Where is the unhallowed ground?

Mike Blake/Reuters

A few days ago, I (along with Citizen Radio co-host Jamie Kilstein) debated a pair of Conservatives at a show run by comedian Scott Blakeman. The contentious topic of discussion was – surprise, surprise – the Cordoba House. The Conservatives’ reoccurring claim was that Ground Zero is hallowed ground – a familiar talking point to anyone who has been following the news.

Of course, I pointed out that the Cordoba House is not a mosque – it’s actually a cultural center – more like a YMCA, and that it’s not at Ground Zero. The Cordoba House would be located in Lower Manhattan where there are already two other mosques. But these facts didn’t really make a dent. The Conservatives kept coming back to this claim that Lower Manhattan – all of it, not just Ground Zero – is somehow “hallowed ground.”

This mock piety is really a cover for Islamophobia. Time and again, the Conservatives reiterated that Islam is a radical, violent religion, and they kept asking where the moderate Muslims were to protest the extremist behavior displayed on 9/11. Ironically, the group proposing the Cordoba house is one of the moderate groups. The community center would have invited people of all races and religions to use their facilities – something radical extremists frown upon.

And there are lots of moderate Muslim groups. To name only a few: the World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE), Center for Eurasian Policy at the Hudson Institute Farid Ghadry, Reform Party of Syria Manda Zand Ervin, Alliance of Iranian Women, The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, Arab Reformists Project, American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and Inter-Religious Affairs for the Islamic Supreme Council of America. These groups met last year with Rep. Sue Myrick for the expressed purpose of “stamping out extremism” in their communities and around the world.

But despite the existence of these groups, the Conservatives kept demanding a Million Muslim March upon the White House to prove their devotion to the U. S. of A. I suggested a purity test. They didn’t seem amused. I asked what the quota of “Good Muslims” is – the magical number of moderate groups it would take to soothe their nerves. Again, they didn’t seem to have a specific number in mind.

And that’s because this isn’t about having enough moderates, or about hallowed ground. This is really about those people setting up shop in our country. Plans for a mosque in Florence, Kentucky drew criticism because it’s only 654 miles from Ground Zero…or something. An anonymous flier is being distributed in the city which reads, “Americans need to stop the takeover of our country.” Apparently, the takeover is going to begin with the renovation of an old Hollywood Videos.

This kind of open xenophobia is exactly how unwitting paranoids push moderates into extremism. Some counterterrorism experts are now expressing concern that the anti-Muslim sentiment on airwaves and blogs over Cordoba is “playing into the hands of extremists by bolstering their claims that the United States is hostile to Islam.”

Indeed, America is extremely hostile – not only to Islam – but to anyone who gives off the air of being exotic, or different. Nearly one in five Americans think President Obama is a Muslim. At the very least, they know he looks different, and they don’t like him, so he must be an other – something foreigny. As Adam Serwer put it the other day, “In a less politically correct time they probably would have used a different word.”

In lieu of the N-word, bigots now exploit politicians’ fear of being labeled a Muslim-lover to fully explore their radical beliefs, namely that Muslims don’t belong anywhere in the United States- not just at Ground Zero, but also in Kentucky, Tennessee, California, Wisconsin, or wherever those dirty foreigners plan on living and worshipping.

The hatred doesn’t really stop at Muslims, either. Xenophobia is really a convenient cover for a deeper bigotry. Just examine this encounter during a mosque protest.

At one point, a portion of the crowd menacingly surrounded two Egyptian men who were speaking Arabic and were thought to be Muslims.

“Go home,” several shouted from the crowd.

“Get out,” others shouted.

In fact, the two men – Joseph Nassralla and Karam El Masry — were not Muslims at all. They turned out to be Egyptian Coptic Christians who work for a California-based Christian satellite TV station called “The Way.” Both said they had come to protest the mosque.

“I’m a Christian,” Nassralla shouted to the crowd, his eyes bulging and beads of sweat rolling down his face.

But it was no use. The protesters had become so angry at what they thought were Muslims that New York City police officers had to rush in and pull Nassralla and El Masry to safety.

“I flew nine hours in an airplane to come here,” a frustrated Nassralla said afterward.

Christian, sure. But that brown skin screams, “One of them…one of them..” That’s the danger of tribalism. Once extremists are given permission to stoke their irrational hatred, the target of their fury jumps all over the place – from Muslims, to moderate Muslims, to anyone Middle Eastern-looking, to anyone with dark pigmentation.

In the same way the 9/11 hijackers incorrectly lumped all the employees of the WTC in with the American government, so these US-grown bigots now lump all Muslims together with violent extremists. These things tend to happen during chaotic and distressing times, but it’s up to rational citizens to step in and say that this hatred is poisonous to democracy.

