After a barrage of criticism, president appears to backtrack, saying: ‘I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there’
Barack Obama has come under attack from American conservatives for supporting plans to build a mosque two blocks from the site of one of the terror attacks of 11 September 2001. The proposal for a mosque and community centre near the site of the World Trade Centre has attracted a large opposition movement in a fierce argument over religious freedom.
At a White House dinner marking Ramadan, Obama said: “As a citizen, and as president, I believe Muslims have the same right to practise 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 unshakable.”
But New York Republican congressman Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, condemned the proposed mosque and the president’s comments. He said the mosque would be a symbol of Muslim “triumphalism” and that building it near the site of the 9/11 attacks “would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust museum”.
Obama appeared last night to retreat from his remarks. “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there,” he told reporters while visiting the Gulf Coast. “I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.”
The fierce debate over the mosque has dominated newspaper debates in New York for several months and gradually spread nationwide. Opponents of the mosque number many conservatives, including leaders of the Tea Party movement and the former Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, and also relatives of the victims of 9/11 and a Jewish civil rights group, the Anti-Defamation League. Meanwhile one of the most vocal supporters of the mosque is a former star of the Republican party, the New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The developer behind the mosque welcomed Obama’s support. “We are deeply moved and tremendously grateful for our president’s words,” Sharif el-Gamal told the New York Times.