Felice Gaer, the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, nonetheless commended Obama for voicing strong support for protecting religious minorities.
“All I’m saying is he could have sprinkled (his speech) with a few more examples of problems and what the U.S. is doing to solve them,” Gaer said of Obama’s speech. “This is not America versus the Muslim world; these are universal values that we are trying to uphold at home and abroad.”
The independent, bipartisan panel, which advises the administration and Congress on religious freedom issues, had urged the president to stress the U.S. commitment to curb religious abuses – an idea that panelists said is not always understood in the Muslim world.
Religious freedom was one of seven major points Obama addressed in his bid to improve U.S. relations with the Muslim world.
“People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul,” Obama said. “This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways. Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of another’s.”
For Gaer, the speech indicated “religious freedom is clearly on the map,” and took it as a signal that the White House had opened the door to more vigorous activity from the commission.
Other religious leaders and human rights activists, however, were more disappointed that Obama did not speak out stronger against the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region at the hands of a hard-line Islamic government.
Talal Eid, a Muslim imam and commission member, however, acknowledged there is only so much the president could do in one speech.
“If he elaborated more, the essence of the message would be lost,” said Eid, the executive director of the Islamic Institute of Boston. “It is the first time that an American president would go outside to an Islamic country speaking openly from his heart. I believe that (his speech) touched on all important areas that concern Muslims.”