By Glenn Greenwald in Salon
This is one of the most impressive and commendable things Obama has done since being inaugurated:
President Obama delivered a strong defense on Friday night of a proposed Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero in Manhattan, using a White House dinner celebrating Ramadan to proclaim that "as a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country" . . . . "I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground," the president said in remarks prepared for the annual White House iftar, the sunset meal breaking the day’s fast.
But, he continued: "This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. 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" . . . .
What makes this particularly commendable is there is virtually no political gain to be had from doing it, and substantial political risk. Polls shows overwhelming opposition to the mosque nationwide (close to 70% opposed), and that's true even in New York, where an extraordinary "50% of Democrats, 74% of Republicans, and 52% of 'non-enrolled' voters, don't want to see the mosque built." The White House originally indicated it would refrain from involving itself in the dispute, and there was little pressure or controversy over that decision. There was little anger over the President's silence even among liberal critics. And given the standard attacks directed at Obama -- everything from being "soft on Terror" to being a hidden Muslim -- choosing this issue on which to take a very politically unpopular and controversial stand is commendable in the extreme.
The campaign against this mosque is one of the ugliest and most odious controversies in some time. It's based purely on appeals to base fear and bigotry. There are no reasonable arguments against it, and the precedent that would be set if its construction were prevented -- equating Islam with Terrorism, implying 9/11 guilt for Muslims generally, imposing serious restrictions on core religious liberty -- are quite serious. It was Michael Bloomberg who first stood upand eloquently condemned this anti-mosque campaign for what it is, but Obama's choice to lend his voice to a vital and noble cause is a rare demonstration of principled, politically risky leadership. It's not merely a symbolic gesture, but also an important substantive stand against something quite ugly and wrong. This is an act that deserves pure praise.
UPDATE: To anyone wanting to quibble with what was done here -- the timing, the wording, etc. -- I'll just pose this question: when is the last time a President voluntarily entered an inflammatory public controversy by taking a position opposed by 70% of the public?