Nicholas Kristof – “Message to Muslims: I’m Sorry”

Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times  recently wrote this:

Many Americans have suggested that more moderate Muslims should stand up to extremists, speak out for tolerance, and apologize for sins committed by their brethren.

That’s reasonable advice, and as a moderate myself, I’m going to take it. (Throat clearing.) I hereby apologize to Muslims for the wave of bigotry and simple nuttiness that has lately been directed at you. The venom on the airwaves, equating Muslims with terrorists, should embarrass us more than you. Muslims are one of the last minorities in the United States that it is still possible to demean openly, and I apologize for the slurs.

I’m inspired by another journalistic apology. The Portland Press Herald in Maine published an innocuous front-page article and photo a week ago about 3,000 local Muslims praying together to mark the end of Ramadan. Readers were upset, because publication coincided with the ninth anniversary of 9/11, and they deluged the paper with protests.

So the newspaper published a groveling front-page apology for being too respectful of Muslims. “We sincerely apologize,” wrote the editor and publisher, Richard Connor, and he added: “we erred by at least not offering balance to the story and its prominent position on the front page.” As a blog by James Poniewozik of Time paraphrased it: “Sorry for Portraying Muslims as Human.”

I called Mr. Connor, and he seems like a nice guy. Surely his front page isn’t reserved for stories about Bad Muslims, with articles about Good Muslims going inside. Must coverage of law-abiding Muslims be “balanced” by a discussion of Muslim terrorists?

Ah, balance — who can be against that? But should reporting of Pope Benedict’s trip to Britain be “balanced” by a discussion of Catholic terrorists in Ireland? And what about journalism itself?

I interrupt this discussion of peaceful journalism in Maine to provide some “balance.” Journalists can also be terrorists, murderers and rapists. For example, radio journalists in Rwanda promoted genocide.

I apologize to Muslims for another reason. This isn’t about them, but about us. I want to defend Muslims from intolerance, but I also want to defend America against extremists engineering a spasm of religious hatred.

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Keith Olbermann: “There Is No Ground Zero”

Keith Olbermann made a special comment tonight.  However, I fear he was preaching to the proverbial “choir”. 

Liberals. progressives, independents “get it”.   We know that the naysayers who are demanding that the owners of Park 51 (the new name for the community center which will include a mosque) move the “mosque” elsewhere, will not take heed to the President’s words on Friday and Saturday, nor Mr. Olbermann’s very thorough debunking of the “ground zero” myths, Monday night.  Yet, the message has to go out there and to as many people as possible.  Hence…

Here is Mr. Olbermann’s comment, in its entirety:

Ground Zero Mosque in the news

Faulty perspectives on the Ground Zero Mosque

  • Washington Post– Aug 16, 2010 – while President Obama defended the project as an exercise of religious freedom [“At Ramadan dinner, Obama defends plans for Ground Zero mosque,” news

Newt Gingrich compares ‘Ground Zero mosque’ backers to Nazis

  • Washington Post– Aug 16, 2010 – If built, the community center and mosque project will be one of hundreds of buildings located within blocks of Ground Zero — a densely populated area that

Hamas leader: Ground zero mosque  must be built

  • The Associated Press Aug 16, 2010 – NEW YORK — A Hamas leader says Muslims “have to build” a mosque near ground zero. Mahmoud al-Zahar said Muslims “have to build everywhere” so that …

Ground-Zero Mosque May Be Issue for Republicans After Obama Backs Building

  • Bloomberg– Aug 15, 2010- The symbolism of having it near Ground Zero is wrong, he said. “If the president is going to get involved, one way I would suggest is to have the leaders,

Former Bush Adviser Mark McKinnon Rips GOP’s Stance On Mosque: ‘We’re Reinforcing Al Qaeda’s Message’

Think Progress

On Morning Joe earlier today, a pair of leading Republicans — host Joe Scarborough and former Bush strategist Mark McKinnon — blasted the GOP for its xenophobic and unconstitutional stance against American Muslims’ right to build a new Islamic center in lower Manhattan.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has claimed that the new Islamic center project “would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.” Referencing that quote, Scarborough expressed angry disdain at Gingrich’s intolerance. “I don’t know where to begin,” Scarborough said. “To suggest that someone trying to build a tolerance center for moderate Muslims in New York is the equivalent of killing six million Jews is stunning to me.”

McKinnon then chimed in, arguing that the debate surrounding the Cordoba House project is contrary to his party’s principles. “We may get our membership [by the GOP] revoked,” McKinnon joked. “Screw ‘em,” Scarborough responded. McKinnon then said that the GOP’s stance is “reinforcing al Qaeda’s message”:

McKINNON: Usually Republicans are forthright in defending the Constitution. And here we are, reinforcing al Qaeda’s message that we’re at war with Muslims. So we’ve got this issue; then we’ve got the 14th Amendment issue, where Republicans are saying you’re not welcome here, when we were the architects of the 14th Amendment. So, I see a bad pattern where we’re headed as a Republican Party.

