Bush to stay quiet on Trump’s immigration ban: spokesman

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Former President George W. Bush and President Donald Trump. (Photos: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Former President George W. Bush and President Trump. (Photos: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Former President George W. Bush, who spent nearly eight years urging Americans not to view Islam as the enemy of the United States, will not weigh in publicly on President Trump’s controversial order temporarily freezing immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, his office said Monday.

“The same silence that was afforded to President Obama will be extended to President Trump,” Bush spokesman Freddy Ford told Yahoo News by email.

On Friday, Trump signed an executive order banning immigration to the United States by citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days. Admission of all refugees was halted for 120 days. The order sparked protests at major U.S. airports and criticism by some U.S. allies, as well as legal challenges from civil liberties groups.

In contrast, former President Barack Obama’s spokesman issued a statement Monday saying that Obama was “heartened by the level of engagement taking place in communities around the country.”

“Citizens exercising their Constitutional right to assemble, organize and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake,” the statement said.

Bush’s decision not to weigh in aligns with his decision to stay out of political fights after leaving office in January 2009, effectively giving the new president a chance to advance his agenda without sniping from the sidelines.

But the Republican former president worked enormously hard in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to persuade Americans that the country was at war with extremists, not with the Muslim world.

Bush, who declared a “war on terrorism” not quite 12 hours after the attacks, hurried less than a week later to the Islamic Center of Washington, a mosque and cultural center. There, he quoted the Quran and warned that Americans who were unleashing their anger on fellow American followers of Islam “represent the worst of humankind.”

“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war,” he said.

Bush’s outreach on this score still draws praise from Democrats.

“That was one of the real contributions, despite all the other problems, that George W. Bush made after 9/11, when he basically said, after going to a mosque in Washington, ‘We are not at war with Islam or Muslims,’” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a Democratic debate in November 2015.

Bush tried to craft his language to avoid offending followers of Islam overseas. He shied from describing the United States’ enemies as “Islamic terrorists,” although for a brief time in 2006 he called them “Islamic radicals,” only to drop the expression after Saudi Arabia objected. Early on, he called the war on terrorism a “crusade,” a term that has largely lost its religious connotations in the West, but which remains deeply offensive for historical reasons to many Muslims in the Middle East. Angry with himself over the unnecessary provocation, Bush in June 2004 edited Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous D-Day message to leave out a reference to “the great crusade” of defeating Nazi Germany.

On the 2016 campaign trail, Trump condemned the language that Bush and Obama had chosen to use as political correctness run amok, and vowed to be blunter.

He delivered on that promise in his inaugural address, declaring: “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones, and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”

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