In a speech at the White House on Friday—the Muslim holy day—commemorating the start of Ramadan—the Muslim holy month—President Obama expressed support for the right of Muslims to build a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City and, in fact, at the site of a building that was damaged in the 9/11 attacks when part of one of the planes used by terrorists crashed into the building’s roof.
In his usual snippy tone President Obama stated:
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
By the next day, he was backpedaling, stating:
I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.
Okay, so he’s a politician. You gotta expect flip-flops.
And non-denial denials, which is what his second remark was. He is deliberately not telling us what he thinks about the wisdom of building a mosque at Ground Zero. Let’s take him at his word on that. He may very well think it’s a great idea. Or he may not. We don’t know because he isn’t telling. He just wanted to take some of the political edge off his remark of the previous day.
I could even give him credit for defending a legal right on the part of Muslims to build a mosque on private property “in accordance with local laws and ordinances”—assuming two things: (1) That they actually have such a legal right (the First Amendment does not guarantee the right to build a place of worship anywhere you want) and (2) if he was backed into a corner and forced to answer the question.
Whether condition (1) obtains, I don’t know. But condition (2) didn’t.
He wasn’t backed into a wall and forced to answer the question. This wasn’t a press conference where Helen Thomas (or someone) sprang the question on him. It was part of his prepared remarks for a Happy Ramadan speech. This means that he chose to put in his oar on this issue. He didn’t have to do that. He chose to.
And he chose to for political reasons—to try to curry favor with the Muslim community.
It’s a calculated risk, because in making such remarks the President also opened himself up to critique on the issue, so if it results in a net loss of political capital for him, he deserves it. He invited it.
While it’s understandable that the President getting involved would focus the spotlight on him, I think that some light also should be shown on the people who are providing the property (presumably by selling it) to the mosque builders and on the mosque builders themselves.
Why do they want to build a mosque right there?
According to their website, they’re all about “improving Muslim-West relations.”
Build a mosque—a place for Muslims to worship—within two blocks of the site of the worst Muslim terrorist attack in living memory—at the site of a building that was itself damaged as part of the attack.
Let’s flip some religious identities around.
Suppose that there was a Christian terrorist organization and that it attacked an iconic site in a major Muslim city—say, the Kaaba in Mecca—and in so doing not only destroyed the site but also killed 3,000 innocent people, overwhelmingly Muslim.
Then a group of Christians, who have set about “improving West-Muslim relations” announce that they want to build a Christian cultural center and church—a place for Christians to worship—just outside the former site of the Kaaba, at the spot where once stood a building damaged in the Christian terrorist attack.
Would any of us (a) think that this really would improve relations or (b) believe claims that this was the real motive (as opposed, e.g., to being a kind of covert Christian triumphalism)?
I know the Kaaba in Mecca isn’t a direct equivalent of the World Trade Center. It is more important to Muslims than the latter was to Americans—far more so, in fact. But the point remains the same. (And yes, I know that Saudi Arabia would never allow this, but we’re doing a thought experiment to tease out an underlying principle.)
I could understand Muslims wanting to build some kind of inter-religious discussion facility near Ground Zero as a way of allowing visitors to the area to hear the message, “We are Muslims and we don’t approve of what was done here. Please don’t judge our religion by this horrible atrocity.”
But that’s not the same thing as building a mosque—a place of worship for Muslims.
One would always have to suspect the motives of the builders-of-churches-near-the-demolished-Kaaba, as well as the motives of Christians who would go there to worship, and in the same way one must suspect the motives of the builders-of-mosques-near-Ground-Zero, as well as the motives of Muslims who would go there to worship.
Something smells rotten here because something is rotten here.
This is at best a colossally tone deaf and insensitive venture (particularly so for the families who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, but also for all Americans).
At worst it is something far darker.
What are your thoughts?