Barack Obama delivered the message loud and clear and his target audience surely understood it, as the president no doubt intended. No amount of half-hearted clarifications after the fact could distort the meaning of what the president in effect told Muslims during last Friday’s state dinner: ‘I’ve got your back.’ The plan to construct the thirteen story Park 51 Islamic cultural center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan is a lightning rod among Americans of all political persuasions and it is thus unthinkable that the president could “misspeak” when he decided to weigh in on this polarizing issue.
There was nothing wrong with the first part of Obama’s statement: “As a citizen and as President, I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.” You would have to search far and wide to find Americans who would disagree with that sentiment. However, when one combines that sentence with what immediately followed, the sum of the president’s message was both a gross distortion of the controversy surrounding the Ground Zero mosque and a wink and nod to Muslims everywhere: “That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan.”
Any attempt to turn this issue from one involving propriety and provocation into a debate about freedom of religion in America is transparently ludicrous. The fact that the president made such a statement during a state dinner honoring Ramadan in front of a largely Islamic audience is beyond ironic. Freedom of worship in America is a sacred tradition, as well as a constitutional right, while, in many Muslim states, practicing any religion other than Islam is a crime. Yet here was the president of the United States assuring Muslims from around the world that America would protect a principle that most Islamic states disdain.
There is nothing about this controversy that involves freedom of religion. Muslims can and do build mosques in all corners of the United States. It is the location of this particular mosque that most Americans have a problem with, a location that many believe was deliberately and provocatively chosen. Surely, Obama understands this. If, as the project’s sponsors claim, Muslims want to promote healing and reconciliation, Americans of all stripes have made it abundantly clear that two blocks from Ground Zero is the wrong place to do it. It is a strange sort of “reconciliation” when the aggrieved party is expected to endure an insult as part of the healing process. Muslims are forever droning on about how the West needs to be more respectful of their culture and traditions. And, should someone offend Muslim sensibilities – by portraying Muhammad in cartoon form, for example – riots, protests and murders inevitably follow. Yet, when the sandal is on the other foot, the people whose lives were changed forever after an attack made in the name of a religion are supposed to meekly accept an edifice celebrating that same religion in the very place where the attack happened. Ground Zero is sacred ground to Americans and building a mosque upon it is no more acceptable to us than constructing a synagogue in Mecca would be to Muslims, the difference being that only one of those two projects would ever stand a chance of moving forward.
The administration’s subsequent attempts to back-pedal fell terribly flat. “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,” the president said on Saturday. “I was commenting very specifically on the rights people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.” Odd – why bring up one specific mosque if you’re supposedly talking about freedom of worship in the general sense? If that was truly the president’s intent, he could have pointed to the fact that over 2,000 mosques, Islamic cultural centers and Islamic schools have been built in America already. That’s all the evidence that anyone should need to show “what our country is about.” If the president were proud of his country instead of embarrassed by it, he might have noted the contrast between the number of mosques in the United States and the lack of any synagogues or churches in Saudi Arabia. He could have challenged our erstwhile allies in Riyadh to demonstrate a little tolerance of their own. After all, what would be the more effective way of promoting peace, understanding and sensitivity between the Islamic world and the west: forcing a nation of virtually limitless, demonstrated religious tolerance to accept yet another mosque in the one place guaranteed to insult the majority of its citizens, or building – say – a “Jewish and Christian Center for Religious Understanding and Peaceful Co-Existence” in Riyadh, the capital city of the nation that is at the heart of “the religion of peace?”
While the location of the Ground Zero mosque is troubling enough, the likelihood that it will serve as a focal point for planning and executing jihadist attacks is even more worrisome. Of about two hundred mosques investigated by the Mapping Sharia in America Project, sponsored by the Washington-based Center for Security Policy, three in four were found to support anti-western extremism. The Imam behind the Ground Zero mosque, Faisal Abdul Rauf, has refused to condemn Hamas – or even call it a terrorist organization – and he won’t answer questions about the Muslim Brotherhood either. Given the secretive and deceptive nature of jihad, Rauf is hardly the sort of Muslim to inspire trust. Yet, Barack Obama still bends over backwards to endorse Rauf’s project.
There are only two reasons that the president of the United States would go out of his way to single out the most controversial mosque ever proposed to be built in America as the recipient his official blessing: either Obama is naïve enough to believe that such soothing words can tame the savage beast lurking in the heart of Islam, or he secretly sympathizes with goals of the Islamists. Personally, I still believe the former is the case, but as this president continues to show that he is more concerned about pleasing our enemies than he is with offending Americans, the conspiracy theories will grow in strength and number, and Obama has only himself to blame. He is, in my book anyway, a fool, not a traitor, but the difference hardly matters, for the net effect is the same. Barack Obama has further emboldened the west’s enemies, letting them know in no uncertain terms that they enjoy the protection and empathy of the fellow who wields the power to check their dangerous ambitions.
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