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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Obama Takes the Fight to Islamophobia: Open Thread

The rise of Islamophobia across Europe in recent years has filled me with a kind a foreboding I haven’t felt since the early 90s and the Nationalism in Former Yugoslavia. So I salute your President for taking on Palin, the TeaPartyers and Islamophobes over the Mosque Prayer Room in Downtown Manhattan as he celebrated the beginning of Ramadan at the White House last night.

The most important passage is transcribed below: 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.

I’m not alone in thinking this is one of the most important speeches of Obama’s Presidency. It could be a defining moment, like his Philadelphia Speech.

According to Glenn Greenwald

The White House originally indicated it would refrain from involving itself in the dispute, and there was little pressure or controversy over that decision. There was little anger over the President’s silence even among liberal critics. And given the standard attacks directed at Obama — everything from being “soft on Terror” to being a hidden Muslim — choosing this issue on which to take a very politically unpopular and controversial stand is commendable in the extreme.

The campaign against this mosque is one of the ugliest and most odious controversies in some time. It’s based purely on appeals to base fear and bigotry. There are no reasonable arguments against it, and the precedent that would be set if its construction were prevented — equating Islam with Terrorism, implying 9/11 guilt for Muslims generally, imposing serious restrictions on core religious liberty — are quite serious.

It was Michael Bloomberg who first stood up and eloquently condemned this anti-mosque campaign for what it is, but Obama’s choice to lend his voice to a vital and noble cause is a rare demonstration of principled, politically risky leadership. It’s not merely a symbolic gesture, but also an important substantive stand against something quite ugly and wrong. This is an act that deserves pure praise.

Many of you might wonder why this is such an important issue to me. But over the last few years I’ve developed a growing belief that Islamophobia – if left unchecked – could be as catastrophic for this century as Anti-semitism was in the last century.

The signs are everywhere to be seen. You have Palin’s 9/11 Mosque and the threat of Koran burning. We have the French assembly voting to ban Niqab, Switzerland banning minarets, the Dutch racist Islamophobe Geert Wilders getting 33 per cent of the vote, and the rise of the English Defence League here in the UK, deliberately targeting Muslim communities with violence…

Demagogues everywhere are whipping up a frenzy of hatred, rupturing centuries of religious tolerance, slyly supported by Neocons who’ve read ‘Clash of Civilisations’.

And it’s not just the innocent Muslim victims targeted by Islamophobes. They are also, because of it, more likely to be victimised, conscripted or otherwise tyrannised by their radical Salafist extremes.

I salute your President for taking this head on. Like the commentators say – it is one of the most important moments of his Presidency.


  1. …someone as smart as Sam Harris actually disagree with Obama, and contend:

    There is no such thing as Islamophobia.

    You could have fooled me, Sam.

    On the other hand, together with Christopher Hitchens, Martin Amis and others, there is a cadre of anti-clerical writers who seem to single out Islam for some special opprobrium, as if Jews and Christians did not have their own violent and odious precepts in Leviticus.

    Worth look at the comments on Sam Harris’ piece to get a real taste of Islamophia however  

  2. Steve M

    but I was pretty disappointed to see how readily he accepted the talking point that Obama “walked back his support” by saying that he wasn’t taking a position on the wisdom of the project.

    But by insisting now that he was merely commenting on the technical “rights” of the project developers — as a way of responding to Republican criticism that he was advocating for the project itself — he has diminished his remarks from a courageous and inspiring act into a non sequitur, somewhat of an irrelevancy.  After all, the “right” of the mosque isn’t really in question and didn’t need a defense.

    Oh, of course their “right” isn’t in question.  Per Nate Silver, only 34% of Americans say the scary Mooslims don’t have a right to build the mosque.  By my math, that’s like 100 million people – so I’d say the “right” very much needs a defense.

    But there’s a subtler point here.  If two-thirds of the country agrees that they have a right to build the mosque, why is there even a controversy?  The answer is that for an awful lot of people, probably a majority, the “right” is not the most important thing even if they acknowledge it exists.  Some of us shrug our shoulders and say “the First Amendment says you can’t stop someone from building a house of worship, end of story” but that’s not the thought process of most people.  If everybody reasoned like that then indeed there wouldn’t be a controversy.

    What was important about the President’s speech, and the eloquent speech by Mayor Bloomberg as well, was the reminder that the “right” really is the most important thing.  Freedom of religion is as core a value as we have in this country, and that’s why the First Amendment is the beginning and end of the entire mosque non-issue.  And I don’t think the President walked back that sentiment one point – in fact, by refusing to get trapped into talking about the “wisdom” of the project, I think he reinforced it.  This is a question of constitutional rights, full stop.

