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Obama Backs Islamic Center, Sort Of

Clear on developers’ rights, less on wisdom

Marc Tracy
August 16, 2010
President Obama speaking Friday night.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
President Obama speaking Friday night.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

As you probably heard, on Friday night, while hosting a traditional Muslim Iftar dinner, President Obama expressed his support for Park51, the Cordoba Initiative Islamic center to be built a couple blocks north of Ground Zero.

Of course—perhaps because that side of the issue polls atrociously, both nationwide and even in New York City—it didn’t take 24 hours before the walk-back began: An Obama spokesperson said the president was merely passing judgment on religious freedom in the abstract, and then Obama himself added, “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have.” Not sure if that is anything we can believe in. (Though a former Bush speechwriter finds plenty.)

Republicans, meanwhile, pounced, both responsibly (“This is not about freedom of religion,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, “but I do think it’s unwise to build a mosque at the site where 3,000 Americans lost their lives as the result of a terrorist attack”) and irresponsibly (ahem), even as some wonder how Obama’s predecessor—a Republican, but one who made great strides to show tolerance toward Islam—would have handled this.

Meanwhile, someone makes the right-wing case for respecting property rights. At the most, Obama probably pushed the conventional wisdom in that direction. But beyond the civil libertarian angle—the only angle, incidentally, that in my humble opinion falls within, say, the Anti-Defamation League’s purview—is it right that the center be built there? Both the left and the right have their answers.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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