On Wednesday afternoon, President Obama spoke at the Islamic Society of Baltimore. This visit marks the first time Obama has visited a mosque since the beginning of his presidency, and it was a landmark event.
Obama gave a powerful, cogent speech concerning the place of Muslim Americans within American society, emphasizing inclusivity and the necessity of refuting fear, hate, and cynicism spread by the bigoted and ignorant.
He specifically addressed the fear-mongering we have seen from Republican presidential candidates, noting that we have unfortunately heard “inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim-Americans" from these ostensible leaders.
Yet he underscored the notion that Muslims are inherently a part of the American social fabric, having existed in this country from the time of its conception. America was founded on the tenets of religious freedom.
He quoted original American leaders such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, whose Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom protected all faiths, “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan (Muslim).”
He invoked the history of mosques and Islam in America to stress the fact that accepting Muslims is not a radical idea: Muslim Americans have been integral to America for hundreds of years, and still are today.
“Muslim Americans enrich our lives today in every way,” Obama said. “They’re our neighbors, the teachers who inspire our children, the doctors who we trust with our health…Muslim Americans keep us safe. They’re our police and our firefighters. They're in homeland security, in our intelligence community. They serve honorably in our armed forces—meaning they fight and bleed and die for our freedom. So Muslim Americans are some of the most resilient and patriotic Americans you’ll ever meet.”
Obama acknowledged the role terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda have played in stirring up anti-Muslim sentiments, but urged us to provide them with the legitimacy they so crave. “They’re not defending Islam. They’re not defending Muslims,” he stated boldly, arguing that we cannot fall for their terrorist propaganda.
He also addressed the fear and lack of acceptance many young Muslim children feel, unequivocally declaring that we cannot allow that to continue. “If you’re ever wondering whether you fit in here, let me say it as clearly as I can, as President of the United States: You fit in here—right here. You’re right where you belong. You’re part of America, too. You’re not Muslim or American. You’re Muslim and American.”
It was a speech that sent a very clear message of unity as “one American family,” a radically different and infinitely superior outlook from what we have seen from other political leaders. Our next president certainly has some large shoes to fill.