Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 10, 2010

'IT'S JUST US'.... President Obama hosted an unusually-long White House press conference this morning, which I thought went extremely well for him. And for the most part, the press corps stuck to substantive issues and avoided some of the more sensationalistic issues of the day.

But there were exceptions. About half-way through the event, Obama was asked about the radical cleric in Florida who seems to have an affinity for burning Qurans. The president didn't dwell on the subject, but he said such conduct is at odds with who we are and puts American troops at greater risk.

The subject came up again in the very last question, when Fox News' Wendell Goler asked about "the wisdom of building a mosque a couple of blocks from Ground Zero." The president's response was one of the best of his presidency.

"I think I've been pretty clear on my position here," he said. "And that is, is that this country stands for the proposition that all men and women are created equal, that they have certain inalienable rights; one of those inalienable rights is to practice their religion freely. And what that means is that if you could build a church on a site, you could build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on the site."

The president went on to explain, "We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts. And we've got to be clear about that. We've got to be clear about that because ... if we're going to successfully reduce the terrorist threat, then we need all the allies we can get. The folks who are most interested in a war between the United States or the West and Islam are al Qaeda. That's what they've been banking on.

"And fortunately, the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world are peace-loving, are interested in the same things that you and I are interested in: how do I make sure I can get a good job, how can I make sure that my kids get a decent education, how can I make sure I'm safe, how can I improve my lot in life. And so they have rejected this violent ideology for the most part, overwhelmingly.

"And so from a national security interest, we want to be clear about who the enemy is here. It's a handful, a tiny minority of people who are engaging in horrific acts -- and have killed Muslims more than anybody else.

"The other reason it's important for us to remember that is because we've got millions of Muslim-Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country. They're going to school with our kids. They're our neighbors. They're our friends. They're our coworkers. And, you know, when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?

"I've got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan, in the uniform of the United States armed services. They're out there putting their lives on the line for us, and we've got to make sure that we are crystal clear for our sakes and their sakes: They are Americans. And we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don't differentiate between 'them' and 'us.' It's just 'us.'"

It's a shame the country has to be reminded of these basic truths from time to time, but it's heartening when a leader steps up to make this plain.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Comments

"They go to school with our kids," would be better said "They *are* our kids." Being on the spot during a press conference, I don't really blame Obama for unintentionally singling Muslims out, but the truth is, the right attitude is that we are all one.

Posted by: Ian on September 10, 2010 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

I liked that he developed a slight edge to the tone of his voice, particularly when he discussed Muslims fighting in our armed services.

This isn't, or shouldn't be, an issue, and people trying to create a controversy need to understand that they are starting to piss people off.

Posted by: bdop4 on September 10, 2010 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry for crossposting from my own comment elsewhere, but it's on-topic:

Now if the Prexy-or one of his surrogates-would just start using the correct terminology, that would serve US interests well in our messaging to the Muslim world.

Al Qaeda and its affiliated movements are not martyrs and not mujahideen; they are irhabists or terrorists. They are not engaged in jihad; they are engaged in hirabah-unholy, forbidden war against society. And my favorite: they are not fighting for Islam; instead they are mufsiduun-evildoers who will be judged by Allah.

For too long, we have accepted al Qaeda’s framing of this fight. They are the ones who want to make this a war between religions. They want to portray themselves as the defenders of Islam. It must be the American position that al Qaeda is not the legitimate representative of Islam.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on September 10, 2010 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Hit that one out of the park!

Posted by: Paranoid Floyd on September 10, 2010 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

I thought it was good too Steve. I wonder how much Fox News will edit it to show he said that Republicans were the enemy and that we are war with them.

Posted by: Chris- The Fold on September 10, 2010 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

I like how he mentions that most of the victims of terrorism are also Muslim. This is a point few people seem to get. This isn't really a war between radical Islam and the West. The much greater conflict is between radical Islam and more moderate forms of Islam. Quite a lot of targets have been Shiite and Sufi shrines and mosques. The Taliban and the Wahhabi consider them to be apostates. And they are killing the apostates much faster than they are killing us.

