Touching upon the theme of religious freedom and rising incidents of intolerance U.S. President Barack Obama used the occasion of the White House Iftar dinner to say to the 1.5 billion-strong global Muslim community that America stood firm with them in the fight “hateful acts.”
The President’s strong message to quell the spread of religious bigotry had echoes of controversial remarks that he made at a breakfast prayer meeting in February, when he said religious conflict had produced “acts of intolerance” that would have “shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate [India].”
His comments at the time provoked outrage in India.
This week, however, despite India having the world’s second-largest Muslim population in the world, Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Arun Singh was not among the attendees, which included his counterparts from Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Bangladesh, the Maldives and several more.
In his remarks Mr. Obama said, “Around the world… there are those who seek to divide us by religion or race or sect.”
At the event Mr. Obama lauded Samantha Elauf, a young U.S. >Muslim woman who earlier this month won a landmark ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court after the battled the decision by clothing store Abercrombie and Fitch to deny her employment because she wore a headscarf for religious reasons.
He also condemned numerous incidents of religious violence targeting Muslims, including the murder of three young Muslim Americans in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, earlier this year, regarding which he said, “As Americans, we insist that nobody should be targeted because of who they are, or what they look like, who they love, how they worship.”
While Mr. Obama hit out at the “barbarity” of groups like Islamic State, the militant jihadists of Syria and Iraq, he also blamed a state of ignorance and stereotyping in the U.S. for creating “a very distorted impression,” of the community.