By Ibn Warraq, for rights.no and Sappho.dk
President Obama on Friday 13 August stepped into the fray, the highly charged emotional subject of the building of an Islamic Centre at Ground Zero, where Islamic terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers and killed 2976 people on September 11, 2001, when he declared that Muslims had every right to build a centre or mosque at Ground Zero.
Obama seemed to be endorsing the decision to build an Islamic centre, which remains to its opponents a symbol of Islamic triumphalism. He stated that “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.”
Lack of sensitivity
Political analysts pointed out that it was a disastrous decision to step into this controversy and, as far as public opinion is concerned, on the wrong side. It was sheer arrogance since it is not in Obama’s power to decide the issue alone. At any rate, the damage was done, as Republicans, New Yorkers, and thousands around the United States were shocked by Obama’s insensitivity to the feelings of the families of the victims of 9/11. As one prominent Republican politician, Sharron Angle, put it,
Obama «has once again ignored the wishes of the American people, this time at the expense of victims of 9/11 and their families. They have said overwhelmingly that the location of this mosque is an affront to the memories of their loved ones who were murdered by Islamic extremists on 9/11”. While another Republican, who may well challenge Obama in the Presidential elections in 2012, Newt Gingrich accused Obama of «pandering to radical Islam. … Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a sign next to Pearl Harbor. There’s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.»
Then, realising his political blunder, on Saturday in Florida, Obama said that while Muslims have the right to build the mosque, he was not commenting specifically whether he thought it was wise or not.
By the end of Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the highest profile politician from Obama’s own party, had issued a statement opposing the decision to build the centre at the current location. «The First Amendment protects freedom of religion,» Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. «Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.»
More generally, as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, Obama’s clarity and successful messaging during the campaign are gone. In place is a «incoherent president,» who’s «with the banks, he’s against the banks. He’s leaving Afghanistan, he’s staying in Afghanistan. He strains at being a populist, but his head is in the clouds.»
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