How the "ground zero mosque" fear mongering began
By Justin Elliott, Salon
A group of progressive Muslim-Americans plans to build an Islamic community center two and a half blocks from ground zero in lower Manhattan. They have had a mosque in the same neighborhood for many years. There's another mosque two blocks away from the site. City officials support the project. Muslims have been praying at the Pentagon, the other building hit on Sept. 11, for many years.
In short, there is no good reason that the Cordoba House project should have been a major national news story, let alone controversy. And yet it has become just that, dominating the political conversation for weeks and prompting such a backlash that, according to a new poll, nearly 7 in 10 Americans now say they oppose the project. How did the Cordoba House become so toxic, so fast?
In a story last week, the New York Times, which framed the project in a largely positive, noncontroversial light last December, argued that it was cursed from the start by "public relations missteps." But this isn't accurate. To a remarkable extent, a Salon review of the origins of the story found, the controversy was kicked up and driven by Pamela Geller, a right-wing, viciously anti-Muslim, conspiracy-mongering blogger, whose sinister portrayal of the project was embraced by Rupert Murdoch's New York Post.
Here's a timeline of how it all happened:
- Dec. 8, 2009: The Times publishes a lengthy front-page look at the Cordoba project. "We want to push back against the extremists," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the lead organizer, is quoted as saying. Two Jewish leaders and two city officials, including the mayor's office, say they support the idea, as does the mother of a man killed on 9/11. An FBI spokesman says the imam has worked with the bureau. Besides a few third-tier right-wing blogs, including Pamela Geller's Atlas Shrugs site, no one much notices the Times story.
- Dec. 21, 2009: Conservative media personality Laura Ingraham interviews Abdul Rauf's wife, Daisy Khan, while guest-hosting "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox. In hindsight, the segment is remarkable for its cordiality. "I can't find many people who really have a problem with it," Ingraham says of the Cordoba project, adding at the end of the interview, "I like what you're trying to do."
- (This segment also includes onscreen the first use that we've seen of the misnomer "ground zero mosque.") After the segment — and despite the front-page Times story — there were no news articles on the mosque for five and a half months, according to a search of the Nexis newspaper archive.
- May 6, 2010: After a unanimous vote by a New York City community board committee to approve the project, the AP runs a story. It quotes relatives of 9/11 victims (called by the reporter), who offer differing opinions. The New York Post, meanwhile, runs a story under the inaccurate headline, "Panel Approves 'WTC' Mosque." Geller is less subtle, titling her post that day, "Monster Mosque Pushes Ahead in Shadow of World Trade Center Islamic Death and Destruction." She writes on her Atlas Shrugs blog, "This is Islamic domination and expansionism. The location is no accident. Just as Al-Aqsa was built on top of the Temple in Jerusalem." (To get an idea of where Geller is coming from, she once suggested that Malcolm X was Obama's real father. Seriously.)
- May 7, 2010: Geller's group, Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), launches "Campaign Offensive: Stop the 911 Mosque!" (SIOA 's associate director is Robert Spencer, who makes his living writing and speaking about the evils of Islam.) Geller posts the names and contact information for the mayor and members of the community board, encouraging people to write. The board chair later reports getting "hundreds and hundreds" of calls and e-mails from around the world.
- May 8, 2010: Geller announces SIOA's first protest against what she calls the "911 monster mosque" for May 29. She and Spencer and several other members of the professional anti-Islam industry will attend. (She also says that the protest will mark the dark day of "May 29, 1453, [when] the Ottoman forces led by the Sultan Mehmet II broke through the Byzantine defenses against the Muslim siege of Constantinople." The outrage-peddling New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser argues in a note at the end of her column a couple of days later that "there are better places to put a mosque."
- May 13, 2010: Peyser follows up with an entire column devoted to "Mosque Madness at Ground Zero." This is a significant moment in the development of the "ground zero mosque" narrative: It's the first newspaper article that frames the project as inherently wrong and suspect, in the way that Geller has been framing it for months. Peyser in fact quotes Geller at length and promotes the anti-mosque protest of Stop Islamization of America, which Peyser describes as a "human-rights group." Peyser also reports — falsely — that Cordoba House's opening date will be Sept. 11, 2011.
Within a month, Rudy Giuliani had called the mosque a "desecration." Within another month, Sarah Palin had tweeted her famous "peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate" tweet. Peter King and Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty followed suit — with political reporters and television news programs dutifully covering "both sides" of the controversy.
Geller had succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.
| Former Bush Adviser Mark McKinnon Rips GOP’s Stance On Mosque: ‘We’re Reinforcing Al Qaeda’s Message’ Via Think progress|
On Morning Joe earlier today, a pair of leading Republicans — host Joe Scarborough and former Bush strategist Mark McKinnon — blasted the GOP for its xenophobic and unconstitutional stance against American Muslims’ right to build a new Islamic center in lower Manhattan.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has claimed that the new Islamic center project “would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.” Referencing that quote, Scarborough expressed angry disdain at Gingrich’s intolerance. “I don’t know where to begin,” Scarborough said. “To suggest that someone trying to build a tolerance center for moderate Muslims in New York is the equivalent of killing six million Jews is stunning to me.”
McKinnon then chimed in, arguing that the debate surrounding the Cordoba House project is contrary to his party’s principles. “We may get our membership [by the GOP] revoked,” McKinnon joked. “Screw ‘em,” Scarborough responded. McKinnon then said that the GOP’s stance is “reinforcing al Qaeda’s message”:
McKinnon said he believed President Obama has “done the right thing in stepping forward at this time on this issue.” He added, “Tolerance means tolerating things you don’t like, especially when you don’t like them. … I respect the President for making this move.” Watch it:
Writing in the Washington Post today, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson — using Bush-era terminology — reinforced McKinnon’s view. “Those who want a president to assert that any mosque would defile the neighborhood near Ground Zero are asking him to undermine the war on terrorism. A war on Islam would make a war on terrorism impossible,” Gerson writes.
This morning, Scarborough remarked that when he first entered Congress in 1994, he was deemed to be some “crazy,” “right wing nut job” for his ideological views. He explained that, while he still holds “the same views,” he is “feeling further and further distant from the people who are running my party.”