WASHINGTON // An Islamic advocacy group in the United States has sent an open letter to Barack Obama before his much-anticipated address in Cairo this week, calling on him to back his pledge for better relations with the Muslim world with concrete, clearly defined policies. "Your statements since the inauguration have raised the level of hope for real change in our nation's foreign and domestic policies," the letter from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair), delivered to the White House on Friday, said.
"It is imperative that your positive statements now be backed up with concrete policy initiatives that will help move us all toward a more peaceful and prosperous future. "Otherwise, we as a nation risk wasting the good will that has been garnered by your ongoing outreach to Muslims." Nihad Awad, Cair's executive director, who signed the letter, called Mr Obama's upcoming speech a "real opportunity", but added: "The test for him is to commit to an action plan of change."
The letter called on Mr Obama to work to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which it said has contributed significantly to anti-US sentiment in the Muslim world. The peace process is a stated priority of the new US administration. "Now is the time to tell Israeli leaders that we will no longer support the denial of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and that we will take concrete actions to back up that declaration," the letter said, calling for an end to Jewish settlements, the removal of roadblocks, the free flow of food and other aid and the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
The advocacy group urged Mr Obama to support democratic institutions and principles, political and religious freedom, civil rights and respect for the rule of law "for everyone, not just those we favour". "For too long, we have claimed to be champions of freedom and democracy, while turning a blind eye to repression, occupation and authoritarian rule," it said. "We must hold every nation, even those we regard as allies, to a uniform standard of justice and equality. No other action will do more to restore America's international reputation."
It also said Mr Obama must take steps at home to restore civil liberties that many in the US Muslim community and outside it say were compromised by the Bush administration in the name of national security after the September 11 attacks. Cair said the president should review detention and surveillance policies, among others, and allow Muslim scholars to travel here "without fear of humiliation or harassment at points of entry".
Several prominent Muslim academics who have been outspoken critics of the US government have been repeatedly denied entry visas; lawsuits are pending. Moreover, the letter said, everyone from political leaders to private citizens of all faiths should speak out against the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has come to be largely accepted in public dialogue, including during Mr Obama's presidential campaign, when he was "accused" of being a Muslim.
"Silence on this growing phenomenon is un-American, and it betrays the values of inclusiveness and religious tolerance," Mr Awad said in a news briefing at the National Press Club in Washington. Although the letter was addressed specifically to Mr Obama, it also carried a message for the Muslim world. It urged government officials and civic and religious leaders to foster "a culture of respect" for human rights, dissent and free expression, and said they should encourage political participation and abide by the results of free, fair elections.
It stressed the need for openness and tolerance. "Each nation should focus on internal dialogue with all members of the society, including ideological, political and religious dissidents," it said. "Good works and public service must replace overheated rhetoric and wasteful internal power struggles." "True peace and understanding will only come when we all - Muslims, Christians, Jews and people of other faiths and philosophies - cast off the prejudices and preconceptions of the past to engage each other based on what we have in common, not on what has separated us for so long."