McKinnon said he believed President Obama has “done the right thing in stepping forward at this time on this issue.” He added, “Tolerance means tolerating things you don’t like, especially when you don’t like them. … I respect the President for making this move.” Watch it:

Nadler Dismantles Right-Wing Arguments Against Mosque: ‘We Do Not Put The Bill Of Rights…Up To A Vote’

Nadler: “I would take the sincerity of many of the Republican critics of this…if they were supporting, as Peter is, but very few other Republicans are, the bill to give health care coverage to the 9/11 heroes and responders which all but 12 Republicans voted against in the House last week.”

Think Progress

This morning on CNN’s State of the Union, New York congressmen Jerrold Nadler (D) effectively dismantled the arguments of his fellow Empire State colleague Peter King (R), who has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the new Islamic center project in lower Manhattan.

King argued that, while he respects Muslims’ “right” to build a new center, “they should listen to public opinion” and “should voluntarily move the mosque away from Ground Zero.” Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, explained, “We do not put the Bill of Rights…to a vote. The reason we have a Bill of Rights is that you have your religious rights…whether majorities like you or not, frankly.”

Nadler then addressed the biggest fallacy of the right-wing argument: namely, that in their opposition to the Islamic center, they are ascribing collective guilt on all Muslims for the terrorist acts of 9/11:

NADLER: [W]hat they are saying essentially is how can you put a mosque there when, after all, Muslims attacked us on 9/11, and this is ripping open a wound? Well, the fallacy is that Al Qaida attacked us. Islam did not attack us. Islam, like Christianity, like Judaism, like other religions, has many different people, some of whom regard other adherents of the religion as heretics of one sort or another. It is only insensitive if you regard Islam as the culprit, as opposed to Al Qaida as the culprit. We were not attacked by all Muslims. And there were Muslims who were killed there, there were Muslims who were killed there. There were Muslims who ran in as first responders to help. And we cannot take any position like that.

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‘Ground Zero’ Mosque Developers Open To Relocation Offer

Sharif El-Gamal, CEO of SoHo Properties, the developer of Park51 says the group is interested in hearing more about Gov. Paterson’s proposal but has always been focused on lower Manhattan.

New York Daily

Albany – Sponsors of the proposed mosque near Ground Zero are not slamming the door on Gov. Paterson‘s idea to build the center someplace else.

“We are open to a conversation to find out more on what the governor has in mind,” the center, Park51, said in a Twitter post yesterday.

While mosque opponents charge the chosen site is insensitive to 9/11 victims, Paterson doesn’t oppose the planned location.

He suggested earlier this week it might ease tensions if the center was further away from Ground Zero, and raised the possibility of offering state-owned land.

“I would hope that whatever spirituality exists would compel the developers to sit down and have this conversation,” Paterson said on WOR’s “The John Gambling Show” yesterday.

Mosque developer Sharif El-Gamal has said the group is interested in hearing from Paterson but added that “this has always been about serving lower Manhattan.”

He did not return calls and emails yesterday.

Meanwhile, in another Twitter post, Park51 attacked GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, a fervent mosque critic, as “islamiphobic.”

Lazio spokesman Barney Keller rejected the claim.

“Rick Lazio has made it very clear from day one that this isn’t about religion. It’s about transparency and this mosque and this imam,” Keller said

Read more:

Obama Emphasizes: Not Commenting and Will NOT Comment on the ‘Wisdom’ of Cordoba House

As usual, the right-wing noise machine see’s the statement that the president made today, which simply underscoring his intent for the speech he made last night, as a “walk-back” or “clarification” of that speech.

Little Green Footballs has more to say on that issue:

President Obama was asked by reporters today if he had an opinion on the “wisdom” of building the Cordoba House two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center, and replied:

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,” Obama told reporters Saturday after delivering remarks in Panama City Beach, Fla. “That’s what our country is about.”

So, of course, now right wing bloggers are crowing that Obama is “walking back” his earlier statement; but I don’t see that at all. Obama is emphasizing that his remarks were meant to support the Constitution — which should be enough for anyone. The idea that it’s somehow “unwise” to build this project is a concept promoted by opponents, and it’s irrelevant to the Constitutional issue; it would have been neither appropriate nor productive for Obama to wade into that poisoned debate.

The Plum Line: One of the finest moments of Obama’s presidency

The Plum Line – Greg Sargent

A few quick thoughts about Obama’s forceful speech yesterday expressing strong support for Cordoba House, which will go down as one of the finest moments of his presidency.

Obama didn’t just stand up for the legal right of the group to build the Islamic center. He voiced powerful support for their moral right to do so as well, casting it as central to American identity. This is a critical point, and it goes to the the essence of why his speech was so commendable.

Many opponents of the project have been employing a clever little dodge. They say they don’t question the group’s legal right to build it under the Constitution. Rather, they say, they’re merely criticizing the group’s decision to do so, on the grounds that it’s insensitive to 9/11 families and will undercut the project’s goal of reconciliation. The group has the right to build the center, runs this argument, but they are wrong to exercise it. In response, Obama could have merely cast this dispute as a Constitutional issue, talked about how important it is to hew to that hallowed document, and moved on.

