WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President George W. Bush said on Wednesday that he was creating a special envoy to the largest grouping of Islamic nations and called on moderate Muslims to speak out against extremists who are Islamâ€™s â€œtrue enemy.â€
In his latest bid to counter the tide of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world, Bush said appointing a special envoy would demonstrate to Muslim communities â€œour interest in respectful dialogue and continued friendship.â€
Bush, in a speech marking the 50th anniversary of the Islamic Center of Washington, made no mention of who would be named the first U.S. envoy to the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Standing in stocking feet among the archways and green marble pillars of the small mosque, Bush said that while the principles of religious freedom have been expanding elsewhere in the world, in the Middle East there has been a rise of extremists.
â€œThis enemy falsely claims that America is at war with Muslims and the Muslim faith, when in fact it is these radicals who are Islamâ€™s true enemy,â€ he said.
It was Bushâ€™s third visit to the Islamic Center during his presidency. During his first trip, just days after the September 11 attacks, he denounced prejudice against Muslim Americans.
But nearly six years after the hijacked-plane attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, a recent study found that Muslim Americans remain â€œlargely outside the U.S. mainstreamâ€ and must meld into American society or face isolation.
â€œWe 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,â€ Bush said.
Anti-American sentiment has increased overseas since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, where sectarian violence has resulted in daily bloodshed.
Bushâ€™s past use of terms such as â€œcrusadeâ€ and â€œIslamo-fascistsâ€ in referring to the war on terrorism and Iraq has angered many Muslims worldwide.
Karen Hughes, Bushâ€™s chief of public diplomacy at the State Department, has led a drive to improve Americaâ€™s image in the Islamic world, where there is strong opposition to the Iraq war and resentment over Washingtonâ€™s perceived pro-Israel bias. But critics say the U.S. effort has had little success.