About the Author: Eric F. Green serves as Principal Officer at the American Consulate in Adana, Turkey.
Since his election, President Obama has stressed his desire to put America’s relationship with the Muslim world on a new footing. Yesterday in Ankara, he pledged to seek a new relationship based on mutual interest and respect. Today the President showed his respect by visiting one of Islam’s most celebrated sites, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque) in the heart of Istanbul’s old city, accompanied by Prime Minister Erdogan who as former mayor and son of Istanbul had offered to escort the president and share his vast knowledge of his beautiful hometown.
After removing his shoes at the main entrance, President Obama entered the mosque with Istanbul’s mufti and the mosque's imam. While these leaders had guided numerous VIP visitors over the years, this visit was clearly different. The imam, looking resplendent in black robes and white skull-cap, was positively glowing as he showed the president the mosque's treasures, such as the 20,000 hand-painted tiles, exquisite samples of classic Islamic design – including 50 distinct depictions of tulips, an enduring symbol of Istanbul.
Serving for the past two years at the U.S. Consulate in Adana, in religiously conservative southeastern Turkey, I have lived the encounter between America and Islam first hand. To my frustration, many local media constructed an image of a non-existent "war." As Obama’s candidacy progressed, the mood changed. I recall a conversation with a business contact who said, “If America elects someone with my name, Hussein, my view of America and of democracy will change completely.” This conversation was hardly unusual. Turks of all ages and backgrounds have told us how they trust President Obama and wish him well.
Back at the mosque, President Obama lingered. He gazed upward at the central dome, which towers 43 meters high and is supported by four massive pillars known as the elephant's feet. After stepping out of the front door, putting on his shoes and strolling back through the courtyard, the President looked back once more at the mosque's majestic exterior, a series of domes rising gently like a small mountain. As the motorcade pulled away, I was happy that President Obama's visit to the mosque so perfectly reflected his foreign policy by conveying respect and a desire for mutual understanding.