But Obama went much further than that. He asserted that we must “welcome” and “respect” those of other faiths, suggesting that the group behind the center deserves the same, and said flat out that anything less is un-American:

As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same 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, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.

Obama’s core declaration here is as simple and clear a statement about what’s really at stake in this fight as one could have asked for. Obama argued that an “unshakable” devotion to the notion that all faiths are “welcome” is “essential to who we are,” thus casting this as a larger argument over the bedrock moral principles that are the foundation of American identity.

Obama issued this statement in the full knowledge that his opponents have been itching for him to wade into this battle. The right is engaged in a concerted effort to make it politically toxic to stand up for the rights of Muslims — and to simultaneously insinuate that Obama is on “their” side, and not on ours. This dispute fits the bill perfectly. It’s the stuff of Liz Cheney’s dreams. Polls show overwhelming opposition to the project, and as Glenn Greenwald notes, there would have been no political downside to sidestepping this morass.

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Fox Hosts Agree With Obama’s Defense Of Mosque: ‘He Has To Stand Up For Our Constitution’

As I recall President Obama’s oath of office, and the same for all 43 presidents that preceded him, the following words define the primary objective for serving as the President of the United States of America:

I, ______,  do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

It’s a simple yet very powerful affirmation that as the President of the United States, preserving, protecting and defending the Constitution is priority one.  It’s a clear and concise mandate that all people residing in this country expect their leader to follow.  Having said that…

Think Progress

Reacting to President Obama’s forceful defense of Muslims’ rights to build a new Islamic community center near Ground Zero, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) — who believes there are “too many mosques in this country” — said, “It is insensitive and uncaring for the Muslim community to build a mosque in the shadow of ground zero.” King’s statement underscores one of the least understood facts of the new project: there is already a mosque near Ground Zero.

Today, the New York Times reports on Masjid Manhattan (located four blocks from Ground Zero) and Masjid al-Farah (located 12 blocks from Ground Zero):

But what the two mosques have in common — besides the sense of celebration and camaraderie that comes at the beginning of Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, in which Muslims fast from sunup to sundown, give alms and focus on self-improvement — is that both have existed for decades, largely unnoticed, blocks from the World Trade Center site.


Obama’s defense of the mosque has found some support on the right. Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson said Obama’s comments were “ultimately the right thing to do,” adding, “Obama is correct that the way to marginalize radicalism is to respect the best traditions of Islam and protect the religious liberty of Muslim Americans.”

Even on Fox News this morning, the Fox & Friends weekend hosts all agreed that Obama is performing the job that’s required of him. “Obama has to stand up for religious freedom,” said co-host Alisyn Camerota. “He has to stand up for our Constitution,” co-host Dave Briggs offered, to which co-host Clayton Morris added, “That’s the job he gets…defend the Constitution.” Watch it:

Think Progress: Obama Speaks Out On Mosque Controversy: ‘Our Commitment To Religious Freedom Must Be Unshakeable’

Think Progress’ take on the President’s speech last night:

Tonight, President Obama hosted an iftaar dinner at the White House — a feast marking the culmination of a day of fasting for practicing Muslims during the current Islamic calendar month of Ramadan. At remarks delivered at the dinner, Obama spoke out on the controversy surrounding the construction of a new Islamic center near the Ground Zero site, firmly siding in favor of the project:

OBAMA: Let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone 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 unshakeable. 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. The writ of our Founders must endure.

From the moment he entered office, Obama has made a commitment to engaging in a more positive relationship with the Muslim world. During his inaugural address, Obama said, “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” And later, in a speech in Cairo, Egypt, Obama added, “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.” But the right-wing antics against the construction of mosques, the disturbing instances of hate crimes against Muslims, and the rising tide of Islamophobia has served to frustrate the administration’s commitment to engage with the Muslim world.

So, Obama’s strenuous defense of the “Ground Zero mosque” tonight is significant not just in bolstering the credibility of his message to the Muslim world, but it also engages him directly in the political fight against far right extremists here at home who wish to erode the American values at stake in the fight over the mosque. Obama emphasized tonight that “our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect to those who are different from us” is an important marker of the distinction between us and the “nihilism” of terrorists. In other words, using language that perhaps Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and their fellow xenophobic cynics might be more comfortable with — the question is simple: Are you with us or against us?


Update Rep. Peter King (R-NY), an ardent opponent of the mosque, issued a statement essentially arguing that bigotry should respected and tolerated. “President Obama is wrong,” King said. “It is insensitive and uncaring for the Muslim community to build a mosque in the shadow of ground zero. While the Muslim community has the right to build the mosque they are abusing that right by needlessly offending so many people who have suffered so much.”

Update New York’s Conservative Party is planning to air TV ads to ask a private company not to lease its building for the construction of the Islamic center.

Update The leaders behind the Islamic center project were excited to hear Obama’s remarks. “We are so blessed to be Americans! This is the greatest country in the world,” Sharif El-Gamal, the project’s developer, said in an email to the New York Daily News.

Update Glenn Greenwald heralds the speech as “one of the most impressive and commendable things Obama has done since being inaugurated.”