New York Mosque and Obama: A right to have a right?

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President Barack Obama would have been better off without this new controversy. A speech he gave last Friday supporting the construction of a mosque in close proximity to Ground Zero, the scene of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks, has been met with unrelenting criticisms despite a statement that has sought to nuance his words. Sarah Palin has also suggested that the President’s call for a right to a constitutional right should be questioned.

“As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone 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 unshakable.”

The statement made in front of an audience at the White House to observe the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in honor of the Muslim community has triggered an outcry. By showing support for a proposed project, which entails the construction of a 15-storey Islamic center, two blocks away from Ground Zero, the scene of the World Trade Center September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, President Barack Obama has found himself in a tight spot.

Whilst on his way to Florida on Saturday, he said that his speech was not intended to determine whether it was wise or not to build a mosque near Ground Zero, but that it was a constitutional right. “My intention was to simply let people know what I thought, which was that in this country we treat everybody equal in accordance with the law regardless of race, regardless of religion. I was not commenting and will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision… I was commenting on the right that people have that dates back to our founding…” Said President Obama.

A question of rights?

But whilst former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin says “We all know that they have the right to do it, but should they?”, thus questioning the constitutional right to have a right, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, who has voiced his support for the project, agrees with the President. The Mayor reminded Americans of a letter written by former President George Washington in support of a Jewish community on Rhode Island, in the same state. A time when Jews were not wholly welcomed by the Christian majority.

This controversy comes after the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs had said on August 3rd that he believed “this is rightly a matter for New York City and the local community to decide”. Indeed President Obama would have been better off remaining silent over the thorny rights issue, but according to his Senior Advisor, David Axelrod, “He felt that he had a responsibility to speak”. “He understands the politics of it” insisted his advisor, suggesting that the president was well aware of the political storm his call for a respect of constitutional rights would create.

Peter King, New York ‘s Republican Representative argues that “President Obama is wrong (…) It is insensitive and uncaring for the Muslim community to build a mosque in the shadow of ground zero. Unfortunately, the President caved into political correctness”.

“Pandering to radical Islam” rejected

Needless to say, Obama’s support for the construction of Cordoba House, the name for the proposed Islamic cultural center, has proved a field day for the Republican party. Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives considers that the president is “pandering to radical Islam.” Mr. Gingrich believes that building a mosque on the site of the 9/11 attacks is a symbol of victory for Muslims. “It would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.”

But in a turn of events, Newt Gingrich’s comments have been described as being “way over the top” and condemned by David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. According to him, Gingrich “diminishes the horror of the Holocaust.” In fact, Gingrich, only repeats what he has already written in a recently published book in which he writes “The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did”.

Former Republican House Representative, Joe Scarborough says “comparing Barack Obama’s policies to Stalin who killed 50 million of his own people and Hitler who killed 6 million Jews and is responsible for a war that killed tens of millions of people – saying Barack Obama poses as much of a risk as Stalin and Hitler? That’s sick (…) I hope you (Newt Gingrich) apologize for that shameful remark.”


Nonetheless, despite President Obama’s argument that “Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam” and that “it’s a gross distortion of Islam”, other members of the Republican party have jumped on the band wagon to bash the statement made by the White House boss, whilst reviving rumors about him being a closet Muslim.

John Boehner, Minority Leader of the House has also rushed to join the critics insisting that the Americans will not follow the President in that direction. John Cornyn warns that the American people “will render a verdict” as to whether the president was right on insisting on the right to have a right in America in the November 2 Senatorial elections.

Only a month away from the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, a CNN Opinion poll has indicated that 68% of Americans are opposed to the proposed Islamic cultural center.

A highly symbolic place, Ground Zero has become a sanctuary, a place where 3000 lives perished under al-Qaeda terrorist attacks.

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