Hear Washington Speak

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August 14, 2010 8:42 am
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We now have official Washington’s response and take on the President’s speech last night stating that Muslim-Americans have every right to build an Islamic center on private property near Ground Zero. It comes in the form of Politico’s ubiquitous and closely followed “Playbook” email. As the author puts it, the statement poses a basic choice: is it “Obama delivering on his status as a breakthrough figure on American history”, by which we mean a feel-good affirmative action president with a foreign-sounding name or “elitist arrogance.”

It continues with various responses — mainly from chortling but unnamed Republican operatives marveling at the president’s being out of touch or courting a backlash from regular Americans but also one from Michael Bloomberg and a circumspect response from a White House aide.

The stand out for me was the response from what the author labels a “middle American” …

“This is too much. It’s not insensitivity that’s leading these guys to build this mosque. It’s a monument to their conquer of the site — just like the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem or the conversion of the Hagia Sophia (former primary church of the Byzantine empire in Istanbul) into a mosque”

There’s also what’s titled a “flashback” to what is apparently the most apt comparison, President Bush’s impromptu speech at Ground Zero two days after the attack: “”I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”

It’s a quite a moment. We’re still hung up on the Turks turning the Hagia Sophia into a Mosque in 1453? Soon after 9/11 we marveled at how the bin Ladenites could still be so aggrieved over the abolition of the Caliphate in 1923 and the loss of Muslim Spain in 1492. But I guess times change.

No doubt the president’s advisors would much have preferred not to address this at all, wish it had never come up. But it’s difficult to imagine any president doing otherwise. We learn again that saying you’re for “democratic values” and freedom actually means being for “democratic values” and freedom. Are we in the tradition of the opening and plural societies of Amsterdam and London and America? Or the closed and authoritarian ones of Madrid and Moscow? The infrastructure of the Republican party has chosen to hoist its sail to religious bigotry. There’s no other way to put it. The president has done the only thing he could possibly do which is to state clearly that we’re Americans and we don’t discriminate on the basis of religious belief.

As the president said

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

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