primary is a minority, not majority, opinion in this country.”

“While this has been a strain of thinking in the country since 9/11, it hasn’t been until this year that major mainstream political figures started publicly espousing anti-Muslim views,” Pfeiffer said.Islamic leaders say Obama’s visit is welcome and necessary.Several US mosques were the target of arson attacks following the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.

High-profile incidents including the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old Texas boy detained after a homemade clock he brought to school was mistaken for a bomb, have only deepened their concern that anti- Islamic sentiment is on the rise.“I’ve had people write to me and say, ‘I feel like I’m a second-class citizen,’” Obama said. “A girl from Ohio, 13 years old, told me, ‘I’m scared.’”Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, a legal and educational advocacy group based in Oakland, California, said she pushed for Obama to visit a mosque during a December meeting with top White House officials, including senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Khera’s organisation has tracked at least 70 anti-Muslim hate crimes since Paris, she said.

“I think he recognises how dangerous it’s gotten and frankly how embarrassing it’s gotten, the kind of rhetoric we’ve seen,” Khera, a former Senate Democratic aide, said in an interview.Taha Tawil, an Iowa imam who leads the Mother Mosque, the first permanent US structure built specifically as a mosque, said Muslims “are scared” and that Muslim children suffer harassment in schools.“Whoever is feeding this fear in the hearts of the public needs to stop,” Tawil said. “I think a visit of the president to a mosque — that gives a boost to the Muslim community, to bring them back to life, show that they still are citizens of the country. Trump and others try to disunite us.”

“When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalised, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is,” Obama said. “It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country.”Obama ended his speech by reminding Muslim Americans, “You are not alone, your fellow Americans stand with you.” And he reminded others that the country’s diversity “is not a weakness, that is one of our greatest strengths.”“We are one American family,” he said. “We will rise and fall together.”


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