“Ground Zero Mosque” is contentious issue

You may have heard recently about plans to build a mosque close to the site of the World Trade Centre remains. Many people are outraged that “they” would try to put up “their” religious centre near where “they” committed an act of terrorism. I put the “they” in quotes for what I hope are obvious reasons – it wasn’t representatives of the Muslim community that hijacked the planes. It wasn’t representatives of the Muslim community that rejoiced when the towers fell.

But it was Muslims, and its easy to paint “them” with the same brush.

So a group that is representative of the Muslim community (whatever that may be) wants to put up a mosque in Manhattan. The stated purpose of the mosque is an admirable one: show the terrorists that Muslims are Americans too, and that they stand solidly behind the United States in ensuring religious freedom. However, the monster of prejudice and mistrust is rearing its ugly head:

A landmark commission hearing may determine the future of a proposed mosque near Ground Zero. The ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee said Monday he favours an investigation into the funding of the mosque.

Given the reality that terrorist groups and foreign governments who are friendly with those groups are peddling influence in the United States, a review of the funding is perhaps warranted. What isn’t clear to me is why this structure and not others are of particular importance, unless it’s simply due to its locale. Mayor Bloomberg, who is opposed to such investigation, surprises me for taking the stand that he does; however, I don’t necessarily disagree with him.

Amazingly, the network media is doing exactly what I hoped they’d do:

Entitled “Kill the Ground Zero Mosque”, the video calls the proposed mosque a “monstrosity” that will invite further attacks on the US. The advertisement has received over 100,000 page views on YouTube. Neither CBS nor NBC, two of the major US television networks, will screen the advert.

The important thing is not whether or not they refuse to air it, but why. It appears that the reason has nothing to do with “not offending Muslims”, but more to do with the actual values of the United States:

In emails obtained by the news website Politico, NBC Universal advertising standards manager Jennifer Riley wrote that because it did not make a distinction between terror groups and the religious organisation behind the mosque, “the ad is not acceptable under our guidelines for broadcast”.

This is not blind capitulation to the sensitive feelings of the Muslim community, but a recognition of the need to distinguish between terrorists and people who share their religious label. As far as I am concerned, this is being handled correctly. This is how secularism can work, even if I don’t like the fact that in excess of $100m is being spent on a site of religious worship.


  1. says

    One of the most difficult questions media outlets have to wrestle with is how to handle paid advertising that promotes controversial ideas and/or outright propaganda. I worked at a small daily where someone wanted to buy a full-page ad which essentially pooh-poohed the Holocaust, essentially stating the whole thing was a fabrication. The paper chose not to run it, but a competitor ran it, defending the choice by saying that even unpopular ideas deserve a hearing. Freedom of the press and expression is important, but it does not obligate media outlets to provide a forum for the dissemination of propaganda.

  2. says

    It’s certainly a difficult line to draw. I agree with the stance that the networks took, which was that the content failed to meet their broadcasting standards. A paper choosing whether to publish Holocaust denialism must weigh the benefit of the advertising dollars against the cost due to the inevitably resulting negative media attention. I’m inclined to say that unpopular ideas should be out in the open, I just don’t know if I want to put them in my paper.

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. says

    It is certainly a ridiculous argument, I agree. I think asking where the funding for the centre is coming from is a fair question, but we should be scrutinizing all foreign funding to provide ‘cultural’ services, regardless of what faith we’re talking about. The Islam of Saudi Arabia and Iran is no more dangerous than the Christianity of Uganda and Malawi, or the Hinduism of Sri Lanka. If it’s used to spread violence and hate, it’s a clear and present threat.

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