Two issues involving the Muslim religion — the so-called “ground zero mosque” and the Koran burning in Florida — have recently dominated the news and have been linked by commentators and politicians as though they are issues in common. In fact, both do revolve around Muslims and both share the protection of our Constitution (despite how that seems to inconvenience many Conservatives), and both present potential propaganda victories to our enemies. But they are totally different in their intent and in how real Americans (in the sense of those who believe in our laws and our democratic heritage, as opposed to Sarah Limbaugh) ought to respond.
Starting with its popularized label, the “ground zero mosque” has been consistently mis-reported by the media (which should surprise no one) and intentionally mis-characterized, largely by jingoist Republicans and Judeo-Christian lobbyists, since it is neither at ground zero nor is it a mosque. The footprint on which it would stand is now occupied by a building last used by the Burlington Coat Factory and Con Edison, two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, admittedly two blocks closer than an existing real mosque, Masjid Manhattan. When the “hallowed ground” argument lost traction, the right wing attack shifted to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leader of the project, suggesting that he was a jihadist sympathizer somehow linked to Al Qaeda, with few and far between media mentions of the fact that he is an American citizen who has worked with the U.S. government starting in the George W. Bush administration, training FBI agents and speaking on behalf of the State Department. As to the mosque itself, the proposed building would look nothing like one, since it would have no dome, no minaret and would no doubt be mistaken for an office building rather than the intended cultural center which yes, would contain an area for Muslim prayer but would welcome people of all religions, even Zionists, Christian Fundamentalists and Republicans.
Even the most vocal opponents of the project do not suggest that Muslims have no legal right to put up this building but rather demand that they bow to the “sensitivities” of those who lost family and friends in the 9/11 attack on our homeland. I wonder about their concern for the feelings of the survivors of the hundred thousand or so Muslims killed and the millions of Muslim refugees driven from their homes by the unwarranted revenge we took on their homeland. If all Muslims are responsible for the crazed acts of a few of them, then all Americans are equally responsible for the arrogant and unjustified destruction our leadership unleashed on Iraq.
In the end, Americans and Iraqis were both victims of the attack at ground zero. Muslims have a right to pray there. America has the obligation let them. Demanding that they go elsewhere provides aid and comfort to those for whom American values, particularly religious tolerance, are anathema.
The burning of Korans by a Florida pastor presents a very different circumstance, except that once again, the Muslim religion is the target and as usual, the media is responsible for sensationalizing an event that ought to have no more coverage than a few imbeciles wearing swastikas, goose stepping through Gainesville. The fact that President Obama, General Petraeus, and a host of other American and world leaders found it necessary to further legitimatize this absurdity by making it an issue of national and military security, instead of simply refusing to comment beyond the obvious and laudatory fact that in America, even a lunatic is entitled to freedom of speech.
Of course, Al Qaeda would have promoted the picture of the burning of Korans in America and enjoyed a propaganda victory, but no more so than the thousands of PR coups we give them with every civilian death we call “collateral damage” in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the ridicule, if not the dismissive lack of interest in the Koran burning, especially by the press, would have gone a lot further to make it less effective than the fact that apparently it actually won’t happen. With our media endlessly promoting, and the world leadership seriously discussing, the act of a crazy (like a fox?) pastor, most of whatever damage could be done, has been done, and without even striking a match.
But the rabid ranting of some non-entity religious maniac and his fifty demented disciples is nothing compared to the harm we do our own cause when leaders in our political, religious, and media establishments demonize American Muslims (yes, they are every bit as American as Newt, Mitch, John, and apple pie) by denigrating their religion as unworthy of being practiced on our “hallowed ground.” Where is all the hue and cry about the enlistment victory these demagogues give Al Qaeda and the threat to our troops from their anti-Muslim ravings? Where are the president and the general on that, pray tell?