- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Muslims around the world see the ground zero mosque debate raging in the U.S. as a litmus test of American tolerance, and generally appreciate President Obama’s involvement.

In Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, Mr. Obama has won praise from commentators for his support for Muslims’ right to build a place of worship where they like.

Endy M. Bayuni, a former editor-in-chief of the Jakarta Post, even jokingly suggested trading Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for Mr. Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia.

Obama could have refrained from making any statement, directly or indirectly, to the mosque controversy and help his Democrat congressmen face the November election. But he did what any decent democratically elected leader and statesman would do, which is to uphold the Constitution and defend the right of minority Muslims,” Mr. Bayuni wrote.

Yet not all Muslims think the Islamic center should be built near ground zero.

Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya television, wrote in the Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Mr. Obama adopted “an unnecessary and unimportant stance, even as far as Muslims are concerned,” by supporting the construction of the center.

“The mosque is not an issue for Muslims, and they are not bothered by its construction,” Mr. Al-Rashed said. “Muslims do not aspire for a mosque next to the 11 September cemetery.”

In the U.S., the issue continues to leave politicians twisting, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

After saying Tuesday that there was “a concerted effort to make this a political issue” and that she supported “looking into” how those opposed to the mosque are being funded, Mrs. Pelosi on Wednesday said backers of the mosque and community center also should be vetted.

“There is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center. At the same time, we should also ask who is funding the attacks against the construction of the center,” she said in a statement.

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, said he had “no regrets” about wading into the controversy, in which he first defended the right to build a mosque “in Lower Manhattan,” but later said that doesn’t mean he’s taking a stand on whether it’s a good idea.

The issue has split political parties. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, broke with Mr. Obama, saying the mosque should be built elsewhere, while a Republican congressional candidate in New York wrote on his Facebook page that “it’s either all or nothing - churches, synagogues and mosques should be treated the same.”

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said that by hedging on the issue, Mr. Obama has opened the door wide for the debate to persist.

Mr. Zogby said people around the world are “horrified and frightened” by the tone of the debate in the U.S.

Scott Atran, a research director at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris who studies Islamic terrorism in Indonesia, said Indonesians and others in Muslim countries are “outraged at what is perceived as the bigotry of ‘the majority’ of Americans,” but they support what is viewed with admiration by Indonesian intellectuals as Mr. Obama’s “minority” stance.

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