(RNS) Hoping to improve America’s negative image in the Muslim world, President Bush said he will appoint a special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a political group of 57 nations home to more than 1 billion Muslims.
But at least one expert warned that while many Muslims will welcome the envoy, others will see it as just another empty gesture from an administration they say is at war with Islam.
“Some will say the damage done is far more complex and the solutions go beyond just setting up an envoy,” said Qamar-Ul Huda, a senior program officer for religion and peacemaking at the United States Institute for Peace, a think tank.
Speaking Wednesday (June 27) at a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., Bush said the special envoy “will listen to and learn from representatives from Muslim states and will share with them America’s views and values.”
While much of the Islamic world sympathized with America after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, that support has plummeted in recent years over Iraq, Afghanistan, and U.S. policy toward the Israeli/Palestinian disputes.
But the envoy, Bush said, would also advocate for American views and stress what the United States has done in the Muslim world. Indeed, Bush used the announcement to remind Muslims of American help to Indonesia, Pakistan and other Muslims countries struck by devastating natural disasters in 2005.
Bush also blamed Islamic extremists for suppressing religious freedom in the Muslim world, and promised to help Muslims defeat them.
“We must help millions of Muslims as they rescue a proud and historic religion from murderers and beheaders who seek to soil the name of Islam.”
More than 24 hours after Wednesday’s announcement, the OIC had yet to respond to the administration’s proposal.
A State Department spokesman said he did not know if members of the Islamic group — including nations such as Iran and Sudan that do not have diplomatic relations with Washington — would have to approve accepting the envoy.
The OIC’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York, as well as the Pakistani ambassador to the U.N., whose country now chairs the OIC, could not be reached for comment.
By Omar Sacirbey
Religion News Service