America

Obama Backs NY Ground Zero Mosque

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama spoke in support of the right of American Muslims to build mosques, including one near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York, at a White House dinner in honor of Ramadan. J. Scott Applewhite/AP hide caption

itoggle caption J. Scott Applewhite/AP

President Barack Obama on Friday waded into the controversy over the building of a mosque in New York City near the site of the World Trade Center 9/11 attacks, saying American Muslims had a constitutional right to build a religious edifice there.

The president made the comments at an Iftar dinner at the White House to celebrate the start of the month-long Islamic observance of Ramadan.

Obama said:

Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities -– particularly 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.  And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable.  So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders.  And 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 everyone else in this country.  (Applause.)  And 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 that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.  The writ of the Founders must endure.

We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who led the response to that attack -– from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us also remember who we’re fighting against, and what we’re fighting for.  Our enemies respect no religious freedom.  Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam -– it’s a gross distortion of Islam.  These are not religious leaders -– they’re terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children.  In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion -– and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.

Before his comment, some questioned why Obama had remained silent on the controversy. Until Obama weighed in on Friday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was the most notable worthy to speak out on behalf of Muslims.

There was some speculation that the president was just waiting for the right time. If that was so, the Iftar dinner would certainly fit that bill.

By speaking up for the building of the controversial New York mosque, Obama opened himself to criticisms by those who may otherwise support him but oppose the mosque because of the sensitivities it inflames as well as his inveterate political critics.

The latter category includes those on the fringe who have accused him of being a crypto-Muslim or questioned his U.S. citizenship in part because his father was a Kenyan and Muslim.

Team Obama and Islam have had an uneasy relation at times.

For instance, when he was a candidate, a campaign worker at a Michigan rally asked Muslim women with a hijab or head scarf not to sit in a spot on stage that would make her visible behind Obama in videos or photos. The campaign apologized.

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