STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you about Pastor Terry Jones. He gave a press conference today. Says he’s going to go through with burning the Korans. Is there anything you can say to him to convince him not to?
OBAMA: If he’s listening, I just hope he understands that what he’s proposing to do is completely contrary to our values of Americans. That this country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance. And as a very practical matter, as commander of chief of the Armed Forces of the United States I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan. We’re already seeing protests against Americans just by the mere threat –
Republican leaders have also spoken out against the planned Quran-burning. President-in-exile Sarah Palin and Speaker-to-be John Boehner chose a different approach, equating the burning of a religious book with the construction of a mosque and cultural center.
“To Pastor Jones and those who want to build the [so-called Ground Zero] Mosque,” Boehner said (drawing an equivalence between Koran burning and the Cordoba House Project in lower Manhattan) “Just because you have a right to do something in America, does not mean it’s the right thing to do. We’re a nation of religious freedom — we’re also a nation of tolerance. I think in the name of tolerance, people ought to really think about the kind of actions they’re taking.”
Book burning is antithetical to American ideals. People have a constitutional right to burn a Koran if they want to, but doing so is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation – much like building a mosque at Ground Zero.
Boehner basically defines religious tolerance as not inflaming passions on both sides. What that means in practice is that Christians shouldn’t burn Korans and Muslims shouldn’t build mosques. Can we see what’s wrong with that picture?
It’s distressing, but the public discourse in the Obama era is even more unhinged than it was under Bush. Any hope for a return to sanity and rationality is out the window. The rightwing noise machine is at full throttle and Orwell would be proud of our strides backward:
- George W. Bush is steadily and surely being rehabilitated and now the question is how much gratitude we owe him.
- Sarah Palin can move the public discourse with a single tweet, promoting a worldview consisting of unreflective, nationalistic soundbites.
- Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Fox are dominating the national conversation, feeding a steady stream of propaganda packaged as moral platitudes to tens of millions of true believers.
- In the face of overwhelming evidence, climate deniers are choking the life out of the environmental movement and willfully condemning humanity to a calamitous future.
- From ACORN to Van Jones, liberal scalps are being taken with impunity.
- Feminism is being redefined and repossessed by anti-feminists.
- Women are facing an all-out assault on choice.
- Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is being co-opted by a radio jock.
- Schoolbooks are being rewritten to reflect the radical right’s anti-science views.
- The rich-poor divide grows by the minute and teachers and nurses struggle to get by while bankers get massive bonuses.
- We mark the end of a war based on lies with congratulations to all, and we escalate another war with scarce resources that could save countless lives.
- An oil spill that should have been a historic inflection point gets excised from public awareness by our own government and disappears down the memory hole (until the next disaster).
- Guns abound and the far right’s interpretation of the second amendment (the only one that seems to matter) is now inviolate.
- Bigotry and discrimination against immigrants, against Muslims, against gays and lesbians is mainstream and rampant.
- The frightening unconstitutional excesses of the Bush administration have been enshrined and reinforced by a Democratic White House, ensuring that they will become precedent and practice.
- Girls and women across the planet continue to get beaten, raped, ravaged, mutilated, and murdered while sports games induce a more passionate response.
You can add to the above list equating building a place of worship with burning a religious book.
Imam Rauf, the man behind Park 51, appeared on Larry King Live and spoke about his objectives and the controversy around the “Ground Zero mosque.”
Contrast Imam Rauf’s appearance with Pastor Jones’ CNN interview:
Palin and Boehner don’t see the difference?
America, a deeply religious nation, is becoming unhinged from reality. There are numerous indications: the success of climate deniers is a glaring example. An increasing percentage of the population is willing to risk the future of humanity for no good reason other than to spite environmentalists.
The Republican Party, marching in lock step with the radical right, embraces illogic, courts cognitive dissonance, defies common sense. Unfettered, they’d return America to the 19th century. Democrats, mortified of appearing weak, more often than not refuse to resist, refuse to seize the moral high ground, refuse to fight for rationality.
