President Bush yesterday challenged Muslim leaders to do more in denouncing Islamist terrorism and also announced that he will name a special envoy to the world's diplomatic body of Muslim states.
"Men and women of conscience have a duty to speak out and condemn this murderous movement before it finds its path to power," Mr. Bush said. "Moderate Muslim leaders have the most powerful and influential voice."
"We must encourage more Muslim leaders to add their voices, to speak out against radical extremists who infiltrate mosques, to denounce organizations that use the veneer of Islamic belief to support and fund acts of violence," Mr. Bush said.
The president spoke to a crowd of about 200 at the Islamic Center of Washington — the same Embassy Row mosque in which, six days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, he said, "Islam is peace" and warned Americans to respect Muslims.
Mr. Bush was received coolly by the small audience. He drew applause for lines about his special envoy appointment, his previous visit after September 11, his hopes for an independent Palestinian state and at two other points. But some in the audience did not applaud when Mr. Bush was introduced, and the president, for his part, did not shrink from listing the details of a number of horrific terrorist acts in Iraq committed by Muslims against Muslims.
The president also urged Muslim leaders "to reach out to young Muslims ... who believe suicide bombing may some day be justified." Mr. Bush was referring to a study by the Pew Research Center released last month that said that 26 percent of 18- to 29-year-old Muslims in the United States think suicide bombings are sometimes justified to defend Islam.
The president spoke one day before the 50th anniversary of the mosque's dedication, an occasion marked by a visit and speech from President Eisenhower.
Mr. Bush also announced to enthusiastic applause, that he will appoint a special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a body with 57 member countries.
"This is the first time a president has made such an appointment to the OIC," said Mr. Bush, who removed his shoes before entering the mosque in respect of Islamic customs. "Our special envoy will listen to and learn from representatives from Muslim states and will share with them America's views and values."
Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his organization welcomes the appointment "as recognition that positive and respectful dialogue is the best way to build bridges of understanding between our nation and the Muslim world."
But some said that the appointment would make little impact on U.S. relations with the Muslim world.
"I don't view this move as hugely significant. Bush wants to reach out to moderate Muslims, and this is one opportunity. But by itself, it is unlikely to make much of a difference," said John Fortier of the American Enterprise Institute.
Imam Mohammed Magid, who leads the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, one of the largest mosques in Northern Virginia, said the president's speech made clear that "a moderate [Islamic] voice needs to be louder."
Mr. Magid said moderate Muslims are not given the same "access to media" that is given to terrorist leaders such as al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
"Every time bin Laden issues a [video] tape, why does Al Jazeera and CNN keep playing the tape over and over?" Mr. Magid said.
Imam Abdullah M. Khouj, who leads the Islamic Center of Washington, said moderate Muslim leaders are trying to speak out against terrorism.
"Everybody's striving, but people are different in their work. ... Some people are reserved," Mr. Khouj said. "But his speech was wonderful, and we were happy to have him."
Mr. Bush, in his speech, also proclaimed America as a place of religious liberty, and sought to dispel the notion that the U.S. presence in Iraq and its broader war against terrorism is a war against Islam.
"The freedom of religion is the very first protection offered in America's Bill of Rights," Mr. Bush said. "It is a precious freedom ... the promise of our Constitution, and a calling of our conscience, and a source of our strength."
The president acknowledged that "there are questions about America and her intentions" toward the Middle East, but accused Islamic radicals and terrorists of spreading such ideas.
"This enemy falsely claims that America is at war with Muslims and the Muslim faith, when in fact it is these radicals who are Islam's true enemy," Mr. Bush said to scattered applause.
c Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.