September 10th, 2010
01:06 PM ET

Obama: 'We are not at war against Islam'

[Updated at 12:25 p.m.] President Obama was asked about his thoughts on the Islamic center being built near ground zero in New York.

"All men and women are created equal, they have certain inalienable rights, and one of those is to practice their religion freely," Obama said. "You can build a church on a site, you can build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, you should be able to build a mosque."

Obama said he recognized the sensitivity in the area because of the 9/11 attacks and acknowledges that family members are continuing to experience pain and anguish over their losses.

However, he urged people to remember who our real enemies are.

"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," Obama said. "If we're going to deal with the problems Ed Henry was talking about - reducing the terrorist threat - we need all the allies we can get."

Obama pressed that in fact, the anti-Islam sentiment and a war between the West and Islam is exactly what terrorist organizations are hoping for.

"Al Qaeda,  that's what they've been banking on," Obama said. "The overwhelming majority of Muslims are peace-loving - are interested in the same things that you and I are interested in."

Obama stressed it is important that Americans do not believe the entire religion of Islam is offensive.

iReport: Share your thoughts on controversy surrounding Islamic Center

For more on Obama's question-and-answer session and analysis check out CNN's Political Ticker.

CNN analysts weigh in

[Updated at 12:17 p.m.] CNN's Ed Henry asked President Barack Obama whether he still agrees with his statement that it is crititical to capture Osama bin Laden and if he views it a failure that he hasn't been captured, despite Obama's promise to run a smarter war on terrorism than President Bush.

"I think capturing or killing bin Laden ... would be extremely important to national security," he said. "It doesn't solve all of our problems, but it is a high priority for our administration."

Obama touted success in forcing members of al Qaeda to retreat because of ramped up pressure on its leaders.

"They have been holed up in ways that have made it harder for them to operate - and part of what's happening is bin Laden has gone deeper underground," Obama said. "We have the best minds, the best intelligence officers, the best special forces who are thinking about this day and night, and they will continue to think about it day and night as long as I'm president."

[Updated at 12:07 p.m.] Obama said that although he has missed the deadline to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, "it is not for lack of trying."

"It's because of politics," he said.

He insisted that he believes the U.S. justice system is capable of handling procedures involving terrorist suspects and that military tribunals are not necessary.

"I am absolutely convinced that the American justice system is strong enough, that we should be able to convict people who murdered innocent Americans and that carried out terrorist attacks against us," he said. "We should be able to lock them up and make sure they don't see the light of day. We can do that, and we've done it before."

[Updated at 12:00 p.m.] Obama acknowledged that the looming expiration of Israel's moratorium on settlement construction is a "major bone of contention."

The internal politic pressures for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on this issue "are very difficult," Obama said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu have to figure out "how to help each other succeed," he added.

[Updated at 11:58 a.m.] Obama was asked about levels of corruption within the Afghanistan government and what is being done to curtail it.

"We are in the midst of a very difficult but very important project. I just want to remind people why we're there, the day before September 11. We're there because that was the place where al Qaeda launched an attack that killed 3,000 Americans. And we want to make sure we dismantle al Qaeda and that Afghanistan is never again used as a base for attacks against Americans and the American homeland."

Obama asked people to remember that Afghanistan is the second poorest country in the world and that change won't happen overnight, but his administration is working with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Obama criticized former President George W. Bush's administration for failing to provide adequate training of Afghan military forces.

"After seven years of policies in which we weren't even effectively training security forces, we're saying we're going to work with the Afghan government so they can be responsible for their own security. We're going to promote a political settlement in the region that can help to reduce the violence. We're going to encourage an Afghan government that can deliver services for its people."

He insisted that progress has been made in terms of rooting out corruption from the government in Kabul, but "we're a long way from where we need to be on that," he said.

The White House will continue to pressure Karzai on the issue of corruption, Obama said.

[Updated at 11:52 a.m.] Obama said that a proposed settlement for black farmers - who have historically been the target of racial discrimination by the federal government - is "fair" and "just."

The White House will continue to make funding of the settlement - now blocked in the Senate - "a priority," he said.

[Updated at 11:51 a.m.] Obama insisted Friday that skyrocketing medical costs will ultimately decline as more people are covered due to his administration's health care reform initiative.

