U.S President Barack Obama has entered the debate surrounding the establishment of an Islamic Centre and mosque near Ground Zero in New York. This was enough to transform the uproar surrounding this issue into a controversial debate on a national level. It is true that Obama’s position appeared ambiguous, since he initially said that he supported the Muslims’ right to build the Islamic center, but later added that he would not comment on the “wisdom” over the voice of the mosque’s location. However, his statements appear to be generally supportive of this project.
The fact that Obama issued these statements weeks before the mid-term elections was enough to ignite this issue and cause heated political and media confrontation which resulted in renewed attacks on the president and his identity. The Republicans, associated groups and their media devoted newspaper columns,opinion polls, and launched campaigns that aimed to undermine the credibility of Obama and the Democrats in the build up to the mid-term elections. As a result of this, commentators have returned to the issue of Obama’s roots, and the rumors that he is a Muslim.
However was Obama’s position truly ambiguous, or was he trying to lessen the blow of his initial statement [over the constitutional right of the Muslims to build a mosque] with his second statement [over the wisdom of this mosque’s location] and the uproar that this would cause?
Did Obama withdraw his support for building this mosque [while asserting his support for the constitutional right of it to be built] due to his fear over the manner that the media would cover this?
In his defense of the mosque construction, Obama said 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.”
Perhaps Obama has transformed this debate with his grace and wisdom, for this was the first time that he emphasized the constitutional right – which is one of the central pillars of the American system – to establish a social or religious centre. Regarding his second statement, he questioned the ‘wisdom’ of the matter without appearing to fight against or suppress this to the extent desired by the US right-wing and Republicans.
In other words, Obama aimed to put an end to the debate by emphasizing the constitutional right for the mosque to be built, however this is a debate that has remained ongoing in public opinion. The public opinion pressure was sufficient to prompt the Imam of the proposed mosque to include a memorial for the victims of the attacks, and to change the name of the project.
Obama has transformed the mosque debate from a controversial issue between Muslims and non-Muslims in America, to a debate focusing on the very heart of freedoms. The issue he raised relates to the sanctity of public freedoms and respect for individual choices, rather than the identity or location of the proposed religious centre.
This transformation [of the debate] will not be in the interests of two groups; firstly those in the American right-wing who oppose the construction of the mosque because of its religious identity, and secondly those Muslims who are hostile towards America and do not tolerate its values.
It doesn’t appear that many media outlets have picked up on this, or have tried to draw attention to it, or at the very least debated it.