On Sunday President Trump addressed the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Speaking to leaders of 55 Muslim-majority countries, he gave the speech an American president has needed to give but perhaps only Trump, with his propensity for plain, blunt speech, would have felt comfortable delivering.
There are layers upon layers to dig into, but there were two portions that stood out, both powerful exhortations.
This is a battle between Good and Evil…
A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. 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.
Then, a bit later:
That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires. And it means standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians.
Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear: Barbarism will deliver you no glory—piety to evil will bring you no dignity. If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and YOUR SOUL WILL BE CONDEMNED.
There was no shying away from connecting Islamist extremism with what the United States will not tolerate. And what the United States will not tolerate is the kind of Islamist fanaticism that seeks converts through murder. But it’s important to note that the president didn’t merely say this to Muslim allies. He said it to Muslim allies in the heart of the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia, the host of Mecca, the Islamic world’s center of gravity.
And then, while calling out the source of the bloodshed that has plagued the Middle East, Europe, and here at home, he got even more specific. This brand of Islamism, the kind the United States and all peaceful other nations cannot tolerate, is finding harbor and possibly even germination in places of worship. And no, according to the president, he will not tell people how to govern in their own countries and how to live their lives. But then President Trump made that powerful statement to religious leaders in those places of worship, telling them to make it clear to the people over whom they have so much sway that there is no honor for the Muslim who dies murdering others; there is only shame…and enteral judgment.
There will be much chatter about this visit and this speech among the anti-Trump media and bi-partisan pundit class today as the president visits Israel.
The president will be called indelicate, will be ridiculed for speaking about (and to!) another religion’s leaders with these words and using the tone he did. He will also be ridiculed for failing to denounce Saudi Arabia’s own Islamist government and lack of tolerance for religious minorities and equal rights for women.
Besides the obvious point that there will be many critics of President Trump who will always find something to mock or ridicule, there are at least two more big ones.
First, perhaps the reason he can bring this long overdue message to Saudi Arabia, of all places, is because he and his national security team not only understand but appreciate the interests of Riyadh. It needs its enemy, Iran, pushed back to its corner of international isolation, from which President Obama released it via the Iran nuclear deal. It needs Iran’s nuclear and missile programs actually dismantled. It also wants economic prosperity and relief from Islamist terrorists, whom Iran funds and provides military training and weapons. All three of those things are top priorities for the United States. And so we will work towards those ends together.
Second, those who genuinely care deeply about women and minorities in Saudi Arabia and understand the connection between human rights and security should note the approach the president is taking. No, he isn’t explicitly calling out Saudi Arabia for its failures in the area of tolerance. But he did just forcefully defend the dignity of women and extolled tolerance for Christians and Jews in a nation where women are treated in many ways like property and where it is a capital offense for Saudis to convert to either Christianity or Judaism. It would be impossible for the Saudis to miss that message applies to them, too, even if the president prudently chose not to name and shame in this time and place.
Besides, building a coalition of majority-Muslim nations to defeat Islamist extremists who persecute Christians and Jews, terrorize Muslims who will not conform to their brand of Islam, and who enslave women is hardly abandoning human rights.
A few days ago, my elderly Pakistani Muslim cab driver reflected, “Trump, I like him. He is a hard man. But maybe the only one who can sort out this mess… We must hope. ”
I think he’d approve of the president’s speech.
Rebeccah L. Heinrichs, a contributing editor at Providence, is a fellow at Hudson Institute where she provides research and commentary on a variety of international security issues and specializes in deterrence and counter-proliferation. She is also the vice-chairman of the John Hay Initiative’s Counter-proliferation Working Group and the original manager of the House of Representatives Bi-partisan Missile Defense Caucus.
Photo Credit: Video screenshot of President Trump as delivered his speech at the Arab Islamic American Summit Riyadh on May 21 and said, “Drive them out of your holy land, and drive them out of this earth.” Source: WhiteHouse.gov.