[Updated at 11:44 a.m.] Obama was asked about Pastor Terry Jones in Florida, who had plans to burn Qurans on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and whether he was concerned that by having the secretary of defense call him, it was actually elevating his platform.

"The idea that we would burn the sacred texts of someone else's religion is contrary to what this country stands for. It's contrary to what this nation was founded on. My hope is that this individual prays on it and refrains from doing it," Obama said. "But I'm also commander in chief, and we are seeing today riots in Kabul, riots in Afghanistan, that threaten our young men and women in uniform, and so we have an obligation to send a very clear message that this kind of behavior or threats of action put our men and women in danger."

Obama said he doesn't think his administration is what elevated this story, but "in the age of the internet, this is something that can cause us profound damage."

"It's also the best imaginable recruiting tool for al Qaeda," he said. "We don't start having a bunch of folks all across the country think this is how to get attention. This is a way of endangering our troops. You don't play games with that."

[Updated at 11:40 a.m.] Obama conceded Friday that there are "enormous hurdles" to the new Middle East peace talks. His administration understood that "it was a risk for us to promote these discussions, but it is a risk worth taking," he
said.

It is in the interests of America, the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach a comprehensive settlement, Obama said. The issue of Middle East peace must be dealt with if, among other things, Israel is to remain both Jewish and Democratic, Obama said.  A settlement would also help the United States deal with Iran.

"If these talks break down, we're going to keep on trying," he said.

[Updated at 11:34 a.m.] Obama was asked about why he believes that nine years after the attacks on September 11, 2001, there is now a growing suspicion and resentment of Islam.

"I think that at a time when the country is anxious generally, and gone through a tough time, then you know fears can surface, suspicions, divisions can surface in a society, and so I think that plays a role," Obama said.

Obama then praised former President George W. Bush for his specific rhetoric on religion following the attacks.

"One of the things I most admired about President Bush was after 9/11, him being crystal clear about the fact that we were not at war with Islam, we were at war with terrorists and murderers who had perverted Islam ... to carry out their acts."

Obama said he was proud the country had rallied around the idea that we can't be divided because of religion or ethnicity - and hopes that is something that can continue.

"We are all Americans, we stand together," Obama said. "I think it is absolutely important now for majority of Americans to hang onto that thing that is best in us: a belief in religious tolerance. We have to make sure we don't start turning on each other."

"We are one nation under God. We may call that God different names, but we are one nation."

[Updated at 11:32 a.m.] Obama said Friday that one of the reasons he hasn't created a greater spirit of cooperation in Washington is because some GOP leaders decided when he took office that "we're going to sit on the sidelines and let the Democrats solve" the economic crisis.

Taking on tough issues with entrenched special interests creates "a lot of big fights," he said.

[Updated at 11:25 a.m.] Obama deflected a question Friday about whether his new economic plans should be referred to as another "stimulus" package. "Everything we've been trying to do is designed to stimulate growth," he said.  "I have no problem with people saying the president is trying" to do that.

He was then asked about several pending Senate nominations - including judges and Homeland Security officials.

"I'm concerned about all Senate nominations these days," he said, noting he wasn't making a joke. "I've got people who have been waiting for six months to get confirmed that nobody has an official objection to ... and I can't get a vote on them."

Obama said it was frustrating when "you've got a determined minority" that is attempting to filibuster all of his nominations.

"They're just playing games," he said.

[Updated at 11:20 a.m.] President Obama was asked about why he waited so long to introduce his latest economic policies and if they are merely being used as a political weapon for the election season.

"We have this notion that we waited until now, but just on the small business issue alone, we have cut taxes for small businesses eight times," Obama said. "So we are hardly Johnny-come-latelys on this issue."

Obama touted a variety of  policy successes as the reason the economy is better than it was when he took office.

"When you put all the things we did together, it made a difference," he said.

[Updated at 11:19 a.m.] Obama said there is room for discussion on competing tax plans.

"If the Republican leadership is prepared to get serious ... I would love to talk to them," he told reporters at the White House.

Obama insisted, however, that GOP plans to extend the Bush tax cuts for individuals earning over $250,000 are a bad idea.

[Updated at 11:13 a.m.] A reporter asked Obama about his assertion that Democrats wouldn't do well in the midterm elections in November if it would be a referendum on the economy.

"For 19 months we have steadily worked to avoid a depression, to take an economy that was contracting and making it grow again," Obama said. "But we're not there yet."

