The Manufactured “Ground Zero Mosque” Controversy

How did the future of this former Burlington Coat Factory turn into a national political issue ? Well, it's a rather interesting story.

Over at Slate, Justin Elliot puts forward a timeline to show how the story of the “Ground Zero Mosque” went from a minor New York area story to a national controversy, and it’s not pretty:

  • 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.”
  • 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.

And it wasn’t long after this, after the issue had been talked to death for weeks on talk radio and Fox News Channel, that Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity, conservative “pro-family” organizations, and so-called “men of God” started weighing in on this.

Then the politicians chimed in. First Sarah Palin, but soon there after it was Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani and seemingly anyone else on the right who wanted to make a name for themselves. By the time the President chimed in last Friday, the ground had been prepared to such an extent that the political firestorm we now find ourselves in was seemingly inevitable.

Make no mistake, though, this is a manufactured controversy, and for proof of that you need look no further than the Laura Ingraham-Daisy Khan interview from December noted above:

What happened in the seven months since that interview was aired ? A very well coordinated propaganda campaign designed to appeal to people’s worst fears. Sadly, it’s looks like they’ve succeeded.

FILED UNDER: Islam, Religion, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Chadzilla says:

    I think it’s a mistake to portray this as a Republican vs Democrat issue. I also think that the ‘Slate’ time line is selective and deceptive. It draws relationships between people that aren’t connected. Geller? Who the heck is that?

    The driving force behind the now overwhelming opposition to the mosque is the nearly unanimous response of the 9/11 families. Much like seeing a whimpering baby seal makes people want to save the wilderness, the images of the 9/11 families crying, screaming, and otherwise belting out their opposition swayed a lot of Americans to think about it and reach the conclusion that the Ground Zero District just isn’t ready to have a new mosque yet.

    This is the rawest of raw nerves for many New Yorkers and Americans. Dismissing this issue as a manufactured political hit-job is at best intellectually dis-honest. The 9/11 attacks were real. The dead are not coming back. It really was done in the name of Islam. Seventy percent (CNN Poll Aug 14) of Americans are opposing this not because of a Newt, Sarah, and a couple inside the beltway bloggers (by the way, last time I checked, Newt & Sarah both had approval ratings below 40%). They are opposing it because they honestly don’t feel right about it as Americans. THAT’s the real story.

  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    So what’s new Doug? Manufactured controversies are the lifeblood of the conservative practice of poliltics these days. They expend oceans of ink and acres of bandwidth extolling our exceptionalism, the purity of the constitution, the infinite wisdom of the founding fathers, the uniqueness of our experiment, but are in reality what they stand for is ignorance, hate and intolerance. It’s only one step from banning mosques to banning synagogues or anything else. Hypocrisy with a capital H.

  3. Gerry W. says:

    Chadzilla says “They are opposing it because they honestly don’t feel right about it as Americans. THAT’s the real story.”

    This is not about feelings. It is about the Constitution. And I say the Constitution because republicans live and die by the Constitution. And yet it is absent in this controversy. It is the republicans who also want religious material in public schools and symbols on public property. Again, they want to go against the Constitution to have it their way. They will always quote it, but go against it to have it their way. And if they want religion in government and in schools then Islam and all other religions have to be inclusive. They are speaking out of both sides of their mouths.

    And speaking about feelings, how many times has Limbaugh talked about feelings (in legislation) from the democrats. I guess it only exists on one side. (sarcasm)

    The sad part is that we have a country that is in a mess. It is always the economy in good times and bad. And all we get is political propaganda. The republicans showed what they stand for. They are just a propaganda machine that does not know anymore than the democrats in running the country.

  4. Herb says:

    “This is the rawest of raw nerves for many New Yorkers and Americans. Dismissing this issue as a manufactured political hit-job is at best intellectually dis-honest. The 9/11 attacks were real.”

    Yes, the 9-11 attacks were real. But they were committed by other people. Shouldn’t that count for something in your “intellectually honest” world?

    I guess not. I mean, 70% of the American people think it’s a bad idea…

  5. The driving force behind the now overwhelming opposition to the mosque is the nearly unanimous response of the 9/11 families.

    Well, people claiming to represent the unanimous response of the 9/11 families, anyways.

  6. […] […]

  7. Chadzilla:

    The driving force behind the now overwhelming opposition to the mosque is the nearly unanimous response of the 9/11 families.

    I ask without snark and without any attempt at a “gotcha”: do you have any evidence for this apart from just a general sense that this must be the case?

  8. The driving force behind the now overwhelming opposition to the mosque is the nearly unanimous response of the 9/11 families.

    Or, maybe it’s that the 9/11 families have been shamelessly exploited by those who would use this issue for their own political advantage.

  9. Or, maybe it’s that the 9/11 families have been shamelessly exploited by those who would use this issue for their own political advantage.

    One suspects, yes.

  10. reid says:

    Good article, Doug. I wonder if Ingraham has revisited this issue recently…. And I too haven’t seen much in the way of a “unanimous response from the 9/11 families”. I haven’t dug too deeply into this controversy because I value my sanity, but in the bits I’ve seen on TV, they’ve only shown a few of them against AND FOR the building of the mosque. This certainly seems driven by the pundits and bloggers on the right who feed on the outrage of the moment. Once it gets a little traction, everyone jumps on the bandwagon, and the < 40% diehard fans of Palin, Newt, etc. eat it up. With even 10-20% of the country (outrageists, bigots, Obama/Democrat-haters) in full outrage mode, the mainstream media feels obligated to pick it up and treat it as a legitimate issue. And here we are….

  11. Gerry W. says:

    Chadzilla,

    I hope my connotation did not offend you. I am upset at republicans as they want it both ways. They got half the people believing a bunch of propaganda.

  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    What do the Republicans have other than manufactured hate-based controversies? What policies do they have? What program for the future?

    The GOP is brain dead. This is all they have left.

    Here on OTB, this conservative site, how many pieces have been written about what we should do going forward? I can’t recall one. But it’s not just here, it’s everywhere. Republicans have no plans, they have no ideas, all they have left is gay-bashing and race-baiting and a nihilistic opposition to all things Obama.

    If you want evidence of American decline, look no further than the GOP. One of our two political parties has quite literally not a single prescription for the future. Not even a glimmer of a vision. Nothing.

  13. reid says:

    Now Michael, be fair. You know they are in favor of tax cuts for all occasions. And some theoretical spending cuts, but mumble mumble… look over there *runs*!

  14. Chadzilla says:

    Gerry W. You did not offend me. However I think you are ignoring my fundamental thesis that this is not a partisan issue in the first place. Many an independent and many a Democrat are against this also. Most of them don’t listen to or give credibility to any of the sources sited by Slate as the cause of the controversy. While some opportunistic conservative media personalities are using it as a platform to attack the President, they are clearly late to the party.

  15. Gerry W. says:

    Well, I don’t like the situation either. There is some things we have to except because of the laws of our land. Switzerland has outlawed minarets. I don’t know if that changes anything, except that you don’t visually see anything offensive.

  16. Chadzilla says:

    This just in – Harry Reid, Howard Dean, and Rudy Giuliani have all come out to oppose the mosque. Who would have thunk it?!

    Think of the thesis I started with – Opposition to this mosque is not a manufactured conservative hobby horse, but it is a real problem for Americans across the political spectrum.