Obama plays mediator during visit to mosque
BALTIMORE — President Obama made his first visit to a U.S. mosque as president on Wednesday and sought to repair the increasingly frayed relationship between American Muslims and their fellow citizens.
Obama's remarks came at a time of growing fear and division in the country that in recent months has unnerved many American Muslims and surprised senior White House officials.
The president often sounded like a concerned parent, worried for the country he leads as it prepares to replace him in a presidential election marked by inflammatory and anti-Islamic rhetoric.
"Here at this mosque, twice last year, threats were made against your children," Obama said, speaking at the Islamic Society of Baltimore. "Around the country, women wearing the hijab ...have been targeted. We've seen children bullied. We've seen mosques vandalized."
The president's appearance at the simple house of worship, a short ride from the White House, was also extraordinary for its contrast to a stirring address delivered in the first months of his presidency. Then a younger Obama, speaking in Cairo, appealed to more than 1 billion Muslims worldwide for a "new beginning" with the United States.
In that speech, Obama spoke of terrorism, colonialism, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the long, damaging Israeli- Palestinian conflict. He suggested that his unique background as the first black president and son of a Muslim father could help bridge the divide between Islam and the West.
Nearly seven years later, in Baltimore, Obama's aims were far more modest. In a spare and simple speech, Obama spoke of the fears Muslim parents and children who worry they will be targeted because of their faith.
He recounted a letter from a 13-year-old girl who wrote to him that she was scared and a mother who said her "heart cries every night thinking about how our daughter might be treated at school." He described the worries of children who feared that they might be rounded up and forced out of the country.
Obama's speech, at times, took on the tone of a history or civics lesson, as he sought to allay the fears of those who do not know any Muslims or say that they are less patriotic. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that roughly half of the public says that at least some Muslims are antiAmerican. About 11 percent said that "most" or "almost all" U.S. Muslims are antiAmerican, according to Pew.
Many of these Americans reacted with fear and anger to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, and have flocked to support Republican presidential candidates seeking to bar Syrian refugees from entering the United States.