Obama slams anti-Muslim rhetoric on his first mosque visit

Obama slams anti-Muslim rhetoric on his first mosque visit
Barack Obama on Wednesday slammed Republican anti-Muslim rhetoric on his first visit to an American mosque since taking office, describing it as 'inexcusable'.
3 min read
03 February, 2016
Obama made his first visit to a US mosque on Wednesday [AFP]

Barack Obama on Wednesday called anti-Muslim rhetoric "inexcusable" during his first visit to an American mosque since becoming president.

Obama made the short trip to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, in an effort to counter the Republican election-year rhetoric vilifying American Muslims and called on Americans not to be "bystanders to bigotry."

"We've heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim-Americans that has no place in our country," he said, lauding Muslim-Americans who were sports heroes, entrepreneurs and the architect behind the skyscrapers of Chicago.

His comments comes as a shrill election debate has sullied America's image abroad, and jihadist attacks such as the one in San Bernardino have been used by politicians to stoke fears.

Six days after the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, then Republican president George W. Bush visited the Islamic Center of Washington, declaring "Islam is peace."

Today, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has wooed conservative voters by demanding a ban on Muslim immigrants, while frontrunner Ted Cruz has advocated Christian-only admissions and championed "Judeo-Christian values."

On Wednesday, Obama said: "An attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths."

He also criticised the media and Hollywood, which he said portray Muslims in a narrow way.

Our television shows should have Muslim characters that are unrelated to national security
- US President Barak Obama

"Our television shows should have Muslim characters that are unrelated to national security," he said.

Obama had visited mosques in Malaysia, Indonesia and Egypt as president, but this was his first visit to one of America's 2,000-plus places of Islamic worship.

In 2009, a freshly elected Obama travelled to Cairo to call for a "new beginning" with the Muslim world.

Obama restated his case that organisations like the Islamic State group (IS) pervert Islam and do not represent the vast majority of Muslims.

The president offered "two words that Muslim-Americans don't hear often enough, and that is thank you," saying they help unite the country in "one American family."

But he also called on Muslims to help tackle radicalisation.

"How do we defend ourselves against organisations that are bent on killing innocents?" he asked.

"It can't be the work of any one faith alone. It can't be just a burden on the Muslim community, although the Muslim community has to play a role."

That message is a vexed one for members of the community.

"I know national security will come up in the speech just because of the climate of today," said Riham Osman of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an advocacy group, ahead of the speech.

"It does upset me a little bit that it is his first time coming to visit a mosque, and there will be kids there who have grown up in this post 9/11 era and their faith is constantly linked to national security and extremism."

The United States is home to around 3.3 million Muslims.

Agencies contributed to this report