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Arab Media: Ground Zero Mosque Debate a Test for Obama

posted on: Aug 17, 2010

Arab Media: Ground Zero Mosque Debate a Test for Obama

BY: Suzanne Manneh/Contributing Writer

President Obama said Saturday that Muslims have the right to build a mosque near New York’s Ground Zero, but he declined to say whether he thinks it’s a good idea. The carefully calibrated remarks expanded on a speech he gave Friday at the White House, affirming that Muslims have the same right to freedom of religion as everyone else in America.

Was the president too careful? Or did he go too far, placing himself at the center of a controversy just three months before midterm elections that could shift the balance of power in Congress? Editors of some of the country’s leading Arab media outlets weigh in.

“He is out there by himself”
Ahmed Tharwat, producer, BalAhdan TV, Minneapolis, Minn.
What he’s supporting is the American principle of religious freedom. People are still disappointed from his Cairo speech—the honeymoon is over and we want to see customs and policies change. It is still refreshing to see an American president support Muslims, but Islamophobia is deeply rooted, and an opinion will not change that. I’m just surprised that most liberal Democrats did not reiterate their support for Obama—he is out there by himself. The truth is that this [mosque] initiative is all positive, and it’s been reframed as very negative and disturbing. This has become mainstream, patriotic Islamophobia. The right wing has been feeding into fear-mongering and the left wing has been quiet.

“We are now the new boogeyman”
Warren David, president,, Dearborn, Mich.
Obama’s approval rating with the Arab community was at 60 percent after the Cairo speech, according to an poll. Now 60 percent disapprove and 20 percent somewhat approve. I’m with that 60 percent. I sent my daughter to work for him. My wife and I knocked door to door to gain support for his campaign. I believe that you say what you mean and mean what you say. Some believe he should not be making statements in support [of a mosque], but he should be. Religious freedom is what our country was founded upon, and it’s the president’s role to address that. Coverage on this has been a circus of sorts. Everyone is with the 9/11 families, and we’re very upset with those who caused 9/11, but we are now the new boogeyman. This has brought out so much hatred. This is a time when we should be pulling together, not pulling apart.

“He was adhering to the U.S. Constitution”
Fatima Atieh, publisher, Al Enetshar Al Arabi, Los Angeles, Calif.
When Obama said that everyone has their right to religious freedom, I wasn’t surprised at all. I knew that he was adhering to the U.S. Constitution. This is part of the First Amendment, and he was reaffirming that— he didn’t add anything further. Even though he did make that statement, I believe that nothing will change the minds of those who believe and follow the negative hype. The stereotypes are too deep-seated.

“It might be political suicide, but it’s the right thing to do”
Michael Lloyd, editor in chief, ALO Magazine, Northridge, Calif.
America is supposed to be founded on religious freedom, and this seems to be coming full circle. Obama has been very supportive of the Arab community, and any backtracking he does will affect a smaller but very vocal constituency. I applaud that he made a statement, and I appreciate that he is trying to connect everyone, but he’s got to push his agenda of equality. It might be political suicide, but it’s the right thing to do. It’s unfair that anything that champions causes for Arab or Middle Eastern communities is taboo. Ninety-nine point nine percent of Middle Easterners want to practice their religion in a peaceful way and that’s what the mainstream is missing. If we’re not going to defend what our country was built on, we’re just going to be a warmongering nation.

“This will have a lasting impact”
Marwan Ahmed, publisher, Arab Voice and Muslim Voice, Phoenix, Ariz.
Obama’s remarks regarding the Islamic Center project in New York City are welcome. For President Obama to make these remarks close to election time is a sign of conviction. He could have mellowed down the issue or avoided it all together. Even though 60 percent of Americans are not in favor of the building of this Islamic center, he expressed his support for the project. This will have a lasting impact on how the Arab and Muslim community perceive this administration’s stand on freedom of religion and the rights of Muslims in this country. This is a good step toward putting words into actions for the Obama administration.