Howard Dean Calls for Compromise on "Ground Zero Mosque" (with Audio and Transcript)

I have been a fan of Howard Dean's for a long time.  I got my start in politics with the Dean for America campaign in 2003-04.  More than anything, I had respected Gov. Dean for his uncanny ability to reframe our political debates from a progressive perspective, rather than buying into the traditional media narratives.

But it seems that even Dean fell into the lower Manhattan Islamic center (misnomer: "ground zero mosque") faux controversy by going on a conservative radio station and suggesting that it would be best for all if the people behind the center moved it elsewhere, rather than reframing it as an issue of the political right exploiting and spreading hatred of a segment of our fellow Americans - American Muslims.

Dean appeared with host David Goodman, calling for a compromise and calling it an affront to those who lost lives on September 11, 2001. Here's a transcript I put together from the audio of the segment:

Goodman: Governor, what's your position on the controversey surrounding the mosque near ground zero?

Dean: I got to believe there has to be a compromise here.  This isn't about the rights of Muslims to have a worship -- or Jews or Christians or anybody else to have a place to worship were it any place or ground zero.  This is something that we ought to be able to work out with people of good faith, and we have to understand that it is a real affront to people who lost their lives including Muslims.  That site doesn't belong to any particular religion.  It belongs to all Americans and all faiths.  So I think a good reasonable compromise could be worked out without violating the principle that people ought to be able to worship as they see fit.

Goodman: You're calling for a compromise. So are you calling for the mosque to be moved?

Dean: Well, I think another site would be a better idea.  Again, but I would look to do that with the cooperation of the people who are trying to build the mosque. I believe that the people who are trying to build the mosque are trying to do something that's good. But there's no point in starting off trying to do something that's good if it's going to meet with an enormous resistance from a lot of folks.  This is a very delicate, difficult, religious and cultural issue. I think it's great to have mosques in American cities. There's a growing number of American Muslims. I think most of those Muslims are moderate.  I hope that they'll have an influence on Islam throughout the world, because Islam is really back in the 12th century in some of these countries like Iran and Afghanistan where they're stoning people to death. And that can be fixed. And the way it's fixed is not by pushing Muslims away; it's by embracing them and have them become just like every other American - Americans who happen to be Muslims.  So the way you do that is to integrate people into the fabric of the United States, which I think is what this congregation wants to do.  But I do think that we ought to work out a compromise so that everybody is accomodated by this.
I am sad to see this happen. I vehemently oppose the idea that religious liberty is an affront to those who lost their lives in the WTC buildings. But I also don't think that Governor Dean is an Islamophobe. He's not a bigot. What's going on here is the the narrative has been set up to aide the conservatives: Yes, they have the rights, but is it the right thing to do?

That should never be allowed to be the question. It's not about whether it's the right thing to do to build an Islamic community center two blocks from one corner of what used to be a World Trade Center tower. It's whether the first amendment can be sacrificed at the alter of sensibilities. More succinctly, we should confront the blowing up of this non-troversy to fan the flames of bigotry to help the right wing all across the country. We should not be commenting on the phony controversy; rather we should be countering that in America, freedoms of religion and assembly are not controversial.

Update: Gov. Dean has confirmed and defended his position, reports Sam Stein of Huffington Post.

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