He made a stirring statement about religious freedom last Friday at a Ramadan dinner. The next day he equivocated: “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the 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.”
Score a miss for Presidential leadership. His conflicting statements poured fuel on the burning controversy.
· Americans generally believe Muslims have a right to worship, just not there.
· One and one-half billion Muslims thought America was a land of religious freedom, not at war with Islam, but aren’t certain.
· Manhattanites mostly think people ought to be able to do whatever they want.
· Families of 9/11 victims are divided
You can’t please everybody, Mr. President. Time to do the right thing. But what is the right thing? Should a Muslim community center-cum-prayer area be built on the site of a decrepit ex-Burlington Coat Factory, hard by an Off-Track Betting parlor, a bar, a porn shop, and some run-down office buildings 2-1/2 blocks from Ground Zero?
The opponents say it’s a matter of respecting sensitivities of people who lost loved ones on 9/11. Set aside the 9/11 families who favor the project, and the 9/11 Muslim families, what are the others sensitive about? It’s hard to conjure up anything but that they associate Muslims with the 9/11 murderers, who killed in the name of Islam but have been repudiated by the vast majority of Muslims all over the world.
But that kind of association is wrong. It violates the most basic American value: we judge people as individuals, not as members of a group. We don’t generalize African-Americans as crack-smoking criminals. We don’t generalize Catholic priests as child-molesters. We don’t generalize Latinos as illegal immigrants. And we don’t generalize Muslims as extremists. If we see “mosque” and we think “9/11” that’s wrong—wrong even if we lost loved ones on 9/11—and we need to get over it.
And who better to lead us over it than our President? Where are you now that we need you, Mr. President? Not counting votes, we hope.