When Barack Obama says this, he is, of course, quite right:
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 center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.
Fair enough. It’s also worth adding that while the decision to build that (intriguingly-named) mosque in that particular place is, to say the least, insensitive, the tattered battered principle that there is no right not to be offended is one worth defending (even if that was not the tack that the president himself seemed prepared to take). It’s not the first time that ideologues have trampled over common courtesy, and it won’t be the last. If the builders of Cordoba House wish to build a mosque on their own property and if they do so in accordance with local rules then they should be allowed to go ahead. If they have taken any funding from countries where the construction of non-Islamic religious building is restricted (and so far there is no indication that they have) their hypocrisy will be revolting, but even that should not disqualify them from the right to put up their mosque.
Unfortunately, Obama being Obama he could not leave it at that. Let’s take a close look at something else the president said in the same speech:
Our enemies respect no freedom of religion. Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam – it is a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders – these are terrorists who murder innocent men, women and children. In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion – and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.
The president is, of course, correct to say that Al Qaeda does not respect religious freedom, and it’s important to make the point (as he does) that Al Qaeda has (so far, I’d add) killed more Muslims than people of any other religion (including those Muslims murdered by the Atta gang on 9/11), but the argument that bin Laden, al-Zawahiri and the rest of them are not “religious” leaders is nonsense, born partly (and perfectly reasonably) out of the needs of propaganda (it’s a useful line to peddle to a Muslim audience), born partly out the intellectual mush of multiculturalism, and born partly out of a very American unwillingness to accept the reality of religious terror, an unwillingness that owes much to this country’s late birth, good system of government and fortunate history.
The philosophy of Al Qaeda is indeed not representative of mainstream Islam, but it is nevertheless an extreme expression of one not insignificant strand of Islamic thought. To argue that Al Qaeda’s commanders are not “religious” leaders is in reality somewhat akin to saying the same, say, about the terrorists who ran the Inquisition. In terms of Realpolitik, Obama’s attempt to deny Al Qaeda the designation of “religious” may have been a sensible thing to say, but intellectually it simply does not stand up.
All that said, while I would like to believe that Realpolitik does indeed explain that particular strand of presidential rhetoric, I also have to look at Obama’s unfortunate record of blinkered ignorance, hopeless naivete, cringing PC piety and, even, (via NRO’s Andy McCarthy) at some of the people invited to hear what Obama had to say and then I begin to wonder….
I should have made clear that the project as a whole has now been given the name Park51. The name “Cordoba House” lives on (according to the Park51 website) “as a center for multifaith dialogue and engagement within Park51′s broader range of programs and activities.”