Saturday, August 14, 2010

Obama On Religious Tolerance

Caption: If these two can get along, why can't Christians and Muslims?. Oh, wait - different ecological niches...

Image credit: NapTiem

President Obama did something good last evening when he said this:

Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities - particularly in New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. The pain and suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones is unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. 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.

President Obama's Ramadan speech, 2010

It's astonishing how many people don't get this in America. Part of the price of freedom is being annoyed sometimes by how others exercise that freedom.

What's more, as religious symbols go, this is one that even I don't find annoying, for reasons explained by James Standish who, according to his bio, "Represents the Seventh-day Adventist Church to the United Nations. Deputy secretary general of the International Religious Liberty":

2) There is no "Victory" Mosque

The stated goal behind building the Muslim center in lower Manhattan is to recapture the spirit of mutual respect between Judaism, Christianity and Islam that existed in Cordoba, Spain, from 700 - 1200 AD. While Europe was trapped in the Dark Ages, marked by bloody religious repression, Cordoba thrived as a commercial and cultural center with what was, for the time, a high level of religious freedom. For example, in the 10th Century, Cordoba became the intellectual capital for Jews worldwide. The stated point of the project is creating a world where Jews, Christians and Muslims connect again in a way that builds mutual understanding and respect. This is precisely the opposite goal of the 9/11 terrorists.

The Great "Ground Zero Mosque" Hoax

In sharp contrast to what any of a number of purebred idiots have said and written on this subject, this center isn't Islamist gloating over the dead of 9/11. It's about trying to live together peacefully with each other. If the people making those claims weren't utterly ignorant of any history that occurred prior to their births, they might have understood that just from its name.

Unfortunately, though, educational standards have slipped markedly in this country in the last half century, and you don't need to look any further to find examples of this trend than in this debate. For instance, there's this fool:

Well, I think building a mosque just there is in bad taste, and deliberately provocative, like a big new Serbian Orthodox Church at Srebrenica. Out of consideration Imam Feisal should build it somewhere else. If he’s determined to go ahead, the government should not, and cannot legally, prevent it. Suggesting I am lumping all Muslims together is contrary to what I wrote. If you want to argue with some stereotype of your own, a Christian whose one-dimensional view of Muslims you can dismiss, I’ll withdraw and leave you to it.

Posted by Marcel on 08/14/10 at 11:16 AM

Dismayed To Incoherence: Comment 7

This was, naturally, after this commenter had been told explicitly that this site wasn't a mosque. Reading comprehension is one of those skills we seem to have largely lost in America, so I'll try to make this simple by using "bullet points":

  • It's not a mosque

  • It's not at Ground Zero

Caption: This is where the Cordoba Community Center will be located. The World Trade Center is that big open space to the south.

Image credit: Screenshot of Google map by Cujo359

It's a community center run by people of a particular religion, like a Jewish community center or a YMCA. It's two blocks from the World Trade Center, which given how built-up Manhattan is, might as well be in another city.

I realize all this is complicated facts and stuff, but sometimes it really does help to understand what you're arguing about. Maybe you won't get offended so fast if you do.

Meanwhile, I applaud President Obama's effort to wade into this intellectual quagmire, and try to answer the bigots who oppose this thing. He's got quite a bumpy road ahead of him, that's for sure. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out yesterday, there's not much political upside here, and there are plenty of people who don't know what they're talking about, but have firmly held ideas nonetheless. Assuming he knows that, which I think is a good assumption, it's the first genuinely courageous thing he's done since taking office. It's hard to square that with his running away from this issue, or this one.

Election day must be near.

UPDATE: Nate Silver has an interesting perspective on this, thanks to the only poll that asked whether the builders of the "mosque" should be allowed to build at that location:

Essentially, public opinion on this issue is divided into thirds. About a third of the country thinks that not only do the developers have a right to build the mosque, but that it's a perfectly appropriate thing to do. Another third think that while the development is in poor taste, the developers nevertheless have a right to build it. And the final third think that not only is the development inappropriate, but the developers have no right to build it -- perhaps they think that the government should intervene to stop it in some fashion.

Obama's remarks, while asserting that "Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country," and that 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," simply reflected the view that the developers had a First Amendment right to proceed with the project -- a view that at least 60 percent of Americans share.

Obama Defense of "Ground Zero Mosque" Less Risky Than it Seems

So, maybe not so Hopey Changey after all. And as I wrote already, I'm cynical enough about the President at this point to believe he's already aware of all that, too.

It remains true, though, that he's on the right side of this particular issue, at least rhetorically. Like his "courageous" speech about Iraq when he was in the Illinois Senate, it's pretty clear there's not much that he'll actually have to do about this in order to be taken seriously, simply because there's not a lot besides talking that he can do at this point. This is really a local matter, as long as it doesn't get to the federal courts.

UPDATE 2: OK, that's more like it. Obama walked back what he said last night today. I'm a lot less confused now.


george.w said...

I'm worried that they'll have a difficult time getting the place built even if all the tumblers fall into place. Really let the jihadists know that we're everything they thought we were...

Expat said...

It is so inconceivable PO fell for validating two lies: first it is a mosque, it is a community centre; second that Muslims had anything to do with 911. That PO retreated from a shallow pro-forma regurgitation of traditional religious rights to the equivocatory validation of the opinions of racial bigots.
PO must be made a single administration and turned away from the exercise of power.

Cujo359 said...

One of my worries all along, george.w, has been that we would become the terrorists' caricature of us. We have some ugly impulses, as do most people, and we often have the freedom to indulge in them.

To me as an atheist, one of the sad ironies of this is that this Cordoba project is the sort of thing that religion really wants us to believe it's about, but seldom is. Too often, it's about creating the kinds of divisions some of these charlatans are exploiting.

Cujo359 said...

Strictly speaking, they were Muslims, Expat. They were fanatics from a particularly harsh and xenophobic sect. They no more represent Islamic belief generally than The Order represented Christianity.

Expat said...

Misspoke slightly there, apologies. The 911 were a cult fashioned in the image of Islam, much the same as the Moral Majority is a cult fashioned in the image of Christianity and continued in xristianist cults used for political purposes today. "Ground Zero" was the other actual lie, it was conflated, not too erroneously, with Muslim.
Standing by the contempt engendered by the milquetoast, spineless POS passing itself as president, nonetheless.
No Guts, No Glory, No Vote.

george.w said...

That fool is still at it! He just won't quit coming up with new ways to say he believes in religious freedom, but not for Muslims in the holy abandoned coat factory across from the strip joint.

Why is it when they say; "I'll withdraw and leave you to it" they never actually do?