Obama endorses building of Cordoba House

By Muriel Kane
Friday, August 13, 2010 20:51 EDT
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Although his passionate defense of Muslim Americans’ right to build a mosque in lower Manhattan was hailed by some as “one of the finest moments” of his presidency, President Barack Obama clarified his comments Saturday.

“My intention was simply to let people know what I thought, which was that in this country, we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion,” Obama said during a visit to Florida Saturday. “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there.”

The comments were an apparent attempt to diffuse criticism from some corners that Obama had succumbed to “political correctness” in supporting the construction of a mosque not far from Ground Zero.

“President Obama is wrong,” US House Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said. “It is insensitive and uncaring for the Muslim community to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero. Unfortunately, the president caved into political correctness.”

But Obama also gained praise from some unlikely corners for his declaration, which came despite evidence that a vast majority of Americans oppose the construction of the “Ground Zero mosque,” which is, in actuality, a Muslim community center of which the mosque will be just a part.

Charlie Crist, Florida’s Republican governor, said the president was “right” to defend the mosque.

“We’re a country that, in my view, stands for freedom of religion and respect for others,” Crist said after meeting with Obama. “I know there are sensitivities and I understand them. This is a place where you’re supposed to be able to practice your religion without the government telling you you can’t.”

On Fox News Saturday morning, an entire panel of commentators agreed that President Obama did the right thing. “Obama has to stand up for religious freedom,” said co-host Alisyn Camerota.


According to prepared remarks released by the White House, President Obama will support the building of Cordoba House — the Islamic community center loosely described as a “Ground Zero mosque” — during a dinner tonight celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The event, known as an Iftar dinner, marks the breaking of the daytime fast that observant Muslims are required to perform during this month. The guest list includes Muslim diplomats and representatives of community groups, as well as both Muslim and non-Muslim members of the administration and Congress.

In his remarks, Obama is expected to tell his guests, “Here at the White House, we have a tradition of hosting iftars that goes back several years, just as we host Christmas parties, seders, and Diwali celebrations. These events celebrate the role of faith in the lives of the American people. They remind us of the basic truth that we are all children of God, and we all draw strength and a sense of purpose from our beliefs. These events are also an affirmation of who we are as Americans.”

Obama then goes on to address the current controversy, saying:

Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities – particularly in New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. The pain and suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones is unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.

But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure. …

In my inaugural address, I said that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. That diversity can bring difficult debates. Indeed, past eras have seen controversies about the construction of synagogues or Catholic churches. But time and again, the American people have demonstrated that we can work through these issues, stay true to our core values, and emerge stronger for it. So it must be – and will be – today.

Tonight, we are reminded that Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity. And Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been part of America. The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan—making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago.

A few days ago, Obama was being criticized for his reluctance to weigh in on the issue, with press secretary Robert Gibbs describing it as a local New York City matter. Adam Sorensen at Time, however, suggested that “maybe he’s passing on the Cordoba House debate because it’s just too hot an issue at a sensitive political moment. Afterall, Democrats are bracing for a rough November. Maybe he’s just hoping not to reignite that whole “Barack Hussein Obama is an Undercover Imam” thing. (Just in case: He’s not.) But maybe, just maybe, Obama is biding his time for the right moment.”

Now that the “right moment” has arrived, Greg Sargent at the Washington Post believes that Obama may have incited a battle with the right, writing, “The foes of the Islamic center have been trying to drag Obama into this debate, and some have urged Obama to avoid wading into it. But now he has, and crucially, he’s suggested that not standing up for the group’s right to build the Islamic center is, in essence, un-American. I look forward to the response from the project’s opponents.”

Muriel Kane
Muriel Kane
Muriel Kane is an associate editor at Raw Story. She joined Raw Story as a researcher in 2005, with a particular focus on the Jack Abramoff affair and other Bush administration scandals. She worked extensively with former investigative news managing editor Larisa Alexandrovna, with whom she has co-written numerous articles in addition to her own work. Prior to her association with Raw Story, she spent many years as an independent researcher and writer with a particular focus on history, literature, and contemporary social and political attitudes. Follow her on Twitter at @Muriel_Kane
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