Sunday, August 15, 2010 • 12:00 AM Comments (1)

Barack talking NYC Mosque, acting wise and presidential, aka committing potential political hari kari

posted by Jamie

Here's a clip of the president answering questions about ithe comments he made about the NYC Islamic center mess at the annual White House Iftar dinner last Friday. He's clear and articulate and sensible and stands on unquestionably firm moral, classlically American principles and precedents. He is firm and eloquent and presidential about it.


I think it's remarkably stupid politically for him to touch the subject with a ten-foot Koran, as it were. I have to believe that at least some of his advisors supported him in his decision to comment on the issue in a speech on Friday (and ESPECIALLY in one on a Friday, in the hopes of it disappearing over the weekend, of course (here's the text in its entirety, and here's video of it). In the speech, given at the , he addressed the issue at length, focusing on freedom of religion as a defining American tenet and value. All good stuff, but, again, in the name of playing the game, playing it dirty and winning at all costs, in the paranoid and anti-Muslim America of 2010, potentially a huge misstep. Here's the part where I feel he lays it out all to plainly:

As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. (Applause.) 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.

I mean, if that don't come across as Muslim-lovin' and communistical, well then I just don't know what do. Anja, responding to my bafflement at why he made the speech, replied, half in jest, to the effect that maybe Obama knows he can't win in 2012 so he's decided to just do the right thing. Seems she's catching the cynical bug - she should never have married that old guy.

Please don't misunderstand; I find it incredibly heartening see Barack take a simple, principled stand on this needlessly controversial "issue," but I still think there's gonna be heck to pay. But maybe I'm wrong. I really haven't heard too much about, it, but then again it is the weekend when the radio ranters are silent. We'll just see what Alan Colmes' listeners have to say on Monday night - it ain't gonna be pretty.

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Today's Financial Times Editorial disagrees with me. (I hope S. Schama is right.): Obama’s brave remarks reveal a true patriot

By Simon Schama

Published: August 15 2010 19:29 | Last updated: August 15 2010 19:29

Has Barack Obama just committed political suicide? By appearing to endorse the building of a mosque and Islamic cultural centre at the threshold of Ground Zero, has he set himself at odds with the majority of Americans who regard the idea as a desecration of “hallowed ground”?

Beleaguered Democrats fighting a rearguard action in upcoming mid-term elections are shaking their heads at this new handicap with which the president has burdened them. Republican notables such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, jostling for position in the wannabe president stakes, can scarcely contain their glee.

But the critics are deluded. If the quarrel over the mosque at Ground Zero turns into a debate on the sovereign principles of the American way of life, it is the president and Mayor Bloomberg who will emerge with honour, as the true custodians of what the founders had in mind.

Freedom of conscience and religious practice, Mr Obama said at the Iftar dinner, and again in brief clarifying remarks, define “who we are”. And in reaffirming this bedrock principle, it is Mr Obama, not his enemies, who identifies himself as an authentic American patriot.

This matters. In our present obsession with the fate of money (entirely understandable if you have a whole lot less of it than you once did), we forget that the reason why young men and women are putting themselves in the line of fire is precisely our resistance to fanaticism of the kind that imagined massacre, inflicted on a tolerant and secular society, to be a sacred duty.

Against this, as the president pointed out, we may summon military force, but in the end it is the ideal of toleration that will always be our strongest weapon. Of the constitutive importance of religious freedom to the creation of America there can be no doubt. Mr Obama, as usual, has his history right, and wants it acknowledged even at the expense of political prudence.

It was not the Jamestown settlers, in pursuit of overnight fortunes in Virginia, who created the American way. Their version of America perished along with their cupidity. It was refugees from an English church establishment who planted the flag of toleration on US soil. And for some it was never deep enough.

The father of American toleration was Roger Williams, the founder of Providence Plantation, later Rhode Island. For Williams, the Calvinists of Massachusetts with their church courts, violated true christianity, which – in its purity – eschewed any civil regulation. It was Williams (not Jefferson) who first articulated the “hedge” between church and state.

It is no accident, then, that Jews first found refuge in Newport, Rhode Island. Nor was it chance that almost exactly 220 years ago George Washington, campaigning for the adoption of the first amendment to the constitution, repeated the words of Moses Seixas, the warden of the Touro synagogue, that the US was a place that gave “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance”.

Six years later, at the end of Washington’s second term, the Treaty of Tripoli, made with the Barbary states of north Africa – a document ratified by the Senate in June 1797 and signed by President Adams – also explicitly states in article 11 that “as the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion… it has no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquillity of Mussulmen [sic].”

But Thomas Jefferson is the founder who sticks in the craw of the sanctimonious American right. Jefferson believed in a creator, but not in the divinity of Jesus, much less the virgin birth, which he thought only as a “fable”. But most of all he believed that the Republic stood or fell by its absolute commitment to freedom of conscience.

“It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg,” he wrote in his Notes on Virginia. Jefferson owned a Koran, and was fascinated by Islamic learning that he recognised to have been the medieval guardian of the classical wisdom he revered. His 1777 draft of the Virginia Statute on Religious Toleration is plangent in its fierce refusal to allow government any role in interference with freedom to think or worship how and where one wishes.

“Truth is great and will prevail if left to herself,” he wrote. “She is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate.”

We ought to commit these lines to memory, for they are why we fight; what distinguishes us from the atrocious fanatics who thought on 9/11 – and in al-Qaeda still seek – to coerce us into submission. Of course, the sensitivities of the bereft must be honoured. But the notion that a mosque at ground zero hands a victory to the murderers has it exactly the wrong way round. On the contrary, with every stone that rises, with every call to prayer, the true American victory, the victory of liberty of conscience, will be proclaimed.

Posted by jamie on 8.16.10 at 12:28



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