Obama on First Visit to a Muslim Country as President

President Obama has begun his first official visit to Turkey, his first trip to a Muslim country since he was inaugurated president. This trip was announced on an earlier visit to Turkey by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also appeared while in Turkey on the popular news talk show “Come Along with Me” (“Haydi Gel Bizimle Ol”).

In December 2008, following the election, it had been announced that the President-Elect planned to pay a visit to a Muslim country. This visit is intended to improve the image of the United States in the Muslim world. President Obama, who spent part of his childhood in another Muslim country, Indonesia, chose Turkey presumably because it is officially a secular state and has been a close ally of the United States. Even so, since the US invasion of Iraq, support for the United States has plummeted in Turkey, which has been playing a crucial role in keeping dialogue open with other important regional states such as Iran, Syria, and Israel. Under President George W. Bush the United States sought to promote Turkey because of its “moderate Islam,” but some Turkish politicians are uneasy with any discussion of Turkey as a “Muslim” state.

Obama will address the Turkish Parliament in Ankara. He will also visit in Istanbul Haghia Sofia (Aya Sofya), the former Byzantine church and mosque which is now a museum, as well as the Blue Mosque. Many residents of Istanbul will prefer to stay at home, however, rather than try to witness this historic visit or even go to work, since traffic in Istanbul will be hopelessly tied up due to extraordinary security measures.

For sample coverage see:

One can read about this visit in English on many Turkish media outlets on the internet. You can find many more articles from the Turkish press and electronic media by searching on Google News or other search engines.

Uli Schamiloglu is chair of the Middle East Studies Program at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

One thought on “Obama on First Visit to a Muslim Country as President

  1. My Turkish friends tell me that reception to Obama’s visit is at best is lukewarm, my concern is that the reasons behind this attitude will be interpreted here in the US and in the west as a further proof that “the Muslims” are not interested in genuine friendship.

    The real issue here is that the policy of engagement in its current form does not take into consideration the motivations and concerns of the states the current administration chooses as “representatives” of the Muslim world.

    In the particular case of Turkey, the Turks are very unhappy about Obama’s stances during the elections on the Armenian genocide. I think that it is also a bit unfair to Muslims all over the world to be viewed in light of the reaction of 1 state that is driven by considerations that are particular to its own history rather than the rest of the Muslim world.
    This is not a denial of the reality of the genocide against the Armenians but rather a pointer to consider before extrapolating the Turkish lukewarm reaction to Obama.

    Also, why isn’t the media point out that the guys shown in photos with “Obama Go Home” signs are communists and anti-globalization activists? Try telling these guys that they’re Muslims 😉