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The Difference Between Opposing Mosques and Burning Korans

3:12 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

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Dove Outreach World Center Pastor Terry Jones’ and his followers’ decision to burn Korans on September 11th has proven there are those in this country who will stoop to such a level and burn sacred texts to express their beliefs. It also indicates there is a line, for now, that those who subscribe to anti-Islam industry propaganda will not cross. Few who oppose the construction of the Park51 project (the "Ground Zero Mosque," as they affectionately term the proposed center) are flocking to support this crackpot pastor’s eagerness to burn Korans.

The Coalition to Honor Ground Zero [and Stop the 9/11 Mosque] put out a statement that the coalition finds the idea to be "irresponsible and wrong." The coalition upholds the "Minister’s freedom of speech and assembly" but contend, "with rights come responsibilities" and urge him not to go ahead with the burning. This is the same coalition that endorses and supports a major rally against the Park51 Project that will be held on 9/11.

What is the difference between obstructing and seeking to prevent the construction of a place of worship and the burning of a sacred text that those who are found to be dangerous derive much of their religious beliefs from?

Conservative talk radio host Mark Levin, who opposes the construction of the Park51 Project, said, "We don’t burn books. The Left does that." Continuing on without citing examples or even bothering to explain how burning Harry Potter books was the work of leftists in America, he said, "And, we certainly don’t do it if it’s going to put our armed forces in danger."

Levin asserted, "It is clear that there are individuals all over the world who will use this as an additional excuse to harm people. There is a fundamentalism-Islamic fundamentalism-that is out to destroy parts of the world and which has frankly murdered more of their fellow Muslims than the Western world or other religions could ever even try to destroy. So, why give a propaganda opportunity to people who are looking for all the propaganda opportunities they can get?"

To those who have been following the hullabaloo around the Park51 Project, this argument is one that supporters have used to undercut opposition to the "Ground Zero mosque." Supporters have argued opposition to the project could help write the recruiting script for Islamic extremists and even justify future acts of terror.

Yet, it does not appear that the opposition to the Park51 Project has had that effect. Director of Arab language television station Al-Arabiya Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashid, wrote recently that he does not think opposition has "provoked" Muslims in the way that a "2006 publication of a cartoon ‘mocking the Islamic prophet in a Danish newspaper,’" which set off violent protests in the Muslim world, did. He added there have been no "demonstrations related to the mosque in Arab countries, that imams have not addressed the controversy during their sermons and that the issue has not been taken up by Islamic religious and intellectual institutions."

The director argued this is because the center could be turned into a "symbol of hatred for Muslims." Such a notion speaks to the power opposition has had in influencing conversation on the project in the media. Certainly, it makes sense that Muslims would not want to erect "an arena for the promoters of hatred, and a monument to those who committed the crime," as Al-Rashid contended.

Muqteder Khan, director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware, in a column published by the Washington Post, offers a bit more insight on why desecrating the Koran may provoke more demonstrations and violence in the Muslim World than opposition to the Park51 Project has:

…On September 11, 2010, some misguided Americans plan to burn the Holy Quran, the only book in the entire heritage of humanity that claims to be solely the word of God. This dastardly act is the brainchild of Terry Jones, a Christian Pastor from Florida. This act is not just some symbolic gesture of defiance. It is an act of egregious violence against the beliefs and the sacred symbols of one fourth of humanity. The act will scorch Muslim hearts everywhere. The searing pain will never be forgotten.

Along with the idea of God and prophets, the Quran is the thing that Muslims hold the dearest. My children have been listening to it since even before they were born. I use to recite it to them while they were still in the womb. Their children will be reciting it to them when they will be lowered in to their tomb. Believe me, there is nothing more precious to Muslims than the Quran, and watching people toss it into fire, will be horrifying. I would rather burn in fire myself, than watch a Quran burn…

Let’s be clear about Levin’s remarks–he did not condemn the content of Jones’ opposition to Islam but rather opposed the tactic Jones would be using to voice his discontent. For the purposes of further understanding how conservatives might be grappling with the planned burning of Korans:

"When our government funds so-called art–art that uses urine and feces and this so-called artist stuck a cross into the urine and feces, we were told that this is free speech and any effort to cut the funding for that department or to control what kind of grants are issued is an abomination, would be anti-American.

So, if we the taxpayers against our will fund the desecration of a cross with Jesus on it, there’s something wrong with us. If we object to a provocateur, a radical Imam, trying to locate a mosque at Ground Zero, there’s something wrong with us. But, if this Pastor Jones burns some Korans–which again I object and think is dangerous particularly to our soldiers–then what? Do you hear the liberals saying he has a constitutional right to do this? No."

Actually, a man who Levin and his listeners consider to be a "bleeding-heart liberal" has stated Jones has a constitutional right to burn the Korans. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been a stalwart defender of the Park51 Project developers right to build, said yesterday:

"In a strange way, I’m here to defend his right to do that. I happen to think that it is distasteful"The First Amendment protects everybody, and you can’t say that we’re going to apply the First Amendment to only those cases where we are in agreement"If you want to be able to say what you want to say when the time comes that you want to say it, you have to defend others, no matter how, how much you disagree with them."

Jones appears to have underestimated how anti-Islam proponents’ dedication to supporting the troops would deter them from supporting his action. General David Petraeus’, the State Department’s and others’ contention that this would put America’s troops in harm’s way has resonated with Americans who likely agree with part if not all of Jones’ arguments on how Islam is "of the Devil."

What those who have spent time organizing against the so-called march of Islam toward instituting Sharia in the United States should understand is that it is they who lay the foundation for whackjobs like Jones to carry out such book burnings. Arguments based solely on a fear of a Third World religion dominating this country’s society at some point in the future give Jones the climate he needs to make his book-burning seem like something indicative of attitudes toward Islam in America. Without their activism, this could be disregarded in the same manner cross burnings by white supremacists are now routinely disregarded.

Anti-Islam activism, which has been warning of "Islamo-fascism" through work by David Horowitz and others since 9/11, has created a climate for hate crimes and vandalism of mosques. The number of protests against mosques has escalated, rallies have harassed people who support their cause but look like Muslims, and have promoted the idea that mosques are "clubhouses for terrorists." In Temecula, California, dogs were deployed to intimidate those attending prayer services and, in Florida, a man attempted to firebomb an Islamic center.

What difference is there between people like Mike Gallagher, Pam Geller, Robert Spencer, or North Carolina congressional candidate Ilario Pantano and Pastor Terry Jones other than the fact that they disagree on the tactics that should be used to oppose Islam? How many think it likely that individuals like Franklin Graham, John Hagee, or Pat Robertson sympathize with the action Terry Jones intends to take? And, how sure can one be that Jones’ ideology isn’t part of what fueled foreign policy thinkers like the now deceased Samuel Huntington, who proposed the "Clash of Civilizations" thesis, or isn’t what fuel people like Frank Gaffney or Charles Krauthammer?

