Truth  is said to be the first victim of any war.

So it is not surprising that small distinctions are the casualties of political warfare.

The current tempest over President Barack Obama’s comments regarding a proposed mosque and community center in lower Manhattan is a case in point.

Saturday, Obama waded into the debate over the $100 million Islamic center two blocks from where 3,000 people died when Islamic extremists flew two jetliners into the World Trade Center nine years ago.

Since then, a variety of politicians have voiced either support or opposition to the plans. Generally, survivors of those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, have demanded the mosque not be built.

Friday, Obama stated what should be apparent to all Americans:

“As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country,” he said.

“That includes a place of worship and  community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”

The U.S. Constitution guarantees as much. In a very dry, legal sense, government cannot interfere with the right of people to practice their religion.

It matters not what “the people” or “most people” want.  The Constitution and Bill of Rights supercede public opinion.

After the president’s comments, the lead story on TV and in morning newspapers became the president’s “support” for a mosque.

So, the next day, Obama tried to slightly recalibrate those remarks, always a dangerous undertaking.

When questioned about his comments, Obama said he was not commenting on the “wisdom” of the decision to build the mosque.

Aha! Both critics and supporters blasted the president for backing off his original comments.

Lost, however, in the hurry-up world of instant commentary was a small but important distinction that is crucial to this issue.

It may be perfectly legal for this mosque to be built, and there may be nothing any layer of government can do to stop it.

It may also, at the same time, be very unwise.

The issue has rubbed many New Yorkers the wrong way, despite the stated intent of the project, which is to celebrate tolerance.

The nuances are many: There is another mosque less than a block away that has been there for 50 years. A number of Muslims were killed on 9/11. Islam has had a presence in the U.S. dating back to the nation’s founding. Many of the people supporting this project are third or fourth generation American-Muslims.

On the other hand, the emotional pain of the survivors and rescuers of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks cannot be discounted.

One would think the supporters of the project would have done some outreach before announcing their plans. Perhaps built some bridges and trust, laid some groundwork before making their decision.

That, apparently, did not happen.

Now, we are simply left with an increasingly angry standoff framed against a Constitutional imperative.

Yes, a mosque can be built.

But the ultimate question for its supporters may be whether it will come to represent more of a monument to obstinance than tolerance.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com


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