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. necy96

    Let our vote be our sword. Rally like it was the 2nd Presidential race. Forget the naysayers. President Obama we will be there when it counts.

    September 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ignacio Sorbo

    Last time I checked, if you can burn the American flag and insult/defame American service personnel at their funerals, you should be able to burn a book, holy or not. Freedom of Speech is not something that can be restricted for anyone, and frankly, while it is an extreme gesture, it is no more extreme than building the New York mosque.

    September 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      its not a mosque. Its a 13 story community center open to the public. Only ONE floor is a mosque. Its the equivalent of a YMCA

      September 10, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Not Available

    The President says: 'We are not at war against Islam', but, does he not realize that Islam and the Islamic world is at war with us. There are many around this world, in the Islamic community that would love to see our beloved USA and our way of life come to an end. Mr. President, I know you are trying to be a diplomat, but not at the cost of appeasing everyone around the world and turning your back on America.

    September 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Fitim

    Thanks for the president's speech showing where all the problems that have state,and this sentence "ENEMY IS AL QAEDA,NOT ISLAM" should once and forever obey us that Islam is not violence .

    September 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. austinypc

    The imam Rauf has been unyielding about his decision of building the ground zero mosque. Neither did he intend to apoligize to people against this mosque whom his wife accused them being antisemitic. I wonder if imam Rauf is also one of the believers in that the current president of U.S. is a moslim ?

    September 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. KhaledYusuf

    People who say Islam is a threat are complete idiots. There were Muslims in this country before columbus came. Even when Columbus came, he was brought by a Muslim from west Africa. So, get over with it. Honestly, the media and the enemies of humanity are dragging even the sincere non-Muslims into darkness and ignorance. Being torched for eternity is not really worth it. Curb down your emotions and use your brain. Islam is the fastest growing religion in Americ. Where is the sword and where is the forceful conversion of people? All these things – stoning women, honor killing, Islamic extremisim, Intolerance in Islam etc. sound very appealing on the TV, but in reality are complete falsehoods. Learn Islam from the right sources, at least do it for the sake of your children and loved ones.

    September 10, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |

      Then tell me why does 90% of the Muslims around the world and 62% of North American one's are in disbelief that Muslims destroyed the Towers ? Could it be that they are so into their religion, that common sense has walked out the door ? People that walk with blinders on, no matter what religion they fixated on, prejudices their thought process and breeds hate. Unfortunately, the most people that are most religious in their religion are Muslims and they are the least educated Religion. Google up the conference of Muslim Professors , where they concluded that Muslims themselves are holding Muslims from being more Modern .

      September 10, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • ObamaIsMuslim

      "There were Muslims in this country before columbus came" WHO? The American Indians? Get your facts straight you Muslim FOOL!

      September 10, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bo

    "All men and women are created equal, they have certain inalienable rights, and one of those is to practice their religion freely," Obama said.

    Should read: "All men and women are created equal, they have certain inalienable rights, and one of those is to practice their religion freely, BUT, if you're gay you cannot marry your longterm partner and receive the same benefits as your straight neighbors. If you're gay you can be denied work and residence in the majority of our 50 states."

    I support President Obama, I just wish he supported me.

    September 10, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jimmy dean

    He seems just like one of us?

    I'm a AA raised by white affluent grandparents in Hawaii and attend the best schools. I don't even complete 1 term in Senate, yet I have the experience to lead the greatest country in the world.

    yeah, that's just like my next door neighbor!!

    September 10, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ian

    You know, for a guy who claims to not be a Muslim, he sure seems concerned about this whole mosque thing. The economy is in shambles, his Party is falling to pieces around his ears, the people are in full political revolt, and all he wants to ramble about is a mosque? I mean I agree with him, but still ... where are his priorities??

    September 10, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. hhernandez

    It was all so staged. The last question was the main question what a coincidence. He is wrong in stating that anyone can build a place of worship at ground zero, the greek orthodox and others were denied. Muslims in the US army are dangerous and have proven it over and over (ie the massacre at Killeen). I hate to be preached at about stupid things like 'some muslims are americans". This Pres is so full of crap, maybe we are not at war with Islam- But Islam sure is at war with us.

    September 10, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. We Were One

    The most important lesson I learned after the events of nine eleven was that when I was walking away from the area everyone i saw looked like me. We were covered in dust except for tears and the place that we had our cell phones by our faces and ears. There were no religions, no races, only Americans holding each other and wondering why?

    Being an American meant something more than how we felt about each other before the event. That lasted for a long time.

    It seems that that brotherhood has gone. It is truly sad.

    Please say a prayer for all those that were lost that day and remember we are still brothers and sisters.

    September 10, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  12. mabeline

    As we grow and mature into adults, we go through many experiences, make some mistakes, hopefully, none from which we cannot recover. We use our history, as we mature, to give us direction as we forge into the future. Why President Obama or anyone else, can't do the same, with respect to forging the country's future is beyond me. The Bush/Cheney administration DID cause many problems for us, across many levels. Why NOT look at those decisions and use a different way to solve problems? What's wrong with looking back and saying, "No, that didn't work." Especially, when there is no new proposals set forth from those same folks who caused the problem...?

    September 10, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dan

    I completely agree with the President that it is important for Americans to stand united against terrorism, and to remind ourselves that we are NOT at war against Islam. However, this has absolutely nothing to do with my stance against building a mosque at Ground Zero. I believe in separation of church and state. I don't think that any religion should be represented there. If you are going to try to honor the memory of the fallen, and build something that unifies Americans, do not include religion.

    September 10, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Das-bishop

    But they are in a war against us.....

    September 10, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sonja

    Just in case you didnt hear Chrissy... "OMG! People quit over thinking everything! He is the first real president I have ever seen! I never get involved in politics BUT HE JUST SEEMS LIKE ONE OF US!!"

    September 10, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
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