Washington — President Bush delivered a message of tolerance and solidarity during meetings Wednesday with Muslims, Sikhs, and Arab and Indian Americans.
During a White House meeting with Sikh leaders, and another session with Arab Americans and Muslims, Bush expressed support for Americans whose ethnic background and religion have made them objects of suspicion and hostility since the attacks on Sept. 11.
The president's message seemed aimed at domestic and international audiences. He wanted to reassure U.S. citizens who are also Arab, Muslim and East Indian of his concern about the backlash against them while urging other citizens to refrain from blaming the innocent.
Bush also reiterated to Muslims worldwide that his war against terrorism is not against Islam.
"I have told the nation more than once that ours is a war against evil, against extremists; that the teachings of Islam are teachings of peace and good," the president said during the meeting with Muslim leaders in the White House.
"And the al-Qaida organization is not an organization of good, an organization of peace. It's an organization based upon hate and evil," he said, referring to the terror network led by Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi dissident the administration has blamed for the attacks.
Addressing the Muslim leaders and Americans generally, the president added: "I also want to assure my fellow Americans that when you (Muslim Americans) pledge allegiance to the flag with your hand on your heart, you pledge just as hard to the flag as I do . . ."
Indian Americans who practice Sikhism have been harassed by other Americans because of their turbans, which resemble those worn by bin Laden and Afghanistan's Taliban rulers who have provided him a haven.
Bush also expressed sympathy for a Sikh who was killed in Arizona days after the attacks in New York and Washington. The president promised that the government would bring those responsible to justice.