Posted by: fostert on September 10, 2010 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

Chris- The Fold at 3:20 PM has good reason to be suspicious: I heard a snipped of Rush while driving, and he edited the heck out of it, making Obama stammer like a deer caught in the headlights.
And said something about Obama's answers being on a teleprompter. . .

Posted by: DAY on September 10, 2010 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

if we're going to successfully reduce the terrorist threat

The next Republican talking point: The word 'reduce' does not mean 'defeat'.

Posted by: Remus Shepherd on September 10, 2010 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

This wasn;t a controversy until a couple of professional Muslim-haters started harping on it, and then a couple of professional opportunists (Palin and Gingrich) ginned it up further with an assist from Fox Newes, and then the media fell for it.

Posted by: Mimikatz on September 10, 2010 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

My take way watching it is that he seemed irritated that he was having to answer that question at all---bdop4 refered to it as an edge. But you could definitely hear that in his voice.

Posted by: HopefulOkie on September 10, 2010 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

Outstanding. I think he's getting full on into campaign mode now.

Posted by: TR on September 10, 2010 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

I like what Ian said:
"...the right attitude is that we are all one.
Posted by: Ian on September 10, 2010 at 2:59 PM
The old saw applies here, especially: Divide and conquer. If al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were interviewed, they would declare victory over The West. The U.S. has played the role perfectly: create a separation between various "sides" and highlight the negative. Demonize the enemy and create mistrust of "the other." Imagine a military composed of only anti-Muslim/gay/illegal alien/liberals/etc. How many would there be to "protect and to serve?"

Posted by: st john on September 10, 2010 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

How did he ever fit all of that on his hand?

Posted by: Winknandanod on September 10, 2010 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

Compare the knowledge, tact, clarity, and class of President Obama to any one of the Republican leadership...no wonder they're scared of him, and that is all it is: fear. Like they fear change, facts, dialogue, and science.

This nation has a great president, I think. It's too bad such a large percentage of this nation refuses to consider him in a sane manner.

Posted by: Skip on September 10, 2010 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

It's was just beautiful.

Posted by: impik on September 10, 2010 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

The good news is that not all of America is screwed up:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39094597/ns/world_news-wonderful_world/

A mosque opens in Pennsylvania, and nobody cares.

Posted by: fostert on September 10, 2010 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

He's still a politician, and still needs to be cautious. I think "They go to school with our kids" instead of "They are our kids" might have been very intentional, since he's still facing the Obama-is-Muslim misinformation campaign.

The reply sure summed up my feelings, tho.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on September 10, 2010 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

Has Steve ever said anything remotely critical of President Obama?

Posted by: Charles on September 10, 2010 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, yes, but is it wise President Obama?

Posted by: dualdiagnosis on September 10, 2010 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

@Charles stop trolling in the deep end and go back to reading Palin tweets.

In fact, this site is sometimes critical of President Obama, it's called diversity of opinion.

I know that's a foreign concept to you teabaggers.

Posted by: Winknandanod on September 10, 2010 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

He did a pretty good job, but to me he ruined the effect by using the "We're one nation under god" line later on.

I guess I'm back to being a second-class citizen again. I don't expect a shout-out to non-believers in every speech, but that particular line is an untruth.

Do atheists still get to vote in November? Or should I stay home?

Posted by: Tim H on September 10, 2010 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

Charles, I kinda think this is the wrong time for the question. Uncritical of someone others are (imo) overly critical of Steve may be (I've not been around this site long enough to have formed an opinion), but this is really the wrong thing to pick apart.

Obama did a really great job with this one, there's no denying it.

Posted by: Layla on September 10, 2010 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

He did a pretty good job, but to me he ruined the effect by using the "We're one nation under god" line later on.

I guess I'm back to being a second-class citizen again. I don't expect a shout-out to non-believers in every speech, but that particular line is an untruth.

Do atheists still get to vote in November? Or should I stay home?

It's not non-believers who are freaking the hell out about Islam. He was talking to believers--particularly Christian and Jewish believers--with that one.

