A President For All Americans – Build The Community Center!
President Obama proves once again, why he is the right person for the job. In remarks at the Ramadan Iftar dinner at the White House, he spoke in support of the controversial community center being planned 2 blocks away from “ground zero”. For anyone capable of being tolerant to others, this is really a silly issue. Jon Stewart does the best job of summing this up, go look at it. I am unable to embed Comedy Central clips on this blog, I’m too poor right now to pay the upgrade fee. But if you haven’t seen Jon’s piece, you really have to. Then come back here and read the rest of this post. There is a commercial that plays before the clip.
“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.”
What bothers me about this crusade by Islamophobes and Xenophobes is that somehow because of the “symbolism” of it being so close to “ground zero”, the media is helping to push this bigotry and justifying it with the fact that it is close to the World Trade Center site. There are so many things wrong with this idea, the first is that the whole touchy-feely symbolism thing about everything, is getting out of hand. I’m not sure when Americans became soooo sensitive and such big wusses. Everything “sends a message” these days or has some sort of deeper meaning, apparently whatever any given person reads into a situation. It’s like we are all quivering little children who are afraid of anything that moves.
I remember thinking after 9/11 that a lot of Americans really have an attitude that an American life is much more important than any other life. How many hundreds of thousands of people have been killed around the world, genocide in Darfur, starving in many places of the world, but when 3000 people get killed in New York City, they are somehow way more important than the lives of…well, how about an estimated several hundred thousand in Iraq that Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Feith/Wolfowitz and the rest of the neo-cons murdered in a war of choice. Now I’m sure some will take offense to that for the exact reason I said it and say something like “these were Americans killed on 9/11”. Yes, they were Americans and 310 of them were foreign nationals. One source I found said 62 Muslims died in the attack. But when you read or listen to those most outraged by the community center, they talk as if all 3000 where white, god-fearing Christians. I’m sure if we tried to point out to them the diversity of the people who were in those buildings, their eyes would glaze over and there internal “nah nah nah nah” would kick in.
Besides the symbolism thing, there is also the whole blaming an entire religion for the actions of a group of terrorists. Timothy McVeigh was raised Catholic and killed 168 people in Oklahoma, are we preventing Catholic churches from being built because of Tim McVeigh? Or how about the Israeli serial killer that was just caught who killed 5 people, should we stop that synagogue from being built down the street? When people buy into that bullshit mentality, they are admitting that they are bigoted, there is no other reason for it. Of course these days being a racist has become chic (in some circles, not mine). The racists have come out of the closet and are being paraded on my television daily. Maybe it’s a good thing to get them out in the open, is it worse to have them simmering below the surface or out there in the light of day?
I recently traveled to New York and New Jersey, was all over NYC one day and do you want to know what was cool. There were people of all races, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations, whatever and they spoke many different languages….and the really cool thing about it, they were all getting along. When you get out into real America, one that isn’t filtered by a news anchor or political pundit, you see what the true American spirit is about. I didn’t see one teabagger protest during my whole trip. I didn’t see anyone screaming racial slurs at people. I didn’t see anyone yelling about illegal immigrants while packing a gun. I didn’t see Pat Buchanan dividing people up into stereotypes or Joe Scarborough talking about the latest poll on a street corner. I saw people living their lives and letting others live theirs. It was beautiful, really. I guess that is why I am making an effort to turn off my cable news, go out in the real world and interact with people. When we live in a cable news bubble, we run the risk of thinking like the people who want to ostracize anyone who is different from them.
I’m pasting the text of President Obama’s speech at the dinner last night after the fold. Read it, it shows that President Obama is a real American who contrary to the bigots on the right, knows the beliefs our country was founded on. Thanks to the LA Times for the text.
Text of President Obama’s remarks at the White House Iftar dinner on Ramadan
Good evening. Welcome to the White House. To you, to Muslim Americans across our country, and to more than one billion Muslims around the world, I extend my best wishes on this holy month. Ramadan Kareem. I want to welcome members of the diplomatic corps; members of my administration; and Members of Congress, including Rush Holt, John Conyers, and Andre Carson, who is one of two Muslim American Members of Congress, along with Keith Ellison.
Here at the White House, we have a tradition of hosting iftars that goes back several years, just as we host Christmas parties, seders, and Diwali celebrations. These events celebrate the role of faith in the lives of the American people. They remind us of the basic truth that we are all children of God, and we all draw strength and a sense of purpose from our beliefs.
These events are also an affirmation of who we are as Americans. Our Founders understood that the best way to honor the place of faith in the lives of our people was to protect their freedom to practice religion. In the….
…Virginia Act for Establishing Religion Freedom, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.” The First Amendment of our Constitution established the freedom of religion as the law of the land. And that right has been upheld ever since.
Indeed, over the course of our history, religion has flourished within our borders precisely because Americans have had the right to worship as they choose – including the right to believe in no religion at all. And it is a testament to the wisdom of our Founders that America remains deeply religious – a nation where the ability of peoples of different faiths to coexist peacefully and with mutual respect for one another stands in contrast to the religious conflict that persists around the globe.
That is not to say that religion is without controversy. 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.
We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who have led our response to that attack – from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us always remember who we are fighting against, and what we are fighting for. Our enemies respect no freedom of religion. Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam – it is a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders – these are terrorists who murder innocent men, women and children. In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion – and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.
That is who we are fighting against. And the reason that we will win this fight is not simply the strength of our arms – it is the strength of our values. The democracy that we uphold. The freedoms that we cherish. The laws that we apply without regard to race or religion; wealth or status. Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect to those who are different from us – a way of life that stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.
In my inaugural address, I said that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. That diversity can bring difficult debates. Indeed, past eras have seen controversies about the construction of synagogues or Catholic churches. But time and again, the American people have demonstrated that we can work through these issues, stay true to our core values, and emerge stronger for it. So it must be – and will be – today.
Tonight, we are reminded that Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity. And Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been part of America. The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan—making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago.
Like so many other immigrants, generations of Muslims came here to forge their future. They became farmers and merchants, worked in mills and factories, and helped lay the railroads. They helped build America. They founded the first Islamic center in New York City in the 1890s. They built America’s first mosque on the prairie of North Dakota. And perhaps the oldest surviving mosque in America—still in use today—is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Today, our nation is strengthened by millions of Muslim Americans. They excel in every walk of life. Muslim American communities—including mosques in all fifty states—also serve their neighbors. Muslim Americans protect our communities as police, firefighters and first responders. Muslim American clerics have spoken out against terror and extremism, reaffirming that Islam teaches that one must save human life, not take it. And Muslim Americans serve with honor in our military. At next week’s iftar at the Pentagon, tribute will be paid to three soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq and now rest among the heroes of Arlington National Cemetery.
These Muslim Americans died for the security that we depend upon, and the freedoms that we cherish. They are part of an unbroken line of Americans that stretches back to our Founding; Americans of all faiths who have served and sacrificed to extend the promise of America to new generations, and to ensure that what is exceptional about America is protected – our commitment to stay true to our core values, and our ability to perfect our union.
For in the end, we remain “one nation, under God, indivisible.” And we can only achieve “liberty and justice for all” if we live by that one rule at the heart of every religion, including Islam—that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Thank you all for being here, and I wish you a blessed Ramadan. And with that, let’s eat.