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. jeff

    Paul mentions that Islam was not responsible for 9/11, then which faith did the radicals run up the pole before slamming into the trade centers, Frisbyism ?? Also, if you ask a moderate muslim who is responsible for the towers, he will answer you " YOU ARE ". So Paul, stop asking if Islam was responsible for the towers. Come up with your own answer, or failing that, just ask them ! lol

    September 10, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Devery

    Very true, we are not at war with Islam. I am a Democrat, but I 100% agree with him in the point that he agrees, and admires, President Bush for said point.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. house 1234

    maybe war should be declared on anyone/group that threatens the US. but we cannot do that, we are a politically correct nation. there was once a day that people left the US alone, but those days are gone.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. The_Dude

    Obama simplified:

    Islam = good
    Christian = bad

    September 10, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  5. God Bless America!

    I just got through watching 9/11 "A state of emergency" on the History Channel. It brought back all the feelings I had on that day. I am VERY angry. I do not want any mosque near the site of the twin towers. Matter of fact, I don't want a mosque built anywhere on US soil. I want all muslims deported. These people are hell bent on destroying us (infidels). They declared war on us by the 9/11 attack. We must NEVER forget that! Let them go back where they came from and practice their cruel religion. I am one American that does not want ANY of them on our soil! It is time we Americans stood up!

    September 10, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stew Shearer

      Because everyone knows that the best time to make big decisions is when you're angry, right? Quick! Go file for divorce and buy a sports car before this rage induced clear headedness fades!

      Let's turn the tables. Some Christians can be intolerant and hateful people. If a group of Christian terrorists (which do exist) had been responsible for 9-11 would you be saying, "Deport all Christians?" I'm pretty confident you'd think twice about judging an entire group of people based on the actions of a few then.

      You're acting and speaking not out of a fear of Muslims, but out of a general fear of the unknown. The predominant religion here is Christianity, so when people of a different faith, who look, speak and believe different things attack you, you jump to conclusions about the entire faith.

      September 10, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. TC

    Its amazing to sit here and read these comments, only to realize just how divided our country has become. I didnt support Bush and I dont support Obama. I support America. You can talk about how Obama is a Muslim all you want, but what happened to the First Amendment in this country? Also, what happened to the separation of Church and State, set down by Thomas Jefferson? So Obama is a Muslim, as you say? So what? He has that right. Also, if you read the article clearly, he states that we're not at war with Islam. We're at war with terrorist organizations who use a distorted interpretation of Islam as their basis of existence. While Muslims have the right to build there, it would be in poor taste to do so, and incredibly disrespectful. However, it is from the comments that Ive been reading for months that show how divided this country really is. The truth is, they're all to blame, Democrats and Republicans. Instead of putting their ideas into action, they've decided to play the political game card, or the race card or the religion card or whatever other card they can play that will get them out of doing real work for the American people. And whats even more funny is that we vote these morons into office every few years. And we give them money! Its time to wake up and realize we're not getting change. We're getting empty pockets and I think we've forgotten what it means to be Americans. Anyone can push the blame onto others for their problems, but it takes a bold person to say when we're in a mess, that we've been doing it all wrong and "reach across the isle" and actually do something for "main street". If you're going to vote for someone, dont vote for them based on party membership. Vote for them because they are the RIGHT person for the job, that they're willing to get things done. Do research on the candidate and understand what their record is. Both parties have been responsible for screwing things up in the past. Maybe its time we actually used our brains, logic and reason to elect politicians, rather than emotion.

    Just because you have the right to an opinion, doesn't mean its not incredibly stupid. Myself included. Welcome to the First Amendment.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      TC, I agree with you, and I am agnostic. I just want to remind you that Thomas Jefferson commissioned Bibles for the US Public School System.

      September 10, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • TexVet

      TC, does the first amendment apply to terroristic religious orgs that have attacked our country??????? I think not. What would happen to say, the Baptists, if they hijacked passenger jets and flew them into our country's greatest buildings? Oh, I know, we would let them build a church blocks from someplace they had destroyed!

      September 10, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • TC

      TexVet, I didnt say I agreed with the idea to put a mosque there, I simply said its their right to do so, just as it is any of our right to bid on that property to do whatever we wish with it. I did say it was DISRESPECTFUL. Just because we have the right to do so doesnt mean we should EXERCISE that right. But, just like everyone else in this country, we have to recognize and respect the rights of others. Using your example, if the baptists had done the same thing, then it would be disrespectful for them to put up a place of worship there. But that doesnt mean they dont have the RIGHT to do so. I dont agree with what these terrorist organizations are doing either. I think its childish and stupid. What I really want to know is what happened to the unity we had 9 years ago? We're Americans. We're supposedly the greatest country on Earth. However, we sure arent acting like it from a political standpoint. We are better and stronger than we are appearing based on all of this political bickering and blaming, rather than actually doing their jobs, the jobs they were elected to do and the jobs we PAY them to do. No one likes paying taxes, but no one wants to hold ALL of them accountable for their actions. Im sorry, but if you pay someone to do something and they dont do it, you have every right to be upset they arent doing their job. What are we doing by letting this go on (it was the same before as it is now and Im not blaming any one particular person. Im blaming them ALL, because they're ALL to blame for not getting their heads out of their respective rear ends and waking up to see this country is more split than its ever been).

      As I said, just because you have the right to an opinion doesnt mean it isnt incredibly stupid. Obviously (from my own opinion), the people who came up with the idea for said mosque werent really thinking. But thats their right, regardless of how we feel about it.

