Wednesday, August 18, 2010


     It’s difficult to know whether President Obama is politically tone deaf, just getting bad advice or simply has an arrogant streak, but he continues to take positions, sometimes unnecessarily, that are out of sync with public perceptions.

     The health care bill was, and is still, opposed by a healthy majority of Americans. Obama said he knows that, but “it’s good for the country” i.e. he knows best. His ridiculous involvement in the local Cambridge, MA misdemeanor police issue involving his “friend” Henry Louis Gates and the subsequent “beer summit” with the police officer, impressed many in the general population as biased meddling. His decision to sue the state of Arizona to overturn a state law passed in a desperate attempt to deal with an onslaught of illegal immigrants only has the support of 45% of Americans , with 55% in favor of the law. Sixty-five percent of Arizonans support the law. His moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has put thousands of Gulf residents out of work and is opposed by 60% of those living in the Gulf region despite the fact that they were directly affected by the BP spill.

     Now comes his latest foray into local politics with his hosting of an Iftar (fast breaking) dinner to celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. In his remarks at the dinner, Obama took a position on the highly controversial plans to build a huge mosque and “cultural center” two blocks from the 9/11 site at “Ground Zero” in lower Manhattan. This is another local New York City issue primarily between the Muslim developers and proposed imam, and the families of those lost in the World Trade Center attack. The legal issues have been resolved with the approval of the NYC Landmarks Commission to raze the existing building on the site. However, Obama could not resist another of his “teachable moments” by reciting the obvious in a blatant pander to his Muslim audience:
“Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in the country.”

     This has been read as a clear endorsement of the proposed mosque, a position opposed by 70% of Americans according to a CNN/Opinion Research poll. But once again, Obama doesn’t care because the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees the free “exercise of religion”. That however, is not the basis for the opposition to the mosque. Republicans have been excoriated by the liberal media for being the voice of the opposition but Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner and Representative Peter King (R-NY) have both acknowledged the legal right of the developers to build the mosque. They question the propriety of it and point out that it is an unnecessary and painful provocation to the citizens of New York City and New Jersey who knew or lost friends and family among the three thousand who perished at the hands of Muslim extremists. Doing what is a protected “right” and doing what is “right” are two different things. The Constitution protects the “right” of the religious crazies from Wichita, KS to disrupt the funerals of fallen soldiers but nothing could be more reprehensible. The Constitution protects the “right” of protestors to intimidate and insult vulnerable women seeking abortions but even many abortion opponents are disgusted by such offensive behavior. In a political afterthought, even Obama said he “wasn’t commenting on the wisdom of making the decision” to choose that particular location for the mosque. But it was too little too late to make amends to common sense and common decency. Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid however, was able to make the distinction between “rights” and “right”. Although his opinion is almost certainly influenced by his tight race for reelection in Nevada, it at least actually reflects a greater “respect for the American people than Obama’s for which the New York Times mistakenly gave him credit. Reid said, “. . those who plan to erect the Islamic center should look elsewhere.”

     Never to be deterred by common sense however, and always ready to demonstrate their single minded political correctness, the editorial staff of the New York Times offered this:

     Obama “ showed his understanding of the Constitution and his respect for the American people” by defending the right of a Muslim community group to build the mosque.

     Besides repeating the “red herring” argument about “rights”, the Times arrogantly implies that Obama and they are among the few that “understand” the Constitution and that the opponents of the mosque at that particular location do not. How Obama showed “his respect for the American people” in this regard or in his implied support for the mosque is hard to discern.

     The Times goes on to issue the absurd warning that “The rest of the world is listening.” How much the 9/11 families and the citizens of New York care what the rest of the world thinks about their grief and their anger is unknown but is probably insignificant. One wonders however, if the Times editorialists include in the “rest of the world”, the citizens of France and Belgium who have passed legislation banning the face covering Islamic niqab in public places, or the citizens of Switzerland who have banned the further construction of minarets associated with mosques.

     The Times has also featured an opinion piece by Scottish historian, literary figure and expert on Asian religions William Dalrymple. Dalrymple offers what can only be described as an unrealistic academic analysis of the controversy; unrealistic in the sense that it ignores the passions of the local citizens, and their lack of expertise in the study of Islam. Before providing his expert insights into the religion however, he can’t resist ideologically based criticisms of the opponents of the mosque. He accuses the Anti-Defamation League, which was founded to oppose discrimination, of “seeking to discriminate against American Muslims.” This is the same attempt to turn the issue into one of “rights” instead of propriety. He attacks Newt Gingrich and former NY Congressman Rick Lazio for their opposition and the questions they raise about the true nature of the group that wants to build the mosque. Valid questions that should be answered.

     But the essence of Dalrymple’s argument is that Islam is not monolithic and contains “many divisions, complexities and nuances” within which reside the “moderate” Muslims. Within those moderate groups themselves are the followers of Sufism which includes the imam of the proposed mosque. Sufism according to Dalyrmple is a “mystical, peaceful form of Islam, which preaches love and reconciliation.”

     But is not the obligation of 315 million Americans or even 16 million New Yorkers to educate themselves about the “nuances” of Islam in order to be able to make the distinction between the “moderates” and the jihadists. That is the responsibility of the moderate Muslims themselves who must adopt a far more public face and a far more forceful public opposition to the radicals here and abroad. So far, despite their protestations to the contrary, this they have not done. The education process of the American people by such groups with respect to “moderate, peace loving Islam” should be based on their support for Western values not academic analysis and come first before potentially provocative acts, thus making such acts not provocative at all.

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