Obama acknowledged Americans' anger about the slow progress.

"And because I'm the president and the Democrats have controlled the House and the Senate, it's understandable that people are saying 'what have you done?' "

However, Obama said, the Republicans don't offer a better solution - in fact, their policies are worse.

"The Republicans' offers are exactly the ones that got us into this trouble," he said. "If you want the same kind of skewed policies that led us to these problems, the Republicans are ready to do that."

[Updated at 11:11 a.m.] Obama announced that Austan Goolsbee will be named chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Goolsbee will replace Christina Romer, who stepped down this month as chair of the council, a panel of three White House officials who offer the president economic advice and help formulate policy.

[Updated at 11:08 a.m.] Obama on Friday once again urged the Senate to pass his small business jobs bill, arguing that it has been blocked by "a partisan (Republican) minority."

Obama praised Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, for announcing that he would not help GOP leaders block the bill.

[Updated at 11:02 a.m.] Obama said the goal of his latest proposals is to help jump-start an economy still dealing with the impact of the recession.

"Even though the economy is growing again ... the hole the recession left has been huge," Obama said.

"Millions of Americans are still looking for work."

He touted his administration's investments in infrastructure as a chance to remain competitive with other countries that are working on similar projects including high-speed rail.

[Posted at 10:50 a.m.] President Obama will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. Friday, his first full-scale question-and-answer session at the White House in nearly four months and his seventh full-scale news conference at the White House since he took office.

The last presser was back in May when the president answered questions mainly about the oil spill. This one is expected to focus on the economy.

soundoff (818 Responses)
  1. hebelman

    What’s the hoopla-hoop about?

    = = = this cuts both ways, does it not?

    Why is there such an outcry about the burning of these books, including the folks in the USA and Canada when the same people do not say BOO and are deafening quiet when the USA flag and the Canadian flags are being burned?

    September 10, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • whatnot

      I agree with this interesting point. The difference in reactions, in my thinking, is that God, and the principles and beliefs of this country, cannot be harmed by destroying a Bible or a flag, important as those symbols are and as respectfully as they are usually treated, because God and this principles of this nation supercede the symbols. Yet the same does not seem true when a Koran is damaged or destroyed or cartoons depict Muhammed. It seems more a case that the symbol itself is all there is, and what the symbol represents is able to be harmed. Well, I don't think I expressed this as clearly as I wanted, but maybe the idea is one someone else can voice more clearly than I can.

      September 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dave

    I got news for him. "he" may not be at war with Islam, but the people he supposedly represents ARE!

    September 10, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Tewrobert

    al Qaeda might have pulled back but they regrouped.an they will again and again and soon to be regrouping here in your good OLE USA. Guaranteed........to you goody two shoes, They only wish and pray that they can kill you.....
    Build that Mosque there and when your over run with Muslims and they crowd your lifestyle you can join them or they will chop your head off.'
    Obama is an idiot, He wakes up in a new world every 15 minutes.
    Its going to serve you all right........and no one can stop it.........

    September 10, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. LordVader

    Anyone who says it is DISRESPECTFUL to build a mosque on private property is a bigot. On 9/11 we where attached by crazy people – anyone who associates the attack with the Muslim faith is an ignorant bigot.
    Did we ban Christian churches in Oklahoma after some crazy Christians blew up a federal building there?

    September 10, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • whatnot

      I don't think the Oklahoma City attack was based on a religious motivation – maybe someone could clarify that aspect. A problem with the federal government was the motivation I had read and heard discussed.

      September 10, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • LordVader

      @whatnot – What exactly is your point? Al Quada stated that they attacked America because American troops where stationed in Saudi Arabia and because America protects Israel. Where does it say in the Koran that muslims are required to attack America? It doesn't does it?

      Anyone who extends that because Al Quada is run by crazy people that are Muslims that the attack as anything to do with the Muslim religion is an ignorant bigot.

      The organization that attacked that US government in Oklahoma stated that there goal was to punish the US government for its crimes in Waco Texas during the standoff with a Crazy Christian polygamist. That organization (that attacked us) was run by Christians.

      So I ask you should we ban christian churches in Oklahoma because it is insensitive? Of course not – those people that attached us where crazy and there belief is not reflective of the christian faith.

      I state again anyone who thinks building a mosque is insensitive is an ignorant bigot because they are basically stating that there is a relationship between the crazy people that attacked us on 9.11 and the Muslim faith when of course there is none.

