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. Daren Bailey

    You know what people? Stop pointing fingures! That doesn't solve anything. It's about time all Americans including democratic, republican, indepindent, what ever your political party is, relize by working together, anything can be accomplished. Incase some of you haven't noticed, are country is splitting way more now than ever before. That scare's the hell out of me. Can we please stop pointing fingures and start working together as we once did in this great counrty?

    September 10, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • HorkusMac

      You're so right, Daren. The first one to comply with this can be our President by ceasing the blame game tactics.

      September 10, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. HorkusMac

    You're right, Mr President – we're not at war against Islam. Islam is at war against us.
    Election time must be near – CNN is ramping up it up for Obama.

    September 10, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Charles

    "I'm a republican and I'm neither a racist nor hateful but I certainly don't think that this mosque should be built so close to ground zero."
    "We certainly don't want these miserable people building a mosque on the ground that is soaked with the blood of 3000 innocent souls. Muslims might as well get it through their heads...they're not welcome and they will never be welcome in this country."

    I got news for you, RS1201. You ARE a racist and you ARE hateful.

    September 10, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Brian

    Remember that the Meque is two blocks away from ground Zero. So, Oboma is not doing an outrageous thing. It is near ground zero. Not all Muslims, just like not all Christians are bad. Simple, this should not even be talked about. What is the big deal? Now if it was a base for Secret terrorist-different story

    September 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bill

    Quick to apologize for American and to defend Islam.

    September 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Abe

    I thought the president did a great job trying to reach to democrats so they can come together and support their candidates in the November election. I really do not know what is happening with the voters who are getting swept with fear and refuse to support their president or candidates. It also bothers me that candidates are trying to distant themselves from the president who is out there campaigning in their behalf. The problem with the economy was it was severely sick during the Bush era and it is just getting to get better. We have not found the right medication to cure it, but the president is trying and for God's sake he deserves credit. So the voters in out great country should be resourceful and their vision should not be blinded by the Republicans tactics of fear. The Republicans should take their sun glasses off , see light and see were we are and try to compromise instead of being a road block. We cannot go anywhere when we have people like Mr Boehner who from his podium likes to criticize the president and his ideas. I think he has forgotten that he our president and his president as well. My take is we are all created the same way, picked our own language, cultures, political parties and our religious denomination. The recent development by the pastor in Florida is very disturbing and very dangerous. As President Bush said we are not against Islam but against extremist. I cannot understand someone tying to burn the Koran and what the ramifications will be around the world. He is going against what our great country stands that grants people to exercise there religious rights. How can he teach the word of God when he has ideas of a devil that can unleash chaos around the world. God Bless our great country and save us from people who are deranged and do not understand what their actions will do to the safety of the world.

    September 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Becca Lauer

      U must b islamic. I am democratic but I don't approve of absolutely anything obama is doing. He is ruining this country more. I am also an american. My ancestors have been here for thousands of years and I have the right to say what I want about Islam and Muslims. Their religion is a satanic sect. Only evil kills inoccent lives. So can u honestly say that the Islams and Muslims r not evil? Also do u know what ur precious obama has done? Health insurance for all? Well if u can afford it now since it has gone up so much since his meddling and if u cant afford insurance and go into the hospital without insurance, u can be fined. Read ur small print on the bill and see if that is not true.

      September 10, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. One Bad A$$ Mistake of America

    Of course. no body is in war against Islam. It is Islam who is always in war with rest of the world. Only a dimwits cannot see it.

    September 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • TexVet

      Well said....

      September 10, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jeff

    Canadian RCMP just broke up an Islamic terrorist cell in Ottawa and London, finding IED parts. Why, because the terrorists in Canada don't like the terrorists in Afghanistan being blown up, that is why !! For your Info !! Radical Islam is at war with Canada, it is at war with America, it is at war with the world. When you ask Mr.moderate Immam Rauf who was responsible for 9/11, and he answers " You were", there is the answer to why you don't allow a moderate Mosque at ground Zero. Can we trust Rauf, no, can we trust his moderate flock, no . So don't tell me this is not a war against Islam. It is a war against a % of Islam, you fill in the number !!

    September 10, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Pete

    People who oppose the buildin of a mosque near ground zero are simply ignorant. I find it amusing how smart Americans are among the smartest people ever on the planet, but the same applies to the dumb ones, they are so amazingly dumb....

    September 10, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • TexVet

      Sorry Pete, you are the ignorant one.

      September 10, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Becca Lauer

      If we are so amazingly dumb then y r u still here n a dumb country. Get ur ^$$ over ot Iraq or Afghanistan where u want to b with all the devil worshipers there! That's right. The quran is the devils work. Only evil kills so freely!

      September 10, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  10. 11:11

    September 10, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. rancher

    The 2007 Wall Street hacks caused the economic crash – were bailed out & are now stuffing their pockets again with multimillion $ bonuses – yet this administration is "talking" instead of "doing" anything to help the multi million PEOPLE that are out of work, money, homes and hope. Unemployment rates of 9.5% affect millions of people – But the latest PEW poll says that it affects many more people than predicted – 55% of the workforce directly by having work hours reduced, taken pay cuts, and forced into part time position. This should be the main topic of our government, our president, our news reporters and this Nation.

    Let's keep on tract and get rid of North American Free Trade, Corporate control of our Nation and bring our jobs back to the US. If we don't we will loose our this Nation. Corporations have no conscience – look at the oil spill, the mine collapse, and now the gas line explosion –

    September 10, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Blake

    If the U.S. is not successful in dealing with Islamic terrorism (which although it includes a small minority of Muslims, is driving much of what is happening in Muslim majority countries), World War 3 will happen in the next 20 years between the West and the Islamic world. Sad, but true. Two unreconcilable world views clamoring for world domination.

    September 10, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • NHDude

      Could be... but I think with the left flocking to support muslimism we will fall to their level and become as them... just as Europe is... However... I feel the Chiese are watching all this carefully and they will not fall to the muslim scourge... the Chinese will exterminate all muslims on the planet once the threat is made on their way of life by islamists

      September 10, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Curious

    Unfortunately, Islam may be at war with us. 9/11 certainly indicates as much. When approximately the same number of Americans were killed at Peal Harbor, we accepted that as a declaration of war. Of course, the argument is that Al Quaida is not Islam. But, if Islam is not represented by Al Quaida, why aren't its leaders–speaking from its seats of power in the Muslim world–denouncing Al Quaida and violence against America? The silence has been deafening.

    September 10, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mike D

    work-a-holic, Why on earth would you say a "Christian bombed Oklahoma city or black churches?

    September 10, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dr. Agnostico

    Did President Obama utter even one word about Islamic tolerance?

    ...didn't think so...

    Did President Obama mention that if we give up our freedom because of threats of violence by Manic Muslimz, Mex drug lords (or Irish leprechauns) we might as well not have those freedoms?

    ...didn't think so...

    Blow it out your a$p Obama... you're every bit as much the class clown as Bush-43...

    ps - from the article: "Obama stressed it is important that Americans do not believe the entire religion of Islam is offensive." -> Maybe... but I personally can't think of any part that I don't find offensive...

    September 10, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
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