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.

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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. Ether

    Fight for freedom! Freewill to live your 100 years of life. Don't let others tell you how to live your life by following their missing god. They are blatantly lying to you. Summon their god and I assure you it will not show up. If it does not show up while you are alive, it will definitely not show up in another concucted world. Don't be a fool or they are getting away with your money.

    September 12, 2010 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  2. Thomas Fermage

    Yo. I think this video says it all about the mood of the country

    September 12, 2010 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  3. Thomas Fermage

    This video says it all.

    September 12, 2010 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
  4. Mike Speakman

    Someone should muzzle our moronic president. He clearly does not understand history. The free world has been at war with Islam since it's inception. It's time for the moron and his moronic liberal nut-job base realize this. The Mongols realized this and came close to eliminating the Islamic threat, if only Genghis Khan had lived ten or twenty years longer then we wouldn't have this Islamic problem today.

    September 12, 2010 at 12:51 am | Report abuse |
  5. KJ

    We are very much at war. It's a war between good and evil. Mohammad lived 600 years after Christ. The life of Christ was distorted and twisted by Mohammad's teachings. The Qur'an teaches that Jesus existed and was born of a virgin birth. Mohammad was sinful and Allah asked Mohammad to "repent", yet on the other hand, Christ was sinless. There is truth and then there is the lie. The two brothers (Ishmael and Isaac) are still fighting just as God said they would be. This is what we are witnessing. The descendants of Ishmael still want to usurp the blessings of the true heir which is Isaac and his Jewish descendants. Yes, we are at war and it's a spiritual war between good and evil. You will know this is so when Gog-Magog align with all their hoards and attack Israel. Why do you think Russia is aligned with Iran for the first time in history? It's Gog-Magog and it's the countdown to the culmination of thousands of years and the prophecies which will come to pass. Ezekiel 37-39. Better open up your eyes people and see what's really going on.

    September 12, 2010 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  6. SlimJim

    Just answer this: so how is the "change" working for you? Why do I keep hearing rumors of 30% cuts in Social Security & Veterans benefits?

    September 12, 2010 at 1:37 am | Report abuse |
  7. Abdulameer

    Obama has said many times that we are not at war against Islam. Unfortunately, Islam is at war against us, and it has been against us ever since the time of Muhammad. The Koran and the sayings of Muhammad are an open delcaration of war against non-Moslems. The most popular manual of Sharia law, approved by the highest Islamic religious authorities in Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt defines jhad this way: "Jihad means to make way on non-Muslims." What could be plainer than that?

    September 12, 2010 at 2:49 am | Report abuse |
  8. citizenn

    Well, Muslims considered it to be an "attack on Islam" back in the 1800's when the western powers abolished the international slave trade. Maybe it is sometimes better to ignore Muslim sensitivities.

    September 12, 2010 at 4:24 am | Report abuse |
  9. Dennis

    Keep in mind that acceptance and tolerance only goes one way–we must be accepting of Islam. When is acceptance and tolerance shown by Muslims? No churches can be built in most Muslim countries,and they give death sentences for converts to Christianity or anyone that angers them.

    September 12, 2010 at 7:09 am | Report abuse |
  10. kowa

    No, but they are at war with us.

    September 12, 2010 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
  11. NNergy

    USA is the most tolerant nation in the world. It accepts all people regardless of their religion, ethnic background, etc. It's a land of opportunity for all. At the same time, the tolerance that makes USA a great nation also makes it vulnerable to extremism or covert operations of extremists. Whether we like it or not, extremists would use USA's strenghts (i.e. tolerance, freedom, liberalism, capitalism, etc.) to slowly weaken USA's backbones. The 9/11 event weakened Capitalism slowly without noticing it. Fear prompted the US to strenghten its economy, and then it bubbled and burst. Fear again prompted the US to regulate the economy, and then true Capitalism began to deteriorate without realizing it. Fear again prompted the US to influence religious expressions, and then Freedom of expression is being compromised without realizing it. Until USA regains its courage to protect its existence, extremists will always use FEAR to dismantle USA.

    USA is now in a psychological warfare & hopefully the US government is aware of it. The psychological strenght of a nation or group will determine its own survival. The group with the strongest morale will win.

    USA is tolerance, but its enemies are not. Burn thousands of crucifixes/bibles & there's no uproar among Christians. Burn one Quran, and there's a worldwide uproar of muslim extremists. Was there an uproar against the muslim extremists after 9/11 from billions of good muslim people around the world? Do muslims want to co-exist with non-muslims? Does the Quran promote peace, love and understanding to people outside the Islamic faith? Is it not true that Islam considers outsiders or non-Islams as infidels?

    Love may be just the missing ingredient for all of us to coexist without violence.

    September 12, 2010 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  12. sleeperc2012

    if this is the case then i be the first to start wiping then out of here dam islamic people of the earth

    September 12, 2010 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
  13. sleeperc2012

    dam the holy quran dam the prophet muhamed dam that race of people i will never bow down to them i'll be the first to burn and destory them and there book of total domination you will all see i 'm god's choosen one to carriy out, this the way and no one this planet can stop me you people have 1 1/2 yrs to get it right for this nation "HELL IS HERE" send the message!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 12, 2010 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  14. Paulie

    Considering that Islam and groups like Al-Awda, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hammas, Hezboallah, the Iranian Clergy etc already appear to be at war with the USA – what Obama is saying doesnt comfort a lot of Americans and it also makes us question his loyalties. Our troops are already in danger from bombs and bullets regardless of what we say or do at home – for him to suggest otherwise is ludicrous.

    September 12, 2010 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  15. Ed Sr

    Thank you..........Obama bin Laden!

    September 12, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
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