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

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. Get Your Facts Right!

    Afghanistan is not anywhere close to being the second poorest county in the world!

    September 10, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. New York

    It is clear that the mosque CAN be built near ground zero. Religious freedom is guaranteed and the principle is clear. I understand it perfectly.

    What I don't understand is why somebody thought it was a wonderful idea to pick that spot to build a mosque. Just because you can do something, doesn't make it a good idea. Any more than burning a Koran is a good idea just because you have the freedom.

    I think with freedom comes responsibility.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |

    I think most would agree that everyone has a right to worship within decent walking distance from the new Tower being built. The question is how many $100,000,000 Mosques/ Muslim Centers have been built in western society ? NONE ! To build such a grand place is like building a monument, which will only attract Blood money to build it.

    Those who say this place is being built for tolerance and unity purposes, there is ALREADY no more a tolerant place for races and religions then in NYC.This country is educated enough on tolerance of other religions, but the fact is that 90% of all Muslims and 62% of all Muslims in North America , STILL today say that the TOWERS demise was not caused by Radical Muslims.

    This $100,000,000 being used would be better served in many other areas where people need to get Educated. These areas start where the people are in Major disbelief , in cities around the world and not in NYC , where you will find more moderate people in understanding other peoples beliefs because of the city's melting pot of people.

    Build a Mosque to pray(Not more grand then any other Mosque in NYC)nearby, A Monument is not needed, there will be enough Monuments a couple blocks away. 100 Mosques in Africa and the Middle East with the money, where the Imam visits throughout the year and starts with he monologue "I want to tell you that the Twin Towers was destroyed by Radical Muslims, please spread the word" !

    September 10, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Tod

    Frankly, I am just fed up with religious fanatics and religion as a whole. Keep it out of politics and war. Every war in the middle east is over religion and hatred, let's face it, these islamic extremists will never change. Just look how they reacted to a mere 50 people burning the "SO CALLED HOLY BOOK". When they open their doors to all religions and allow churches in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and every other muslim controlled country, then I will say islam is ok. Until then SHUT THE HELL UP! You islamic people make me sick with your lies about how islam treats other religions and non, believers. You can say from your mouths over and over again about how islam is so peaceful, then answer one question...Why can't you people come together in your own respective countries and CONDEMN these radical islamic groups? We do it here in the US all the time, just did it in Florida for you people to show you we can tolerate you. Now let's see you islamic people do this in kind.
    If you cannot or will not stand up to your own people when they do an injustice, then why should we continue to stand up for you??? Those who use religion as a weapon and use the name of God/Allah to kill people who want nothing to do with you and just want to live free are pathetic excuses for human beings. In my book, we need to stop all religions from committing atrocities. Religion has its place and it is not in the governing of people. We have seen that it does not work, history shows and proves this. Look how many people were killed by the Catholic church some 500 years ago, for what, not believing?
    We need to root out all extremists that want to kill people for not following their ways and simply eliminate them in one way or another. Because if they come to my house and try to kill me for not believing in the Quran, they better pray that God is on their side.
    Come on people, we all want to be free from oppression and tyranny, we cannot allow these types of extremists to take our freedom away and put FEAR in the sheepish people.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. hellooutthere

    we are not at war with islam...who said we were...does exercising our right of free speech declare war on islam?

    September 10, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. oblahma

    of course we're not at war with Islam, they just want to kill us and we're just gonna let them cuz it might offend them otherwise.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. sally

    Obama did a fine job of explaining his plans and commenting on the insanity of burning the Quran. Most Muslims in this country are hardworking people trying to get on with life. In every religion there are bigots and hateful people (that includes Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism, all of them) who are seeking to divide us further, as the man in Gainesville is trying to do. This actually makes us less safe from terrorism and is a big draw for more recruits to Al Qaeda. Who can remain friendly when they are being called ugly names? That is why the founders of this country made freedom of religion a priority. We must not stomp all over our on values because we don't like Al Qaeda.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. J

    For once will the President think about the American people! We are the ones who voted him into office. I would love to see the day when our American leader actually stood up for us, and not try to please everyone else. Time and time again he has referred to Iran, as "our foreign partners". Since when did we become a business or law firm? We are American's, we fight for our freedom, and what is right. American's died a horrible death on 9/11, and to place a mosque near ground zero and to support it, is 100% disrepectfull to the American people, and the United States. The last time anything like 9/11 happened was Pearl Harbor on 12/7, as a country we handled it, we didn't try to become friends or partners with the enemy.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guerrina

      Thank you, J, I feel the say way. I do not see or hear that anyone, including the President, is truly listening to the American people. I feel as if this is being shoved upon us regardless.