      September 10, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Omin

    Is he crazy? As long as crazy white people are stabbing muslims, black people are a little bit safer. I'd rather them burn a book than me. Keep it going rednecks, get them terrorist. My blackass will sleep better tonight.

    September 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jeffro11

    I think the entire Ground Zero area should be turned into a memorial park that can be enjoyed by EVERYONE. To put up buildings of any kind on a spot where so many lives were lost just seems wrong. Anyone else ever feel that pang when you see an old pic of the NYC skyline with the WTC...or when you see recent pics where it's gone? Rebuilding on that site conflicts with the motto of "Never Forget". I have been to Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima, and while those events were different (military & wartime), it is staggering to stand in a spot where so many people died. Don't pave over those people's memories.

    One man's opinion.

    September 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stew Shearer

      Fair enough. But the cultural center isn't being built on Ground Zero. It's being constructed two blocks away on property privately owned by its Muslim benefactors. The only thing being built on Ground Zero are the new towers that will replace the WTC.

      September 10, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      Personally I don't care where they build, but the location of the Cultural Center was the Burlington Factory and the landing gear wreckage from one the aircraft came through the roof of the factory. That makes it ground zero.

      September 10, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. TexVet

    Get these insane people out of our country now!

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

    Texan... what can I say but that I totally disagree. I know that "Allah" is the word they use for God. I am saying that the different view of Jesus is what makes their Allah a different God than that of the Christians. Either Jesus was "God with us" or he wasn't; Islam teaches the later view. Both views cannot be reconciled with the same God, therefore two different Gods are recognized.

    September 10, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Stew Shearer

    When it comes to the economy, I think the detractors here are just being bitter and ridiculous. Now, I can understand your frustrations. I graduated from college, with tens of thousands of dollars of debt and wasn't able to find a job for almost a year. The stress that put on me cannot compare to how the unemployed with children and mortgages must feel. That said, there is only so much the government can do. This recession is a massive problem that has resulted from years of irresponsibility. It can't be resolved overnight, and certainly won't be resolved quickly. Those are just the facts.

    It's also a fact that were it not for many of the stimulus measures that the Obama administration put in place, we'd be in worse shape than we already are. The economy is growing, but slowly and overall this is a horrible time for those who have yet to find relief. Patience is understandably hard to muster when bill collectors are calling. Accordingly, instead of calling the unemployed moochers and complaining about unemployed benefits, maybe you should be happy you have have a job and be grateful that if you lose it there's a safety net in place while you go through the long, arduous process of finding a new one.

    I to am unhappy with the health care reform bill. It wasn't extensive enough. My wife and both work full time and even if we weren't paying for student loans we would not be able to afford health insurance. Up until recently we were receiving assistance from the state, but unfortunately I had the gall to take on some freelance work and because I made a more money on an infrequent basis, we lost all aid. We went from paying an affordable 300 a month to having to a premium nearing 900 a month. Literally the only way we can afford healthcare now, after researching all our options, is to have a child which we refuse to do. I'm not bringing a kid into the world just so the bills will be more affordable. We need better options, a public option, or at least more legislation that forces these money grubbing insurance hounds to lower their prices to a point that the average hard working person can afford. I honestly think that some trust busting strategies should be implemented. These people control a service that all Americans need, and as a result they can consistently raise their prices without consequence.

    Finally, on the issue of taxes. Good for Obama. These tax cuts were a bad idea the first time around and were supposed to be temporary. I could see maybe not taxing small business owners as much, but then maybe the Republicans could also stop stalling legislation meant to assist such people in growing their livelihood. As for the idea that millionaires and billionaires need tax cuts to "invest" in their companies. Who are we kidding. Many of these people bring home hundreds of millions in pure profit every year. Perhaps instead of investing in a new mansion or private jet they could show a little appreciation to their employees and raise wages to a liveable level. Better yet, they could show some social responsibility and basic decency and expand their companies at cost to themselves. I believe in captalism, and I do think they should have the right to do as they please with their own money, but it would be nice if someone could just once consider doing the right thing by the rest of the world. Call me a socialist if you want, but you if more people thought this way the middle class would be actually be earning a decent wage and the wealthy might actually be worthy of respect.

    September 10, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      Great it sounds like our great Universities have graduated another taker into our ranks.

      September 10, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Prof. TX

    America is not at war with Islam, but Islam is at war with America and much of the west. Many muslims may be peace-loving, but the tenets of their religion do advocate violence and are utterly intolerant of any differing opinion. There are many people in every group that are ignorant of their own religion and anyone who says that the Quran does not advocate violence is sadly misinformed. If Islam is to be accepted in this century, it needs to reform and purge itself of any part that encourages archaic bloodshed. You cannot call for the slaughter of your enemies, and then beg for tolerance when in their lands, or murder innocent people and say it is the will of a peaceful and loving God.

    September 10, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. house 1234

    i used to have an opinion/voice, but i lost it when the current administration was elected.

    September 10, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mary K

    When Obama was asked point blank if it was a good idea for the developers to build the mosque at Ground Zero he did what he normally does. He yapped and yapped and yapped ... but never answered the question. What a weasel!

    September 10, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Omin

    There is only one God. No matter who the prophet or son, nor what the message or scripture we all have the same DNA and one creator. Religion was and always will be a pacifier for the weak you just can’t comprehend their reason for living. When will God return you might ask? When we all look the same and we respect/care for each other and there is no money or reason for greed. He made us all different for a reason. We just can’t see it because of the I’m better than you mentality that’s been breed into us. We will never make it into the heavens at the rate we’re going, So sad, we had so much potential.

    September 10, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
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