Update @ 2:10p: Video, rather than transcript, on the way for both of Obama’s answers to questions about anti-Muslim sentiments in the U.S. this summer. Also note our 9/11 anniversary essay from ColorLines publisher Rinku Sen and ROC-NY co-director Fekkak Mamdouh.
It took nearly a month of uproar and an international crisis threatening U.S. security globally, but President Obama finally stepped forward today to take control of the deteriorating public conversation about Muslims in America. At the end of his 75-minute White House press conference–the president’s first formal Q&A with the press corps since May–FOX News correspondent Wendell Goler asked about both the "wisdom" of the Park51 development and about Pastor Terry Jones’s Quran-burning threat. In response, Obama abandoned the legalistic framing he’s used in previous remarks and instead spoke directly about the place Muslim Americans hold in our society.
Obama began his response by pointing to religious freedom as a foundational American idea and by stressing "we are not at war against Islam; we are at war against terrorist organizations." But he concluded by pointing to tomorrow’s anniversary of the September 11 attacks as a chance to remind ourselves of America’s valuable plurality:
We’ve got millions of Muslim Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country. They’re going to school with our kids. They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends. They’re our coworkers. And when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them? I’ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the United States services. They are putting their lives on the line for us and we have got to make sure they understand they are Americans…. We don’t differentiate between them and us; it’s just us. And that’s going to be a principle that’s going to be very important for us to sustain and I think tomorrow is an excellent time to reflect on that.
Well said, Mr. President.
Obama also pointed to Muslims around the world as partners with the U.S. in its war against terrorist organizations. He called terrorist groups who "have used Islam" to excuse their acts a "tiny" slice of Muslims globally. "Fortunately, the majority of Muslims around the world are peace loving and are interested in the same things you and I are interested in," he said.
In reaction to the Florida pastor’s on-again/off-again threats to burn Qurans tomorrow, Obama repeated much of what he said on ABC’s Good Morning America Thursday. "There is no doubt that when someone goes out of their way to be provocative in ways that we know can inflame the passions of over a million Muslims around the world, at a time when we’ve got our troops in a lot of Muslim countries, that’s a problem."
We’ll post a full transcript of Obama’s remarks on Muslim Americans and the U.S. relationship with Muslims globally once it’s available.