The city of Gainesville, Florida denied the Dove World Outreach Center a burn permit. (Do cities ever give out burn permits for the burning of books?) RBC Bank has called in the mortgage on Pastor Jones’ center and Cottons All-Lines has apparently canceled the center’s insurance. This and the calls from U.S. military men will not dissuade Jones and his few followers who are dedicated to making a statement.

Gen. Petraeus has said these words about troops being put in harm’s way before. This was the justification for not being transparent and preventing the release of photos that likely showed Americans torturing and abusing Muslim detainees. The ACLU almost succeeded in getting the photos released but President Obama and Congress took measures to prevent the photos from being released.

Will the world see the Obama Administration and Congress take this kind of action to protect America’s troops? Will there be state intervention? More importantly, can this be considered an act in furtherance of terrorism? Could the FBI and local police show up and handcuff Jones and others for proceeding with this act even if there is an argument to be made the act is protected by the Constitution? Will homeland security trump the First Amendment Rights of these loons who are people who not only find Islam to be "of the Devil" but also people who likely consider Obama to be the Antichrist?

Perhaps, it doesn’t matter. Jones can burn the Korans or the government can arrest him and his followers. Either way, the anti-Islamic fervor will continue because Americans harbor strong beliefs about Islam and, for many, the last thing they want is some Third World religion becoming dominant in America and transforming America’s national identity to one that, in their mind, runs counter to Judeo-Christian or Protestant values.

You Won’t Find Nonbelievers Claiming Obama’s Muslim

9:19 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The above is an image that has been circulated by Americans as "proof" Obama may be Muslim. Those circulating the image fear what Obama is doing to this nation’s identity and would like to also remind the world he is Black. by SS&SS

 

Religion & America

The uproar by Americans as a result of the proposed construction of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero along with Glenn Beck’s "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington, D.C. have pulled into focus the intense zeal that Americans have for religion. Undoubtedly, the characteristic of Americans that has been affirmed is the characteristic that Americans are dedicated to getting religion right.

A number of people consistently have been giving explanations of religion and defending misunderstandings of religion. Possibily thousands have written about the reality that religion can be practiced in "moderation" and not all religious people are extremists.

Recent discussions indicate individuals find an utmost value in defending one’s religion, promoting religion, and ensuring all Americans can practice religion so long as that religion does not cut into their religion’s ability to live free and prosper. Yet, what do they say to the idea that’s why the world sees people like Terry Jones who are driven to organize days of actions where Korans are burned, like Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who suggest "all nasty people who hate Israel" should be struck down "with the plague," or like members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who will always assert (although they might have justification) peace talks will not favor Palestinians and should be resisted.

Religious people like Jones, Rabbi Yosef, and those in the Muslim Brotherhood fear another religion could eat into the world their religion occupies. They’re why the idea of coexistence of religions is naïve. Believing in another religion essentially means you do not believe in another religion. And, implicit in belief, whether you interpret the language of your religion’s text literally, is the idea that other religions–nonbelievers–are to be destroyed. To a certain extent, Glenn Beck, James Dobson, Newt Gingrich, Franklin Graham, Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, Tony Perkins, and many employed by Fox News entertain this implicit belief.

Also, if one wishes to be objective, those who point out passages in the Koran and argue Muslims are committed to Sharia are right. It’s true that, theoretically, in order to be a true Muslim or true believer you have to follow all aspects of the Koran or the religion. But, couldn’t we say that for any religion? 

To me, the majority asking people to fear the march of Islam have a conflict of interest because many of them are God-fearing Christians who worry they will lose the race against Islam to control the world and don’t want to give an inch to that which they believe to be from the pit of Hell.

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Photo by Bonnie Woodson

 

I was briefly religious. I did not belong to a religion, but I believed in Jesus Christ. I believed in God. I prayed. I would get down on my hands and knees on the bedside and I would ask God to do me favors because that was the understanding I had of God. I thought he could give you the strength to complete your homework and, perhaps, even confront your friends in high school who maybe needed help from you. That was, quite frankly, bullshit. Unequivocal bullshit.

A friend invited me to what, for all intents and purposes, was a Jesus Camp. While the average age was much higher than the camp in the documentary film Jesus Camp, the camp required all gizmos and gadgets to be surrendered upon entry into the camp, there was very little they wanted you to begin, and, while I had gone there to have fun at camp with some friends, I was confronted with a situation where I had no choice but to get closer to Christ.

From the camp, I recall an obstacle course that you could argue attendees were completing to prove they could be soldiers for Christ. The camp also appropriated secular rock songs like Tom Petty’s "Free Fallin’" and Oasis’ "Wonderwall" making it seem like they had been written for God. The camp Christianized these songs, which was okay because Christian music is the most artistically bankrupt music on the market.

The final day of camp was intense. That was the day the counselors had all attendees revved up and ready to get closer to God. The attendees split off into areas of the camp to sit by themselves and get in touch with God. So, I went off and wrote something. Given the climate the evangelical counselors had created, I was pretty sure I was connected to God and I think everyone else was too. I think, in retrospect, God probably was only with one or two people and he put on a smokescreen so we could believe he was with us all.

As it became time to leave, a friend pulled me and another friend aside and he asked us if we could pray. I think it was then I was sure I was entering some kind of a cult if I didn’t watch it because we had never prayed. We had never wrapped our arms around each other and discussed how we could share a common bond of religion. That was uncomfortable for me. Call me irrational, but I didn’t want to embrace other boys to get closer to Christ. No, sir. If you want to get closer to Christ that way, you go right ahead.

Following that experience, my understanding of religion became intertwined with my opinion of President George W. Bush and the work of his administration. I started blogging in 2004 (my first political activity online was on MoveOn.org’s message board discussing the 2004 Election).

I wrote posts on faith and separation of church and state. Nobody told me to think like this, I just developed the following understanding (and I read a book on Bush called The Faith of George W. Bush):

"[Bush's] principles, prayer, and personal life are intertwined and are basically in my opinion inseparable. He said God wants everyone to be free and stated that he imposed this idea on Afghanistan. I think this endangers America. I believe Bush and Osama are leaders of a Holy War. What [it] comes down to is this is a stand off of religious principles. Muslim principles have conflicted with Bush’s faith. I adamantly feel that Bush has not separated church from state and this has led us down the wrong path. It doesn’t matter if separation of church and state is right or wrong. What matters is whether or not our president will follow accepted rules while in power. Separating church and state in my opinion is an accepted rule."

