"Well, good evening, and Ramadan Kareem, and I want to
welcome everyone to our annual Ramadan Iftar at Gracie Mansion.
"We call this 'The People's House,' because it belongs
to all 8.4 million New Yorkers who call this city home. And people of every race
and religion, every background and belief. And we celebrate that diversity here
in this house with gatherings like this one.
"And for me, whether it's marking St. Patrick's Day or
Harlem Week or any other occasion, these gatherings are always a powerful
reminder of what makes our city so strong and our country so great.
"You know, America is a nation of immigrants, and I
think it's fair to say no place opens its doors more widely to the world than
New York City. America is the land of opportunity, and I think it's fair to say
no place offers its residents more opportunity to pursue their dreams than New
York City. And America is a beacon of freedom, and I think it's fair to say no
place defends those freedoms more fervently, or has been attacked for those
freedoms more ferociously, than New York City.
"In recent weeks, a debate has arisen that I believe
cuts to the core of who we are as a city and a country. The proposal to build a
mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan has created a national
conversation on religion in America, and since Ramadan offers a time for
reflection, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on that very subject.
"There are people of good will on both sides of the
debate, and I would hope that everyone can carry on a dialogue in a civil and
respectful way. In fact, I think most people now agree on two fundamental
issues: First, that Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque in
Lower Manhattan and second, that the site of the World Trade Center is hallowed
ground. And the only question we face is: how do we honor that hallowed
"The wounds of 9/11 are still very much with us. And I
know that is true for Talat Hamdani, who is here with us tonight, and who lost
her son, Salman Hamdani, on 9/11. There will always be a hole in our hearts for
the men and women who perished that day.
"After the attacks, some argued - including some of
those who lost loved ones - that the entire site should be reserved for a
memorial. But we decided - together, as a city - that the best way to honor all
those we lost, and to repudiate our enemies, was to build a moving memorial and
to rebuild the site.
"We wanted the site to be an inspiring reminder to the
world that this city will never forget our dead and never stop living. We vowed
to bring Lower Manhattan back - stronger than ever - as a symbol of our defiance
and I think it's fair to say we have. Today, it is more of a community
neighborhood than ever before, with more people than ever living, working,
playing and praying there.
"But if we say that a mosque or a community center
should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would
compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom.
"We would undercut the values and principles that so
many heroes died protecting. We would feed the false impressions that some
Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that
Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes
of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist
recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam.
"Islam did not attack the World Trade Center - Al-Qaeda
did. To implicate all of Islam for the actions of a few who twisted a great
religion is unfair and un-American. Today we are not at war with Islam - we are
at war with Al-Qaeda and other extremists who hate freedom.
"At this very moment, there are young Americans - some
of them Muslims - standing freedoms' watch in Iraq and Afghanistan, and around
the world. A couple here tonight, Sakibeh and Asaad Mustafa, have children who
have served our country overseas and after 9/11, one of them aided in the
recovery efforts at Ground Zero. And I'd like to ask them to stand, so we can
show our appreciation. There you go. Thank you.
"The members of our military are men and women at arms -
battling for hearts and minds. And their greatest weapon in that fight is the
strength of our American values, which have already inspired people around the
world. If we do not practice here at home what we preach abroad - if we do not
lead by example - we undermine our soldiers. We undermine our foreign policy
objectives. And we undermine our national security.
"In a different era, with different international
challenges facing the country, President Kennedy's Secretary of State, Dean
Rusk, explained to Congress why it is so important for us to live up to our
ideals here at home. Dean Rusk said, 'The United States is widely regarded as
the home of democracy and the leader of the struggle for freedom, for human
rights, for human dignity. We are expected to be the model.'
"We are expected to be the model. Nearly a half-century
later, his words remain true. In battling our enemies, we cannot rely entirely
on the courage of our soldiers or the competence of our diplomats. We all have
to do our part.
"Just as we fought communism by showing the world the
power of free markets and free elections, so must we fight terrorism by showing
the world the power of religious freedom and cultural tolerance. Freedom and
tolerance will always defeat tyranny and terrorism - and that's the great lesson
of the 20th century, and we must not abandon it here in the 21st.
"Now I understand the impulse to find another location
for the mosque and community center. I understand the pain of those who are
motivated by loss too terrible to contemplate. And there are people of every
faith - including, perhaps, some in this room - who are hoping that a compromise
will end the debate.
"But it won't. The question will then become, how big
should the 'no-mosque zone' be around the World Trade Center site? There is
already a mosque four blocks away. Should it be moved?
"This is a test of our commitment to American values. We
have to have the courage of our convictions. We must do what is right, not what
is easy. And we must put our faith in the freedoms that have sustained our great
country for more than 200 years.
"Now, I know that many in this room are disturbed and
dispirited by the debate. But it's worth keeping some perspective on the matter.
The first colonial settlers came to these shores seeking religious liberty and
the founding fathers wrote a constitution that guaranteed it. They made sure
that in this country government would not be permitted to choose between
religions or favor one over another.
"Nonetheless, it was not so long ago that Jews and
Catholics had to overcome stereotypes and build bridges to those who viewed them
with suspicion and less than fully American. In 1960, many Americans feared that
John F. Kennedy would impose papal law on America. But through his example, he
taught us that piety to a minority religion is no obstacle to patriotism. It is
a lesson I think that needs updating today, and it is our responsibility to
accept the challenge.
"Before closing, let me just add one final thought: Imam
Rauf, who is now overseas promoting America and American values, has been put
under a media microscope. Each of us may strongly agree or strongly disagree
with particular statements that he has made. And that's how it should be - this
is New York City.
"And while a few of his statements have received a lot
of attention, I would like to read you something that he said that you may not
have heard. At an interfaith memorial service for the martyred journalist Daniel
Pearl, Imam Rauf said, quote, 'If to be a Jew means to say with all one's heart,
mind, and soul: Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad; Hear O Israel, the
Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been
He then continued to say, 'If to be a Christian is to
love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my
fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I
have always been one.'
"In that spirit, let me declare that we in New York are
Jews and Christians and Muslims, and we always have been. And above all of that,
we are Americans, each with an equal right to worship and pray where we choose.
There is nowhere in the five boroughs of New York City that is off limits to any
"By affirming that basic idea, we will honor America's
values and we will keep New York the most open, diverse, tolerant, and free city
in the world. Thank you and enjoy."