  3. creamer

    Our children,s children will someday look back at this mans words with pride. Scholars will use his words to discribe our better selves.

    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.

     This took a little courage, he could have left this alone with little or no political fallout. I like this guy.


    They screech about Muslims taking over the country so we won’t notice it’s the Evangelicals that are breeding like bunnies.

  5. Strummerson

    First off, the question of Cordoba House can and should be decided on the grounds of the first principles of the republic.  This is the argument put forward by Obama, Bloomberg, and others and the vast majority of us agree on this.  To those pleading that “sensitivities” should mitigate that right, all we need to do is ask: ‘Okay, if 2 blocks away from the WTC basin is too close for an Islamic community center that features a Mosque to serve the many many Muslims who work every day in lower Manhattan, and one dedicated to promoting relations between Islam and the West (something that I think represents an argument IN FAVOR of this location), how do you want to legislate the appropriate distance?  Is it 4 blocks?  8 blocks?  2 miles?  And once we settle on the appropriate distance, can a Palestinian American community block the construction of a synagogue within the same radius as many of its members will support the occupation and the Gaza blockade?

    Second, this is an issue primarily because Gingrich and Palin, both of whom hold NY and everything it stands for and characterizes it (except for Wall Street) in utter contempt decided to make it an issue.  The right hates NY.  It is cosmopolitan, sophisticated, racially and religiously diverse…about as far from the megachurch-walmart utopia they keep suggesting represents the real America.  It’s just one more cynical wedge issue.

    Third, we are doing a very very very poor job using this opportunity to use this against their recent attempts to set themselves up as defenders of liberty and the constitution.  This is the easiest way to shine a projector on their hypocrisy.  There should be a speaking tour of Muslim-American veterans.  Keith Ellison (D-MN) should be on the tele-pundit circuit.  They should be reading aloud from the constitution constantly.

    But despite the fact that we don’t require arguments in addition to constitutional principles, we should consider the possibilities of American Islam.  Jews generally support “democracy” because democracies have afforded us great opportunities.  Democratic ideals have been integrated as core values into mainstream Judaism over the last 150-200 years (a drop in the bucket of Jewish history, of course).  The American Jewish community has become a leading constituency because it has prospered and organized and imbibed democratic commitments.  American Catholics and Episcopalians are, by and large, more liberal and tolerant than many of their compatriots in South America, Africa, and Asia.  When those on the right argue that Islam and Democracy are incompatible, we can easily muster arguments that Franco’s followers made about Catholicism and Democracy, or for that matter, opponents of the French Freaking Revolution!  Instead of fearing and stigmatizing Islam, we should be welcoming Muslims because an American Islam would very likely develop institutional branches and ideological-theological-cultural streams that would be good for Islam and, given demographics, for the world.

  6. fogiv

    …accept invitations to ignorance and intolerance with alacrity:

    A National Tea Party leader protesting a proposed mosque near Ground Zero set off a firestorm of anger Wednesday by saying that Muslims worship “the terrorists’ monkey god.”

    Mark Williams, chairman of the Tea Party Express, blogged about the 13-story mosque and Islamic cultural center planned at Park Place and Broadway, calling it a monument to the 9/11 terrorists.

    “The monument would consist of a Mosque for the worship of the terrorists’ monkey-god,” Williams, a frequent guest on CNN, wrote on his Web site.

    What a fucking d-bag.  Pardon my french.

  7. that so many refuse to see the danger that intervening in religious expression.  It sets a horrible precedent, and is a danger to our system of governance, and our future as a nation.

    Religious freedom is like the freedom of speech. It is the right to dissent and the right to piss people off. It is not the right to be free from, but the freedom to.  To say things that others WILL disagree with. Even vehemently. To practice a faith that flies in the face of what you yourself believe. It is the freedom to be different, and yet still united as a nation. It is an essential liberty, and liberties are not about comfort.  If you are surrounded by those who agree with you, you don’t grow.

    Those who fear challenge and growth subscribe to a ideology that rejects the essential liberty and premise of this nation. That we can be united, and disagree.  

  8. DTOzone

    chucktodd: About to go on @nbcnightlynews to talk the politics of mosque story and how WH has lost control of it.

  9. DTOzone

    What an asshole;

    jeromearmstrong: Obama the unelectable: 41% approval 52% disapproval. Isn’t the mosque defense, but his priorities of conviction

    Not really sure what priorities of conviction mean, but it sounds smart I guess.

    Oh look Howard Dean comes out against the mosque at Ground Zero and leave the President twisting in the wind when he tries to stand up for rights!


    jeromearmstrong: Howard Dean right on about Islam’s being “in the 12th century” in Iran and some other Muslim countries.

    Feckless hypocritical fucking coward that Jerome. No wonder the “blogfather” is an afterthought now.  

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