A few days ago the world's Muslims began observing their annual holy month of Ramadan, which runs through mid-June.
And unlike last year, when President Donald Trump issued a Ramadan statement that focused on terrorism, this year his statement was limited to remarks about the holiday itself and noted that Ramadan “reminds us of the richness Muslims add to the religious tapestry of American life.”
Why the noticeable shift in tone? This Washington Post piece offered a few thoughts on that subject. It noted, for instance, that last year top Trump adviser Steve Bannon was still on the job, and Bannon's anti-Islam bigotry is widely known. With Bannon gone, maybe cooler heads prevailed.
The Post story also notes that last year the White House declined to host a fast-breaking Iftar dinner, while this year apparently one is in the works for early June. We'll see.
I'm glad for the apparent change in approach and tone. But let's differentiate between symbols and substance.
Annual presidential statements about religious holidays -- from Christmas to Ramadan to Yom Kippur -- are simply symbols of civility. At best they create a more welcoming atmosphere but they almost never change the reality of policies. We should always welcome such symbols but not expect much of them.
By contrast, policies are substantive. And what we have in the way of Trump policies remains resolutely hostile to Muslims and many of the political causes Muslims support here and around the world.
Trump's proposed ban on Muslim immigration has gone through various iterations and court challenges, but it clearly remains offensive in tone and reality not just to followers of Islam but also to all Americans who understand how voluntary immigration built this country and why a sensible immigration policy is necessary.
Next, while Trump is saying nice things about Muslims adding richness to the American religious tapestry, he's moving the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, angering Palestinians (not all of whom are Muslim) and Muslims around the globe as he kills any chance that the U.S. now can serve as a neutral power broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
So, yes. Good for Trump (or his staff) for a more welcoming Ramadan statement this year. But my guess is most American Muslims would trade that in a heartbeat for much better policies. And Muslims in America would be far from alone in welcoming such substantive changes.
(My photo here today shows Muslims praying at the Islamic Center of Johnson County in suburban Kansas City.)
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A REVELATORY MOVIE ABOUT THE POPE
A new documentary film about Pope Francis looks like one many of us will want to see. I see that it's opened at some theaters now in Kansas City. Francis is the kind of winsome man people just naturally want to know more about. Well, he's winsome unless you think his theology is off base, as clearly some Catholics do. But I'll let Catholics fight over that. I just like the guy.