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The Neverending Mosque Debate

President Obama’s comments on Friday and Saturday concerning the right of what’s now commonly referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque” to break earth in downtown Manhattan continue to drive the day. Anyone who’s anyone has staked out an opinion on the matter, with the exception of some congressional Democrats who were hoping very much to keep the politics local in their respective midterm races.

The GOP, for its part, is excited to turn the president’s words into a campaign issue across the country. Mike Allen quotes an anonymous GOP official as arguing, “The president is out of touch. Just because someone has the right to do something, doesn’t mean people don’t have the right to be outraged or upset by the insensitivity of the decision.”

The president, however, did take pains to point out and pay tribute to the sensitivities and emotions the decision engenders. He simply argued that our constitution gives the mosque the same right as any religious institution to set up shop in the area. In that respect, Nate Silver argues, the president is hardly out of touch with public opinion. While nearly two-thirds of the populace think it is “wrong” to build a mosque near ground zero, 61 of respondents still think the group has a “right” to do so.

Republicans’ decision to rally against the proposed mosque also reflects a larger shift within the party against Islam, note Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman. Under the leadership of George W. Bush — who, despite having led the march to war in Iraq, continued to court Muslims and called Islam a religion of peace — the right wing suppressed the bulk of its skepticism and mistrust regarding the religion. With Bush now largely out of the picture, however, many Republicans have openly sought to cultivate fear and hostility towards Islam and translate it into electoral advantage in November.

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