US President Barack Obama has staunchly defended controversial plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero in New York. Mr Obama acknowledged “sensitivities” surround the 9/11 site, but said Muslims have the same right to practice their religion “as anyone else”. “Our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable,” Mr Obama said.
In a speech at a White House dinner celebrating Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, Mr Obama waded into the row, saying:
“We must all recognise and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan, 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 centre 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.”
He told the group of US Congressmen, government officials and foreign dignitaries that America’s tradition of religious tolerance distinguishes it from “our enemies”. “Al-Qaeda’s cause is not Islam,” he said, “it is a gross distortion of Islam”.
Until now Mr Obama had not commented on the mosque row, with the White House saying that the matter was a local issue. In voicing his support for the right to build the centre, Mr Obama joins New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had been the only prominent politician to endorse it.
Pamela Geller comments: “Obama came out for the Islamic supremacist mosque at the hallowed ground of 911 attack. He has, in effect, sided with the Islamic jihadists and told the ummah (at an Iftar dinner on the third night of Ramadan, of course) that he believes in and supports a triumphal mosque on the cherished site of Islamic conquest. If you had any doubt who Obama stood with on 911, there can be no doubt in our minds now.”
Over at Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer offers a similarly balanced view: “If the KKK announced plans to build a shrine at the site of the 16th Street Baptist Church, would Obama be talking about religious freedom?”