Cordoba House, for those who haven’t been following along, is the name of a proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, two blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood, that would include a house of worship. Thus the “Ground Zero Mosque.” (A side note about proximity on Manhattan: Times Square is two blocks from my office, but I can’t see it from here — big buildings in the way, you know — and when people ask me where I work, I don’t say “near Times Square.” I certainly don’t say “in Times Square.” It’s just “Midtown Manhattan.”)
But anyway, there’s quite a cry of protest going up over Cordoba House and so far, the White House has declined to weigh in. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, “This is rightly a matter for New York City and the local community to decide.” Considering the amount of dust that’s been kicked up — a CNN poll released today finds 68% oppose it’s construction — some people find it surprising that the president hasn’t jumped in with both feet. As Ben Smith notes, this kind of “teachable moment” is right up Obama’s alley, and some say his cosmopolitan touch is uniquely suited to sooth overheated rhetoric.
There are a few possible explanations for his silence. Maybe he’s sitting this one out because he knows that despite some — OK, many — people saying they’re offended, there’s this little snippet of our constitution that makes it mighty unlikely anyone is actually going to prevent Americans from worshipping however they please on their own property. No harm, no foul. Or maybe he’s passing on the Cordoba House debate because it’s just too hot an issue at a sensitive political moment. Afterall, Democrats are bracing for a rough November. Maybe he’s just hoping not to reignite that whole “Barack Hussein Obama is an Undercover Imam” thing. (Just in case: He’s not.) But maybe, just maybe, Obama is biding his time for the right moment.
The White House sent around a statement from the president today marking the beginning of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month. These holiday communiqués typically follow a simple formula: They just reconstitute whatever they said last year and throw in a few new lines as current events warrant. This year’s Ramadan message is no exception. Just about every word of the statement was pulled verbatim from a statement Obama gave last year. (You can compare for yourself below.) That is with the exception of three sentences. The first two read as follows:
Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity and racial equality. And here in the United States, Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been part of America and that American Muslims have made extraordinary contributions to our country.
“Islam has always been part of America” is a line adapted from Obama’s notable Cairo speech on Islam and the West, and it isn’t one he’s used recently. The thrust of that line and the added passage as a whole — that Islam at its core is a faith of tolerance and an integral part of the rich American cultural tapestry — would clearly fit in with a defense of Cordoba House. It may even be a way for the president to signal unspoken solidarity with its supporters.
That brings us to the third “new” sentence: “I look forward to hosting an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan here at the White House later this week, and wish you a blessed month.” He held a dinner last year, but made no mention of it in his Ramadan greeting. This year’s feast seems like a prime opportunity for Obama to break out one of his patented Kumbaya summits. Though this time, he’ll probably skip the beer.
August 11, 2010:
On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I want to extend our best wishes to Muslims in America and around the world. Ramadan Kareem.
Ramadan is a time when Muslims around the world reflect upon the wisdom and guidance that comes with faith, and the responsibility that human beings have to one another, and to God. This is a time when families gather, friends host iftars, and meals are shared. But Ramadan is also a time of intense devotion and reflection – a time when Muslims fast during the day and pray during the night; when Muslims provide support to others to advance opportunity and prosperity for people everywhere. For all of us must remember that the world we want to build – and the changes that we want to make – must begin in our own hearts, and our own communities.
These rituals remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings. Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity and racial equality. And here in the United States, Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been part of America and that American Muslims have made extraordinary contributions to our country. And today, I want to extend my best wishes to the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world – and your families and friends – as you welcome the beginning of Ramadan.
I look forward to hosting an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan here at the White House later this week, and wish you a blessed month.
May God’s peace be upon you.
August 21, 2009:
On behalf of the American people – including Muslim communities in all fifty states – I want to extend best wishes to Muslims in America and around the world. Ramadan Kareem.
Ramadan is the month in which Muslims believe the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, beginning with a simple word – iqra. It is therefore a time when Muslims reflect upon the wisdom and guidance that comes with faith, and the responsibility that human beings have to one another, and to God.
Like many people of different faiths who have known Ramadan through our communities and families, I know this to be a festive time – a time when families gather, friends host iftars, and meals are shared. But I also know that Ramadan is a time of intense devotion and reflection – a time when Muslims fast during the day and perform tarawih prayers at night, reciting and listening to the entire Koran over the course of the month.
These rituals remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings.
For instance, fasting is a concept shared by many faiths – including my own Christian faith – as a way to bring people closer to God, and to those among us who cannot take their next meal for granted. And the support that Muslims provide to others recalls our responsibility to advance opportunity and prosperity for people everywhere. For all of us must remember that the world we want to build – and the changes that we want to make – must begin in our own hearts, and our own communities.
This summer, people across America have served in their communities – educating children, caring for the sick, and extending a hand to those who have fallen on hard times. Faith-based organizations, including many Islamic organizations, have been at the forefront in participating in this summer of service. And in these challenging times, this is a spirit of responsibility that we must sustain in the months and years to come.
Beyond America’s borders, we are also committed to keeping our responsibility to build a world that is more peaceful and secure. That is why we are responsibly ending the war in Iraq. That is why we are isolating violent extremists while empowering the people in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we are unyielding in our support for a two-state solution that recognizes the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security. And that is why America will always stand for the universal rights of all people to speak their mind, practice their religion, contribute fully to society and have confidence in the rule of law.
All of these efforts are a part of America’s commitment to engage Muslims and Muslim-majority nations on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect. And at this time of renewal, I want to reiterate my commitment to a new beginning between America and Muslims around the world.
As I said in Cairo, this new beginning must be borne out in a sustained effort to listen to each other, to learn from each other, to respect one another, and to seek common ground. I believe an important part of this is listening, and in the last two months, American embassies around the world have reached out not just to governments, but directly to people in Muslim-majority countries. From around the world, we have received an outpouring of feedback about how America can be a partner on behalf of peoples’ aspirations.
We have listened. We have heard you. And like you, we are focused on pursuing concrete actions that will make a difference over time – both in terms of the political and security issues that I have discussed, and in the areas that you have told us will make the most difference in peoples’ lives.
These consultations are helping us implement the partnerships that I called for in Cairo – to expand education exchange programs; to foster entrepreneurship and create jobs; and to increase collaboration on science and technology, while supporting literacy and vocational learning. We are also moving forward in partnering with the OIC and OIC member states to eradicate polio, while working closely with the international community to confront common health challenges like H1N1 – which I know is of particular to concern to many Muslims preparing for the upcoming hajj.
All of these efforts are aimed at advancing our common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. It will take time and patient effort. We cannot change things over night, but we can honestly resolve to do what must be done, while setting off in a new direction – toward the destination that we seek for ourselves, and for our children. That is the journey that we must travel together.
I look forward to continuing this critically important dialogue and turning it into action. And today, I want to join with the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world – and your families and friends – in welcoming the beginning of Ramadan, and wishing you a blessed month. May God’s peace be upon you.