Intervening in the midst of a growing and increasingly shrill row over plans by a group of American Muslims to build a mosque in Manhattan, not far from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Obama has come down firmly on the side of religious freedom. In a speech at a White House dinner to celebrate the start of Ramadan, the US President said:
“We must all recognise and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan, Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground. But 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 centre 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.”
He told the group of US Congressmen, government officials and foreign dignitaries that America’s tradition of religious tolerance distinguishes it from “our enemies”.
“Al-Qaeda’s cause is not Islam,” he said, “it is a gross distortion of Islam”.
The BBC reports that until Obama’s intervention, the (Jewish) Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, had been the only senior politician in the US to have backed the building of the mosque.
With their actions in the mosque row, Obama and Bloomberg have demonstrated to the world all that is best about America’s justly celebrated traditions of religious freedom (and have put certain Muslim majority nations to shame at the same time).
They have also underlined the moral bankruptcy of groups like al-Qa’ida.