The headline from Obama’s address to the Turkish Parliament is already clear. “The United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam,” declared the president to much applause.
But perhaps more noteworthy is how open and personal he has become in his outreach to global Muslims. For the second time on this trip, the president was introduced as “Barack Hussein Obama.” Six months ago, only right-wingers referred to him by his full name, and then always to howls from Democrats. Presidents often have more freedom than candidates do, and Obama seems to be trying to make up for the time he lost during the campaign assuring voters that he wasn’t a secret Muslim.
In his address, Obama also told the Parliament that the U.S. has been “enriched by Muslim-Americans,” and he emphasized the ties that some Americans have to the religious tradition and culture. “Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country,” said Obama. “I know, because I am one of them.”
It’s been a sad fact of our politics in this decade that both parties have shied away from outreach to Muslims for fear of being accused of consorting with terrorists. Although George W. Bush heavily–and successfully–courted Muslim voters in 2000, by 2004 neither party wanted to be seen seeking votes from that constituency. In this past election, Obama’s Muslim outreach was unsteady. Many Muslim-Americans were upset by what they saw as Obama’s overly stringent denial that he was a Muslim. And two consecutive Muslim outreach directors for his campaign were forced to quit after Republicans raised questions about participants at meetings they had attended.
It’s good to hear Obama freed to talk positively about Muslims. It will be even better if he can keep it up when 2012 approaches.