President Barack Obama last month made a goodwill visit to a mosque in Baltimore. It was the first time Obama had visited an Islamic center on U.S. soil.
During remarks at the mosque, Obama reminded Americans of the importance of religious freedom. He noted that Muslims have been living in America from the beginnings of the country and spoke against hateful rhetoric directed against Muslims today.
“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.”
For some reason, the visit bothered U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
“I’m tired of being divided against each other for political reasons like this president’s done,” Rubio said. “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”
The Muslims who have seen their mosques vandalized or who’ve had to fight in court to win the right to even construct such facilities would probably disagree with Rubio about the extent of Islamophobia in the United States.
Rubio also overlooks the fact that President George W. Bush in 2001 visited a mosque and said many of the same things that Obama did. Bush went to the mosque just days after the Sept. 11 attacks in an effort to tamp down anti-Muslim hysteria that had erupted. Bush remarked, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. Islam is peace.”
Although it’s increasingly difficult for the president to be a unifier in these partisan times, Obama continues to try. At a time when other aspiring political leaders are calling for profiling and surveillance of Muslims and even limits on their ability to travel in America, the president is to be commended for offering another approach, one that is in line with our nation’s founding principles of religious freedom and tolerance.
It is rather remarkable to see a political leader get attacked for asking Americans to be tolerant and to treat one another decently. Yet that is where we are today. Some prominent people are urging Americans to embrace not our core values but fear.
That is indeed a paucity of vision and leadership. The nation deserves better.