Obama defends mosque rights; pastor deliberates burnings (Roundup)
Sep 10, 2010, 20:56 GMT
Washington - US President Barack Obama on Friday stepped into the controversy over plans for a New York City mosque near the 2001 terrorist attack site, while an obscure Florida pastor continued to inflame global protests with the threat to burn Korans.
Muslims should be able to build wherever other religious groups can build, Obama said, adding that the United States stood for equality of all men and women, and of their right to 'practice their religion freely.'
'What that means is that if you could build a church on a site, you could build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on a site,' Obama said at a press conference.
Obama did not directly mention the New York mosque, but his comments clarified earlier statements he has made about the controversy, which has become a national hot potato in upcoming congressional elections.
The controversy has overshadowed the ninth anniversary commemoration on Saturday of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Fanatic Muslims hijacked four passenger planes that day and killed nearly 3,000 people in New York City, where the World Trade Center towers collapsed, and in Washington and Pennsylvania.
Plans to build an Islamic community centre near the New York site have provoked opposition among politicians and family members of victims, and now threats from an obscure Florida pastor to burn Korans in protest.
Waves of demonstrations have rippled across the Muslim world against the burning plans and led to the death of at least one protester in Afghanistan earlier Friday, when Afghan police opened fire on demonstrators outside a German Army camp in Faizabad.
The pastor at the centre of the storm, Terry Jones, who leads the Dove World Outreach Centre of about 50 people in Gainesville, Florida, has wavered since Thursday afternoon over carrying out his burning plans on Saturday.
The US government is worried about a violent backlash, with tens of thousands of US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama appealed again Friday that the 'individual in Florida ... prays on it and refrains from doing it.'
Obama vowed that the US was 'not going to be divided by religion.'
'It is absolutely important now for the overwhelming majority of the American people to hang onto that thing that is best in us: A belief in religious tolerance (and) clarity about who our enemies are.'
'We are not at war with Islam,' Obama said. 'We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts.'
Al-Qaeda, which Obama called the most effective murderer of Muslims around the world, would use the Koran burning as a recruitment tool, the president warned.
Obama recognized 'the extraordinary sensitivities around 9/11,' but added that as commander in chief, he had 'Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan' for the US. To honour their service, Obama said Americans must be 'crystal clear' that those soldiers 'understand that we don't differentiate between them and us.'
'It's just 'us',' he said.
Meanwhile, a curtain of uncertainty cloaked Jones' intention to burn Korans.
Late Thursday, he cancelled the plans in exchange for alleged commitments from New York Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to change the location of the mosque and to meet with him Saturday. But Rauf made clear afterwards that he had neither spoken to Jones nor made any such commitments.
On Friday, a colleague of Jones', KA Paul of the Global Peace Initiative, launched a proposal that gave the New York imam two hours to call them.
Paul told the media crowd outside the small Florida church that that he and Jones would wait two hours, then come out again and tell reporters what their next steps would be.
The uproar coincides with the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. In the US, Eid al-Fitr is being celebrated Friday.
In Singapore, Muslim leader Abu-Bakar Maidin said there should be no reactionary behavior in response to the 'misguided' pastor's 'unfortunate' effort at incitement.
'Muslims should be extremely careful in not falling into the traps of such provocateurs,' Maidin added, calling the behaviour by the pastor 'irresponsible.'