I think we all understood that, notwithstanding President Obama’s slight walk-back from his initial supportive stance on building the Ground Zero Mosque, he wants the mosque built at the proposed location. Today, at his press conference, Obama pretty much said so. Responding to a question about the GZM, he said:
If we say that their religion is somehow offensive . . . what are we saying to them? I’ve got Muslims fighting in the uniform of the armed services of the United States. They’re putting their lives on the line for us.
Obama isn’t quite saying that it was wise of imam Rauf and his crowd to choose to build the mosque at or near Ground Zero. But he is saying that, quite apart from any legalistic concerns, it is misguided to oppose building the mosque there.
But opposing the mosque at this particular location is not a statement that Islam is offensive. As has been pointed out many times, Pope John Paul II asked an order of Carmelite nuns not to operate a Catholic convent at a site at the edge of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Certainly, the Pope was not saying that Catholicism is offensive to him. Rather, he was saying that the placement of a Catholic house of worship at this hallowed location is offensive. So too with the Ground Zero Mosque.
Invoking Muslims in the armed forces is a nice rhetorical touch, but not a substantial argument. We do not determine social policy based on the feelings of cohorts within the armed forces. Thus, we would not overturn restrictions on gay marriage in order to avoid making a statement to gays in the military. Nor should we retain those restrictions merely to placate the religious views of Muslims or any other group that may be hostile to homosexuals.
In fact, Obama does a disservice to Muslim members of the armed services when he assumes that they lack the same view most Americans share about the unique nature of Ground Zero and the same sensitivity most Americans feel with respect to the families of the victims of 9/11.
During the press conference, Obama himself said “there is no us and them; there is only us.” If so, then why is he basing his argument regarding this mosque on the assumption that Muslims in the military represent a distinctive “them”?