How did a local story about a proposal to build an Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan turn into a national controversy about whether a "Ground Zero Mosque" would be a slap in the face to 9/11 victims?
It started with a small group of anti-Muslim activists who suggested the proposal was a scheme by anti-American Muslims to "conquer" the hallowed site of the September 11 attacks (Big Government, 5/18/10). Some even suggested that the Imam behind the proposal was an Al-Qaeda supporter (Fox News, 5/13/10). The project was named "Cordoba House," opponents argued, in honor of the Islamic conquest of Spain, where Muslim victors built a mosque on the ruins of a sacked church (Newt.org, 6/21/10). How could anyone miss the parallels?
Created on small anti-Muslim blogs, the "Ground Zero Mosque" framing was eventually adopted by bigger right-wing outlets before making extensive inroads into broader corporate media.
Every key point in the opponents' storyline was false. The location of the proposed 13-story community center and mosque, at 51 Park Place (known as Park51), is not part of Ground Zero, and isn't even visible from the former site of the World Trade Center. The three-block radius around the WTC site that would need to be drawn to make Park51 part of some "hallowed ground" includes strip clubs, porn shops and liquor stores (Daily News, 8/16/10). The key figure behind the proposal, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is an American Muslim who works in fields of interfaith outreach and tolerance, with an emphasis on improved relations between the Arab/Muslim world and the West. Cordoba House is a project of Rauf's organization, the Cordoba Initiative, whose name honors the tolerance among Muslims, Christians and Jews that flourished in the Spanish city a thousand years ago (New York Times, 7/14/10).
But the facts didn't seem to matter. The people who ought to have been on the defensive for misrepresenting facts and fomenting religious bigotry continued to be on the offensive, driving the coverage with their dubious claims, while their progressive Muslim targets remained on the defensive, smeared and chided for "intolerantly" pushing forward with their proposal. (More)