Saturday, August 14, 2010

Obama Walks Back Religious Freedom Remarks

After issuing a strong statement in favor of the right of Muslims to build a mosque/community center several blocks from the WTC site, the President trimmed his sails slightly, saying that he meant to support only the "legal" right of Muslims to build there (or anywhere). He was not, he said, making any statement about whether he supported the particular decision of the local Muslim community to situate their mosque at that location.

How unfortunate. Nobody is going to give credit to the President for trying to slide on through the middle here. The folks who oppose the mosque still will view him as an enemy, and the folks who support the mosque now can effectively lump in the President with the ADL. And all of this comes after the President looked to actually be showing leadership on the matter.

The issues here are very clear. People have the right to build religious buildings to serve their local community. There should not be a mosque-exclusion-zone of indeterminate radius in south Manhattan. Asking the community to relocate is not just patronizing, it's idiotic -- the community center is designed to serve the Muslim community that already exists in southern Manhattan -- it doesn't do them any good to build out in Queens.


Rebecca said...


troll_dc2 said...

This is sad but not surprising.

joe said...

Maybe I'm among a very select few, but I'll give him a lot of credit.

It would be inappropriate for a secular leader to say he thinks (as a moral matter instead of a legal one) there should or shouldn't be a house of worship for religion X in location Y. To me, the fact that anyone would think otherwise speaks volumes of the amount of privilege religious people have in American society (as polling data bears out, many religious minorities are viewed more positively than atheists). So unless I gravely misread the president's statements I'd say he's doing things exactly right. And it's certainly a far cry from the ADL, which emphatically did take a position on what "should" be within an arbitrary distance of Ground Zero.

(You can delete this if you want, but until then, seeing as how NF is up and about, I'm assuming recent bans were temporary or limited to the posts in which they were announced. I won't engage with him, though. Promise.)

N. Friedman said...

I believe that religious freedom is important, so while I have my doubts about the bona fides of the project, I am still, albeit hesitantly, on Mayor Bloomberg's side. I also agree with you that it is appropriate to build religious buildings to serve the needs of the local community.

On the other hand, the backers of the project have declared that the project is intended to heal rifts with the non-Muslim public. For that purpose, the location obviously stinks. Not to recognize that is to live in denial.

And, not to be curious where 100 million dollars will be coming from - and to assume that this is all innocent - is also to be in denial. And, were facts to be uncovered showing real Islamist financial backing, my view is that the project would then no longer be acceptable. But, we have not reached that point, at least not yet.

Large portions of the public agree with the view that, while legal, the center will not fulfill its publicly stated mission to heal rifts between Muslims and non-Muslims but will, instead, do the opposite. The President has merely acknowledged that reality - a view that is passionately held by much of the public.

Matthew said...

As far as I'm concerned, asking the Muslims who live in the area to censor themselves in the name of communal healing is no kind of moderate position. The idea that one part - in this case, the Muslims - has a burden to take up the work of reconciliation while another group or groups just goes about their daily lives doesn't have a place within a good faith effort at bridging religious communities. On another note, how does having Muslims hide from the rest of New York do anything to advance that process?

Lastly, I think it's almost painful to have to point this out, but talking about "New Yorkers traumatized by 9/11" as though every one of them is going to be horrified by the sight of a Mosque is pretty ridiculous, not least of all because some of the New Yorkers who suffered on that day were Muslims, and presumably they don't relive the horror of a terrorist attack every time they see a member of their family or religious community.

N. Friedman said...


No one asked the Cordoba Center to take up the role of healer. That is something, rather, that its backer said he had in mind. So, you have things backwards.

Likewise, large portions of the country, not just most New Yorkers, were traumatized by 9/11. People are entitled to their feelings.

PG said...

N. Friedman,

People are entitled to their feelings.

And other people are entitled to suspect that those claimed feelings are merely a convenient excuse for pre-existing prejudices. I have yet to encounter someone opposed to the community center who was favorably disposed toward Muslims before 9/11.

What was traumatizing on 9/11 was the sight, sound and stench of death and destruction on a mass scale. If someone wanted to engage in a performance piece in which he jumped from high buildings, I would consider that inappropriate for NYC due to its bringing back the trauma of watching people fall to their deaths rather than be burned alive. The same would be true of anything else that recalls what actually occurred that day.

When people are truly traumatized, it's the things immediately associated with the trauma that are hurtful to them. My father-in-law served in Vietnam. When he was out night-fishing on a lake 6 weeks ago, and heard an unexpected, very loud noise, he threw himself into the bottom of his boat and prepared himself to go overboard. It took him a couple minutes to realize that it was just some early July 4 celebrations.

That is the after-effect of traumatic experiences. My father-in-law (a conservative Republican, incidentally) does not believe that the nation of Vietnam should be avoided; in fact, he's the reason I'm visiting the country next year. The trauma he suffered was not from a political entity or any other abstraction.

I don't know what you saw on 9/11, but I did not see a Muslim community center somehow bring down the WTC or smash into the Pentagon or crash into a Pennsylvania field. I didn't see "Islam" kill people. People who claim to have a traumatic association between Islam and the murder of thousands are, frankly, either fooling themselves or trying to fool others. Trauma doesn't work that way. Politics does.

N. Friedman said...


If the polling is accurate, fully 68% of Americans oppose the location of the Cordoba Center. That includes a majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents. I do not think that most Americans are prejudiced against Muslims. I think that most Americans have made actual judgments based on substantial evidence, which is a very different thing.

If you want my view, I think that the Islamist movement is coming to own much of the Islamic world, meaning that, like the Nazi and fascists and Communist movements, there is a sufficient core of true believers who are able to force their will on the average people - and, among religious leaders, Islamist views are extremely common - and to control events that affect such people. As well known atheist writer and advocate Sam Harris notes, just now, Islam is not like other religions and acting as if it were is a folly. While I disagree with Harris' ultimately conclusion that the Cordoba Center should be disallowed, I am mindful of his points.

In any event, in my mind, I think that the issue, with respect to the Cordoba Center, is abiding by our Constitution and laws while not wearing blinders to the likelihood that, in fact, the Center is not intended to heal wounds but to mark an Islamic triumph. Such, after all, is not unknown in history and, I should add, has occurred in among other places, India, Spain, Palestine, etc., etc., where Islamic buildings were, in fact, placed in order to make a statement.

Now, I am not saying that such is the Cordoba Center Imam's intent. I am, however, saying that, given the state of today's Islam, thinking such possibility to be nonsense is, in my mind, to wear blindfolds. And, were real evidence to emerge of Islamist involvement, that ought to be grounds to bar the center. But, again: we have not reached that stage yet.

Anonymous said...

I'm an atheist, but it is silly for the Left to pretend like they are concerned with "religious expression". If anything, you guys simply love it because the whole thing offends Christians.

PG said...

If the polling is accurate, fully 68% of Americans oppose the location of the Cordoba Center.

That's only responsive to what I said if
(a) those polled justify their opposition based on feelings of trauma; AND
(b) the "opposition" is not merely "I don't think this was a good choice" but full-blown "I think the government should prevent this."

I'm an atheist, but it is silly for the Left to pretend like they are concerned with "religious expression". If anything, you guys simply love it because the whole thing offends Christians.

Since Christians are such a monolithic group all agreeing about religious freedom...

Thankfully, I think better of Christians as a whole than to believe that they are all categorically opposed to the practice of Islam.