Ground Zero Mosque: How Did we Sink so Low?

The debate about whether Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf should build Park51, also known as the “ground zero mosque,” is just awful, disgusting and at the end of it, there will be no winners.

But what’s interesting to me is how this story ever got national attention at all. I mean there are mosques in this neighborhood already. There are synagogues, churches and strip clubs, so why did this one story take off? The short answer is Rupert Murdoch, but Salon’s Justin Elliott did some digging and pinpointed where it all began.

Elliott tracked this story to its source and exposed the anti-Muslim hate-mongers that started it and promoted it.

On December 8, 2009, The New York Times wrote a glowing front page story headlined: “Muslim Prayers and Renewal Near Ground Zero.” In the story, reporters Ralph Blumenthal and Sharaf Mowjood quoted Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the cleric leading the project, saying, “We want to push back against the extremists.”

The Times story reported that Mayor Bloomberg, a local Rabbi and a spokeswoman for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum all praised Imam Feisal and the Cordoba House project.

And then on December 21, 2009, Fox News conservative commentator Laura Ingraham interviewed Imam Feisal’s wife Daisy Khan. Ingraham told Khan, “I can’t find many people who really have a problem with it.” At the end of the interview she said, “I like what you’re trying to do.”

In his story, Elliott notes that this Fox News interview is the first time the inaccurate phrase “ground zero mosque” is used.

And then, according to Elliott’s reporting, there’s not another story about the Cordoba House project for five and a half months.

But in May of this year, rightwing nutjobs latched onto the story, Murdoch’s New York Post and Fox News picked it up and things just got way out of hand, really quickly.

On May 2, 2010, according to Elliott:

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.)

Pamela Geller

Pamela Geller

Who’s Geller? Pamela Geller is a rightwing nut-job who I wrote a story about her a couple of weeks ago. She has setup a group called Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). Her goal is to scare people into thinking that Muslims are trying to take over America and that we should all hate Muslims. It reminds me of someone I met in the ’80s who was convinced that African Americans were purposely having lots of children so that they can be the majority in America and reap vengeance on white people for slavery. Yeah, pretty crazy right? Well, those people are still out there, but now they have Murdoch’s media empire to spread their vitriol.

On May 8, Geller’s group announced a protest for May 29 to stop the “911 monster mosque.”

In her announcement, Geller said:

It will also serve to remember May 29, 1453, the Ottoman forces led by the Sultan Mehmet II broke through the Byzantine defenses against the Muslim siege of Constantinople. This was the end of the Eastern Roman (a.k.a. Byzantine) Empire. The Muslims entered the city and slaughtered people wholesale. The Sultan entered the Hagia Sophia Cathedral and ordered that it be converted into a mosque. This is known among Greeks and other Eastern Christians as Black Tuesday, or “The Last Day of the World.”

Also at the same time, New York Post columnist and resident loon, Andrea Peyser said a couple of days later, “there are better places to put a mosque.” And then on May 13, Peyser ratchets up the rhetoric about the Cordoba House with a full column dedicated to it. It’s headline: “Mosque madness at Ground Zero.”

Andrea Peyser

Andrea Peyser

Elliott reports that it’s Peyser’s column that brings the anti-Muslim rhetoric to the mainstream. “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,” Elliott said.

And once Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post had legitimized this story in the minds of the conservative media establishment, the story went national. Fox News went full bore. The New York Post assigned reporters to dig into the Cordoba House. Murdoch’s propaganda machine went into full swing.

Rudy Giuliani called it a “desecration.” Sarah Palin asked Muslims to “refudiate” the Cordoba House. Newt Gingrich compared Imam Feisal to Hitler, and the discussion continues to sink to the lowest depths imaginable.

And for another take on how bad this anti-Muslim fervor is, read Frank Rich’s column.

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