I possessed a clear understanding of separation of church and state, whether it was accurate or not. And, I took issue with Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives finding them, after conducting my own research, to be constitutional. I specifically singled out an organization known as Teen Challenge in one of my blog postings and suggested the organization’s leader, Reverend John D. Castellani, admitted to a House subcommittee the program made people involved become "complete Jews" or "Jews for Jesus." The nature of the program–replacing drug addiction with an addiction to Jesus–made the program unconstitutional no matter how benign Rev. Castellani’s program might be.

Five years later, I now monitor America with alarm at the interconnectedness of religion and nationalism that has only increased since my days in high school. The way Christianity in this country is often believed by many to be synonymous with patriotism or love of country confounds me. When I listen to people like Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin discuss religion and politics, I worry about the future of this country and how religion could have the effect of making society more close-minded instead of enriching and enlightening society.

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Photo by Graham Buffton

President Obama’s agenda has been impeded greatly by religious forces in America. He currently has to affirm his faith in Jesus Christ to appease those who believe he is Muslim and might be inviting Islamists into the country to impose Sharia Law on us all. Personally, I would tell them to go join a survivalist commune, arm themselves, and spread a communicable disease that would kill them all off and bring them in contact with the Kingdom of Heaven sooner than later

Such forces have used religion to mask their deep-seated hatred for how Obama indicates this country is further embracing multiculturalism. I witnessed these people firsthand when filming a documentary at the University of Notre Dame when Obama was invited to deliver the commencement speech. They are militant in their organization for the preservation of America’s national identity and they will not back down unless confronted head on.

In the 21st Century, religion is the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room. Countless people of the world assert it gives humans purpose, it’s a force for good, it allows us to confront mortality and believe in the afterlife, it makes us moral and forces us to confront sin, it teaches us the beauty of creation and life, etc. But, anymore (and especially in America), it seems like a cheap way to unite a nation of disgruntled and angry people and distract those experiencing economic despair from channeling their anger and organizing against government for economic emancipation from joblessness and poverty.

Many religious people arrogantly, offensively, and thoughtlessly eat mankind’s future and advance the belief that their religious text does not show global warming bringing the end of the world. So, like those who believed the Earth is flat (which some still believe) and the sun revolved around the Earth (which some still believe too), they expect humanity to let them forsake reality so they can maintain their collective delusions.

Non-belief carries this stigma that it leaves people deprived, deficient or excluded. That’s correct–nonbelievers have excluded themselves from believing certain lessons, parables, proverbs or fairy tales in religious texts are truth and have embraced ideas that can be unmistakably proven to be truth in the physical world that humans occupy (like, for example, the theory of evolution).

They’ve adopted an understanding that religion is politically irrelevant and cannot solve the problems of war and peace, poverty and sickness, corporate power and corporate control, privatization and loss of public space, and/or environmental destruction and global warming.

I suppose many believe just because traditionally their family, their ancestors and much of humanity have believed. They may not believe a word or think God exists at all, but they continue certain rituals because these traditions have a monopoly over how we conduct life especially how we respond to key points like birth, childhood, the transition from youth to manhood, marriage, death, etc).

Believers suggest those who do not believe simply need to take a leap of faith. I think the proper response to that is to suggest believers take a leap of fact. Courageously test the scientific hypothesis that there is some supernatural or mystical being who has designed the world, a being that can connect to you and hopefully guide you and answer your prayers. Consider what type of band-aid religion is in your life.

Whatever the problems are that manifest themselves as you invite skepticism into your thought processes, I posit you have two choices: you can return to your church on Sunday (or Friday or Saturday or whatever day you attend church) and pray your problems away and you can use an archaic text for guidance or you can trust in your emotions, instincts, and develop a motivation to be the actor in your world that organizes your life to be the life you want it to be.

Because in addition to the fact that religious people will always struggle amongst other religious people over mankind’s past, present and future and go to war over what other people think mankind’s past was and what other people think mankind’s future will be, there’s the reality that the time spent pondering an afterlife–and thinking life is bad now but God will let me into some Kingdom or Paradise and "make things new" for me one day–is time that you could have spent enjoying the little time you have on this Earth.

Responding to the Toxic Anti-Islamic Fervor Growing in This Nation

6:03 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The above is a video message I put together for YouTube. With the growing anti-Islam fervor that has been ratcheting up as a result of people trying to stop a "Ground Zero Mosque" from being built, I wanted to address the people who are trying to confront those who are making this country more dangerous and who are endangering this country’s national security by writing a recruiting script for right wing Muslims or Islamists.

The video is around five minutes long and below is an addendum and something to read if you do not have time for a video.

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Protest of Cordoba House in NYC. Protesters carry signs reading things like "No Clubhouse for Jihadists."

So, you’ve found yourself wondering lately why people are so upset about what is the equivalent of a YMCA center being built near Ground Zero. You wonder how shuffleboard, tennis, swimming, weightlifting, and workouts in a fitness center in some interfaith community center administered by some guy named Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf could lead to stealth jihad and the imposition of Sharia Law on all Americans.

 

If you’re a person who–I don’t know–thinks, in the past week you may have chosen to jump start conversation, perhaps through a blog post or weigh into a conversation in the comments thread of an article that already had a vibrant or polarizing conversation going on. You’ve genuinely tried to get to find some truth about this "controversy" and perhaps reconcile with people’s views on the impending "Islamization of America."

 

By now, you’ve likely found it’s hard to talk to those who are opposed to the "Ground Zero Mosque," as they affectionately term it (and they probably have become fed up with you as well). The problem with reasoning with the opposition is that they are not thinking about this in terms of reality. You can explain to them that the Constitution gives Americans who have Islamic beliefs the right to build all you want, but as a Newsweek slideshow recently posted affirms, they will not think of your argument as something that applies to Muslims in America.

 

The slideshow, "Dumb Things Americans Believe," explains,
"one in three Americans," according to a 2008 First Amendment Center poll believe "the constitutional right to freedom of religion was never meant to apply to groups most folks think are extreme or fringe–a 10 percent increase from 2000."

 

Since those leading the charge against the construction of the "mosque" consider Islam to be a political system and not a true religion, since they treat it more like a cult than a religion, the legal argument–the free market property rights argument that they should be receptive to (because let’s be honest these people opposed are the same people who clamor into city plazas for Tea Party rallies to protest the socialist takeover of America)–rolls right off them like confetti at a Sarah Palin/Mama Grizzlies celebration.

 

Newsweek’s slideshow comes on the heels of a poll where around one fifth polled suggested it was possible President Obama was a Muslim. Or, as Glenn Beck hints at, he hasn’t professed his Christian faith in a manner that would lead one to channel Sinclair Lewis and say, "It can happen here," so he likely is a Muslim a Muslim who has brought change Americans will be forced to submit to and who will make it possible for Islamists to hijack local and state governments with their agenda for Sharia Law and work their way up until they eventually have Cabinet seats and have turned America into a nation for Caliphate advancement.