      Connecting 9.11 to Islam is as ridiculous as connecting Oklahoma to Christianity.

      September 10, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bob

    We were attacked by 12 Saudi Nationals who under their leader BinnLaden a Saudi attacked the WTC.. Why in Gods name did Mr Bush NOT call in the Saudi Foreign Minister and get to the bottom of it?? Who was he protecting.??. Rich people in High Palaces??.. Get the World Bank to monitor the money flowing to Al-Quida, and put and end to their finances.. No money, no Al-quada.. You can't invade the whole world! Western Troops in Muslim Lands is the biggest recruiter for Terrorists in my opinion.. Republicans get off the Stinkin Oil, petro dollars are just used to support Anti-American Rads..

    September 10, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. yangban

    The people building or trying to build this mosque should know better. It's like going to midde of Queens NY and build a white supremist center. You have the right to do so you also have the obilgation to common sense and act accordingly. If you are a muslim, what is your take on this? Do you support what these non common sense people are doing? Of all place to build a mosque, why near the ground zero? Are there more muslim popluation near ground zero? Is it more holy? HELP ME UNDERSTAND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 10, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. CommonSense

    No, Chrissy, he is NOT one of us. YOU may be like HIM, but we don't know what YOU are like. We do know how YOU think, though, and I am so sorry for YOU on that one.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. brown

    Here we see a President in denial !

    September 10, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. hellmut

    "Sept. 11 used to be a day when America came together - party politics took a backseat to reconciliation. Not so this year. From the Muslim prayer room at ground zero to Koran burnings in Florida to a certain gathering in Alaska, the anniversary of the terrorist attacks this year threatens to become a day of hate." This is an excerpt from the German magazine Der Spiegel. Worldwide the biggest demonstration to show solidarity with the US and the victims of 9/11 took place in Berlin Germany. Now people are shaking their heads in disbelief. What do you think happened?

    September 10, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. jason

    of course rich republican slobs hate obama cause he taxes them. These are the same people who create jobs that pay nothing and provide no insurance to hard working honest people. republicans are rich greedy, the ones that arent are sheep, hanity, beck, limba fans. its funny how easily people forget bush/repubs leaving us two wars, by the way big deal we left iraq afghan is raging. we're not at war with islam? i dont agree with everything dems do but republicans in november are you kidding me?

    September 10, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Obama-mama-bo-bama

    Somebody please help me get the Obama bumper sticker off my car!!

    September 10, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. sumday

    Ok so we are not at war with Islam, it is just Islam is at war with us but the president doesn't want us to fight back. Mr Obama tell me why a citizen of the USA must put up with insults, name calling, and disrespect when the issue is christainity- no one complains or says anything if it is a bible being burned or insulting our faith or Jesus, but we all must be sensitive and not disrespect or offend Islam??? huh why is that mr president? Why have you not stoop up and told the Muslism/Islam that they too must accept our ways and be tolerent of our faiths? Instead the president rants about someone who might offend Islam. Obama is nothing more than a puppet for the middle east can't wait for 2012 I'd rather have 20 yr of Bush than another 4 yr of a man who bends over to help those who hate us. 1 last question to the president if we are not at war with Islam why does their quaran tell them to kill those who don't believe in it?

    September 10, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim

      Not only are they at War with us, they are at War with Russia, India, Sudan, Somalia. Not to mention Afghanistan and Pakistan. Once again, what a peaceful religion.

      September 10, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bob

    We want to spread Democracy and Western Morals, but we turn a Blind eye to the Opium Fields in Afganastan... War on Drugs =Joke= Hypocracy!! Heroin will kill more USA citizens than even the WTC..

    September 10, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Jeffrey

    A lot of people were saying "What would Jesus do?" yesterday when the Florida pastor wanted to burn books. I'll ask the same question "What would Jesus do?" in this countries situation (since we are in fact a "Christian" nation). If Jesus were alive and another religion would try to get Him to do something He didn't think was right, He'd rebuke them and do His own thing. What does USA do? "Please don't kill us – We'll do whatever you say" to whatever other religions demand of us. We're the laughing stock of the world...we just don't know it yet.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. whoa

    QUESTION FOR OBAMA.....DID WE PUT A ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH UP IN HIROSHIMA

    September 10, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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