The Media’s ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ Follies

Commentators from both the left and right need to soberly debate the question at the bottom of this serious issue

ground zero mosqueFor some time, “fair and balanced” news coverage and commentary has been on the media endangered species list. Now, with the current “Ground Zero Mosque” flap, it seems to have become extinct.

Most concede that Fox News falls far short of their nonpartisan boast. Liberals relish mocking it as a propaganda machine and purveyor of infotainment at best. But, have their own standard-bearers  – Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow – become any less guilty of the same thing? Indeed, it seems that they have upped Fox’s ante, turning infotainment into spinfotainment.  

Consider Rachel Maddow’s recent drive-by on Rep. Eric Cantor. In the course of a longer National Review interview covering multiple issues, the Republican minority whip briefly commented on the proposed Islamic center. While acknowledging a constitutional right to build, he added that it would be “the ultimate in insensitivity” to 9/11 families to do so. Thinking this self-evident, he concluded rhetorically and with exasperation, “I mean, come on!”

Maddow did not invite Cantor on to explain his position more thoroughly though, according to recent polls, 70% of Americans seem to agree. Nor did she interview liberals who side with Cantor: Sen. Joe Liebermann, New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, etc. Nor did she allow airtime to someone like Raheel Raza or Tarek Fatah, Muslim Canadian Congress members who stated: “We Muslims know the … mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation, to thumb our noses at the infidel.”

Instead, she replayed the Cantor “come on!” video clip three times, repeating the words with rolls of the eyes, and exclaiming each time, “That’s his argument???” She concluded that Cantor had “casually opened the door for Big Bigotry.”

By extension, her denunciation would also apply to the Anti-Defamation League itself. This would be the same group which for nearly a century, according to its mission statement, has exposed and combated “hatred, prejudice, and bigotry” against any and all minorities. “Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site,” the ADL wrote. “The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right.”

Maddow called this question of “sensitivity” and of “what is right,” the ugh factor. Even if a person is "ughed-out,” she explained, the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment are inalienable for all groups.

In fact, First Amendment rights are not inalienable in the case of hate crimes, riot, defamation, among other things. And presumably, if the American Nazi party petitioned to build a cultural center outside the Holocaust museum, high-minded constitutional evangelists such as Maddow would not be defending their right to do so.

The New York Times’ Clyde Haberman goes further. “Nobody, regardless of political leanings, would tolerate a mosque at Ground Zero,” the columnist pointed out in his “Prepositions and Fear-Mongering” piece. But, if he concedes that building right at Ground Zero would be intolerable even to First Amendment purists, what about six feet away? Sixty feet? Six-hundred feet (the actual distance)? Where does one draw the line to satisfy both constitutional conscience and victim sensitivity?

Keith Olbermann picked up where Haberman left off and hammered bigots on their prepositions. Since the proposed Islamic center — Cordoba House, a.k.a. Park51 — is not at Ground Zero, he fumed, there’s no Ground Zero mosque at all. Moreover, since only two top floors will be reserved for prayer, with a basketball court, a swimming pool, and a cooking school below, even “mosque” is a prejudiced misnomer. Would Olbermann prefer “mosqueito”?

The "Countdown" host pointed out that St. Paul’s Chapel and the Church of St. Peter are closer to Ground Zero than the proposed Cordoba House. Presumably only an Islamophobe would ask: Were they built after Catholics flew an airplane into a building, killing 3,000?

In his 11-minute harangue, Olbermann concentrated on prepositions, pretzel logic, and hysterical parallels. A request that Cordoba be built elsewhere in the city, he called “the first step to holocaust,” selling our birthright, and “feeding the maw of xenophobia, vengeance, and mob rule.”

“This is America, dammit!” he concluded,  a soundbite much like Cantor’s but which the anchor’s colleague, Maddow, has not loop-played and turned to vaudeville or a Comedy Central skit.

