OK to build, not OK to speak
By John D. Turner
1 Oct 2010

When it comes to building a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero in New York City, President Obama sets himself up as a champion of the freedom, nay, the right to do so. Those of us who are critical, who point out that this will be perceived as an Islamic victory over the “Great Satan” by those who mean us harm overseas, are “bigots” and “Islamophobes.” Our protests and remarks are “offensive” and “hateful.”

Muslims, Obama intones, “have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country…and that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan.”

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” -- First Amendment, Bill of Rights, U.S. Constitution

Broadly speaking, this is what Mr. Obama is referring to; the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; specifically the part that guarantees freedom of religion in the United States. Of course, no one was suggesting that the U.S. Congress pass a law disallowing Muslims to build a mosque within the shadow of Ground Zero, but that is beside the point. It is the spirit of the amendment that he was championing.

Never mind whether or not it is a good idea for them to do so. Never mind that the majority of the people of New York, nay, the entire country are opposed. We must stand up for what is right, even if it is to the detriment of our country; even if every citizen in the nation were opposed. For what is our constitution worth, if we fail to uphold it?

Remember, Mr. Obama took an oath to do so upon assuming the office he now holds.

Thus it is that I find Mr. Obama’s remarks, following the speech given before the United Nations General Assembly by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, confusing.

“…or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;” – First Amendment, Bill of Rights, U.S. Constitution

President Ahmadinejad, in his speech, stated his view that “a majority of Americans believe their government was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”

He went on to say that “the notion that al-Qaida staged the attacks on New York and Washington was only one of three competing theories about what happened in 2001.”

The other two “theories” espoused by Mr. Ahmadinejad are as follows:

Second, “that some segments orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East in order to save the Zionist regime.” This, he claimed is a view that “the majority of the American people as well as most nations and politicians around the world agree with.”

Third, that “it was carried out by a terrorist group but that the American government supported and took advantage of the situation."

He then suggested that the UN should conduct an independent investigation of the events surrounding the attacks in 2001, casting a wide net of disbelief that the events actually transpired as most believe they did.

During the middle of his offensive diatribe, the U.S. diplomats walked out in protest, as did delegates from several other European countries.

Mr. Obama reacted strongly to the speech, calling it “offensive”, and “hateful.”

He went on to say,

"And particularly for him to make the statement here in Manhattan, just a little north of ground zero, where families lost their loved ones, people of all faiths, all ethnicities who see this as the seminal tragedy of this generation, for him to make a statement like that was inexcusable."

"For Ahmadinejad to come to somebody else's country and then to suggest somehow that the worst tragedy that's been experienced here, an attack that killed 3,000 people, was somehow the responsibility of the government of that country, is something that defies not just common sense but basic sense – basic senses of decency that aren't unique to any particular country – they're common to the entire world.”

Now let me first say that I applaud Mr. Obama’s rhetoric. He is absolutely correct. And I was proud to hear him say what he said.

Having said that, Mr. Obama? Whatever happened to the rest of the first amendment? Wouldn’t you agree that Mr. Ahmadinejad had a perfect right, under the U.S. Constitution, to make the remarks he did, even in the shadow of Ground Zero? They might be in poor taste, and yes, one could make the argument that it was a bad idea to make them, but nevertheless, he has that right.

Isn’t it “offensive” and “hateful” for us to criticize?

Seems to me Mr. President, that the sentiment you expressed when the U.S. Government was accused, within the shadow of Ground Zero, of orchestrating the 9/11 events (even though it wasn’t actually your administration) is pretty much in line with the sentiments we the people are expressing when we react with revulsion at the thought of a mosque being placed in the same proximity to the site of the 9/11 outrage.

We understand, Mr. President, that Islam itself is not responsible for the events of 9/11. However, the attacks were carried out by the terrorists in the name of Islam. Muslims across the world reacted to the news of the attacks with cheering and celebration. As of yet, nine years later, where is the outrage, where is the condemnation of the attacks from the Islamic community at large? Where is the great outpouring of support from Muslim nations worldwide? We are still waiting and no doubt will continue to wait.

We do not object to Muslims building a Mosque, or “cultural center”, call it what you will. Dress it up as you may. Change the labels; make it a multi-function structure if it strikes your fancy. Include “prayer rooms” for other faiths if that is what you need to do to get the job done.

We object to it being done here; in the shadow of Ground Zero. Where nearly 3000 perished (and yes, some of them, other than the perpetrators, were probably Muslim) at the hands of Islamic Jihadists who killed in the name of Allah. Just as you objected to Ahmadinejad’s remarks, made as they were “in Manhattan, just a little north of ground zero.”

Mr. President, it is all about the site. It isn’t about “Islamophobia”, or “hating those who are different from us”. It’s all about the site.

And it is obviously all about the site from the other side as well. Offers have been made to purchase the property so that a new site can be selected. The City of New York even talked about donating property elsewhere in the city. No dice. It has to be there. Free property doesn’t sway them; purchasing the property for more than they paid for it doesn’t sway them. It has to be there. Why?

I will lay money that within 10 years (and probably less) the only religious observances held will be Muslim. Once all the furor dies down. And the name? It will quietly change back, from “51 Park Place” as now reported, to “Cordoba House” as was originally intended. And we can prattle on all we like about how “tolerant”, and “progressive”, and “multicultural” we are; we can wave the victory banner over the “regressive forces of hate and intolerance” within our country; we can hold ourselves up as the shining example of freedom and religious liberty.

Chris Matthews can get a thrill up his leg; Keith Olbermann can wax euphoric.

But those in the Muslim world all over the globe will know that Islam has once again pulled one over on the Great Satan. And our enemies the world over will be comforted and strengthened in that knowledge.

America, they will say, is corrupt. America lacks the strength of her convictions. America is unable to confront her enemies. America backed down in the face of Allah. Allahu Akbar!

Mr. President, what Mr. Ahmadinejad said was wrong. What he said was a deliberate falsehood. Where he said it, as you correctly stated, “defies not just common sense but basic sense – basic senses of decency.” It was vulgar, as if a guest in your house had relieved himself in the punch bowl. You called him out on it, as rightly you should have.

But doesn’t he still have the freedom to say that under the first amendment to our Constitution? Doesn’t anyone? How is it that feeling outrage for what was said in the shadow of Ground Zero is OK, but feeling outrage for what is being done in the shadow of Ground Zero is not?

How does the “religious freedom” clause of the first amendment trump the “free speech” clause and vice versa? Back in the 1840’s, people of my faith were run out of the country under threat of death, religious freedom clause or no. That was then. This is now. All we are asking is that the site of a mosque be relocated; we are not asking for relocation camps.

Mr. President, we feel your outrage. Why can’t you feel ours?