The images were striking, and so were the words, including the words that were not said.
There was President Trump standing before leaders of about 50 Muslim nations — the same Donald Trump who, as a candidate, declared, “I think Islam hates us” and who proposed a “total and complete shutdown” that would have prohibited every person in that audience from stepping foot in the United States.
But whereas the Trump of the campaign portrayed the war on terrorism as a clash of civilizations, this Trump, speaking in mostly subdued tones, explicitly said it was not.
“Terrorists do not worship God. They worship death,” he said. “This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life and decent people all in the name of religion. People that want to protect life and want to protect their religion.”
The driving theme of the speech, reinforced by the image of so many Muslim leaders sitting before him, was the need for a united front in the war on terrorism — the Islamic world and the United States fighting together. But embedded in that was a challenge to the Islamic world to take the lead in fighting the extremists within.
“America is prepared to stand with you,” Trump said, “but the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children.”
“A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists,” Trump said, his voicing rising in the most impassioned part of the speech. “Drive them out. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this Earth.”
During the campaign, Trump mocked President Obama for refusing to say the words “radical Islamic terrorism.” In this speech, he didn’t say those words either, although he did make a passing reference at one point to “Islamic terror.” And here he slightly diverged from his prepared text, which said “Islamist terror.”
This is not just semantics. During the campaign, Trump (along with Ted Cruz and others) portrayed Obama’s refusal to say “radical Islamic terrorism” as central to a failure to defeat terrorism. If you can’t properly label the enemy, the argument went, you cannot defeat it.
And this president, who has issued an executive order blocking all Syrian refugees from the United States (an order currently stayed by the courts), had this to say about the refugee crisis: “This region should not be a place from which refugees flee, but to which newcomers flock.”
The speech — and the entire gathering — was designed to isolate the government of Iran. The Iranians were not invited, and both Saudi King Salman and Trump used their remarks to harshly condemn Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism.
“Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate it,” Trump said, “and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they so richly deserve.”