Just days after 9/11, President Bush delivered a speech at an Islamic center in Washington, DC to remind Americans that the terrorists that carried out the attacks on New York and Washington did not represent Islam. “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war,” he said.
“You did something that a lot of people thought was a real effort to unite. You reached out to the Muslim world” after 9/11, NBC host Matt Lauer told Bush this morning during a live interview. Referring to the right-wing-ginned-up controversy surrounding the Islamic community center near Ground Zero this year, Lauer said, “If I look at your words there, it makes it seem to me as if that you’re saying that the rights of Muslims should not be denied for the sake of the sorrow of others, is that fair?” But Bush said he wouldn’t get dragged into the debate. When Lauer then asked Bush to comment on the recent spate of Islamophobia in the U.S., the former president offered a fairly weak response:
LAUER: Well without saying whether they should build the community center or not are you disappointed by the increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric in this country that we’ve seen recently?
BUSH: I think most Americans welcome freedom of religion and honor religions. I truly do. And the problem with the arena today is a few loud voices can dominate the discussion and I don’t intend to be one of the voices in the discussion.
The Islamophobia that has dominated American political discourse over the past two years is more than just “a few loud voices.” GOP members of Congress, Tea Party leaders, and conservative pundits — including those who were once top advisers to President Bush — have recently promoted anti-Muslim rhetoric and advanced the ridiculous and non-existent fear that somehow Sharia law will take over America.
In November 2001, Bush seemed to pre-empt the narrative many progressives put forth in the uproar and Islamophobia surrounding Park 51 Islamic center. “We respect people of all faiths and welcome the free practice of religion,” Bush said, adding, “our enemy wants to dictate how to think and how to worship, even to their fellow Muslims.”
Earlier this month on MSNBC, Bush White House adviser Nicolle Wallace said she would have liked to hear her former boss speak out on the Park 51 mosque. “I think that would have been a great place to hear his voice for first time since leaving the presidency,” she said. Wallace even suggested that Bush would speak out on his upcoming book tour. “You know, his book comes out soon,” she siad. “And I hope he’s asked about that because he was an incredible voice.”