Commentators from both the left and right need to pour some decaf, take a deep breath, and soberly debate the question at the bottom of this serious issue. Should a democratic society extend without conditions its constitutional freedoms to a faith which: a) does not believe in separation of church and state; and, b) has founded many tyrannical theocracies that withhold freedoms from its people, and persecute other faiths?

Many insist that holy warriors such as the 9/11 jihadists were a radical fringe group not at all indicative of the Muslim community at large. To this day, however, entire nations — Iran, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, etc.– sanction beheadings, stonings, floggings, and amputations not merely for western “infidels,” but alleged journalist “spies,” homosexuals, and adulteresses. In Sudan, 1.5 million Christians have been killed by the Muslim militia. The Indonesian, Jemaah Islamiah and Lakar Jihad have destroyed over 600 Christian churches. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, Muslims may be executed for converting.

Wrote Islamic scholar, Khaled al-Haroub: “We keep increasing our religious demands vis-à-vis the West, while refusing to meet even a few of the demands made by religious minorities living among us.”

According to another scholar, Nonie Darwish, no fewer than 35,200 verses in the Koran encourage violence. Above all, in the “Sword Verses,” Mohammad preaches: “Those who reject Islam must be killed. If they turn back, take them and kill them wherever you find them" (4:89). Furthermore: “I will terrorize the unbelievers…. Strike off their heads and cut off each of their fingers and toes” (8:12). (Also see: 8:39, 8:59, 9:5, 47:4, etc. etc.)

Have the jihadists, as their moderate brethren insist, truly misinterpreted their holy text? And are their sympathizers really so few? According to the U.K. Sunday Times poll after 9/11, 40% of British Muslims supported bin Laden’s attack. In 2004, a Pew survey reported that  65% of Pakistanis viewed bin Laden favorably, as did 55% of Jordanians, and 45% of Moroccans.

Centuries ago, Spain, France, and other European Catholic theocracies were even more inclined to vendetta and terror. Their medieval intolerance was fed by the same thing feeding modern Islam: the unshakeable conviction that theirs was the exclusive God-given truth. And that those who don’t bow to it should rightfully be persecuted and eliminated as divine enemies. Heretics, apostates, infidels.

But Maddow, Obermann and like-minded paladins of freedom continue to denounce those who oppose a Ground Zero mosque as ignorant, prejudiced, Islamophobic. In fact, it is more a fear of terrorism itself, and of whatever religious absolutism fuels it. Most Americans would fear 15th-century Christianity no less, and would be equally troubled if Torquemada or Savonarola came back and petitioned for a cultural center with a basketball and food court.

Religion is defined in many different ways, but surely most would agree that, in modern practice, it is a deist belief which – in spite of historic atrocities – promotes tolerance, peace, and understanding.        

Feisal Abdul Rauf, Cordoba House sponsor and spokesman, pledges to foster these very virtues. But he refuses to acknowledge Hamas as a terrorist organization. "Look, I'm not a politician,” he says. “The issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” Yet there is no complexity about Hamas’s body count much less its commitment to destroy Israel. Nor will Rauf say if Hamas, the Saudis, Iranians or other groups or nations which cheered 9/11 are behind his group's funding.

In spite of implicitly pleading the Fifth on these questions, Rauf told CBS’s Ed Bradley that 9/11 was largely caused by American foreign policy. But of the civilians killed, none were responsible for that policy. Moreover, 90 nationalities were on the casualty list.

In spite of all this, as Maddow, Obermann, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and President Obama remind us, we remain a country of freedom for all. Intolerance has never been defeated by counter-intolerance or discrimination. Let Cordoba House be built and let it flourish just as long as it supports and encourages the freedom of others, as their own is supported and encouraged.

By way of expressing his admirable commitment to secular American democracy, tolerance and peace, Rauf should openly identify Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda as Islamic terrorist organizations and pledge that his center will divorce itself from them entirely. He should also reveal all his group's investors and show that they have no links with jihadist groups or nations.

In the tragic wake of 9/11, is this not a small price to pay for freedom, not to mention the life and well-being, of others?

In the name of endangered fairness and balance, this question needs to be intelligently and respectfully debated by commentators of all persuasions.