 

Other things people believe, which Newsweek details includes: sixty-one percent doubt the theory of evolution, twenty-one percent in witches, forty percent believe in death panels, forty-one percent believed Saddam was linked to 9/11, forty-one percent not sure Judaism older than Christianity, and twenty percent not sure Earth revolves around the Sun.

 

Recently, those who populate the wiki, Conservapedia, were found to be arguing that the theory of relativity could be proven wrong. The site provided counterexamples, one of the best being: "In Genesis 1:6-8, we are told that one of God’s first creations was a firmament in the heavens. This likely refers to the creation of the luminiferous aether." (Rachel Maddow covered this in a segment called the "War on Brains.")

 

These phantasmagoric beliefs are being spouted by people who believe in God. Does that mean religion needs to be abolished? I don’t know, but we have people like this guy who are railing on about a "climate change scam," who likely believe that climate change isn’t true because it isn’t detailed in the Bible.

 

Americans, we have an incredible dilemma. Part of our heritage has always involved confronting delusions, and now we have a pressing obligation to find a way to confront this.

 

A drunk man walked into a mosque in Queens on Wednesday evening and urinated on the prayer rugs. With a beer bottle in his hand, he proceeded to shout anti-Muslim epithets and called worshippers "terrorists."

 

That’s not some creative variation of some "A Guy Walks Into a Bar" joke. Even worse, a Muslim cab driver was stabbed Tuesday and a California mosque was recently desecrated.

 

 

 

And, Terry Jones, a pastor for the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida, plans to send "a warning" to Muslims by holding a Koran-Burning Day. Just what kind of warning does Jones expect to send? Won’t this just incite violence? Why not just take moveable letters on a church sign and make it read, "Homegrown Terrorists Welcome Here"?

 

If you’re Muslim, it isn’t news that there are a number of people in this country that fear Muslims like Nazis fear Jew bankers; they’ve been confronting this behavior and violence since 9/11 (And you thought you’d get through this without a Nazi reference?). They are the most vocal and their fundamentalist leaders’ goals are driving them to campaign to rid this country of any Muslims looking to practice their freedom of religion.

 

Americans who contend this is a distraction from the pressing economic problems–and a result of the upcoming 2010 midterm elections—minimize the way that leaders behind the creation of this anti-Islamic fury will twist and manipulate the frenzied atmosphere to continue to advance their theocratic agenda.

 

I don’t fully know what we should do now, but I do have a beginning suggestion: Our side needs its own cheesy 80s rock anthem to cheer on reason, tolerance and acceptance of all people just like the nuts who are spreading hate and fear of Muslims now have their own anthem to cheer on religious persecution of Americans.

 

Faced With Mosque Madness, Democrats Invert Frederick Douglass’ Key Rule for Change

9:09 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

 

 

The response to developers and supporters with connections to the Muslim community in New York City, who wish to construct an Islamic cultural center that many now refer to as the "Ground Zero Mosque," has a toxicity that is repulsive and entirely objectionable. Unfortunately, Democrats have shown an utter lack of leadership and continue to fail to confront the right wing’s whipping up of hysterical patriotism that has translated into fear and hatred toward Muslims.

 

This isn’t the first time they have been spineless or weak on an issue (which is why they should consider changing their mascot from a donkey to an invertebrate). And, normally, one may want to suggest that they are actually in agreement with Republicans so their words in opposition to the GOP are to appease Democratic voters because in the end they know they won’t be able to build political support in Congress to stop Republicans from getting their way. However, with leaders like Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Howard Dean out in front on this, it’s quite clear that many Democrats empathize with the Muslim community but subscribe to an inversion of a key belief that American abolitionist, orator, writer, statesman Frederick Douglass had about change.

 

Douglass is remembered for saying, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning."

 

Howard Dean, who clearly subscribes to inverting this Douglass’ quote, suggested that the "mosque" be moved:

 

"This center may be intended as a bridge or a healing gesture but it will not be perceived that way unless a dialogue with a real attempt to understand each other happens. That means the builders have to be willing to go beyond what is their right and be willing to talk about feelings whether the feelings are "justified" or not. No doubt the Republic will survive if this center is built on its current site or not. But I think this is a missed opportunity to try to have an open discussion about why this is a big deal, because it is a big deal to a lot of Americans who are not just right-wing politicians pushing the hate button again. I think those people need to be heard respectfully, whether they are right or whether they are wrong"

 

Dean’s position subverts the tradition of progress in America. Glenn Greenwald suggested to Dean that is position was similar to if African-Americans, who wanted to sit at the front of the bus, had been told to be sensitive because some people weren’t ready for equality so why not compromise and sit in the middle of the bus. Certainly, if people like Dean had handled the situation during the civil rights era, they would have sought to minimize the struggle being waged against white supremacists by those who were for equality. And how much change would have taken place? What important conversations would have been avoided? What injustices would not have been corrected?

 

But, this is typical Democratic Party gutlessness and not surprising; it’s how Democrats approached the debate on health care. They maintained Democratic politicians needed to compromise with politicians promoting fear of a government takeover of health care and the notion of "death panels." They allowed Republicans to obstruct their health care agenda and, ultimately, Republicans won because no public option or Medicare buy-in made it into the final legislation.

 

This is also the same frail and hapless ideology Democrats have adopted in the face of the conservative media echo chamber who have won victories and hung the scalps of Van Jones, Dawn Johnsen, and Shirley Sherrod on their "hunter’s wall" as a testament of their power over Democrats. They’ve also successfully imposed career barriers for Yosi Sergeant, Shepard Fairey, Patrick Gaspard, Cass Sunstein, John Holdren, and Mark Lloyd all people who were going to be part of the Obama Administration until the right wing began to make insane claims about what the aforementioned people stood for.

 

The Democrats have treated this as a problem. Rather than work to shift the anti-Islam consensus growing in this country, party leaders have negligently hoped the resistance to the "mosque" would go away (liberal op-ed writers have even promoted this hope).

 

Sen. Reid (D-NV) has stated, "The First Amendment protects freedom of religion" but "the mosque should be built some place else."

 

Jeff Greene, a Democrat running for the Senate in Florida, has claimed, "President Obama has this all wrong and I strongly oppose his support for building a mosque near Ground Zero especially since Islamic terrorists have bragged [about] and celebrated destroying the Twin Towers." He makes a distinction between the right to build the mosque and the need for common sense and respect for those who lost loved ones in 9/11.

 

Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA) has said, "There should be some discussion about what is right morally, as well as just what you’re allowed to do"I think that the people who are supportive of putting the mosque there are missing the point of the impact and the devastation that [Sept. 11] had to us as a country."

 

A number of New York Democrats have chosen to not stand up to those opposed to the project, who advance the belief that Islam is an entirely objectionable religion (as some in the movement against the "mosque" would contend, a "cult" religion from "the pit of Hell").

