Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Questions and answers about the Islamic center planned for Lower Manhattan

Why build a mosque that will loom over Ground Zero?

No looming will occur. Without x-ray vision, you won’t even see the Islamic center from Ground Zero. The 13-story center will sit two blocks away amid an array of tall buildings – we’re talking Manhattan, remember. By the way, the center won’t be just a mosque. It will be like a YMCA with a basketball court, a swimming pool and everything, as well as a place to worship.

Why then does the news media keep referring to the planned center as the “Ground Zero mosque”?

The news media has the unfortunate habit of parroting loaded terms coined by the rightwing blogosphere and punditocracy.

Still, wouldn’t an Islamic center sully hallowed ground?

That makes sense only if you believe Islam is evil or profane and that its contamination can leap two densely packed, commercial blocks. An argument can be made that Ground Zero’s hallowedness is all the more reason to have places of worship nearby, including mosques.

But the fanatics who destroyed the Twin Towers were Islamic extremists who acted in the name of Allah. Wouldn’t a nearby mosque disrespect their memory?

Actually, the center could serve their memory by acting as a moderating force within Islam and thereby tamping down terrorism. The imam behind the development opposes Islamic extremism and he has invited New Yorkers of all faiths to visit the center. Besides, if terrorists had destroyed the Twin Towers in the name of Christianity, would it follow that Christian churches should be barred from the area? In fact, Timothy McVeigh had destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City to avenge a Christian cult for its fatal confrontation with federal authorities in Waco, Texas. Yet, that bombing didn’t put Christianity on trial.

But what about the relatives of those who died in the attack on the Twin Towers? They oppose construction of the center. Shouldn’t their wishes, whether right or wrong, be respected?

Actually, some relatives do oppose construction and some don’t. Keep in mind, too, that dozens of those who died in the Twin Towers were themselves Muslim. Like the relatives in general, the ones who oppose the center are generally in pain, but punishing a whole group, whether a race or a religion or a nationality, for the sins of some of its members remains wrong.

If opposition to the center has no merit, how did this controversy get so huge?

Well, rainstorms on Manhattan get more news play than rainstorms in, say, Peoria, Ill. Credit mostly, however, the rightwing punditocracy, which knows how to push the right buttons. The basic development – an effort to build an Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan out of the view of the Twin Towers site -- has only local newsworthiness. After all, two mosques already lie in the vicinity of Ground Zero, and without controversy. But the fear mongers on the right blew up the innocent effort to open a multi-use cultural center into a dastardly plot to erect a monster mosque at Ground Zero as a sort of Islamic trophy for the destruction of the Twin Towers. The big, dumb media, alas, is just too slow-footed to fight assaults on the truth from that quarter.


  1. I credit, rather DIScredit, the rightwing "punditocracy" with an array of irresponsible, provocative, pathetic attempts to maintain their grip on the minds and hearts of the lowest common denominator of low functioning thinkers. If this is about protecting the feelings of the survivors and "sacred ground", wouldn't it be best to tell TRUTH? Anything less is just cruel.

  2. I think this is less about Islam and location and more about what "news" has become in this country. There is such a high demand for viewership and readership that controversial stances are taken to draw attention to the provider's service (print, audio or video). One only needs to look to cable news shows to see the extent that innuendo, opinion and supposition have replaced news reporting. In this country we have evolved into being in a constant state of controversy across every facet of politics, daily life and entertainment. No wonder everyone is edgy!

  3. I agree that the center could serve as a moderating force. The prevailing prejudice against Muslims, Islam, and all things Middle Eastern is an unfortunate by-product of one of our basest human traits. Almost every minority group in this country has been victim of this trait, some groups more than others. The right wingers continue to use tactics that play to this prejudice -- like the infamous Willie Horton ads of 1988 and the 2000 smear tactics used against John McCain, allegedly by the Bush camp, implying that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. In reality, in 1991, the McCains had adopted a dark-complected child from Bangladesh who was in need of urgent medical care. Unfortunately, the smear tactic worked, causing McCain to lose critical votes in South Carolina in the 2000 Republican presidential primary which Bush won. With the media as willing messengers, we can expect to see right wingers continue to stoop to this type of flagrant and destructive polarization.

  4. Names are such funny things. And religion in general can do such strange things to individuals. Christians have been great builders of churches over pagan temples and a fair share of mosques over time. In Cordoba, I believe the mosque the church the mosque and now a church have been built over the same site more than once. I believe the same has been done in Istanbul with the Hagia Sophia. But now the project name has changed to "Park 51" and I can't help but think of Area 51 in Nevada. Perhaps someone has a macabre sense of humor. Or perhaps none.