Monday, December 20, 2010

The Myth of the "Ground Zero Mosque", the Power of Symbolism, and the Failure of the Media

"Ground Zero Mosque"

You've seen the phrase everywhere, haven't you?  In the headlines of Fox News, the Irish Independent, in Abraham Foxman's speeches/articles. Not to mention, of course, the multiple Twitter-fights that Sarah Palin has sparked. Even Salon and Al-Jazeera are using the term, although they, at least, have the decency to put it in quotes.

Because, you see, there's a big problem with the phrase "Ground Zero Mosque": There is no mosque being built at the former site of the Twin Towers, nor will there ever be. The ominous, hateful Ground Zero Mosque does not exist.

The building causing all this hoopla has been used for Muslims to pray for years. The "mosque" is a cultural center and interfaith center that is to be used for outreach and education.  It has a basketball court, a swimming pool, and a primary school, with a floor set aside for Muslims to pray -- and other prayer rooms for people of different faiths.
The real danger of the politicization and fighting that swirls around this issue is that people will start thinking that the war on terror is meant to be, or is best accomplished by, a war on Islam. While that may be the goal of some of the ultraconservatives, that is possibly the worst thing that can happen to this country. What happened to freedom of religion, separation of church and state, government not interfering with private property? Why are all Muslims automatically assumed to be evil terrorists?. People of practically every single religion have killed in the name of said religion countless times.

This is not an issue of "sensitivity" to the families of the people who have died. This is not an issue of Ground Zero being holy ground. Of course it has a high emotional impact for the families of those who were killed, but one would imagine that if the tea partiers really cared about the ground being "holy" they would also raise a ruckus over the fast food joints and strip clubs that are closer to ground zero than Park 51. Besides, what could be more holy than religion?  Muslims died on 9/11 too, and no, those Muslims were not just the hijackers.  As one 9/11 widow said, "How did '9/11 victim' become sloppy shorthand for 'white Christian'?"

This is not a "victory mosque", like so many tea partiers have tried to tell you. This is an open center being built with the best of intentions. Do the world a favor.  Stop saying Ground Zero Mosque.  Call it what it is.  Call it Park 51.

I wrote the beginning of this essay/post in October, when midterm energy was running high and gratuitous mudslinging was common on both sides.  It is fascinating to me how this issue has completely dropped off the map.  Sure, it's still present in the public's mind . . . vaguely . . . but it's not being shoved down our throats, Fox News isn't devoting whole days to screaming about how horrible it is.  And that brings us to a shockingly horrifying, yet unfortunately unsurprising realization: all this controversy was simply a ploy to game the elections.  People's deaths, and people's desires for reconciliation, were diminished, stomped upon, and turned into a political issue simply because the Republicans wanted votes.  And the media played right into it.  There's a lot of really low electoral tactics, but this is one of the worst I've seen.  And no one tried to stop it.  There were a few people who said at the very beginning, "Oh, conservatives are turning this into a political issue", but either they were drowned out or they kept reporting just because. News reporting is supposed to be about truth. But truth is often the first casualty of networks looking to boost ratings.


  1. News is never about truth.

  2. That is, unfortunately, very true, and politics is never about intelligence. The most we can do is point out the lies when we see them.