 

Rep. Mike McMahon has said, "Muslim Americans deserve the right to practice their faith — as we all do. I believe a new location is the right compromise so that Muslim Americans can worship without eliciting feelings that push us away from our country’s basic tenet of religious acceptance while the families of 9/11 victims obtain the peace of mind they deserve."

 

Rep. Steve Israel has explained, "While they have a constitutional right to build the mosque, it would be better if they had demonstrated more sensitivity to the families of 9/11 victims. I urge them to do so before proceeding further."

 

Rep. Tim Bishop, has asserted, "As a New Yorker, I believe ground zero is sacred ground and should unite us. If the group seeking to build the mosque is sincere in its efforts to bring people together, I would urge them to seek an alternative location which is less divisive. I dispute the wisdom of building at that location, not the constitutional right."

 

And, Democratic Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-NY) actually forced Republican challenger Richard Hanna to flip-flop. Hanna had said, "It’s extremely easy to understand why people are upset by this, but this country was founded by people who were running away from religious persecution." But, Arcuri asserted, "The pain felt by many Americans from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is still very real, and I can understand how the thought of building a mosque near Ground Zero could reopen those wounds. For the sake of the victims and their families, I think another location should be chosen."

 

Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) lack of leadership has muddied the situation by writing a letter with an incoherent position saying he supported the "constitutional protection of religion from the overreach of government" but that he wanted sensitivity and concern for 9/11 families to be displayed.

 

One Democrat from New York, Jerrold Nadler, has been sharp in his statements in favor of the Islamic cultural center. Nadler said on CNN’s "State of the Union":

 

NADLER: [W]hat they are saying essentially is how can you put a mosque there when, after all, Muslims attacked us on 9/11, and this is ripping open a wound? Well, the fallacy is that Al Qaida attacked us. Islam did not attack us. Islam, like Christianity, like Judaism, like other religions, has many different people, some of whom regard other adherents of the religion as heretics of one sort or another. It is only insensitive if you regard Islam as the culprit, as opposed to Al Qaida as the culprit. We were not attacked by all Muslims. And there were Muslims who were killed there, there were Muslims who were killed there. There were Muslims who ran in as first responders to help. And we cannot take any position like that. [emphasis added]

 

Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) has been out in front on this. So has House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, but she didn’t help. Her statement, which was a call to investigate the "mosque opposition," was red meat for the wolves, who likely heard Pelosi and immediately thought Pelosi should be investigated to see if she is funded by radical Islamic charities.

 

The two Muslim-Americans in Congress have voiced support. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) has urged Americans to not let those opposed to the Islamic cultural center "write the recruiting script" for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups. And, Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) supports the "mosque" and asked, "Are we a country of laws and principles? Or are we a question who will be moved by the winds of emotion each and every time there are issues that come up to divert us from the true meaning and intent of the Founding Fathers?"

 

Americans have heard Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Rep. Peter King, Rudy Giuliani, Rick Lazio, Carl Paladino, Tim Pawlenty, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, William Kristol, and a plethora of members from the anti-Islam industry who have appeared on FOX News and CNN (all supporters of the group, Stop911Mosque.com, which has made this a controversy. Unfortunately, when Democrats fail to provide a distinct position and alternative to the agenda of hate being put forth by right wing leaders and scholars, they become complicit and partly responsible.

 

The seething and venomous mob that has taken over the discussion on what Muslims will do if a cultural center is built near Ground Zero will not accept compromise. They don’t deserve any sympathy or understanding. They will never sit down and listen to the reasons why Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and others want to build the center. They will only make more citizens in the world think America supports a war on Islam.

 

Democrats, and, more importantly, Americans must use this struggle as opportunity to make progress. It is a chance for truth and reconciliation with the Muslim community in America, something Americans desperately need so they can abandon the post-9/11 mentality that has shackled this nation in chains of fear and anxiety and produced phobic movements like the one we are witnessing in New York against a so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" and other Islamic places of worship in the country.

 


The following is from the "Stop the Islamization of America" Rally held against the "Ground Zero Mosque" on Sunday, August 22nd. It shows protesters mistaking an African-American man for a Muslim, a prime example of the hatred fueling this movement against Islam.

Guantanamo Detainees Know America’s New Normal Far Too Well

10:44 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Flickr Photo by Peter Burgess

Mentally Ill Detainee Ordered to Be Released in 2004 Still at Guantanamo

Carol Rosenberg, a journalist for the Miami Herald and one of the few journalists who continue to follow operations and proceedings at the Guantanamo Bay prison reports "an emotionally ill detainee still being held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was first recommended for release by the Pentagon in 2004."

Rosenberg writes:

"Despite the Pentagon’s recommendation, it wasn’t until 2007 that the Bush administration adopted the military assessment and put Adnan Abdul Latif, now about 34, on an approved transfer list. By then, however, the issue of transferring prisoners to Yemen, Osama bin Laden’s ancestral homeland, was mired in a diplomatic standoff over whether the Arabian Peninsula nation could provide security assurances and rehabilitate suspected radicalized Guantanamo detainees.

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Kennedy disclosed the timeline in a heavily censored 28-page ruling made public on Monday night that ordered Latif set free. Latif is the 38th Guantanamo captive to be found by a federal judge to be illegally detained at the remote U.S. Navy base."

Ordered to be released by Kennedy on July 21, the Justice Department has been deciding whether to appeal the decision.

Latif’s lawyer, David Remes, says "why they continue to defend holding him is unfathomable" and contends, "Adnan’s case reflects the Obama administration’s complete failure to bring the Guantanamo litigation under control."

The detention of Latif is yet another incredibly disturbing indictment of a system developed to aid U.S prosecution of the "war on terror." Andy Worthington, author of The Guantanamo Files, detailed Latif’s capture:

"26-year old Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif (identified by the Pentagon Ab Aljallil Allal or Allal Ab Aljallil Abd Al Rahman Abd) stated that he had sustained a serious head injury in an automobile accident in 1994, and had spent years trying to find affordable medical treatment. After being told about the health-care office of a Pakistani aid worker in Afghanistan who would treat him, he said that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, and explained that, when the US-led invasion began, he fled to the border town of Khost and then made his way into Pakistan, where he was arrested by Pakistani forces, along with about 30 other Arabic-looking men. He told his lawyer, Marc Falkoff, that he later learned that each of them had been turned over to the US military for a bounty of $5000.

In his tribunal at Guantánamo, Latif appeared bewildered, refuting what he believed was an allegation that he came from a place called al-Qaeda by saying, "I am from Orday City in Yemen, not a city in al-Qaeda. My city is very far away from the city of al-Qaeda," which perhaps reinforces his claim that he had traveled to Afghanistan to receive treatment for a fractured skull."

