Don't watch mosque madness

Posted by Tyler Reny

If you have been paying attention to the conservative echo chamber of talk radio and Fox News, and I certainly hope everyone does once in a while (it is good for a laugh, scream or an occasional cry), you should be aware that the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" is a serious issue (it isn't).  

According to our fearless leaders, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, we have been informed that the mosque is being built by the shifty radical "Muslim Brotherhood operative" Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who harbors a nefarious "secret agenda."  The mosque, we are told, is a victory for radical Islam and a slap in the face to the victims of the September 11th attacks.  

Or, if you decide to use your brain, probe a little bit and examine the man for yourself, you will learn that Feisal Abdul Rauf has devoted much of his life to fostering better Islamic-U.S. relations.  He authored the book, "What's Right With Islam Is What's Right With America," and is the vice-chair of the Interfaith Center of New York.  According to Hendrik Hertzberg, who wrote a New Yorker piece on the mosque debate, Rauf has consistently denounced terrorism and the September 11th attacks and has been hired various times by the FBI to conduct sensitivity training for its agents.    

Hertzberg also points out that Daisy Khan, Rauf's wife, runs the American Society for Muslim Advancement, which, according to the organization's Web site, "promotes cultural and religious harmony through interfaith collaboration, youth and women's empowerment and arts and cultural exchange."  

The center itself, Cordoba House, will also not be located at ground zero, as the media's name suggests, but two blocks north, and will be far more than a mosque.  Hungry? Grab a bite to eat there, it will have a restaurant.  Wandering around lower Manhattan enjoying the hundred-degree weather and the smell your shoes produce as the rubber melts into the pavement?  Go for a swim, there will be a pool! The plans also include a gallery and a memorial to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, and it will be open to all.  

But with the November elections looming and an energized base of tea-partiers, the GOP has turned this non-issue into a serious issue.  Armed with an extremely influential media arm and GOP wordsmith Frank Luntz, who conducts focus groups to see what the most effective language will be for framing the issue, the "Ground Zero Mosque" has become a hot topic of debate, a mobilization tactic and vote producer.  

The jowly Conservative history professor and architect of the 1994 House Takeover, Newt Gingrich, has perhaps been the most vocal opponent of the center.  According to Gingrich, the construction is part of an "Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization" by "replacing it with a radical imposition of Sharia."  He refers to the construction as part of a larger "stealth jihad," harking back to memories of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's "fifth-column" scares of communists lurking around every corner during the Cold War.  

While there is no factual evidence for any of Newt's rants, though plenty of speculation, it does scare people.  And when people are scared, they tend to support the national security measures offered up by our Republican brethren.  As Lisa Miller pointed out recently in her Newsweek column, terms like Jihad and Sharia freak people out and cause a general distrust of all Muslims.  A few weeks ago, a New York City cab driver was stabbed when his passenger found out that he was a Muslim.  The hysteria and paranoia clouding this event resemble the political climate that lead to past injustices and atrocities like the mass internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.    

Words do matter and new media, especially conservative talk radio and news sources, have a huge amount of influence in this country.  All of the sudden the percentage of Americans who believe President Barack Obama is a Muslim has risen from 11 percent in March to 18 percent in August.  Public opposition to Cordoba House is booming and anti-mosque rallies have popped up in New York City to protest the project.  While there is no way to accurately measure prejudice against Muslims, all indicators show that it is growing, and is being fueled by people like Limbaugh, Beck and Gingrich.

The real issue isn't a mosque, or the placement of a mosque or even Islam.  The issue is that Republicans are telling blatant lies and using shameless fear tactics to trigger voter anxiety, gain political support and fuel prejudice.  So next time you find your remote under a pile of dirty beer stained clothing and switch on that TV, put on Fox, see what they are saying about the mosque, scream at the TV and change the channel.  

Tyler Reny is a senior government major who enjoys good food, politics, and jazz.

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