Obama backtracks on ground zero mosque controversy

President Barack Obama: Changing his tune (Reuters)

Weighing his words carefully on a fiery political issue, President Barack Obama said Saturday that Muslims have the right to build a mosque near New York’s ground zero, but he did not say whether he believes it is a good idea to do so.

Obama commented during a trip to Florida, where he expanded on a Friday night White House speech asserting that Muslims have the same right to freedom of religion as everyone else in America.

The president’s statements thrust him squarely into a debate that he had skirted for weeks and could put Democrats on the spot three months before midterm elections where they already were nervous about holding control of the House and maybe even the Senate. Until Friday, the White House had asserted that it did not want to get involved in local decision-making.

The White House quickly followed up on Obama’s latest comments on the matter, with Obama spokesman Bill Burton saying that the president wasn’t backing off in any way from the remarks he made Friday.

“What he said last night, and reaffirmed today, is that if a church, a synagogue or a Hindu temple can be built on a site, you simply cannot deny that right to those who want to build a mosque,” Burton said.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent who has been a strong supporter of the mosque, welcomed Obama’s White House speech as a “clarion defense of the freedom of religion.”

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who was among those who met with Obama on Saturday, lauded the president’s position. Crist is running for the U.S. Senate as an independent.

“I think he’s right — I mean you know we’re a country that in my view stands for freedom of religion and respect for others,” Crist said after the Florida meeting with Obama and other officials. “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.”

Others were quick to pounce on Obama’s statements.

In a statement Saturday, House Minority Leader John Boehner said the decision to build the mosque wasn’t an issue of religious freedom, but a matter of respect.

“The fact that someone has the right to do something doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing to do,” Boehner said. “That is the essence of tolerance, peace and understanding.”

Added Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.: “President Obama is wrong. It is insensitive and uncaring for the Muslim community to build a mosque in the shadow of ground zero.”

Democratic Senate candidate Jeff Greene of Florida took Obama’s Friday speech to mean the president supports the construction.

“President Obama has this all wrong and I strongly oppose his support for building a mosque near ground zero especially since Islamic terrorists have bragged and celebrated destroying the Twin Towers and killing nearly 3,000 Americans,” said Greene. “Freedom of religion might provide the right to build the mosque in the shadow of ground zero, but common sense and respect for those who lost their lives and loved ones gives sensible reason to build the mosque someplace else.”

The mosque would be part of a $100 million Islamic community center two blocks from where nearly 3,000 people perished when hijacked jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

The proposed construction has sparked debate around the country that has included opposition from top Republicans including Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich as well as the Jewish civil rights group the Anti-Defamation League.

Obama’s Friday comment was taken by some to mean that he strongly supports the building of an Islamic center near the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, something he never said.

Speaking to a gathering at the White House Friday evening to observe the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Obama said that he believes “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone 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,” he said. “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”

Asked Saturday about the issue during his trip to Florida, Obama said: “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding.”

Obama said that “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.”

Some relatives of people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks supported Obama’s comments.

The mosque is “in many ways … a fitting tribute,” said Colleen Kelly of the Bronx, who lost her brother Bill Kelly Jr. in the attacks.

“This is the voice of Islam that I believe needs a wider audience,” said Kelly, who is Catholic. “This is what moderate Islam is all about.”

Opinions are mixed among family members.

Sally Regenhard, whose firefighter son was killed at the World Trade Center, has said the president’s comments show “a gross lack of sensitivity to the 9/11 families and to the people who were lost.”

“Barack Obama has abandoned America at the place where America’s heart was broken nine years ago, and where her true values were on display for all to see,” said Debra Burlingame, a spokeswoman for some Sept. 11 victims’ families and the sister of one of the pilots killed in the attacks.

Building the mosque at ground zero, she said, “is a deliberately provocative act that will precipitate more bloodshed in the name of Allah.”

Obama surely knew that his words Friday night at a White House dinner marking the holy month of Ramadan not only would make headlines, but be heard by Muslims worldwide. The president has made it a point to reach out to the global Muslim community, and the more than 100 guests at Friday’s dinner included ambassadors and officials from numerous nations where Islam is observed, including Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.

When Obama first took office, Muslim leaders had high hopes from his presidency, even as he kept his distance from them during the campaign and rebutted false rumors that he was Muslim.

Their expectations were raised further after a June 2009 speech in Cairo, where Obama said he wanted to forge a relationship between the U.S. and Muslims based on respect and parterships with the private sector and civil society.

But many leaders have since become disappointed in the president, believing he has mostly kept his outreach to their community behind the scenes. Many Muslims had also hoped he would reverse several Bush administration policies they felt unfairly targeted them after the Sept. 11 attacks, such as no-fly lists and the Patriot Act.

