By Lynn Paris
This will no doubt be the first and last time I ever quote House Republican leader John Boehner on anything, much less at least partially agree with him, so take heed. Regarding the Islamic center and mosque being built near (not at) Ground Zero, Boehner said, “The fact that someone has the right to do something doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing to do.” He’s obviously correct. What is unfortunate in this particular case is that President Obama didn’t say that, not even when he recalibrated.
Do I admire and respect Barack Obama? You betcha! But there are times when his extraordinarily intelligent and analytical mind gets in his way. As someone on the White House press corps allegedly opined; Obama can be too much the professor just when we need him to be the politician. So here’s what I think.
Obama intentionally made his remarks in support of the Constitutional right to freedom of religion. And then he equivocated. It would have been far better to stand up one hundred percent for the inalienable right to freedom of religion . . . and be hung for that stance by all those who are out to destroy his presidency anyway. There are comments in all the posts on this issue that reflect some Americans’ admiration for that approach. One such example: “There comes a time when history tells you, you cannot just listen to the people: sometimes you must act on principle. I am proud of the man.”
If Obama had used his pulpit to elaborate on that stance the following day, he would have gotten slammed, of course, (and as always, regardless of what he says or does) but he would have had a defining moment as well. He could have spoken not only to the rights guaranteed in our founding documents by our founding fathers—the ones conservatives are constantly telling us they (and ONLY they) care so deeply about—and maybe even reminded us all that this is what makes us different from, and better than, most other countries. And, he might have taken just a tiny bit of the wind out of the sails of the extremists, who just love it when this country plays into their narrative that America is at war with Islam and that Americans hate Muslims. All 1.4 billion of them. Even the ones who fought with us in Iraq. Even our Muslim schoolmates, colleagues and neighbors.
Conversely, he could have taken the Boehner approach immediately, by stating that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are indeed a peaceful, compassionate and tolerant people, but that their sensitivity to the horrific tragedy of September 11th could hopefully bring them to see that this particular spot might NOT be the perfect place to demonstrate these traits to the world. In other words, of COURSE you have the right, but is it sensitive— or even smart—to build so close to the scene of such horror? It might not have made the slightest bit of difference, but at least it would have been a stance.
The problem was, Obama tried to take a principled stand for religious freedom for all, felt the backlash, and equivocated by saying he wouldn’t comment on the wisdom of deciding to build the mosque. It left those who craved inspiration uninspired, and those who craved direction confused. And it gave Obama-bashers another field day.
Then there are the crazies who have missed the point entirely. One of my favorite posts concerning this issue is the following: “Muslim’s (sic) don’t allow any Church’s (sic) in Muslim countries. Please resign Obama, you are not worth (sic) to be President.” For those who believe there’s no one out there who would deny Muslims the right to build a mosque, trust me, there are teapots full of them. This quote illustrates just how little knowledge of what this country stands for (and what makes us better than Saudi Arabia, for example) so many of the “haters” actually possess. It is frightening to me, and should be to all of us, that these are the very same people who gather at rallies shouting, “Give us back our country!” God knows what they would do with it or what kind of country they want back, but it’s not one I would want to live in.
When all is said and done, I don’t believe the decision to build an Islamic community center/mosque two blocks north of Ground Zero to be a particularly smart move. But it IS on private property (something sacred to all conservatives) and we DO have the constitutional right to freedom of religion for all in this country. Thank God. So, my opinion is really just that, an opinion. What I wish is that my president had either stayed out of it completely, on the grounds that it was a local issue on private property, or taken the moral high ground and stuck with it. This halfway stuff is killing me.