Obama: U.S. ‘not at war with Islam’

President Barack Obama spoke of the tensions Thursday between the United States and Muslims saying " the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

“Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile…” Obama is delivering Thursday what the White House is billing as a major speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt. The President reiterated a point in his past speech in Turkey: “In Ankara, I made clear that America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. “Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children.” Obama also said the U.S. does not want to keep its troops in Afghanistan. “Make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. “We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan…” Obama hopes to start “a new chapter of engagement” between the United States and the Muslim world, speechwriter Ben Rhodes said Wednesday.

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This engagement would be based on mutual respect and mutual interest, and Obama plans to speak “openly and candidly” about issues that have caused “tensions in the Muslim world,” Rhodes said. “This can’t be just [about] what we’re against, but what we’re for.” iReport.com: How can U.S. better relate to Muslims Obama asked staff members to “cast a wide net” to gather a range of viewpoints, including those of Muslim-Americans, as he was preparing his Cairo comments, Rhodes disclosed. But just as the White House lays out its vision, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden purportedly issued another statement Wednesday, saying U.S. policy in Pakistan has generated “new seeds of hatred and revenge against America.” Al-Jazeera, an Arabic-language TV network, aired segments of what it said was a “voice recording by bin Laden,” which was believed to have been recorded several weeks ago, during a mass civilian exodus because of fighting in northwestern Pakistan. Pakistani troops have been taking on militants in the area, known as the Swat Valley. Bin Laden’s message also likened Obama’s actions to those of past administrations. Obama is proving that he is “walking the same road of his predecessors to build enmity against Muslims and increasing the number of fighters and establishing more lasting wars,” bin Laden says on the tape. “This basically means that Obama and his administration put new seeds of hatred and revenge against America. The number of these seeds is the same as the number of those victims and refugees in Swat and the tribal area in northern and southern Waziristan.” Obama also touched on U.S. relations with Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian battle. Addressing the nuclear tensions between United States and Iran Thursday, he said: “That is why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation — including Iran — should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” On a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the President said, “If we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.” The President also devoted time to women’s rights. “I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.” He added, “Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential.” Meanwhile, the White House hit back on the bin Laden tape in the hours before his speech. “I don’t think it’s surprising that al Qaeda would want to shift attention away from the president’s historic efforts, and continued efforts, to reach out and have an open dialogue with the Muslim world,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It was a message reinforced by officials throughout the administration. “I think the timing is pretty self-evident, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist on this one,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said. CNN Security Analyst Peter Bergen says the tape “speaks for itself.” “I think what’s interesting about the tape is that it appears to be made several weeks ago. … The bin Laden tape was not made to kind of upstage the Cairo speech. … Some in Al-Jazeera may well have kept it back … for a more newsworthy moment … right now as the president is in the Middle East,” he said. Watch analysis on the president’s trip » Bin Laden’s comments come as al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri said Obama will not be welcomed in Egypt but rather “welcomed by his slaves who benefit from his aids and bribes.” Bergen says the two men are still “pretty relevant” in the Muslim world, adding that they “do continue to provide strategic guidance to jihadis around the world.” But Democratic Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana, a Muslim, says the latest message shows that al Qaeda is threatened by Obama’s appeal to Muslims as having relatives of the Islamic faith and having lived in a Muslim country. “President Obama’s reaching the hearts and minds of the Muslim community both here in the United States and internationally. … These extremists … want to pump fear in the hearts and minds, but it’s not working,” he said. “I think we have to be mindful and careful about these self-appointed gatekeepers of the religion of Islam. The religion of Islam is a peaceful religion. We certainly have great contributions from Muslims in America and Muslims abroad who want to see the world better.”

It’s a point agreed with by CNN’s senior editor of Middle East affairs, Octavia Nasr. “One thing is certain: Bin Laden’s rhetoric doesn’t seem to mirror a mostly hopeful acceptance of President Obama among Muslims and Arabs,” Nasr said Wednesday.