      September 10, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Boss Hogg

    This may come as a surpise to some of you, but Democrats have controlled Congress since 06. So stop saying "we can't fix the worst depression in our history in 2 years" and remember that you've actually been running the show for 4. G Dub was a lame duck from Nov. '06 on. Not to say that the Republicans shouldn't have done stuff differently, but I don't see how the current trend of "spend, spend, spend" will get us out of debt, actually it seems that it entrenches us further. Cutting the tax cuts for the rich would help, but then you will lose more jobs. Basic point is, Dems were in control for 40% of this decade and therefore should be held accountable for that and stop shouting that Republicans are the only ones to blame. If this were a negligence lawsuit brought by the Dems against the Repubs, a reasonable person could find that while Repubs are 60% to blame for this economy, the Dems have 40% contributory negligence and therefore the Repubs couldn't be held totally responsible. By the way, 60-40 is close to a 50/50 split. Both parties need to quit living in the past and look to the future.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • oblahma

      psst... this is CNN you arent supposed to post rational thoughts here...

      September 10, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tim

    Our President have done/accomplished more in his short term as Commander In Chief than any President in recent history; certainly more than Bush in his 8years. Let me remind you all of some of his accomplishments: Health care(done);Stimulus(done); End a senseless war In Iraq(done); Pulled our economy back from the brink of a devastating recession(done); Improved U.S./Muslim relation throughout the Arab World(done). Hmmm, let's see what the Republicans were doing while President Obama & The Democratic Congress were doing the Heavy Lifting/Hard Work. Oh that's right;(NOTHING), NO, NO, NO to everything. Here's a Tip for U Republicans, why don't u say NO to the TAN MAN JOHN BOEHNER! NO MORE TAN! Come on repeat after me; NO MORE TAN! NO MORE TAN! Yes We Can! I'm out and I Approve This Message.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Robert Foster

    obama 2010
    You better get off the crack and if your not on crack then your just plan stupid do this country a favor don't vote and for the rest of you who put this moron in office save the country don't vote.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Drawn in Color

    Wouldn't it be nice if pretty much every non-radical religion in the world could be represented within this "site"? to act as some kind of monument to the unity that our world so desperately needs right now. Or have we as human beings become so cold in our ways that we no longer require this? If all decent religions, with common goals could somehow build down there... to reach out and learn how to understand and even embrace one another... to set an example. Sadly, it would never work... or would it?

    September 10, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jim

    Burning Qurans, Bibles, Flags, destroying religious icons, burning or banning other books, denying free speech or destroying recorded music is all the same. They are all deliberate acts designed to be insulting to others. When you are insulted by someone don't you react badly?

    Performing these acts is trying to deny rights to others while claiming rights for oneself. These acts imply that you "think" you are, in some way, smarter or superior to the next guy. In reality, it is aggressive, violent and childish behavior that always creates a negative reaction in response. It always shows intolerance, fear and an unwillingness to even try to live in harmony. It is certainly not a gesture of peace and by any stretch of the imagination, it cannot be described as Godly or holy. If you believe violent action or behavior is the solution, then you are part of the problem.

    To defend these actions by saying the other guy does similar or worse is, in fact, wallowing in the swill with him. People need to grow up and stop this petty, inflammatory behavior.

    Thankfully President Obama is a thoughtful man interested in the welfare of ALL Americans and is not consumed by hate.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. weasel

    Maybe he doesn't but I sure do.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  15. vts

    I personally don't care where they build the Mosque. The reason is the Mosque is not an Al Qaeda base. We are at war with them not Muslims. How can it possibly offend anyone when it has NOTHING to do with Muslims in general. There are more Muslims in the world than Americans. 1.2 billion vs 350 million. I am supposed to hate all of them because of actions of a few thousand??! Some of you were blaming Obama before he was even sworn in and you expect to be taken serious now.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
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