In a recent post, Worthington illuminates his attorney, Marc Falkoff’s, reaction to the "unclassified summary of evidence"

"[W]hen I first saw the accusations, I thought they looked serious [but] when I looked at the government’s evidence, I was amazed. There was nothing there. Nothing at all trustworthy. Nothing that could be admitted into evidence in a court of law. Nothing that was remotely persuasive, even leaving legal niceties aside." At most, he added, "there was incredibly unreliable hearsay, often taken from other detainees who were — in the words of a military representative — "known liars,’ or else whom we now know to have been tortured."

Latif’s detention has driven him mad and turned him into a hazard to himself. An appeal issued in May 2009 by Amnesty International, as Worthington notes, described a "suicide attempt that took place on May 10, 2009, when he cut one of his wrists during a meeting" with Remes, his attorney.

"After the incident, Remes explained that Latif "chipped off a piece of the stiff veneer on the underside of our conference table and used it to saw into a vein in his left wrist " As he sawed, he drained his blood into a plastic container and, shortly before it was time for me to leave, he hurled the blood at me from the container." As Amnesty also explained, "A spokesman at Guantánamo confirmed the incident took place but said it could not be classified as a suicide attempt."

Amnesty also noted that Latif had been "held in solitary confinement in the psychiatric ward at Guantánamo since at least November 2008," and that he told his lawyers that "when he is awake he sees ghosts in the darkness, hears frightening voices and suffers from nightmares when he is asleep." He also told his lawyers that he had "ingested all sorts of materials including garbage bags, urine cups, prayer beads, a water bottle and a screw," that he had "eaten his own excrement and smeared it on his body" and that he had "used his own excrement to cover the walls of his cell door, the camera on the ceiling of his cell and the air vent in his cell."

In addition, Amnesty noted that Latif reportedly suffered from "a number of physical health problems, including a fractured cheekbone, a shattered eardrum, blindness in one eye, a dislocated shoulder blade, and a possibly dislocated knee." Latif also said that he suffered "constant throat and stomach pain which [made] it difficult for him to eat," but that, instead of dealing with this in an appropriate manner, the authorities strapped him in a restraint chair and force-fed him up to three times a day through a tube pushed up his nose into his stomach"

Rosenberg reports that recently Latif met his lawyer in "a padded green garment held together by Velcro called a "suicide smock." He had "been stripped of his underwear," and put into this "smock" which have been display for "reporters during camp tours." And, the "5-feet-4-inches" detainee" is now 93 pounds having lost more than twenty pounds since his arrival at the prison in January 2002.

As reported by AP in May 2009, after Latif’s suicide attempt, "the military says many incidents are not actual suicide attempts but merely "self-harm incidents" intended to gain attention."

The only problem with that argument is that "self-harm" is haram, which means it is not allowed in Islam. Muslims do not think their body is theirs. It belongs to Allah. If they do not treat their body properly, their body will be a testimony against their day of judgment before Allah. Latif’s desecration of his body affirms his attorney’s belief that Latif "sees death as his only way out."

Scott Horton with Harper’s Magazine has written about how the "suicides" are likely part of a cover-up of military wrongdoing at Guantanamo.

Latif’s case is but another example of what "the New Normal" does to human beings who get caught up in its inner workings. While presidential candidate Barack Obama said, after a Supreme Court ruling on June 12, 2008, that detainees held in Guantanamo Bay have a constitutional right to challenge their detention, "Today’s Supreme Court decision ensures that we can protect our nation and bring terrorists to justice, while also protecting our core values. The Court’s decision is a rejection of the Bush Administration’s attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo – yet another failed policy supported by John McCain," President Obama has continued to attempt to create "a legal black hole at Guantanamo."

As the ACLU noted in their condemning report, "Establishing a New Normal":

"It was a promising beginning, but eighteen months [since Obama's Inauguration] Guantanamo is still open and some 180 prisoners remain there. The administration is not solely responsible for missing this one-year deadline; Congress has obstructed any possible relocation of even indisputably innocent detainees like the Chines Uighurs to the United States, thereby rendering diplomatic efforts to relocate detainees in Europe and elsewhere more difficult. And the administration deserves credit for releasing some 67 detainees from Guantanamo. But the Obama administration’s decision to halt all detainee releases to Yemen–even when the detainees have been cleared for release after years of harsh detention–has been a major factor in the prison’s remaining open; a majority of the remaining detainees are Yemeni. Moreover, the administration bears responsibility for opposing in court the release of detainees against whom the government has scant evidence of wrongdoing.

A FEW NOTES ON THE NEW NORMAL

Whether it’s the case of Latif or the case of 15-year old Omar Khadr, who was threatened with gang rape if he didn’t confess to committing a war crime, or the case of Canadian Maher Arar, who was interrogated and tortured (beaten with an electrical cable), or countless others who pursue release from detention because there is no evidence against them, the U.S. continues to have a moral imperative to close Guantanamo (and other prisons).

The system of detention and the Kafkaesque legal system detainees are being put through serves as a way of entrenching America in a permanent state of war. It strengthens this idea that some humans, in this global war, are less free than others.

If we think the uproar against the "Ground Zero Mosque" in this country upsets the Muslim World, we should shudder at the thought of what radical effect America’s extralegal system for detainees has had on Muslims. Not only should America make peace with Islam and uphold religious tolerance by allowing mosques to be built in America, but it should also end the factory of crimes against humanity that is Guantanamo Bay Prison.

Why Opponents of Mosque Are So Fierce in Their Opposition

8:57 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Video on Franklin Graham shows just why there is so much vitriol and hatred toward the Park51 project or the "Ground Zero Mosque"

Opponents follow leaders like Franklin Graham, who allegedly asked Obama about Obama’s Christian beliefs and the senator’s family connections to Islam at a meeting of Christian leaders in June 2008.

Much of the anger is a direct result of Pat Robertson’s and other religious right leaders to make one feel like there is a level of religious intolerance here because Franklin Graham was disinvited from Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer but "taxpayer money" is going to fund a "Ground Zero Mosque."

Hamas Supports the “Ground Zero Mosque” & Other Messages Damning Religious Freedom to Hell

10:28 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Flickr Photo by

The hysteria surrounding the "Ground Zero Mosque" that really cannot be seen from Ground Zero has nothing to do with some impending Islamic fundamentalist quest to impose Sharia Law in America. It has everything to do with a toxic patriotism fueled by evangelical political activism in this country.

Few know how this "controversy" was manufactured, how the Islamic cultural center became a political football or tool for exploiting fear of Muslims among Americans. And, at this point, one might think it doesn’t really matter: the right wing assault on Muslims’ private property rights continues unabashedly even though there should be no discussion at all and those behind the project should just take their project somewhere else.

