Reprinted from The Opinion Page of the New York Times ––
Two of our opinion writers, Mustafa Akyol in Istanbul and Wajahat Ali in the Washington, D.C. area, watched President Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia this morning and discussed what they thought it means for the Middle East, American foreign policy and Muslims around the world.
Wajahat Ali: “Assalam Alaikum.” I mean that sincerely. President Obama opened his remarks in Cairo in 2009 — which this speech was obviously meant to echo — with the universal greetings of peace used by more than one and a half billion Muslims.
I retained a morsel of hope that President Trump would use his “Islam” speech in Saudi Arabia as a corrective measure — if not a 180 shift — for his previous anti-Muslim statements, and his use of Muslims as a political piñata to advance a white-nationalist, anti-immigrant agenda. I hoped he would actually be inspired by the beauty and spiritual depth of our respective religions, Islam and Christianity, specifically using this platform to reach out to Muslims through shared narratives of hopes, verses from the Quran and Bible, personal stories of his positive interaction with Muslims and the rich benefits and contributions of diverse American Muslim citizens.
Of course, I’m not a naïve, wide-eyed idealist and I didn’t drink the Halal Kool aid. I knew the bar was exceedingly low, so all Trump would have to do is stay on script, not say anything egregiously offensive and it would be considered an “improvement.” Which it was.
Mustafa Akyol: Greetings — or salaams, too! I watched the speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from a not-too-distant place: Istanbul. I agree that it definitely did not come out as advertised.