‘It’s just us’

‘IT’S JUST US’…. President Obama hosted an unusually-long White House press conference this morning, which I thought went extremely well for him. And for the most part, the press corps stuck to substantive issues and avoided some of the more sensationalistic issues of the day.

But there were exceptions. About half-way through the event, Obama was asked about the radical cleric in Florida who seems to have an affinity for burning Qurans. The president didn’t dwell on the subject, but he said such conduct is at odds with who we are and puts American troops at greater risk.

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The subject came up again in the very last question, when Fox News’ Wendell Goler asked about “the wisdom of building a mosque a couple of blocks from Ground Zero.” The president’s response was one of the best of his presidency.

“I think I’ve been pretty clear on my position here,” he said. “And that is, is that this country stands for the proposition that all men and women are created equal, that they have certain inalienable rights; one of those inalienable rights is to practice their religion freely. And 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 the site.”

The president went on to explain, “We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts. And we’ve got to be clear about that. We’ve got to be clear about that because … if we’re going to successfully reduce the terrorist threat, then we need all the allies we can get. The folks who are most interested in a war between the United States or the West and Islam are al Qaeda. That’s what they’ve been banking on.

“And fortunately, the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world are peace-loving, are interested in the same things that you and I are interested in: how do I make sure I can get a good job, how can I make sure that my kids get a decent education, how can I make sure I’m safe, how can I improve my lot in life. And so they have rejected this violent ideology for the most part, overwhelmingly.

“And so from a national security interest, we want to be clear about who the enemy is here. It’s a handful, a tiny minority of people who are engaging in horrific acts — and have killed Muslims more than anybody else.

“The other reason it’s important for us to remember that is because 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, you know, 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 armed services. They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us, and we’ve got to make sure that we are crystal clear for our sakes and their sakes: They are Americans. And we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don’t differentiate between ‘them’ and ‘us.’ It’s just ‘us.'”

It’s a shame the country has to be reminded of these basic truths from time to time, but it’s heartening when a leader steps up to make this plain.