Monday, August 2, 2010

The Ground Zero Mosque[1]

I’m growing more and more confident in the accuracy of my Manipulative Bullshit Detector. That’s why I immediately became wary when I heard about the plans for a Muslim community center in the vicinity of the World Trade Center site. If it’s not obvious, the heart of the controversy is basically “this is an opportunity for the Muslim community to reject extremism while doing its part to help society grow and rebuild, both figuratively and literally” vs. “this is, at best, cold and insensitive, and, at worst, an intentional act of defiance and provocation.”

Clearly, this story has a ton of potential for manipulative bullshit—it was just a matter of time. Sure enough, the alert level went from orange to red when I saw this,[2] courtesy of Neal Boortz:
There are reports that our wonderful Muslim friends plan to open this Mosque next year on September 11, 2011? The 10th anniversary of their murder of 3000 people. Now that's some rather incredible timing, don't you think?
Well, that’s a game-changer! As a bleeding-heart liberal, I’m inclined to assume good faith until I see evidence suggesting otherwise, but scheduling a celebratory grand opening on such a somber day—the ten-year anniversary of one of the most evil things ever done in the name of Allah—is pretty strong support for the “purposeful act of defiance and provocation” argument.

There is still, however, the nagging question of whether the reports are, you know, true. Too bad repetition doesn’t prove validity—this case would be closed. For example, here's Andrea Peyser of the New York Post (May 13):
The opening date shall live in infamy: Sept. 11, 2011. The 10th anniversary of the day a hole was punched in the city's heart.
Pamela Gellar of Atlas Shrugs (May 15):
The date that the Islamic monument of conquest is set to open: September 11, 2011.
Chelsea Schilling of WorldNetDaily (June 7):
[T]he new Islamic mosque plans to open its doors on Sept. 11, 2011.
And on and on. The claim shows up on dozens of sites, none of which provide a source. Perhaps more telling is where it doesn’t appear—Fox News. (Well, it was brought up on Fox & Friends, but, to paraphrase Jon Stewart, it’s a little unfair to question Fox News' credibility by going after Fox & Friends, because that makes it way, way too easy.[3] They’re the rotting fruit on the ground that you have to trample on to pick the low-hanging fruit off the tree.)

Anyway, as far as I can tell, this ridiculous game of telephone traces back to a May 6 New York Daily News article:
[Cordoba Initiative board member Daisy] Khan said her group hopes construction on the project will begin by the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Two things come to mind. First, she’s not talking about the “grand opening,” she’s talking about the more nebulous concept of beginning construction (albeit in terms of a very poorly-chosen reference point). Second, this isn’t a direct quote. It’s part of the writers’ account of what happened at the committee meeting. For all we know, Khan said construction would start “next fall,” or “within a year or so,” or maybe someone asked if her group hopes to start construction before September 11, 2011 and she simply said “yes.”

As usual, it’s not so much the misinformation that bothers me, but the way it serves to distract from what could be a stimulating and beneficial discussion. There are a lot of legitimate issues here, such as the fairness of imputing the views of extremists to all members of a group, and whether we’re seeing latent Islamophobia in the form of implied demands that American Muslims—many of whom are among those who lost loved ones on 9/11—take greater responsibility for the terrible crimes of others who (at least superficially) share their faith.

But the choice of September 11, 2011 as the opening date? Not a legitimate issue, because it’s not happening.

1. Well, it's actually a community center, but it's much scarier to call it a mosque.
2. Incidentally, Boortz’s post contains an embedded Fox & Friends clip. This exchange occurs at the 2:20 point:
— NYC firefighter Tim Brown (presenting his views reasonably and respectfully, and thus failing to adequately represent his side of the debate): “My problem is that there is a bit of mistrust here—and not personally with the imam, but just in general.”
Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade: “Between Muslims and Americans?”
I think that says a lot about why this is so upsetting to so many people.

3. See also: Footnote 2.

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