By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
Is the White House dinner tonight celebrating Ramadan and honoring the contributions of American Muslims the latest exhibit in President Obama's charm offensive toward the global Islamic community?
Sure, but it wasn't Obama's idea. Turns out that the Ramadan dinner was an innovation of George W. Bush, who hosted one every year he was in office and who also used the event to recognize the contributions of American Muslims.
Check out this Voice of America piece on Bush's final iftar, the nightly dinner at which Muslims break their Ramadan fast, in 2008:
This was the president's eighth Iftaar dinner in eight years at the White House. Mr. Bush gave thanks for the many ways that Muslim Americans enrich the lives of all Americans.
"One of the great strengths of our nation is its religious diversity. Americans practice many different faiths. We all share a belief in the right to worship freely. We reject bigotry in all its forms. And over the past eight years, my administration has been proud to work closely with Muslim Americans to promote justice and tolerance of all faiths," he said.
The president singled out some of those attending the Iftaar dinner, including those who have worked on America's space program as well as those who have made advances in health care and technology.
The biggest difference in the Bush- and Obama-era dinners is how the United States' Bush-era war on terrorism figures into them. Obama has framed his Muslim outreach largely as an effort to repair the damage to the U.S. image in the Muslim world by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Bush, by contrast, proudly invoked those wars during his final Ramadan dinner. From Voice of America:
The president said the United States has partnered with Muslims around the world to spread freedom. "We are helping the people of Iraq and Afghanistan build free societies after decades of tyranny. And during the month of reflection, we will remember all the brave Muslim Americans who wear the uniform of the United States armed forces. They represent the best of our nation. I am honored to be their Commander-in-Chief," he said.