"Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country."The leaders of the Islamic center say they plan to build the $100 million, 13-story facility called Cordoba House three blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks. The developer, Sharif El-Gamal, describes the project as an "Islamic community center" that will include a 500-seat performing arts center, a lecture hall, a swimming pool, a gym, a culinary school, a restaurant and a prayer space for Muslims.
"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."
On Wednesday, the project's developers declined an offer by New York Gov. David Paterson to relocate the project to a state-owned site.
Earlier this month, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously denied landmark status for the building where the proposed Islamic center would stand, allowing the project to move forward.
In his speech Friday evening, the President noted that Thomas Jefferson hosted the the first Iftar dinner at the White House more than 200 years ago and said that the country had previously seen "controversies about the construction of synagogues or Catholic churches."
"But time and again," he said, "the American people have demonstrated that we can work through these issues."Unshakable? Really?
"This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable," Obama said. "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."
Somebody tell the President that we are living in very shaky times.
Let's start with the economy. There's been 'a whole lotta shakin' goin' on' on Wall Street, with the reverberations being felt on Main Streets everywhere.
How about the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? The cost of those wars in terms of human life - military and civilian - alone have shaken this country to its core.
We are still living with the shake up of Health Care Reform - not to mention the reform of Welfare and Immigration Policies.
The Religious Right has not only been an unshakable force for religious intolerance among Christians, they have also fueled the Tea Bag Movement, the Birthers, and Proposition 8 in California.
So, why take on this political hot potato? And, why now?
I suppose, like every other politician, he weighed the pros and cons. This year, Eid ul-Fitr - the great, joyous celebration at the end of Ramadan - will take place on or around September 11. It's one of the two biggest holidays of the Muslim year. The other commemorates Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son, which coincides with the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
According to Haroon Moghul, and author and the Executive Director of the Maydan Institute in NYC, "Traditionally, Muslims wake up early on Eid, dress in their finest, exchange gifts, and make a trip out to the mosque for a special holiday prayer and sermon. Then, there is usually some kind of brunch, and people spend the rest of the day visiting friends and family, and eating as often as they can. (It is, after all, marking the end of a month of fasting.) This year, Eid ul-Fitr may be on September 9th, 10th, or 11th - depending on the rise and appearance of the crescent moon in the heavens."
Many Muslims are already worried, given the rise of anti-Islamic rhetoric in this country, about any public celebration. That this particular major religious holiday falls so close to - or might actually occur on - September 11th - is a cause for major concern.
"The issue I can sense brewing on hate sites on the Internet is, `These Muslims are celebrating on September 11,'" said Ibrahim Hooper, national spokesman for CAIR. "It's getting really scary out there."Apparently, Mr. Obama took the path of "Oh-what-the-heck, I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't," and took his stand on the founding principle of religious freedom.
It's high, holy ground, to be sure, but the pragmatics are that it's probably better to get people focused on that issue NOW rather than wait for an explosion of another sort on September 11th.
Don't get me wrong - I think the President was absolutely right to take on this political hot potato. This country was founded on the principle of religious freedom. That means all religions.
But, what about the other 'inalienable rights' promised by the Constitution? You know, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"? What about 'liberty and justice for all"?
Yes, I'm asking about the final repeal of DADT ("Don't Ask, Don't Tell").
Yes, I'm asking about Marriage Equality.
Why is it that this Administration hedges on these two civil rights but has taken such a huge political risk on this "local issue" - which how his Press Secretary has been describing this for months - even as Mayor Bloomberg, himself and observant Jew, has waxed eloquent when he has spoken forcefully in support of the Cordoba Center?
Don't get me wrong - I admire the President greatly for his courage and his integrity. His support of this project is a huge political risk.
HUGE! Indeed, one wonders why he decided to step into the fray, which really means stepping into a huge pile of political "poo-poo caca". He could have remained silent and everyone would have understood.
It would seem, however, that the fantasy of the "ick factor" of the Queer Nation is stronger by far than any illusion of the "terrorist factor" of the Muslim Nation.
Gee, ain't we a powerful bunch! More powerful than a whole bunch of supposed terrorists, much less the 'steaming locomotive' of the lore of Superman.
It's all pretty silly, isn't it? I men, when you come right down to it. And, embarrassing to anyone with even an average IQ - much less an active faith in God.
Truth is, I think we're still working out what our Founders meant about "we the people" when they wrote ". . . in order to form a more perfect union."
America is not perfect. Far from it. It's the business of striving to be "more perfect" that makes this such an amazing place to live and move and have our being.
If I remember my 6th grade Civil lessons, that's one of the reasons we have a two-party political system and there are checks and balances in our government structure. Because no one "owns" The Truth.
There will always be discussion and debate. There will be open, public demonstrations for or against a proposed or existing philosophy, political or religion ideology and the structures built to house the people who believe and espouse these positions and views.
This is what makes us the nation of people known as The United States of America. Not that we are united in thought or ideology or expression of belief or faith.
Rather, we are united around the principles of the certain "inalienable rights" of "we the people" to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", including freedom of religious expression.
Even when "we" are "them". Because "they" are part of the whole of the "we".
That, as the President said, "must be unshakable" - even during these uncertain times that seem to shake us to the very foundations of our beliefs.
It is essential to who we are.
The writ of our Founders must endure - even when we don't much like it.
As-Salāmu `Alaykum - Peace be upon you!
UPDATE: Check out the "hallowed ground" of the site of the proposed Cordoba Center.