Answering the wrong question

President Obama recently made news by announcing that the building of a mosque on private property in lower Manhattan is an exercise in freedom of religion.  Apparently the fact that the private property is within only about 600 feet of 9/11’s Ground Zero took a while to enter the President’s consciousness, because it took him a day to walk back his remarks somewhat.  If he’d thought of it sooner, he might not have generated such a backlash that even New York Democrats have clammed right up when asked for reaction, and his own administration has disavowed his remarks.  Through it all, the President keeps missing why this controversy isn’t dying down.

Responding to questions about his initial remarks, the President waffled that he would “not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there.”  It’s a shame that he wouldn’t.  That would involve getting to the heart of the matter:  the enormous implications of placing a mosque scant yards from where the ashes of the dead are still mixed with the soil a mere nine years after nearly 3,000 people were murdered by radical Islamists.

The mosque’s developers, led by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, and their proponents call the project an effort to foster “the atmosphere of interfaith tolerance and respect that we have longed for since Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in harmony.”  Nonetheless, they have rejected all proposals to represent Christianity and Judaism in addition to Islam at the site.   They have also dismissed the idea of relocating to state property offered by Governor Paterson, further away from lower Manhattan.

Rauf and his supporters dismiss any implication that they are insensitive to the raw emotional trauma such a project would cause the survivors of the 9/11 dead.  Yet it’s hard to believe that the mosque’s proponents have failed to notice that both New Yorkers and Americans at large – who oppose the building of the mosque by solid majorities, according to CNN/Opinion Research – are increasingly impassioned in their opposition to the Ground Zero location.  Even Mayor Bloomberg, a staunch supporter of the mosque, had to concede that “it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation.”

President Obama has insisted that “this is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable,” and that “the principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.”  While true, this is all completely irrelevant.  Nobody has argued that the developers planning the mosque aren’t protected by the Constitution in doing so.  Of course building the Ground Zero mosque is legal.  What the President refuses to approach, let alone weigh in on, is:  Is it responsible?  Will it truly promote the cause of peace?  The President should show leadership in answering the real questions the American public is asking.


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