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Bush Plans Envoy To Islamic Nations - Appointee Will ’Listen’ and ’Learn’

by Michael A. Fletcher (Washington Post, June 28, 2007)

Wednesday 4 July 2007

President Bush announced plans yesterday to appoint an envoy to an organization of Islamic nations with the intention of improving the battered image of the United States in the Muslim world.

Speaking at the rededication of the half-century-old Islamic Center in Washington, Bush said the new U.S. representative to the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference “will listen to and learn from the representatives from Muslim states and will share with them America’s views and values.”

“This is an opportunity for Americans to demonstrate to Muslim communities our interest in respectful dialogue and continued friendship,” said Bush, who has not yet named anyone to the job.

The creation of the post will mark the first time a U.S. president has designated an envoy to the 38-year-old organization, which promotes Islamic solidarity and cooperation.

The decision to send an envoy to the group comes at a time when the image of the United States is flagging in many corners of the globe and particularly in the Muslim world. A survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project released yesterday found that unfavorable views of the United States outweighed favorable views by lopsided margins in several predominantly Muslim nations that are U.S. allies, including Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey.

In his remarks, Bush asserted that he has worked hard to improve the lives of Muslims, despite the harsh attitudes spawned by the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the wider battle against Islamic extremism.

“I have invested the heart of my presidency in helping Muslims fight terrorism, and claim their liberty, and find their own unique paths to prosperity and peace,” he said.

Standing shoeless at the podium in the ornate Islamic Center, which serves as a mosque and Islamic community gathering place in the heart of Embassy Row, Bush thanked those Islamic leaders who have spoken out against extremism and called on others to join them. “We must encourage more Muslim leaders to add their voices, to speak out against radical extremists who infiltrate mosques, to denounce organizations that use the veneer of Islamic belief to support and fund acts of violence,” Bush said.

The president also criticized Syria and Iran for repressing freedom and held out hope to people in those countries who “yearn” for freedom. “You are not bound forever by your misery. You plead in silence no longer,” Bush said. “The free world hears you. You are not alone. America offers you its hand in friendship.”

Bush had first appeared at the center just days after the 2001 terrorist attacks, when he denounced bias against Muslims in the United States. This was the third visit to the center of his presidency, the White House said.

Despite the anti-Americanism that is being fueled by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush called those efforts crucial to the struggle to bring freedom to the Muslim world. He also pointed out that the United States has stood with Muslims numerous times in recent years: Aiding them in the face of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo, helping earthquake victims in Pakistan and Iran, and assisting tsunami victims in Indonesia and Malaysia.

“Americans of all beliefs have undertaken these efforts out of compassion, conviction, and conscience,” Bush said.

Source: Washington Post, June 28, 2007; Page A03