As for those of us without faith, he is the first president ever to acknowledge that we even exist, and he has included us respectfully--in multiple speeches. I think you're kinda whining here. Your last line in particular is ridiculously drama-queeny.

Posted by: Jess on September 10, 2010 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

Jess-

Talk about Drama Queeny-

"As for those of us without faith, he is the first president ever to acknowledge that we even exist.."

Posted by: dualdiagnosis on September 10, 2010 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

I was driving into work and I thought I was going to start crying towards the end of this answer!! Not that I'm in love with the Prez or anything KoolAidy... it's just so rare someone speaks the truth clearly on the national stage these days. Damn well put, Mr. Obama.

Posted by: Tom on September 10, 2010 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

dualdiagnosis: To clarify--yes, he is the first president ever to explicitly include American non-believers in a public speech as part of mentioning American members of various belief traditions. If you can produce an example of another president doing so, please cite it for us. Thanks in advance.

Posted by: Jess on September 10, 2010 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

As for those of us without faith, he is the first president ever to acknowledge that we even exist, and he has included us respectfully--in multiple speeches. I think you're kinda whining here.

As I said, I don't expect a shout-out every time. I would have been perfectly happy if Obama hadn't even mentioned non-believers in this speech. And yes, the last line was an exaggeration.

But we are not "One nation under god," and that line is the line believers use to deny unbelievers their rights. Obama is still taxing me to support churches with faith-based initiatives. He still uses the power of government to help spread religious propaganda on the National Day of Talking To Yourself. He talks a good talk, but caves to political practicality rather than upholding principles too often. Ask the GLBT crowd about that.

Trying to make things all better between Muslims and Judeo-Christians is great, but there are better ways to do it than by throwing atheists under the bus.

Posted by: Tim H on September 10, 2010 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

Good one, Winknandanod.

How DID he fit all that on his hand???

Posted by: pol on September 10, 2010 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

Jess-
Do the google before you get testy. It will save you from further embarrassment.

Guess whose three quotes these are?

"they can choose any religion they want. Or they can choose no religion. You see, you're just as big a patriot -- as good a patriot as the next fellow if you choose not to worship. It's your choice to make.."

"..We stand for freedom. We stand for people to worship freely. One of the great things about America is, you're equally American if you're a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian, an agnostic or an atheist.."

"..In our country, we recognize our fellow citizens are free to profess any faith they choose, or no faith at all. You're equally American if you're a Jew, or a Christian, or a Muslim. You're equally American if you choose not to have faith.."

http://parablemania.ektopos.com/archives/2009/01/non-believers.html

http://islamabad.usembassy.gov/pakistan/h06020305.html

Posted by: dualdiagnosis on September 10, 2010 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

Very well said, Mr. President, very well said.

Too bad Republicans, especially of the Tea Party kind (and that Republican pastor in Florida), are deaf, dumb and blind. Sane, common sense approaches are not in their right-wing quiver. And Faux News won't dare to show President Obama being sane and displaying common sense. They won't dare to air President Obama's entire response to a question put to him by one of their own "correspondents." They'll be too chicken-livered scared to do this.

Posted by: The Oracle on September 10, 2010 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

too bad obama couldn't apply his own concepts to concepts of rights regarding marriage equality:

he said. "And that is, is that this country stands for the proposition that all men and women are created equal, that they have certain inalienable rights; one of those inalienable rights is to not be discriminated against by their government. And what that means is that if the government grants rights and privileges to some citizens it must grant the exact same rights and privileges to ALL citizens, if couples of different gender are granted marriage certificates by the government, then the government must grant marriage certificates to same sex couples because it is unquestionably unconstitutional for the government not to do so

Posted by: pluege on September 11, 2010 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

The function of declaring to build a mosque on ground zero had little to do with actually building a mosque. It had everything to do with creating even more dissension among the American people. And it worked. So successfully the Perpetrators are dancing in the streets. No I'm not only talking about the Muslims, I'm talking about the Corporate Elite who want to see a Republican take over of congress.

Wake up US

baz

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