Obama's Mosque Tolerance Threatens Vision of a 'White...Christian' America?

Sheryl Gay Stolberg read minds of opponents and implied racism and religious intolerance among Ground Zero Mosque opponents.

As President Obama struggled to step back from what the New York Times called a "strong defense" of the Ground Zero Mosque proposal, Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg felt the president's pain in a Sunday "Political Memo" article, arguing that his shifting stands on the issue betray that this debate "is riskier for him than for his predecessors." (Those words were repeated in the text box). Stolberg wrote this is because his enemies want to live in a white, Christian-dominated country:

From the moment he took the oath of office, using his entire name, Barack Hussein Obama, as he swore to protect and defend the Constitution, Mr. Obama has personified the hopes of many Americans about tolerance and inclusion. He has devoted himself to reaching out to the Muslim world, vowing, as he did in Cairo last year, "a new beginning."

But his "new beginning" has aroused nervousness in some, especially those who disagree with his counterterrorism policies, or those more comfortable with a vision of America as a white and largely Christian nation, and not the pluralistic melting pot Mr. Obama represents.

It's riskier for Obama because people perceived the last president as staunchly Christian, unlike Obama:

Mr. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, also held annual Ramadan celebrations and frequently took pains to draw a distinction between Al Qaeda and Islam, as Mr. Obama did Friday night. But Mr. Obama, unlike Mr. Bush, has been accused of being a closet Muslim (he is Christian) and faced attacks from the right that he is soft on terrorists.

She did follow up by letting former Dennis Hastert aide John Feehery suggest it was "a blunder," and noted "Few national Democrats rushed" to his defense. She also found that in Florida, Democrat gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink distanced himself from it, while former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist supported Obama.

In a front-page article in Saturday's paper, before Obama backed off his "strong defense" of the mosque proposal, Stolberg found: "Aides to Mr. Obama say privately that he has always felt strongly about the proposed community center and mosque, but the White House did not want to weigh in until local authorities made a decision on the proposal, planned for two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center." He "always felt strongly," and then backed off within hours.

In the Saturday story, Stolberg included critiques from Republican Rick Lazio, but also disappointment from a radical-left Muslim voice:

Mr. Obama ran for office promising to improve relations with the Muslim world, by taking steps like closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and more generally reaching out. In a speech in Cairo last year, he vowed "a new beginning."

But Ali Abunimah, an Arab-American journalist and author, said the president has since left many Muslims disappointed. "There has been no follow-through; Guantánamo is still open and so forth, so all you have left for him to show is in the symbolic field," Mr. Abunimah said, adding that it was imperative for Mr. Obama to "stand up to Islamophobia."

Stolberg did not explain that Ali Abunimah is a co-founder of the website Electronic Intifada, where he has argued that Hamas and Hezbollah are hardly terrorist groups:

Nothing could be easier in the present atmosphere than to accuse anyone who calls for recognition of and dialogue with Hamas, Hizballah and other Islamist movements of being closet supporters of reactionary "extremism" or naive fellow travelers of "terrorists." This tactic is not surprising coming from neoconservatives and Zionists. What is novel is to see it expressed in supposedly progressive quarters...

Hamas and Hizballah emerged in the context of brutal Israeli invasions and military occupations. Their popular support and legitimacy have increased as they demonstrated their ability to present a credible veto on the unrestrained exercise of Israeli power where state actors, international bodies, the peace process industry and secular nationalist resistance movements notably failed.

If the Times thinks President Obama really needs to make sure he's better respected by bloggers at Electronic Intifada, then perhaps they're not understanding why the conservative blogosphere is alarmed, and it's not trying to limit tolerance to "white and largely Christian" America.