Obama Supports 'Gound Zero Mosque'Candidate Obama was sharply criticized for not having a plan for the economy or for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He defended by saying that the President’s job is to listen to all positions before acting, and that he hadn’t had the chance to do that yet.  It was the single most threatening concern about his candidacy in the Democratic primaries, and in the Presidential election.

Unfortunately, Candidate Obama’s wide-eyed, idealistic optimism has given way to Politician Obama’s having to decide for the media whether he supports or opposes issues such as the plan to build a Muslim Mosque near Ground Zero.  See Obama backs ‘Ground Zero’ mosque.

The President’s job is not to decide whether he supports or opposes a project such as this.  His job is to lead by making certain that there is a healthy dialogue going on.  The pressure on President Obama from politicians and the media, who are all accustomed to dealing in a world of positions, has caused him to do the worst thing he can do as a leader:  take a position on the issues that Americans care about.  The astute politician, and the masterful leader, know how to advance the dialogue without taking a side, and understand that as soon as they take a side, they have alienated all of the people who believe strongly in the other side.

What is needed here is more than a Beer Summit, but it is not as far off as most people would think.

Recently, I brought together two Arizona legislators to hold a mediated dialogue on the immigration issue facing America.  We calmly discussed each group’s underlying interests, goals and values and found that they surprisingly agreed on most of the issues.

This kind of dialogue, however, only tends to occur when a professional facilitator is managing the discussion, when the stakeholders are all present or represented, and when the discussion turns away from positions (black or white, thumbs up or thumbs down) to each group hearing the other – not unlike the President did when he held the Beer Garden Photo Op.  In that discussion, and in that setting, it was a different discussion than the two men had ever had.  That was the same response that I had from the two legislators, who each told me that they had learned more and had a better discussion in the two hours on a stage with me than they had been able to have in sum to that point.

What this issue needs is a real dialogue, facilitated (mediated) by a professional who is expert at managing the emotions, the values and the discussion between representatives of the two groups.  Give me Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and some of his leaders, along with some of the most vocal opponents, preferably from families of those who died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and I will guarantee you a dialogue where each walks away having heard the other and having had their eyes opened to things that they had not realized before this discussion.  Televise it, put it on the internet, and broadcast it over the radio, and we will educate hundreds of thousands with one discussion.

This is what we do – those of us who resolve conflict.  Mediators do it every day in legal battles, Ombudspeople do it in the workplace environment and conflict coaches do it with individuals who are in conflict.  My personal passion is to do it in situations such as this.

It is time for President Obama to begin delegating the facilitation of issues such as this to those of us who do it professionally, and return to running the county, focusing on the wars, the economy and jobs,  and the spill that endangers the Gulf Coast.


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32 Responses to “Mediator needed to change ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ dialogue”

  1. Priscilla Schneider Says:

    It’s fine with me to have a mediator department within the White House. If I understand what you are proposing, White House mediators would go out and mediate these kind of situations, such as the Ground Zero Mosque.

    The problem is that there is nothing to mediate regarding the Ground Zero Mosque outside of New York City. While it may upset some Alaskans or Californians that there may be a mosque/community center two blocks from Ground Zero in New York City, it has nothing to do with us. It is up to New York City. So if there is going to be any mediation, that is where it should be and the rest of us yahoos should just butt out.

  2. Mark Elster Says:

    It is not within the powers of the executive branch to assign mediators to resolve local issues and I for one would prefer that it stay that way. Those powers are reserved to the states and/or the people. Those people who are intimately affected and the state of New York would no doubt benefit from a mediated discussion. As Lee Jay advocates, the president really has no official or political place in this debate and if he were more astute, would’ve remained silent.

    However, it is clear that the proposed mosque site in question, perched virtually atop Ground Zero does indeed have consequences that are legitimately felt nationwide —from Alaskans to Californians we all have felt the devastating loss of that infamous day and place and the terrible, unforgivable act of terrorism that stained it forever with an act of hate almost beyond comprehension. To say that a national dialog has nothing to do with the rest of us yahoos is wrong.

