Q Thank you, Mr. President. I wonder if I can get you to weigh in on the wisdom of building a mosque a couple of blocks from Ground Zero. We know that the organizers have the constitutional right. What would it say about this country if they were somehow talked out of doing that? And hasn’t the Florida minister’s threat to burn a couple hundred copies of the Koran, hasn’t the threat itself put American lives in danger, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, on the second -- on your second question, there’s no doubt that when someone goes out of their way to be provocative in ways that we know can inflame the passions of over a billion Muslims around the world, at a time when we’ve got our troops in a lot of Muslim countries, that's a problem. And it has made life a lot more difficult for our men and women in uniform who already have a very difficult job.
With respect to the mosque in New York, I think I’ve been pretty clear on my position here, and that is, is that this country stands for the proposition that all men and women are created equal; that they have certain inalienable rights -- one of those inalienable rights is to practice their religion freely. And what that means is that if you could build a church on a site, you could build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on the site.
Now, I recognize the extraordinary sensitivities around 9/11. I’ve met with families of 9/11 victims in the past. I can only imagine the continuing pain and anguish and sense of loss that they may go through. And tomorrow we as Americans are going to be joining them in prayer and remembrance. But I go back to what I said earlier: We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts.
And we’ve got to be clear about that. We’ve got to be clear about that because if we’re going to deal with the problems that Ed Henry was talking about, if we’re going to successfully reduce the terrorist threat, then we need all the allies we can get. The folks who are most interested in a war between the United States or the West and Islam are al Qaeda. That’s what they’ve been banking on.
And fortunately, the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world are peace-loving, are interested in the same things that you and I are interested in: How do I make sure I can get a good job? How can I make sure that my kids get a decent education? How can I make sure I’m safe? How can I improve my lot in life? And so they have rejected this violent ideology for the most part -- overwhelmingly.
And so from a national security interest, we want to be clear about who the enemy is here. It’s a handful, a tiny minority of people who are engaging in horrific acts, and have killed Muslims more than anybody else.
The other reason it’s important for us to remember that is because we’ve got millions of Muslim Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country. They’re going to school with our kids. They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends. They’re our coworkers. And when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?
I’ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the United States armed services. They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us. And we’ve got to make sure that we are crystal-clear for our sakes and their sakes they are Americans and we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don’t differentiate between them and us. It’s just us.
And that is a principle that I think is going to be very important for us to sustain. And I think tomorrow is an excellent time for us to reflect on that.
[Full text of press conference here.]
Jim Geraghty at The National Review suggests that we tell our fellow citizens "thanks for your service, but we don't want an Official Mosque of Ground Zero."
Adam Serwer at The American Prospect points out that that's not what's being proposed, and closes with the following:
There is no conceivable way to describe to a Muslim American soldier facing death and danger in Afghanistan or Iraq in the name of their country that the freedoms they are fighting for simply do not apply to them. One cannot reconcile Muslims taking on among the most solemn responsibilities of citizenship with the kind of disparate treatment Park51 opponents are asking American Muslims to sustain. If there is no them, if there is just us, then the argument over Park51 is already settled. (Full post here)
Guess which one I'm inclined to agree with.
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