Saturday, September 11, 2010
Image via WikipediaObama Tries to Calm Tensions In Call for Religious Tolerance - NYTimes.com
WASHINGTON — President Obama gave an impassioned call on Friday for tolerance and better relations between Muslims and non-Muslims at home and abroad, defending the “inalienable rights” of those who worship Islam to practice their religion freely.
Mr. Obama made his statements as protests and violence continued in Afghanistan, set off by a Florida pastor’s plans, now suspended, to burn Korans on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and against the backdrop of the controversy in New York over a proposed Islamic center near ground zero.
With relations between the United States and the Muslim world perhaps at their most frayed since the invasion of Iraq seven and a half years ago, the president sought to appeal to America’s core principles.
Mr. Obama said it was imperative for people in this country to distinguish between their real enemies and those who have the potential to become enemies because of continued vilification of Islam in the United States. At a time when polls suggest that a substantial number of Americans erroneously believe that Mr. Obama is Muslim, the president cited his own Christian faith at one point.
“We have to make sure that we don’t start turning on each other,” he said. “And I will do everything that I can, as long as I am president of the United States, to remind the American people that we are one nation, under God. And we may call that God different names, but we remain one nation. And, you know, as somebody who, you know, relies heavily on my Christian faith in my job, I understand, you know, the passions that religious faith can raise.”
Asked about the wisdom of building an Islamic center a few blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Obama reiterated his position that Muslims have the right to build a mosque on the site, without directly saying whether he thought doing so was a good idea.
“This country stands for the proposition that all men and women are created equal, that they have certain inalienable rights,” Mr. Obama said. “And what that means is that if you could build a church on a site, you could build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on the site.”
Urged on by their religious leaders, Afghans in many locations around the country poured out of their mosques and took to the streets Friday morning, and in most cases the demonstrations remained peaceful. But two of them turned violent, in both cases outside NATO reconstruction bases, and a total of at least 12 people were wounded, three of them critically, in addition to the one who was killed.
While Mr. Obama cast the issue in terms of American national security and the impact of assaults on Islam in this country on American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, he also said that security was not the only prism through which the issue should be viewed. “We’ve got millions of Muslim Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country,” Mr. Obama said. “They’re going to school with our kids. They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends. They’re our co-workers. And when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?”
This ninth anniversary of Sept. 11 has turned almost into a referendum on America’s ability to coexist with the multitude religions. Mr. Obama will be observing the anniversary at the Pentagon, while the first lady, Michelle Obama, will join the former first lady Laura Bush in Shanksville, Pa., the site where the fourth hijacked plane went down. Mr. Obama said that it was important to remember that Muslims are fighting with the United States in the two wars begun since the attacks.
“They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us,” Mr. Obama said. “And we’ve got to make sure that we are crystal clear for our sakes and their sakes: they are Americans and we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don’t differentiate between them and us.
“It’s just us.”