On his first foreign trip as president, Donald Trump has traveled all the way from “Islam hates us” to calling it “one of the world's great faiths,” and he spoke about Muslim leaders this way: “There’s a lot of love out there,” he told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “and people from all nations, even nations that you’d be surprised to hear, they want to stop the killing.”
He’s right, of course. And even if some of us are not quite as surprised as he is that most Muslims just want to live in peace, much of what he has said so far could have been delivered by either Barack Obama or George W. Bush.
He did not utter the magical phrase — “radical Islamic terrorism” — that he has insisted Obama and Hillary Clinton didn’t use out of deference to jihadists.
And he did echo Obama’s, Clinton’s and Bush’s position when he described terror as a perversion of Islam: “Terrorists do not worship God; they worship death,” Trump said in Saudi Arabia, adding that this is not a battle between faiths but between good and evil.
To which we say, Amen.
Unfortunately, some of the words written for him also showed anti-Shiism, presented Iran as the stand-out evildoer in the region and handed out hall passes excusing human rights abuses by the Saudis to whom we’re now selling more weapons to be used in Yemen. After promising that he hadn’t come to tell people how to live, he urged that “religious leaders must make this absolutely clear. … If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be condemned.”
Though embraced by Christian conservatives, Trump does not naturally speak the language of any faith; he has said he doesn’t ask God for forgiveness, referred to communion as a “little cracker” and said “an eye for an eye” — the view that Christianity repudiates — is his favorite Bible verse. So on his tour of world religions, we hope he’s not only reading off a teleprompter but also is learning more about the great faith traditions — and perhaps even concluding that if he’s going to push for peace in the Middle East, he can’t slash the budgets for diplomacy and foreign aid.
On Wednesday, when the president for whom everything is up for negotiation meets with the pope for whom everything important was written in stone thousands of years ago, Francis will be “looking for an open door to push on,” he has said.
Their differences, on immigration and unfettered capitalism and climate change and building “walls instead of bridges,” are all well known. But the likely outcome of the meeting is common ground on the mutually acknowledged problems of human trafficking and religious persecution. And if the president also finds that the gilded Apostolic Palace reminds him of home, well, that’s OK, too.