Trump left for his first presidential foreign trip Friday
His first stop was in Saudi Arabia
A month after Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the US, a hijab-wearing American named Rose Hamid stood up in the grandstands a few rows behind the presidential candidate.
It was January 2016, a few weeks before Republican primary voters began to cast their votes. As Hamid stood up in silent protest, the supporters around her began to jeer and chant for her to “get out,” until Trump campaign officials and police officers interceded to eject her from the arena. One person accused her of having a bomb.
“There is hatred against us that is unbelievable,” Trump said as Hamid was ejected. “It’s their hatred, it’s not our hatred.”
Now, after receiving a king’s welcome in Saudi Arabia on Saturday and ambling from meeting to meeting with the region’s Muslim leaders on Sunday, he appears to be looking to reset relations with the Muslim world.
Trump chose Saudi Arabia – home to the world’s two holiest Muslim sites – for his first overseas trip, in what his top aides have described as an overtly symbolic gesture.
The commander in chief uttered a total of 26 words in public during the first day of his maiden foreign voyage. The entirety of his public remarks, made ahead of a meeting with the Saudi crown prince, could have fit in a single tweet.
Instead, Trump let the pictures do the talking, and he almost certainly liked what they were saying.
On Sunday, he will deliver a speech to leaders of 50 Muslim countries to outline his vision for US-Muslim relations.
But beneath the pageantry and symbolism remains the sting that more than a billion Muslims around the world felt after American voters elected Trump – a candidate who called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” entering the United States, floated the idea of surveilling US mosques and warned that Muslim refugees represented a national security threat.
Change the image
Senior administration officials have offered no indication that Trump intends to apologize for or walk back the campaign rhetoric and proposals that experts say have fueled anti-Muslim sentiment in the US.
Trump and his aides do, however, want to change that image as Trump looks to make headway on the true goal of his trip to Saudi Arabia: eradicating the threat that ISIS and other Islamist terrorist groups pose to the United States.
“We thought that was very important (to start the trip in Saudi Arabia) because obviously people have tried to portray the President in a certain way,” a senior White House official said. “We thought that was a good place to start. And, look, I mean, one of the biggest problems that we face in the world today is radical extremism, and we have to combat that.”
H.R. McMaster, the President’s national security adviser, said the speech will be “inspiring, yet direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and his hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam to dominate across the world.”
A US official said the words “radical Islamic terror” aren’t included in the current draft of Trump’s speech set to be delivered in Saudi Arabia on Sunday. The speech, however, is not in its final form and could change before Trump delivers his remarks.
The US official confirmed to CNN the speech will urge Muslim leaders to “drive out the terrorists from your places of worship” and cast the fight against radicalism as a battle of “good and evil.”
The Saudi foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir on Saturday signaled his country was hopeful Trump would truly hit the reset button.
“If we can change the conversation in the Islamic world from enmity toward the US to partnership with the US, and if we can change the conversation in the US and in the West from enmity toward the Islamic world to one of partnership, we will have truly changed our world and truly drowned the voices of extremism, and drained the swamps from which extremism and terrorism emanates,” Jubeir said, echoing a phrase once used by Trump on the campaign trail.
Trump has looked to ramp up the US’ fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but has done so while stressing the need for Muslim allies in the region to increase their efforts as well, emphasizing that point in White House meetings with leaders of 50 countries in the region. Trump has called on Arab countries in the region to accept more Syrian refugees and sought their help to create safe zones in Syria, among other appeals.