  3. Lee Jay Berman Says:

    As you all might imagine, I would support a mediation office within the White House, AND local ones with every state and local government. Mediators need to be impartial and unattached if they are to be of any help to those embroiled in the conflict. Politicians, by definition, cannot be that way, though they should, the current reality is that they are more concerned about what people think of them (voters, donors, their “base”, and special interest groups and their lobbyists). This is the first reason why the President should not be trying to mediate (this, the Beer Summit, or any other dispute), any more than the CEO of a huge corporation should be mediating a dispute between two workers. The job of a CEO and of our Commander In Chief is to see the need for a mediation and make sure that a dialogue is taking place. The other reason, as Mark points out, is that this is not a federal issue. While this issue does affect many of us, and those who have even deep seeded interests in issues can’t and shouldn’t be prohibited from voicing them, it is a local land use issue, which I understand to be completely settled. Only public outcry is stalling things at this point. That, to me, is all the more reason why we need to do a dialogue. And like Priscilla says, it should be done in NYC, and with those who are most directly affected. I hope it happens, but my calendar is basically full until the end of September. Thanks to both of you for your thoughtful responses.

  4. Joe Markowitz Says:

    There are at least two separate issues here. One is the issue of freedom of religion. On that issue, which is NOT a local issue, I think the president has to take a position, because it is in the Constitution, and the President has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution. Another issue, which is whether it is a good idea to locate an Islamic Center at this particular location, is more of a land use issue, and on that issue the President was careful not to take a position. I agree with you that at least on the latter issue, it might be a good idea to employ a mediator to allow the competing interests to have a dialogue, not about whether Muslims have the right to worship as they please, but as to whether they might be willing to modify their plans or open up their facility in a way that might accommodate other interests.


  5. Justin Heuninck Says:

    I completely agree that this issue needs a mediator and that our president should withhold his personal opinion from the media, especially regarding hot topics. With that said, however, I do believe that it is his solemn duty as our “first citizen” to uphold the constitution and speak out against those who ignore it. As head of the executive branch, his job is to ensure the execution of federal law (i.e the first amendment). People sometimes forget the oath our presidents take. Here’s a reminder of what he stated in early 2009: “I, Barack Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and I will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

    However, you’re completely right by stating that this is a bad political move for him and that he has alienated a large group of people who favor conditional religious freedom. But it’s kind of nice to see our president not acting like a typical politician who only cares about approval ratings. I think it should be commonplace for the president of this country to take a stand on constitutional issues. However, I do fully understand that this issue is a result of differing interpretations of the Constitution. This just shows that all of our amendments–even our precious first amendment–is subject to a change of meaning which is completely dependent on the time period in which it is interpreted. (For another example, google “Pentagon Papers 1971” or compare the similar argument used both to defend segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 and Brown v. Board of Education in 1954)

  6. Rene Says:

    I think Lee Jay has made a very pertinent point to call on the need for mediation(local or white House) . That actually has to take place far from the attention of the media, given that media has a very strong way of influencing moods and discussions. However, I do not think President Obama was wrong to insist on the right to worship as inscribed in the US Constitution.
    Also, I want to see a bit further in WHY Obama made this statement. I think holding a firm position on the freedom of muslims to worship goes a long way to tell the rest of the Muslim/Arab world that he and the American people are not anti-muslim. This also translates the call for cooperation which he made to the muslim world in his inaugural speech. This to be might be to some extent, a way of calling on the rest of the muslim world to support America in its fight against terrorism; thereby isolating extremist groups who use islam as a tool for recruitment.

    Mr Lee Jay, I will like to get in touch with you sometime as your schedule permits for a little talk on mediation (kempesslawrence@yahoo.co.uk). Its a great work you do . Courage. I lay my point.

  7. Vince Peters Says:

    Incredible! This dialogue is so important. This is really an extraordinarily interesting post . You have got to know a lot about mediation to see through this issue the way you do.

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