The latest developments in sheer paranoia and outright xenophobia include anti-Obama author and Jerusalem bureau chief of the right-wing website WorldNetDaily.com Aaron Klein’s interview with Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar on his WABC radio show on Sunday. Klein was able to get Al-Zahar to say Muslims "have to build the mosque, as you are allowed to build the church and Israelis are building their holy places"we have to build everywhere." And, this touched off an eruption of echoes among conservative media as the leader’s position was immediately connected to Obama through headlines suggesting Hamas backs Obama–the impetus being if Hamas supports Obama we should all fear his support for the mosque in the same way we feared Obama’s association to Bill Ayers during the election.

Newt Gingrich appeared on "Fox & Friends" to say, "The folks who want to build this mosque — who are really radical Islamists who want to triumphally prove that they can build a mosque right next to a place where 3,000 Americans were killed by radical Islamists — those folks don’t have any interest in reaching out to the community. They’re trying to make a case about supremacy. That’s why they won’t go anywhere else, that’s why they won’t accept any other offer."

Gingrich went a step further comparing Muslims to Nazis:

"And I think we ought to be honest about the fact that we have a right — and this happens all the time in America. You know, Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There’s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid publicly stated "build the mosque somewhere else" seemingly adopting his Republican opponent Sharron Angle’s position that one must "say no to the mosque at Ground Zero" or "side with President Obama" and be "against the families of 9/11 victims."

Finally, there was Don Lemon on CNN expressing, as Glenn Greenwald writes, "the crux of the "mosque’ opposition":

Lemon: Don’t you think it’s a bit different considering what happened on 9/11? And the people have said there’s a need for it in Lower Manhattan, so that’s why it’s being built there. What about 10, 20 blocks . . . Midtown Manhattan, considering the circumstances behind this? That’s not understandable?

Patel: In America, we don’t tell people based on their race or religion or ethnicity that they are free in this place, but not in that place –

Lemon: [interrupting] I understand that, but there’s always context, Mr. Patel . . . this is an extraordinary circumstance. You understand that this is very heated. Many people lost their loved ones on 9/11 –

Patel: Including Muslim Americans who lost their loved ones. . . .

Lemon: Consider the context here. That’s what I’m talking about.

Patel:I have to tell you that this seems a little like telling black people 50 years ago:you can sit anywhere on the bus you like – just not in the front.

Lemon:I think that’s apples and oranges -I don’t think that black people were behind a Terrorist plot to kill people and drive planes into a building.That’s a completely different circumstance.

Patel: And American Muslims were not behind the terrorist plot either. [emphasis not added]

More patently absurd was Tim Brown, a retired NYC firefighter who survived 9/11 who recounted a story at the tail end of the segment featuring Lemon and Patel involving a woman who "spoke at the Landmark Preservation Commission here and very passionately against the mosque and when she walked out and went to her car she had a heart attack." Brown added, "This is what is being done to the families of 9/11."

The bizarre notion that not only all of the Muslim world should pay for the few extremists that targeted the World Trade Center but they should also pay for people who are suffering physical hardships because they have to defend against the so-called insensitivity of Islam toward 9/11 victims provides one of the best examples of how this controversy is born out of Islamophobia. Brown’s comment suggests there is no thing those against the "mosque" that opponents will not blame Muslims for.

So, how did we get to here? How did Americans get dragged into some argument against Islam that solely consists of sentences comprised of a noun, a verb and 9/11? Didn’t Rudolph Giuliani lose big in the 2008 Election?

Justin Elliott over at Salon.com constructed a timeline that demonstrates the story first was discussed when Laura Ingraham interviewed Abdul Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan, while guest-hosting "The O’Reilly Factor." Ingraham surprisingly said, "I can’t find many people who really have a problem" with the "mosque." She said she liked what the people behind the project were trying to do. Then, five and a half months later, on May 6, 2010, a New York community board approved the "WTC Mosque." The AP quoted 9/11 families. The New York Post, which a lot of right wing opinion makers read.

From this point on groups like Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) began to hold protests and campaign against the "mosque." It is then that "professionals of the anti-Islam industry" began to propagandize the project eventually earning a victory when New York Post columnist first used the phrase "ground zero mosque" (and also falsely reported the Cordoba House [Park51] would open on September 11, 2011.

The manufacturing of this controversy proves this is about much more than religious freedom and 9/11 families. What those against the "mosque" really want is for Americans to constantly relive the horror of 9/11 on a daily basis, live in a state of post-trauma for eternity, and never forget how extremists with a religion that has often been at odds with prominent Western religions attacked America.

The most outspoken opponents of this mosque seek to maintain a shared purpose, a national identity that became the context for domestic and foreign politics after 9/11. They seek to further entrench America in a war against Islam.

Opponents tremble in fear because their triumphalism–largely derived from their evangelical Christianity and other Christian denominations–is threatened by the interfaith goals of dialogue that this Islamic cultural center has adopted. They do not want dialogue. They want only to maintain their religion and further institute Biblical law in American society.

Zealous businessmen and snake politicians have charted a course for power, opted to exploit not only the families who lost loved ones in 9/11 but also exploit the energy produced by evangelical religion’s activism in politics and channel it into this manufactured controversy they hope will help them win elections in November.

These religious archaists market beliefs and aim to attract customers they can convert into consumers that will follow their precepts. They hope their consumers will join them in the further construction of American mythology to serve their agenda for reorienting this nation and realigning this country with their beliefs.

The vanguard of opposition to the mosque follows the ideology of Samuel Huntington, a foreign policy thinker who had great influence over the past twenty years of American foreign policy. They like Huntington believe "America is different and that difference is defined in large part by its religious commitment and Anglo-Protestant culture." They like Huntington think "at the heart of that culture has been Protestantism and the political and social restitutions and practices inherited from England, including most notably the English language." And, they believe "Americans are also overwhelmingly Christian, which distinguishes them from many non-Western peoples" and "their religiosity leads Americans to see the world in terms of good and evil to a much greater extent than most other peoples."

The propagandistic idea that the mosque should not be built because all Muslims should continue to pay for 9/11 stems from the toxic patriotism or right-wing nationalism of a section of society who has put its political energy behind American military might, preemptive war, promotion of ignorance toward the way America radicalizes societies who adopt Islamic fundamentalism as a tool of resistance, and xenophobia.

Demagoguery and ideology neurotically controls a sect of American society and culture. Our opposition to the construction of the mosque, whether we adopt the position to win elections in November or because we have been grieving for 9/11 families and constantly terrified by our leaders exploitation of the attacks so they can achieve power, gives the upperhand to religious demagogues and ideologues. It violates core principles of our nation’s Constitution, principles President Obama and Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg have called upon citizens to support and uphold.

Religious freedom did not become part of our nation’s core principles because people thought Americans would be comfortable with all religions. It became part of our principles because people understood all Americans should have the right to practice religion openly and freely.

