x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

One year after his Cairo speech Obama's outreach is 'lacking', say Muslims

Several prominent Muslim-American groups have offered their "mixed reviews" of the president's outreach to the Muslim world.

WASHINGTON // On the one-year anniversary of Barack Obama's Cairo speech, several prominent Muslim-American groups offered their "mixed reviews" of the president's outreach to the Muslim world. Coming together for a joint press conference in Washington, representatives from the groups applauded the president for setting a new "tone" in government's relationship with Muslims, marking a vast improvement, they said, over the antagonism many perceived during the Bush years. They also praised other positive gestures, such as April's summit for Muslim entrepreneurs and Mr Obama's decision to appoint two Muslims to serve in his administration.

But they took issue with the White House for not doing enough to engage the American-Muslim community and reverse Bush-era counterterrorism laws that have alienated many Muslims here. Nihad Awad, the national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said at the press conference while Mr Obama has taken several positive "first steps", his outreach to Muslims "is lacking on serious issues".

The White House, he said, must clarify laws that empower the Treasury Department to shut down charities suspected of ties to terrorist groups. The laws have had a disproportionate effect on Muslim charities and continue to fuel government distrust in American-Muslim communities. The administration has acknowledged that the laws have had a cooling effect on legitimate charitable giving, but little has been done to fix them, according to Mahdi Bray of the Muslim American Society, who also appeared at the press conference. "Charity is a religious obligation among Muslims and yet it is still being impeded," he said.

The Muslim groups also called on the administration to end racial profiling, limit the use of the government's "no-fly list", and cut down on intelligence agencies' surveillance of US mosques. They urged Mr Obama to hold a private sit-down with US Muslim leaders and to visit a mosque in the United States, something he has not done as president. On foreign affairs, the groups applauded Mr Obama for sticking to the timetable for withdrawing from Iraq. But they criticised the White House's cautious response to the Israeli flotilla raid, which left nine activists dead including a 19-year-old American Muslim of Turkish descent. "The president and the White House spokesman could have been more forceful in condemning Israel," Mr Awad said.

Also represented at the press conference were the Islamic Circle of North America and the Muslim Public Affairs Council. @Email:sstanek@thenational.ae