After attending the G-20 Summit and holding 14 bilateral meetings with world leaders, it was no coincidence that President Barack Obama ended his first overseas trip by spending two days in Turkey. An historic gateway to the Muslim world, Turkey is also a key strategic ally to the United States and represents a unique national model in the Muslim world.
In an address to the Turkish Parliament on Monday, President Obama hailed the role that the current Turkish administration has played in addressing regional conflicts and also sent a direct message to the Muslim world:
"I also want to be clear that America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism.
"We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world--including in my own country.
"The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country--I know, because I am one of them."
This bold gesture signals a break from many years of tense relations with the Muslim world, which lacked the trust and respect necessary for honest dialogue and any appreciation of one another's history, culture and interests.
In a notable first, the President also highlighted the role that Muslim Americans have played in enriching our country and the potential role they can play in helping our country will change course in its dealings with the diverse countries that make up the Muslim world.
After touring the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia (formerly a Byzantine church that is now a museum), President Obama met with a group of 100 Turkish university students for an unscripted town hall meeting that was broadcast live on television. That conversation focused on defining a new era in U.S.-Muslim world engagement:
"I believe we can have a dialogue that's open, vibrant and grounded in respect," Obama said. "And I want you to know that I am personally committed to a new chapter in American engagement. We cannot afford to talk past one another, to focus only on our differences, or to let the walls of mistrust go up around us."
While President Obama has played a vital role in forging a new relationship with the Muslim world, the United States must engage in more educational and professional exchanges in order to sustain this relationship. Looking forward, it is crucial for the U.S. government to address global humanitarian concerns that are taking place in the Muslim world to build effective partnerships on issues such as education, poverty, and unemployment.
Mr. President, the Muslim American community has also made it clear that we are committed to ensuring the prosperity of our country and in writing a new chapter in our relationship with the Muslim world.
Our message to you is, we are here to serve.