Two days after President Obama declared his support for a controversial proposal to build an Islamic center and mosque near the site of Ground Zero in Manhattan, two New York lawmakers sounded off on the merits of the project.
Republican Rep. Peter King represents a portion of western Long Island less than 20 miles from New York City; Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler represents part of Brooklyn and a slice of Manhattan that includes ground zero. In an interview Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, the congressmen differed on how they characterized the sensitivity of building a mosque near such hallowed ground.
“The fallacy is that al Qaeda attacked us. Islam did not attack us,” Nadler told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.
“It is only insensitive if you regard Islam as the culprit as opposed to Al Qaeda as the culprit,” he added. “[…]Objecting to the mosque would be as objectionable if you wouldn’t object to a church or synagogue in the same place because that’s blaming all Islam and you can’t blame an entire religion.”
But King said “the attack was carried out in the name of Islam,” and the fact that many families of 9/11 victims are opposed to the proposal should be enough of a reason to relocate it farther away from where the twin towers of the World Trade Center came down.
“The overwhelming majority of the 9/11 families are opposed to it, and they are good people, they are not bigoted, they are not biased … These people-the wounds are just being torn apart for them now and they are heartbroken over this,” King said. “And that is what I think the imam and the Muslim leadership should take this into account.”
On Friday, Obama defended the planned community center, saying, “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country.”
“That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances,” the president added, speaking at a White House dinner marking the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Obama on Saturday told CNN Chief White House Correspondent Ed Henry that that in defending the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque near ground zero in a speech on Friday night, he was “not commenting on the wisdom” of the project. Instead, Obama said he was trying to uphold the broader principle that the government should treat “everyone equal, regardless” of religion.
His comments were seen as step back from the support he appeared to give the controversial project during a White House dinner on Friday, though a spokesman for the administration quickly moved to clarify the president’s remarks.
Nadler praised Obama’s original remarks on Friday.
“The United States was founded on the principle of religious liberty and tolerance, and it is equally important 234 years later that we uphold this principle,” Nadler said in a statement released Friday after Obama’s remarks.
King criticized Obama for nuance and said he wished the president had been clearer.
“All I can think is perhaps there was political pressure from people in his own party who urged him to walk back away from that on Saturday,” King said.
“If the president was going to get into this, he should’ve been much more clear, much more precise and you can’t be changing your position from day-to-day on an issue that does go to our constitution and it also goes to extreme sensitivities.”