How else to explain this:
Among other policies, the Obama national security team has authorized the C.I.A. to try to kill a United States citizen suspected of terrorism ties, blocked efforts by detainees in Afghanistan to bring habeas corpus lawsuits challenging the basis for their imprisonment without trial, and continued the C.I.A.’s so-called extraordinary rendition program of prisoner transfers — though the administration has forbidden torture and says it seeks assurances from other countries that detainees will not be mistreated.
I shudder to think of where things are headed with this leadership void.
I’ve been writing about the Ground Zero mosque because I live across the street from the World Trade Center site and I consider it an important debate about religious freedom and tolerance. Also, having grown up in Beirut, these issues are especially meaningful to me.
On August 3rd, Mike Bloomberg stepped up and showed Democrats how to stand for core principles without falling into rightwing traps. After three weeks of fumbling and bumbling by Democrats and crass opportunism by Republicans, Bloomberg once again shows how simple it is to take the moral high ground. Following are comments he made this evening:
“In recent weeks, a debate has arisen that I believe cuts to the core of who we are as a city and a country. The proposal to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan has created a national conversation on religion in America, and since Ramadan offers a time for reflection, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on the subject.
“There are people of good will on both sides of the debate, and I would hope that everyone can carry on the dialogue in a civil and respectful way. In fact, I think most people now agree on two fundamental issues: First, that Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan and second, that the site of the World Trade Center is hallowed ground. The only question we face is: how do we honor that hallowed ground?
“The wounds of 9/11 are still very much with us. And I know that is true for Talat Hamdani, who is here with us tonight, and who lost her son, Salman Hamdani, on 9/11. There will always be a hole in our hearts for the men and women who perished that day.
“After the attacks, some argued – including some of those who lost loved ones – that the entire site should be reserved for a memorial. But we decided – together, as a city – that the best way to honor all those we lost, and to repudiate our enemies, was to build a moving memorial and to rebuild the site.
I’ve explained why I support the Ground Zero mosque even though Muslims were my mortal enemies in Lebanon and I’m a longtime lower Manhattan resident who lost friends in the towers. I’ve also cautioned against slandering 9/11 victims’ loved ones, emphasized that this is a matter of principles, not people, and argued that whatever we call the project, those principles don’t change. Still, I’m almost certain opponents of the mosque/community center will win the debate.
Here’s why: the rightwing noise machine is extremely adept at creating controversies around individuals. From Fox, Drudge and rightwing blogs to websites, talk radio and elected officials, they are masters at superbly orchestrated takedowns based on manufactured outrage. Remember Shirley Sherrod? Van Jones? Dan Rather?
The two-pronged anti-mosque strategy is crystal clear: find the most egregious name for the project, one that pushes emotional buttons, then hammer away at the individuals associated with it, searching for an angle to destroy them. Thus the laser-like focus on the Imam behind it, Feisal Abdul Rauf, and on his wife, Daisy Khan. Witness the Wall Street Journal today:
A leader of a planned Muslim community center near Manhattan’s Ground Zero compared opposition to the project to the persecution of Jews, in comments that could add to the controversy over the center’s proposed site.
Opponents will likely win this argument because they are forcing proponents, media and neutral parties to play by their rules. Case in point: we are now arguing about whether it’s “Park51″ or the “9/11 Mosque” (Sarah Palin’s choice), whether Rauf is an extremist or moderate, whether or not his wife is a radical. We’ve seen one media profile of Rauf after another, but few in-depth pieces about the Constitutional principles at stake.
Once you’re on the right’s turf, they are halfway to victory. It doesn’t help that Democratic leaders have been completely muddled on an issue of basic rights.
From day one, proponents should have been firm about one thing: this is not about names or people, it’s primarily about core values. That’s not to say that the individuals behind the project are completely irrelevant – of course not – but that the principles must come first.
I return to Mike Bloomberg’s pitch-perfect speech:
Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith. And they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshipping at the site for better, the better part of a year, as is their right. The local community board in lower Manhattan voted overwhelmingly to support the proposal. And if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire city.
Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure, and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off-limits to God’s love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us can attest.
