Obama defending Image Credit: Illustration by Guillermo Munro/©Gulf News

At last US President Barack Obama has decided to put principles before votes. According to a CNN/Opinion Research poll some 70 per cent of Americans disapprove of a plan by the Cordoba Initiative to construct a mosque near ‘Ground Zero', where almost 3,000 innocent people were murdered on September 11, 2001. Yet, despite looming mid-term elections, Obama has been unequivocal on the issue.

With his approval rating hovering around a low of 46 per cent his stance is courageous. He's already taken flak from his opponents over his middle name — Hussain — and his father's Islamic beliefs. His defence of the mosque will once again inflame the conspiracy nuts who are convinced the US leader has the heart of a Muslim.

Speaking at an iftar dinner on Friday he affirmed his belief that "Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country" and "that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community centre on private property in lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances".

False comparison

It almost goes without saying that America's rightwing is out to capitalise on the public mood. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer falsely compared the project with the construction of a German heritage centre in Auschwitz when there is one important difference: The attacks on America were launched by a handful of crazed criminals; not a state.

The Republican Party wanted to run an ad featuring the following voiceover on American TV: "On September 11, they declared war against us. And to celebrate that murder of 3,000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous 13-storey mosque at Ground Zero".

Thankfully, this ignorant and error-laden slice of propaganda was rejected. For one thing, hundreds of the 3,000 victims of 9/11 weren't American and many were Muslims.

In fact, Muslims are the real victims of 9/11. Over a million Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan have died as a result of Washington's lust for revenge while many others have been abducted, incarcerated and tortured.

The difference is, unlike the families of 9/11 victims, Iraqis and Afghans who have lost loved ones have mostly not been compensated, let alone to the tune of millions of dollars.

Secondly, whoever came up with the GOP's piece of garbage should be ashamed to refer to a place of worship as "monstrous" and, third, the ad erroneously seeks to conflate the perpetrators of 9/11 with those who wish to construct the mosque.

Former governor of Alaska and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin described the proposed mosque as "an unnecessary provocation".

On Twitter she appealed to "peace-loving Muslims" to reject it "in the interests of healing", saying "it stabs hearts". Has it not occurred to her that her rabble rousing incitement stabs Muslim hearts — or don't they count in her shrill world?

Former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich predictably chose Fox News to spew his bile, saying: "The idea of a 13-storey building set up by a group — many of whom, frankly, are very hostile to our civilisation …" In reality, the Cordoba Initiative seeks "to strengthen the bridge between Islam and the West", which is more than can be said for the inflammatory rhetoric of Gingrich.

The most despicable individual of all is Terry Jones, the senior pastor of a church at the Dove World Outreach Centre, who says he is planning a "Burn the Koran [Quran] Day" on September 11, 2010.

And he calls himself a man of God! Someone should tell him that the People of the Book —- Muslims, Christians and Jews - believe in the same one God. I doubt this ignorant person has any idea that Islam treats Abraham, Moses and Jesus as revered prophets.

Hypocritical position

Similarly troubling is the view taken by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) — set up to stop the defamation of the Jewish people — which has hypocritically slammed the idea of a mosque at Ground Zero.

ADL's Abraham Foxman said "If you want to heal us, don't do it in our cemetery", with absolutely no thought to the Muslims who died on that world-altering day or ADL's mission statement that seeks "to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens".

This vulgar brouhaha has eroded my faith in human nature; so much so that I believe the Cordoba Initiative should search for another site. When there are so many revengeful bigots about, the community centre will not bring people together.

Rather it will become an object of hate and may even come under attack. Worse, the haters could unleash their venom on ordinary Muslim Americans as happened after the 9/11 attacks.

This is not about who wins and who loses. It's about common sense. If 70 per cent of Americans are not enlightened enough to respect one of the world's greatest religions or willing to follow the precepts of the first amendment to their own Constitution guaranteeing freedom of worship, ultimately, that's their loss — and their shame.

Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at lheard@gulfnews.com. Some of the comments may be considered for publication.