Donald Trump has opted against the inflammatory language about Muslims that has characterised his political career to date during his first foreign trip in Saudi Arabia.
The US President repeatedly criticised Barack Obama’s administration for its unwillingness to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism”, and in March said: “I think Islam hates us.”
He’s also claimed that he saw Muslims cheering on 9/11 as the World Trade Center was attacked, and in 2015 he called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”.
His government is currently defending his travel ban on visitors and refugees from six Muslim-majority nations, insisting it’s not a ban on Muslims.
The courts, however, have repeatedly pointed to Trump’s own campaign rhetoric to cast doubt on that claim.
And yet, President Trump followed in the footsteps of his predecessor on Sunday by condemning what he called the “crisis of Islamic extremism” during a keynote speech on Riyadh. He said:
“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilisations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil.”
He went on:
“That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds. And it means standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians.”
Trump spoke at the Arab Islamic American Summit, an annual event attended by the leaders of 50 Muslim-majority nations.
While he referred to “Islamic terror” once in his remarks, the president spent the majority of the speech urging Arab countries to drive out extremists in their midst whom he called “barbaric criminals”.
Overall, the president took a relatively conciliatory tone toward a country whose government he once suggested had links to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. He said:
“We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership ― based on shared interests and values ― to pursue a better future for us all.”
Trump received a warm welcome during his first stop on his inaugural trip overseas as president.
He refrained from pressing Saudi Arabia on human rights and its oppression of women and religious minorities. Trump has also so far been careful not to make too many public comments or tweets, sticking to a script so as to minimise controversies that would distract from the message of the trip.