Former President George W. Bush refused to comment on the controversial proposal to build a mosque and community center near Ground Zero in New York City -- saying he doesn't want his answer to be compared to that of President Obama or other predecessors.
"Today Show" host Matt Lauer quoted remarks Bush made at a mosque in the days following September 11, where he told the nation "the face of terror is not the true face of Islam," and "in our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect." Lauer said that these remarks could mean that Bush would support the construction of the mosque.
"If I look at your words there," Lauer told Bush, "It makes it seem to me as if you're saying that the rights of Muslims should not be denied for the sake of the sorrow of others."
"If I listen to what you're trying to rope me into, you're trying to get me to talk about this mosque issue," Bush replied, to audible laughter from the crew.
Supporters of the mosque's construction have previously asked Bush to speak out on the issue, believing he would be supportive. Ibrahahim Hooper, the national spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told Fox News in August that "it would be good if he stepped into the fray." Hooper said the Bush administration consistently stressed that America was not at war with the Islamic religion.
Lauer pressed the former president, saying that Bush could "calm the rhetoric" by speaking out on the issue, and asked why Bush refused to comment.
"There's...a lot of opportunities for me to speak out over the next years, and I have chosen not to," Bush said. "Inevitability, if you were able to get me to answer this question, they will then compare that answer to President Obama, or what other presidents might say on the issue."
President Obama first commented on the mosque controversy back in August, at a White House dinner honoring the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
"Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country," Obama told the guests. "And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan."
Obama later appeared to backtrack, saying he was "not commenting on the wisdom" of building the mosque, but speaking to the broader principle of government treating everyone equally, regardless of religion.
Bush did say that he thinks any anti-Muslim sentiment in America is the opinion of a loud few, rather than the majority.
"I think that most Americans welcome freedom of religion and honor religions. I truly do," he said. "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 ."