Since 9/11, Muslims have been attacked and demonized in many sections of the country. This should not be allowed, we as a nation should not be complicit and silent, and we who care deeply about this nation should speak out in support of the mosque not because we are religious or support Islamic beliefs but because attacks and demonization should cease in this country now.

 

Now from last night’s Countdown w/ Keith Olbermann, a "Special Comment" — "There is No Ground Zero Mosque."

President Obama on Ground Zero Mosque: A Wasted Attempt to Stand Up to Islamophobia?

9:44 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Jingoistic demonstration in Zucotti Park against proposed Islamic Cultural Center a few blocks from Ground Zero. Later, someone garlanded the proposed site with dirty shoes, raw porkchops, and cartoons of the Prophet. by Johnnie Utah

President Barack Obama stepped into the middle of a swirl of prejudicial vitriol and unashamed hatred surrounding the building of an Islamic cultural center several blocks away from Ground Zero.

Appearing at Friday night’s iftar dinner at the White House, held to mark the breaking of the daily Ramadan feast, in a safe space away from Islamophobic politicians and pundits who have been disinforming Americans on the building of a "Ground Zero mosque" for weeks now, Obama declared in a speech:

…Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities — particularly 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. And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. And 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 everyone else in this country. And 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 that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure…

 

Obama’s remarks were insightful and courageous and along the lines of comments from New York City’s Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg just over a week ago. Bloomberg, too, argued "the government has no right whatsoever to deny" the right to those who wish to build a mosque and stated, "if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution."

 

"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?" asked Mayor Bloomberg. "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."

 

And, from a place of great reason, to strike a blow to unthinking people who are running around making outlandish claims about Muslims and terror babies and how Islamic people wish to impose Sharia law on America, Bloomberg stated:

"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"

 

 Having people like Mayor Bloomberg to back President Obama up, Obama would be able to hold on to his defense and continue to give this well-reasoned argument to thwart the hatred of Islamophobes across the country as reporters asked him for more remarks on what he said, right?

"I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about. And I think it’s very important, as difficult as some of these issues are, that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about."

 

President Obama’s position at that moment morphed into, in principle, this country should allow the Islamic center to be built, but, I do not know specifically if in this case building a mosque is a wise idea or not. The idea that "commitments to religious freedom must be unshakeable" now appeared to be shakeable if it could be proven one is making unwise decisions related to the exercising of that religious freedom.

 

How would this "backtracking" play in the conservative media echo chamber that has made the Obama Administration yield to any and every message born out of pig-headed phobia?

 

Guests and show hosts promoted this idea on Sunday that, if the cultural center would not be promoting interfaith dialogue (a standard that most Christian or Jewish institutions never have to adhere to), then there’s no way the construction of a mosque should be supported.

 

 Republican Congressman Peter King said on "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" on August 15th, "I think the president, by the way, is trying to have it both ways, because I don’t know of anyone who was saying that Muslims do not have the right to practice their religion, but with rights go responsibilities, and that’s the part of it the president did not comment on.

 

Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island said "Fox News Sunday" with Bret Baier, "the president, I think, is right to point out that our traditions do embrace tolerance for religions, all religions" but went on to say the "issue is whether the operation — this facility is really one that is designed to provide interfaith communication, dialogue, to not in some way try to repeal the reality of 9/11, which was an attack by fanatical Muslims against the United States, but to try to find those common ground between all the religious communities."

 

On the same show, Senator John Cornyn, chairman of the Republican Senatorial Committee declared this issue an "election issue" and said what was said is indicative of "the lack of connection between the administration and Washington and folks inside the Beltway and mainstream America. And I think this is what aggravates people so much."

 

ABC’s This Week host Christiane Amanpour and NPR senior news analyst Cokie Roberts accused Obama of "walking back" from statements he made in his speech. And, Liz Cheney was quoted by Mike Allen of Politico, "I guess President Obama was for the mosque before he was against it."

 

Tunku Varadarajan wrote on The Daily Beast, "At first sight, this may seem but a minor alteration in tone, or nuance. But in political terms, it is tectonic, reducing Obama in stature from a brave man, standing tall against the forces of intolerance, to a picayune, insecure trimmer who wishes to be all things to all people, a man who is so unsure of his own principles that he will seek to reinterpret words, just a day after he uttered them."

 

Varadarajan and the aforementioned congressmen are right to talk about how this was never a question of the mosque’s right to be built–at least rhetorically speaking. Amanpour’s comments on Obama "walking back" his comments directly cited a poll of Americans indicating more than sixty percent recognize the right to build the center but, in another poll, more than sixty percent think it’s wrong to build the mosque. So, the tension does not seem to be coming from people who dispute whether Muslims have a right to religious freedom or not–unless you consider this gubernatorial candidate.

 

Unless you consider the people protesting the building of one on Staten Island. Unless you consider the people protesting the building of one in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Unless you consider the people protesting the construction of one in Sheboygan County in Wisconsin. Unless you consider the people protesting the building of one in Temecula, California. Unless you consider the people detailed in Stephen Salisbury’s article "Extremism at Ground Zero (Again)".

 

Contrary to politicians and pundits, this is about the right to religious freedom. From coast to coast Americans do not want Muslims to have private property rights because they have Islamophobia that there is no way of knowing how the mosque will be funded, who will be praying and worshipping at the mosque and what activities/agenda the mosque might support. The only way to alleviate that fear is through leadership and speeches to the American public similar to the one Obama delivered Friday night and the one Mayor Bloomberg delievered over a week ago.

 

This was a teaching moment, an opportunity to stay firm and not back down, a chance to comment on the specific project itself and in doing so defend other projects around the country that have been targeted by Islamophobia in recent years. It would not have been difficult to comment on the "wisdom" in a politically savvy way; all President Obama had to do is watch Jon Stewart take on Ground Zero mosque critics last week in a segment that properly ridiculed opposition to the building of the mosque.

 

But, it appears, as with countless issues, Obama has little moral fortitude to stand up for what’s right. He offers empty platitudes until reverberations or echoes drown out his platitudes and then he stops commenting. He then proceeds to engage in obvious wordsmithing to obfuscate his stance and refuses to give further comments on the problem or issue.

 

President Obama should have just remained silent on the mosque; if he wasn’t going to stand up for the mosque project itself, he should have known he would only be empowering FOX News blowhards and frenzied Americans who fear "in 20 years there will be enough Muslim voters in the U.S. to elect the president by themselves" so they can carry out their planned jihad on America.

 

But, given the mostly forgotten fact that he removed two Muslim women at a campaign rally who were going to be sitting behind the podium because his campaign didn’t want women with headscarves to appear with Obama in photographs or on television, we should all not be surprised at Obama’s spinelessness.