Opinion Brief

'Ground Zero mosque': Was Obama right to speak up?

The president has entered the discussion over the proposed Islamic community in downtown Manhattan, angering both critics and supporters of the project

President Obama has thrown himself into the debate over a mosque set to be built two blocks from Ground Zero. While hosting the White House's traditional dinner to celebrate the commencement of Ramadan, Obama vocally defended the right of the project's backers to build an Islamic community center at the controversial spot. His remarks provoked an immediate wave of outrage from opponents of the project, who argue that its construction would be insensitive to the families of those who died on 9/11. Obama then told reporters on Saturday that he was commenting only on the rights of the mosque's backers to build it, not on the "wisdom" doing so. Should the president have gotten involved in this contentious debate? (Watch The Week's Sunday Talk Show Briefing about the president's comments)

Any president would have done the same: There was "nothing remarkable" in Obama's words, says John Nichols at The Nation. He was simply maintaining the "presidential tradition" of defending freedom of religion. George W. Bush "would almost certainly have done the same thing" — as would whoever eventually succeeds Obama."Obama and the Mosque"

Obama missed the big picture: But this controversy "doesn't have anything to do with the free exercise of religion," say the editors of the National Review. Critics of the mosque argue that this project is "unseemly and ill-considered," not that Muslims have no right to build it. If Obama wanted to speak on behalf of America, he would have "respectfully" urged the backers of the mosque to move it elsewhere. Instead, he offered us nothing but "lawyerly hair-splitting." "Obama fumbles mosque question"

Why "clarify" a fine defense of the project? Obama's speech on Friday was "courageous and inspiring," says Glenn Greenwald at Salon. So why did he almost immediately diminish it by "parsing his remarks to be as inoffensive as possible"? Supporting the mosque would be "an important substantive stand." His "clarification" just makes him sound "pedestrian and even slightly irritating.""Obama defends 'ground zero mosque'"

The right thing, if not the popular thing, to say: With these "late, vacillating" pair of statements, writes Michael Gerson at The Washington Post, Obama exasperated both supporters and critics of the mosque. But "there is a difference between being a commentator and being president." The pundits can sound off as much as they like, but Obama's job is to defend the Constitution. That much he did."Obama's mosque duty"

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