Trump urges Muslims to ‘practice tolerance,’ while announcing massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia

Trump’s first major foreign policy address ignored Saudi Arabia’s extremism.

President Donald Trump delivers a speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit, May 21, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President Donald Trump delivers a speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit, May 21, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

On Sunday, President Donald Trump gave a speech on Islam and terrorism in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in which he implored Muslims to practice tolerance, while also announcing a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

Trump’s speech was his first major foreign policy address, and part of his first trip abroad as president. He used the opportunity to urge leaders at the Arab Islamic American Summit to “drive out” terrorists from their land and “practice tolerance and respect for one another,” while virtually ignoring the extremism in the country he signed a major arms deal with.

Trump signed the $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia on Saturday, the first day of his trip. During his speech the next day, he thanked Saudi Arabia for its role in security in the Middle East — ignoring the country’s human rights abuses both at home and elsewhere in the region.

“The crown prince and deputy crown prince have been filled with great warmth, goodwill and tremendous cooperation,” Trump said. “Yesterday we signed historic agreements with the kingdom that will invest almost $400 billion in our two countries and create many hundreds of thousands of jobs in America and Saudi Arabia. This landmark agreement includes the announcement of a $110 billion Saudi-funded defense purchase, and we will be sure to help our Saudi friends to get a good deal from our great American defense companies, the greatest anywhere in the world.”

“This agreement will help the Saudi military to take a far greater role in security and operations having to do with security,” Trump continued. “We’ve also started discussions with many of the countries present today on strengthening partnerships and forming new ones to advance security and STA stability across the Middle East and far beyond.”

Later in the speech, he explicitly praised Saudi Arabia and a regional coalition for taking “strong action against the Houthi militants in Yemen.”

Saudi Arabia has led a bombing campaign of Yemen for over two years, creating a humanitarian crisis in the country. Yemen is now on the verge of running out of water, and in April, the United Nations warned that unless the world sends humanitarian aid, 17 million Yemenis will be in famine. Saudi Arabia has used American cluster bombs in crowded cities in Yemen, a horrific act because of the nature of the munition, in which a number of small bombs are ejected over a wider area, thus indiscriminately killing people. Human rights organization have widely criticized Saudi Arabia, the coalition it is leading in Yemen, as well as the United States.

Trump ignored these abuses, and used the rest of the speech to urge leaders at the conference to drive out terrorists from the region.

Trump’s rhetoric toward Islam on Sunday was slightly less inflammatory than language he has used in the past. For example, rather than saying “radical Islamic terrorism” — a phrase Trump has repeatedly stressed must be used — he chose to use the words “Islamic extremism and Islamic terror.”

But Trump calling Islam “one of the world’s greatest faiths” doesn’t hold much water given his record of incendiary rhetoric and exclusionary policies toward Muslims.

During his campaign, Trump repeatedly called for a ban on Muslim immigration to the country — which at one point included Muslim U.S. citizens living abroad. Just one week into his presidency, he followed through on this promise, passing a ban on entry of nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries, regardless of their visa status. His administration is still fighting for a revised version of this ban in court.

Trump also once called for registering all Muslims in a federal database. When asked how that would be any different from Jews having to register in Nazi Germany, he simply said, “You tell me” and didn’t elaborate further. He has called for surveilling all mosques in the country and repeatedly said that Muslims know about attacks before they happen and fail to report them, thus allowing them to take place. During a Republican primary debate in March 2016, he said that “Islam hates us,” and after being asked whether he meant the world’s entire Muslim population, he said, “I mean a lot of them.”

Trump’s campaign trail rhetoric so closely correlated Islam and terrorism, that at one point his former campaign manger and now counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, declared that Trump has a “five point plan to defeat Islam.” (She later said this was a mistake.)

In the three months after Trump’s victory last November, ThinkProgress found 31 incidents of anti-Muslim hate across the country. Trump has studiously ignored this hate, as he ignored a tragic attack on a Quebec City mosque in February that left six people dead. The shooter in that attack was a fan of Trump.

Platitudes about Muslims and Islam already mean very little given Trump’s past track record, particularly when they are delivered in a country with one of the most extreme and conservative interpretations of Islam.

Trump also devoted a significant part of Sunday’s speech to urging leaders at the summit to isolate Iran, just two days after the country elected a reformist president, echoing much of Saudi King Salman’s hostile rhetoric towards Iran in his speech earlier in the day. The Trump administration had planned to lay the groundwork for an “Arab NATO” to push back against Iran and combat terrorism in the region during the summit.

Trump is scheduled to visit Israel and Palestine on Monday and the Vatican, Brussels, and Sicily later this week.