The ongoing controversy over the Cordoba House — or Park51, as it’s now being called — the Islamic community center planned for a site two blocks away from the former World Trade Center, is sadly representative of the state of political discourse in American popular culture. Despite weeks and weeks and weeks of argument and debate, those decrying the mosque as an unspeakable sacrilege, and those trying their best to calmly assure that first group that it’s really no big deal, are no closer to reaching an understanding.
Opponents of Park51 call a Muslim presence so close to the site of the deadliest act of Islamic terrorism in history unthinkable, while supporters remind them that there are already Muslim prayer halls in the vicinity of Ground Zero, as well as a Muslim prayer space in the Pentagon. Opponents draw out sinister sounding connections between Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and radical Islamic groups, and supporters point out that you can use the same connect-the-dots guilt-by-association methods can be used to establish a connection between any number of public figures and extremists. (See Jon Stewart’s brilliant takedown of this particular rhetorical strategy on last night’s episode of The Daily Show.)
The argument goes on and on, but it doesn’t get anywhere. What’s up with that? I think the answer lies in the vastly divergent ways in which people on either side perceive the facts of the issue. I’ve prepared three simple examples below, so you can see what I mean.
When opponents of Park51 look at the illustration of the proposed building, they are apparently seeing something very different than what I and my fellow defenders of the project see.
When they look at this . . .
They see this.
2. Feisal Abdul Rauf
The lead imam of the Cordoba Initiative is either a calm voice of peace and moderation in his sometimes turbulent faith, or a bloodthirsty jihadist anxious to replace the Constitution with Islamic law and use his fancy new Manhattan digs to plan and carry out future acts of terrorism. It all depends on who you ask.
When Rauf says this:
“This project is about condemning what happened on 9/11. I have lectured to all 1200 FBI agents, the months right after 9/11, to work with the law enforcement agencies to make sure that all terrorism coming from our community is eliminated.”
—Feisal Abdul Rauf, Fox and Friends, Fox News Channel, May 11, 2010
Opponents of Park51 hear this:
“DEATH TO AMERICA!”
3. President Obama’s response
After maintaining a conspicuous silence on this issue for some time, President Obama last week stated his unequivocal support for the building of Park51, on the basis America’s long-standing and oft-celebrated tradition of religious liberty and tolerance.
When the president says:
“As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.”
—Barack Obama, Remarks at Iftar Dinner, August 13, 2010
Park51 opponents hear this:
“My Muslim brothers, the day is ours! Forward we go! In the name of the Prophet! Allahu Akbar!”
Why let inconvenient, inarguable reality intrude on a perfectly good whipped-up bullshit bigoted pandering fear-mongering hysterical phony controversy?