___

Jelinek reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Bill Kaczor in Panama City Beach and AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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7 Responses to "Obama backtracks on ground zero mosque controversy"

  1. logtroll  August 15, 2010 at 9:05 am

    I recall a statement by bin Laden shortly after his group’s heinous act wherein he predicted that we would self-destruct through zealous and fearful over-reaction, stimulated by the one diabolically staged act of terror.

    It appears he was correct in that. We are bankrupting ourselves financially through obsessive attempts to prevent any future act of terrorism.

    We are bankrupting ourselves morally through tribalistic fears of the “others”, even though the others are also “us”. How did many of us come to equate the entire religion of Islam with a small band of terrorists?

    I am not a follower of religion of any stripe, thinking they are all equally silly for the most part. The good teachings in them are invariably buried deep in layers of dogma, contradiction, and fantasy. In that regard, the great religions are all alike.

    But the psychological need for enemies is ubiquitous and deeply ingrained, as Osama bin Laden knew only too well. Our own fear makes us weak and crazy, wanting to wage religious wars in blind panic.

    Building a new mosque AT ground zero… now that would be real defiance to bin Laden and his thugs.

    • griff  August 15, 2010 at 12:46 pm

      Excellent thoughts, logtroll. For once I’ll have to take Obama’s side on this, although I’m quite certain for different reasons.

      I share your disdain for organized (crime?) religion, but respect those that strive to live as Christ’s (and other prophets) examples teach.

      You might like to read this.

      A quote by the evil Imam from 2006, excerpted from the blog…

      “[I would wish that] we would remember that the two greatest commandments that God gave us through the mouths of his many prophets and messengers, including Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed — to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors. It also means do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you. If that can be the criterion of our foreign policy, I guarantee you that our foreign policy will be successful and wildly popular.”

  2. Carl Nemo  August 15, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    “We are bankrupting ourselves financially through obsessive attempts to prevent any future act of terrorism.” …extract from post

    With reference to OBL’s prognostication that we would self destruct through our attempts to quash terrorism worldwide does not wash.

    America has been incrementally and systematically destroyed from within by our corrupt Congress facilitating the MIC, big oil, mega-banker and insurers for quite some time especially with the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan/H.W. Bush and beyond to the White House.

    Reagan/H.W. Bush pissed 5 trillion down the MIC rathole fighting the “evil empire”; ie, the failing Soviet Union which the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) predicted, but was ignored. Then we had Bush/Quayle invading Iraq after they “greenlighted” Saddam to invade Kuwait, again another ploy to enrich their patrons in the MIC. Then we get Bush/Cheney pitching another 3 trillion into the maw of the all-devouring MIC which now includes Homeland Security too. There was no need for bin Laden to orchestrate an attack against this nation. We too are falling, just as the old Soviet Union through corruption, inefficiency and over-spending on defense and its sister enforcement agencies.

    When Ronald Regan/H.W. Bush took office the public debt was around 800 billion dollars. Now after 20 of the past 29.5 years of Republican presidencies with breaks between of their facilitators; i.e. the Dems, we are now saddled with an unpayable public debt of 13 trillion dollars.

    Yep, AmeriKa is ready for another round of the “rethugs” …no? Dems are no better, but simply camp-following ho’s that will take whatever they can steal while in office too. They are not the “people’s party”…! : |

    ***

    “we’ve met the enemy and he is us” …Walt Kelly~Pogo cartoon strip

    ***

    Carl Nemo **==

  3. logtroll  August 15, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Well! I never intended that it was our ONLY folly!

    Of course, the specific thread issue is about the idjicy of anti-mosque-owitzing.

    As the BORG famously said, “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”

  4. Bill  August 16, 2010 at 4:52 am

    I am a Jewish American and I would like to donate $200,000,000 to build a synagogue on the Dome of the Rock property in Jerusalem, Israel.

    I will begin to solicit contributions from the American Muslim Community who I am sure would not like to see another Synagogue being built in NYC.

    • logtroll  August 16, 2010 at 1:29 pm

      $200 million is a lot of dough, man! Are you sure you want to put it all in a synagogue, and is the Dome of the Rock property even listed? What’s the MLS #?

      If I might suggest an alternative approach to determining how to get the best from your money; make a list of the things you would like to accomplish with your life, then do a benefit-cost analysis (including non-tangible and ancillary benefits, avoided costs, possible unintended outcomes, etc.). Tracking it in a spreadsheet helps.

      I know it will be complicated but even a cursory effort can yield surprising shifts in perspective. Graphing, or other visual representation of the results, sometimes clarifies the outcome priorities.

      Then you go Bill! Spend that cash! Keep us posted, I’d be interested in hearing how it all works out.

  5. DejaVuAllOver  August 16, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    Rather ironic that the mob crying over Big Government controlling everyone would LOVE to see Big Government step in and control NYC zoning, start war with Iran, enforce Google’s right to faster propaganda, control women’s bodies, enforce Verizon’s right to spy on us, mandate the Ten Commandments on every government building and God knows what else.

    Big Government is evil when “the other guy” controls it.

Comments are closed.