- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2007

President Bush will challenge Muslim leaders to denounce acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam during a speech today at the same Washington mosque he visited days after the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Bush will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Islamic Center of Washington, a half-century after President Eisenhower spoke at its dedication on June 28, 1957.

The president’s speech will focus on “the importance of religious freedom in the Middle East, and how securing that freedom requires Muslims to stand up to extremists,” according to a White House briefing document released yesterday evening.

Mr. Bush also will thank Muslim leaders who have spoken out against terrorism.

Although the president will emphasize that “the face of terrorism is not the true face of Islam,” he brings a different message with him to the mosque than he did six years ago.

On Sept. 17, 2001, Mr. Bush, seeking to prevent acts of retaliation against American Muslims after the September 11 attacks, said, “Islam is peace.”

But since then, the president’s rhetoric about Islam and terrorism has shifted. In 2005, he spoke about “Islamic radicalism,” specifying that the enemy in the war on terrorism is a certain brand of Islam.

James Phillips, a Middle East analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Bush was distinguishing between “an ideology and a religion.”

“Muslims need to recognize that we distinguish between traditional Islam and the radical Islamists who want to use it as a means of seizing power and imposing a totalitarian vision on other Muslims,” Mr. Phillips said.

Then, last August, Mr. Bush referred to “Islamic fascists” after British authorities foiled a plot by Muslim terrorists to blow up several airplanes bound for the United States.

“This nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation,” he said on Aug. 10, 2006.

Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that term was overly provocative, and was interpreted by many Muslims as a criticism of Islam itself.

“Why do you think we haven’t heard it again since then?” Mr. Singer said.

White House spokesman Tony Snow yesterday reaffirmed that the president views Islam as “a religion of peace.”

“He also believes that it has been hijacked, in some cases, by people who use Islam as a shield for murdering people, who use it as a way of spreading terrorism, rather than tolerance,” Mr. Snow said.

A senior White House official said the president shifted away from using the term “Islamic fascists” because he did not think it helped him contrast radical Muslims with moderate Muslims.

A recent study found that there is substantial sympathy for Islamic terrorism among Western Muslims, including those in the United States.

The Pew Research Center found that 26 percent of 18- to 29-year-old Muslims in the United States think suicide bombings are sometimes justified to defend Islam.

Radwan Masmoudi, founder and president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, said that he was disturbed by those findings, but added that such views are “not reflective of who we are or what our religion teaches.”

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