President Donald Trump on Sunday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, called on the Muslim world to stand with the United States against the common threat of terrorism by denying extremists safe harbor, financial backing and social standing.
“Drive them out,” he said in a rallying cry. “Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this earth.”
Trump framed the cause not as a fight between or among faiths, but “a battle between good and evil.”
The speech, delivered in a measured, deliberate style to a predominantly Muslim audience, was a stark contrast to his boisterous takedowns of Islam on the campaign trail.
As a presidential candidate, he called for the “complete and total shutdown of Muslims” coming into the country and told cheering supporters at rallies that Islam was an existential threat to the United States.
Then, as president, he signed two executive orders intended to temporarily curb the U.S. intake of refugees and nationals from select Muslim-majority countries, saying national security was at stake. The orders were met with legal challenges.
On Sunday, at the opulent King Abdulaziz Conference Center where representatives of about 50 countries were gathered for the Arab Islamic American Summit, Trump replaced his previous aggressive, barbed rhetoric with appeals for unity across religious divides.
“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations,” he said. “This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life and decent people . . . that want to protect life and want to protect their religion.”
His remarks took aim at what he called “Islamic extremism” and “Islamic terrorism of all kinds.”
The word choice was a departure from Trump’s use of “radical Islamic terrorism” during his campaign when he criticized his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama for declining to use the phrase explicitly.
In Riyadh, Trump said he was neither lecturing to the world — nor telling anyone “how to live, who to be or how to worship” — but to offer partnership.
He singled out Iran for fanning the flames of terrorism, suggesting that it should be isolated.
Later on Sunday, Trump and Saudi leaders inaugurated the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, applauded the “new and more productive tone” of Trump’s remarks, but added that “one speech cannot outweigh years of anti-Muslim rhetoric and policy proposals.”
Awad said, “New policies and concrete actions — not mere rhetoric — are what is needed to reset relations with the Muslim world.”
Lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican, said they believed Trump should have more openly challenged Saudi Arabia and others on human rights violations.
“I believe human rights are important for us to speak about publicly,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” “The human rights activists in those countries would agree, because they’re demoralized when they don’t hear it.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told CNN’s “State of the Union” that putting a call for democracy or human rights on the back
burner would be “a terrible abdication of our global leadership when it comes to advocating for people who are the subject of persecution or imprisoned.”
Saudi Arabia is the first of five countries Trump is set to visit for his first trip overseas as president. The president seeks to pay homage to the three Abrahamic religions.
He also is scheduled to attend the NATO summit in Brussels and the G-7 summit in Taormina, Italy.