Obama rebuts anti-Muslim rhetoric in first U.S. mosque visit

NEW YORK (TIP): President Barack Obama, in his first presidential visit to a mosque in the United States, said Wednesday, Feb 3, he was seeking to rebut “inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim-Americans” from Republican presidential candidates.

Speaking to a packed house at the suburban mosque, Obama noted that violence against the Muslim American and Sikh American communities has surged in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks last November – in which extremists affiliated with the Islamic State killed 183 people – and the San Bernardino shootings in December, when a Muslim American couple killed 14 people at a rehabilitation center for handicapped people.

Attempting to recast what he said was a warped image of Islam while encouraging members of the faith to speak out against terror, Obama described Muslims as essential to the fabric of America.

As he decried GOP counterterror plans that would single out Muslims for extra scrutiny, Obama insisted that applying religious screens would only amplify messages coming from terrorist groups. In his final year in office, Obama has sought to use his public platform — however waning –to advocate against what he sees as dangerous threads in the political discourse.

“We can’t be bystanders to bigotry,” Obama said. “Together, we’ve got to show that America truly protects all faiths. As we protect our country from terrorism, we should not reinforce the ideas and the rhetoric of the terrorists themselves.”

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“I know that in Muslim communities across our country, this is a time of concern and, frankly, a time of some fear. Like all Americans, you’re worried about the threat of terrorism,” said the president, who removed his shoes before entering the mosque, in deference to Islamic custom. “But on top of that, as Muslim Americans, you also have another concern – that your entire community so often is targeted or blamed for the violent acts of the very few,” he said.

“I’ve had people write to me and say, ‘I feel like I’m a second-class citizen.’ I’ve had mothers write and say, ‘my heart cries every night,’ thinking about how her daughter might be treated at school. A girl from Ohio, 13 years old, told me, ‘I’m scared.’ A girl from Texas signed her letter ‘a confused 14-year-old trying to find her place in the world,'” said Obama.

“These are children just like mine. And the notion that they would be filled with doubt and questioning their places in this great country of ours at a time when they’ve got enough to worry about – it’s hard being a teenager already – that’s not who we are.”

“We’re one American family. And when any part of our family starts to feel separate or second-class or targeted, it tears at the very fabric of our nation,” said the president, thanking Muslim Americans for serving the U.S.

Obama stated that hate crimes must be reported and punished. He encouraged the community to speak out against hateful rhetoric and violence against any faith, and to reject religious extremism.

The president rejected the notion that America is ‘at war with Islam’, stating: “We can’t be at war with any other religion, because the world’s religions are a part of the very fabric of the United States, our national character. And we can’t suggest that Islam itself is at the root of the problem. That betrays our values. It alienates Muslim Americans.”

Obama said law enforcement should not use engagement with the Muslim American community as a tool for surveillance. He noted, however, that several government agencies are specifically targeting Muslim youth.

“We’re going to have to be partners in this process. There will be times where the relationship is clumsy or mishandled. But I want you to know that from the president to the FBI director, to everybody in law enforcement, my directive and their understanding is that this is something we have to do together. And if we don’t do it well, then we’re actually not making ourselves safer; we’re making ourselves less safe,” he said.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Feb. 2: “It’s certainly true that we’ve seen an alarming willingness on the part of some Republicans to try to marginalize law-abiding, patriotic Muslim Americans.”

“I think it’s just offensive to a lot of Americans who recognize that those kinds of cynical political tactics run directly contrary to the values that we hold dear in this country. And I think the president is looking forward to the opportunity to make that point,” Earnest told reporters, as reported by PTI.

Trump chided Obama for the mosque visit. “He can go to lots of places. I don’t know, maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told Fox News.

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio also lashed out against Obama’s mosque visit, criticizing the president for “pitting people against each other.”

“He’s basically saying that America is discriminating against Muslims,” said Rubio during a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, acknowledging that there was discrimination, but radical Islam is a bigger threat.

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