Sunday, May 21, 2017 will be remembered as the day Donald Trump, President of the United States, became the leader of the free world. His speech, delivered in front of most of the world’s Muslim leaders in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh, was the most powerful he has made, to date; perhaps, the most powerful speech he will ever make.
The relationship between the United States government and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always been the subject of much cynicism. Former U.S. presidents have fawned over the Saudi royal family. President Obama famously bowed so low to the Saudi King that he could have almost tied the man’s shoe laces while he was down there. Trump – by contrast – swept into Riyadh, to a rapturous reception, and there was no bowing – contrary to the false assertions on social media from many of the president’s critics.
Great anticipation surrounded Trump’s speech; on the campaign trail, candidate Trump played to his base by taking a hard line against Islamist extremism. The question was, how much would he tone down the rhetoric as he addressed the national leaders of most of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims?
The president delivered a resounding answer to that question.
The two most important takeaways from the speech could be paraphrased into the following statements: We, the United States of America, cannot and will not tell you, the Muslim world, how to run your affairs; You, the Muslim-majority nations, have a problem with religious fanatics and you must become part of the solution to that problem.
As Trump’s speech turned from investment and defense contracts to the issue of extremism, his choice of words became the major focus. There was a marked contrast to former President Obama’s famous ‘apology tours’. Obama often stressed America’s lack of exceptionalism and its new commitment to putting the interests of other nations on equal footing to those of the U.S. Not so, according to Trump. “America is a sovereign nation,” he said, “and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens.” In keeping with his belief that he is the President of the U.S. – and not of the world – he went on, “We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.”
Perhaps this could have been the opening remarks of a kid-gloves approach to the Muslim world-leaders in that magnificent hall, but it was not. Trump told them that a better future for their younger generations “can only be achieved through defeating terrorism and the ideology that drives it.”
The president’s detractors may well have assumed – even at this point – that he would spare some feelings and deftly avoid going to the very core of the problem. Once again, they were to be surprised. The power of this speech lay in its combination of appealing to the Arab ego before delivering the hard truth. Whilst listing many of the wonders and achievements of Arab culture, the president struck at the heart of the Muslim world’s refusal to acknowledge their own religious faith as being the root of radical terror.
Islamists need the credibility of Jihad; of doing God’s will and fighting to defend a faith, to fuel the fires of death and destruction they have lit across the globe. For the first time, an American president has directly told the Islamic world that this can no longer be accepted. Referring to the “bloodshed and terror,” of radical Islam, Trump told his audience “There can be no tolerating it, no accepting it, no excusing it, and no ignoring it.”
“Every time a terrorist murders an innocent person, and falsely invokes the name of God,” he continued, “it should be an insult to every person of faith. Terrorists do not worship God, they worship death.” This was, quite probably, the most important – and powerful – statement of the entire speech.
The president devoted the larger part of this speech to emphasizing the horrors and destructiveness of radical Islam. The previous U.S. administration appeared determined to never utter the words “radical Islamist terrorism” even in hushed tones and behind closed doors. Would this president use such words to the faces of almost 50 Muslim leaders?
After mentioning some of the progress made, in cooperation with some of those leaders, Trump told them that there was still work to be done.
“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,” he told them. The Obama doctrine was now, officially, defunct; The Trump doctrine is here and is not in the business of mincing words.
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.
Western liberalism refuses to acknowledge the existence of radical Islamism, for fear of offending Muslims. In the Islamic world, there exists wide-spread denial – or, even, tacit approval – of extremism. These two conditions have created fertile ground for the growth of radicalism. A resounding acknowledgement of these facts, on the international stage – and by the government of the world’s most powerful nation – has been long overdue
President Trump said what needed to be said. The leaders of the Islamic world must now do what needs to be done.