I doubt the Ground Zero mosque will ever be built there, but I hope proponents stand firm on the ideals and avoid getting sucked into the right’s ‘name and blame’ game.
The first minute of this video should give every American pause – it is a stark illustration of what the future might look like: explosive confrontations along religious and racial lines.
UPDATE: Apparently, the subject of the crowd’s wrath is a union carpenter.
This reminds me of an experience I had at an Iraq war protest. A small pro-war group started waving American flags and hurling insults at marchers. When I heard the words “traitor” and “Saddam sympathizer,” I walked over and calmly asked where they were when I was under fire in battles with Muslim fanatics in Lebanon. Silence.
It’s easier to practice intolerance than tolerance. The latter takes compassion and self-discipline, the former is based on crude emotions and ignorance.
Not atypically, Democrats are making a mess of their response to the ‘Ground Zero’ mosque, fumbling what should be the unquestioned moral high ground. From Obama to Reid to Pelosi to Dean, we’re getting confusion and mixed messages.
So why was it so easy for Mike Bloomberg to say this:
“Our doors are open to everyone. Everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules. New York City was built by immigrants, and it’s sustained by immigrants — by people from more than 100 different countries speaking more than 200 different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here or you came here yesterday, you are a New Yorker.
“We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That’s life. And it’s part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11, 2001.
“Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.
“This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.
“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.
“For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.
“Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith. And they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshipping at the site for better, the better part of a year, as is their right. The local community board in lower Manhattan voted overwhelmingly to support the proposal. And if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire city.
“Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure, and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off-limits to God’s love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us can attest.”
I’m not about to tell the family member of a September 11th victim that their opposition to a mosque in the vicinity of Ground Zero is due to xenophobia, racism, or narrow-mindedness. Attributing those motives to every person who opposes the mosque is something I refuse to do.
All I can do is make my case:
I’m an American citizen with a Jewish-American mother and Christian-Lebanese father. I was raised in Beirut during the height of the Lebanese civil war, where Christians and Muslims slaughtered each other by the tens of thousands. I lived and breathed the same kind of horrors we see in Afghanistan and Iraq, endless carnage, indiscriminate killing of civilians, shelling of entire neighborhoods, kidnappings and car bombs. I ducked and dodged the grim reaper on too many occasions.
As a teen, I was conscripted into the Lebanese Forces, a Christian militia, and served for three years. My opponents were Muslims of all nationalities, Syrians, Palestinians, everyone who was attacking the Christian enclave north of Beirut and endangering my family, my friends, my life. It was a matter of survival. Muslim friends who I grew up with became mortal enemies. A country that was the model of interfaith co-existence was torn apart at the seams.
I moved to New York in the 80s and have lived here ever since. My daughter was born in New York. For years, my home has been the beautiful riverfront neighborhood of Battery Park, a two minute walk across from Ground Zero. On the day the towers came down, my wife and I were headed to WTC Building 7 for a meeting. We were delayed by a phone call and then switched on the tv and realized we weren’t going anywhere and that the world we knew had changed forever. I lost friends in the towers and I watched my city get amputated. Every time I walk near the site, I look up in pain at the hole in the sky. New York will never be the same to me. I will never forget.
When I heard about the plans for a mosque, my first thought was Lebanon and the beautiful days of coexistence before the war. Tolerance and compassion are things have we to work at. Living our values and principles is not an easy thing. My love of our Constitution and the freedoms enshrined in it come from my time away from the USA. I want to be true to its ideals, to practice what the Constitution preaches. I believe supporting the mosque accomplishes that goal.
And what’s more, placing a mosque next to Ground Zero strikes me as a direct affront to the vicious murderers who took those precious lives. Few things are more satisfying than letting a violent perpetrator know that their violence has had no effect and that it has only strengthened our resolve and stiffened our spine. I want the terrorists to know that nothing they do will make us relinquish our values, that we honor the lives lost by sending a message that anyone can worship anywhere in America. We are not defending people, we are defending principles.
I see that as victory and I hope those who oppose this mosque see it that way too.