Obama backs controversial mosque at 9/11 Ground Zero

August 14th, 2010 - 8:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama By Arun Kumar
Washington, Aug 14 (IANS) President Barack Obama has come out in strong support of a controversial proposal to build an Islamic centre and mosque near New York’s Ground Zero, saying that “Muslims have the same right as anyone else to practice their religion”.

“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,” he said at a White House Iftar dinner celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Obama, who said he was speaking both as a citizen and as president, invoked the attacks of Sep 11, 2001, which critics of the Islamic centre cite as the main reason for preventing its construction.

“We must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan,” Obama said. “The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country.

“The pain and suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones is unimaginable,” he continued.

“So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.”

But Obama argued that American ideals and the constitution demanded that the project proceed.

“This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable,” he said.

“The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our founders must endure.”

Obama’s remarks drew praise from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who announced his support for the Islamic centre last week.

“I applaud President Obama’s clarion defence of the freedom of religion tonight,” he said.

Muslim advocacy group The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also welcomed Obama’s strong support for Muslim religious rights and hoped “his remarks will serve as encouragement to those who are challenging the rising level of Islamophobia in our society”.

CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad asked the president to take a similarly forthright stand against the planned burning of Qurans by a Florida church on the upcoming anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The proposed Islamic centre has provoked vocal opposition from some families of 9/11 victims and other groups. Nearly 70 percent of Americans oppose the plan, according to CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released Wednesday.

The project’s leaders say they plan to build the $100-million, 13-storey facility called Cordoba House three blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks. It will include a 500-seat performing arts centre, a lecture hall, a swimming pool, a gym, a culinary school, a restaurant and a prayer space for Muslims.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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