<>  <> The New York Times


August 17, 2010

Our Mosque Madness



Maybe, for Barack Obama, it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is.

When the president skittered back from his grandiose declaration at an iftar
celebration at the White House Friday that Muslims enjoy freedom of religion
in America and have the right to build a mosque and community center in
Lower Manhattan, he offered a Clintonesque parsing. 

"I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the
decision to put a mosque there," he said the morning after he commented on
the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. "I was commenting
very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.
That's what our country is about." 

Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Perfectly Unclear President: You cannot take
such a stand on a matter of first principle and then take it back the next
morning when, lo and behold, Harry Reid goes craven and the Republicans
attack. What is so frightening about Fox News? 

Some critics have said the ultimate victory for Osama and the 9/11 hijackers
would be to allow a mosque to be built near ground zero. 

Actually, the ultimate victory for Osama and the 9/11 hijackers is the moral
timidity that would ban a mosque from that neighborhood. 

Our enemies struck at our heart, but did they also warp our identity? 

The war against the terrorists is not a war against Islam. In fact, you
can't have an effective war against the terrorists if it is a war on Islam. 

George W. Bush understood this. And it is odd to see Barack Obama less clear
about this matter than his predecessor. It's time for W. to weigh in. 

This - along with immigration reform and AIDS in Africa - was one of his
points of light. As the man who twice went to war in the Muslim world, he
has something of an obligation to add his anti-Islamophobia to this mosque
madness. W. needs to get his bullhorn back out. 

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are both hyper-articulate former law
professors. But Clinton never presented himself as a moral guide to the
country. So when he weaseled around, or triangulated on some issues, it was
part of his ultra-fallible persona - and consistent with his identity as a
New Democrat looking for a Third Way. 

But Obama presents himself as a paragon of high principle. So when he flops
around on things like "don't ask, don't tell" or shrinks back from one of
his deepest beliefs about the freedom of religion anywhere and everywhere in
America, it's not pretty. Even worse, this is the man who staked his
historical reputation on a new and friendlier engagement with the Muslim
world. The man who extended his hand to Tehran has withdrawn his hand from
Park Place. 

Paranoid about looking weak, Obama allowed himself to be weakened by
perfectly predictable Republican hysteria. Which brings us to Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich fancies himself an intellectual, a historian, a deep thinker - the
opposite number, you might say, of Sarah Palin. 

Yet here is Gingrich attempting to out-Palin Palin on Fox News: "Nazis don't
have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington."
There is no more demagogic analogy than that. 

Have any of the screaming critics noticed that there already are two mosques
in the same neighborhood - one four blocks away and one 12 blocks away. 

Should they be dismantled? And what about the louche liquor stores and strip
clubs in the periphery of the sacred ground? 

By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of
the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly
been yearning for. 

So look where we are. The progressive Democrat in the White House, the first
president of the United States with Muslim roots, has been morally trumped
by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, two
moderate Republicans who have spoken bravely and lucidly about not
demonizing and defaming an entire religion in the name of fighting its

Criticizing his fellow Republicans, Governor Christie said that while he
understood the pain and sorrow of family members who lost loved ones on
9/11, "we cannot paint all of Islam with that brush." 

He charged the president with trying to turn the issue into a political
football. But that is not quite right. It already was a political football
and the president fumbled it. 


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