Conservatives keep asking: Where are the moderate Muslims? I want to know: where are the moderate Americans? (Not counting the moderate Muslim-Americans who have been screaming to the rafters about this.) Furthermore, where are the politicians who will finally stand up to this right-wing extremism and bigotry and say, “Enough”?

That’s what’s so infuriating about watching people like Howard Dean, Anthony Weiner, and unsurprisingly, Harry Reid, cower in the presence of this vicious anti-Muslim sentiment. These are supposed to be the rational, reasonable politicians we elect to keep their cool in hostile times, so they don’t allow the mob to turn against a convenient scapegoat and sacrifice the First Amendment during the feeding frenzy.

I remember how pundits kept remarking in the months after 9/11 how remarkable it was that there wasn’t any Muslim-bashing in the streets. It appears now that there was a lot of latent hostility out there, but we had a white president, who told his base to cool it, and that those Muslim critters were okay by him. President Bush visited mosques on many occasions, and he was the first president to use the word “mosque” in a speech. President Obama has yet to visit a mosque.

I’m sure there are plenty of savvy strategists out there telling the president that visiting a mosque is a super bad idea because 1 in 5 Americans think he’s Muslim (I’d love to get a number on how many think he’s the anti-Christ.) But cowering to these hate-filled people hasn’t worker, either. Not only has it not worked, but that strategy is destroying the work done to bridge the divide between moderate Muslims and the west.

While I’m aware the lady with wild hair, crazy eyes, and the sign about Obama being a Mooslim probably won’t be swayed by reasoned debate, I know someone like President Obama understands what’s at stake in all of this. If moderate Muslims are alienated, and pushed into the margins of society, then it follows that a handful will be lost to extremism. The events of 9/11 were pulled off by 19 hijackers. How many otherwise innocuous individuals are being radicalized by the new Jim Crow treatment?


  1. I am particularly amused by all the demands of people that in the interest of “dialogue” that the Cordoba House simply pack up shop and move away. These requests and demands are never met with any sort concession by the anti-mosque nuts. No offers to purchase the building or perhaps a land swap, or even a condemnation of the nutbars who are driving the craze.

    Honestly, I think at this point if the religious right is not defeated and this mosque fails because of them, it’ll be open season on both Muslims and the rather fragile Separation of Church & State. Unfortunately, if they do win and do build the mosque they will eventually get ACORNED by some right-winger with video editing software.

  2. Rocky Rococo

    As Mark Twain once pointed out, we live in “The United States of Lyncherdom”, and the political and governmental leaders that will stand up to the lynch mob are few and far between. That groups like ADL, that once were among those few that stood against lyncherdom, are now in the vanguard of the mob just tells me we’re further gone than we were in Twain’s time.

  3. swandiver

    It’s the money Lebowski! By stoking hate against a whole group of people, we dehumanize them. We take away the empathy that most good people would feel for that group. That way, when the government and/or corporations get ready to do some heinous shit to those people for the sake of profit, there is very little outcry.

    I’m pretty sure if we follow the money trail, it will lead to some right wing puppet master pulling the strings of their flag-waving, undereducated, racist nut jobs.

  4. Tim

    According to this article, a quarter of Americans think that Obama is the anti-Christ: http://tiny.cc/8d9qy

  5. David Brown

    It so nice to know that 71% of all Americans are Islamaphobic and xenophobic. When the Left loses an argument, which lately seems to be all the time (Arizona law comes to mind), they trot out the name calling. Opposing Obamacare? Racist. Support Arizona law? Racist. Oppose building a mosque ON GROUND ZERO? Islamaphobe. Against gay marriage? Homophobe. Liberals preach all day and night about “tolerance.” What a joke. Liberals only “tolerate” liberal dogma. They lecture everyone on being “sensitive” to people’s feelings yet cant muster any sensitivity to 9/11 families who have had the scab ripped off by wishy washy Obama. It will be a pleasure kicking your ass come November.

  6. Allison Kilkenny

    Now that you’ve gotten out all the baddies fighting straw men, let’s return to planet earth, yes?

    Racist: Leaving Islamophobic signs at mosques
    Racist: Shouting “Go home!” at dark-skinned men
    Racist: Shouting “nigger!” at John Lewis
    Racist: Parading around with racist signs: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/16/10-most-offensive-tea-par_n_187554.html

    If you feel uncomfortable acknowledging those open bigots (haven’t even touched all of Rush and Glenn’s blatant racism,) it’s time to look in the mirror and accept your own shortcomings.

    PS: Not all Muslims attacked us on 9/11. Just a small group of extremists. If we were to all mirror your gross over-generalizations, we should hate all white men because Timothy McVeigh attacked the US.

  7. David Brown

    I am curious if you were equally upset about all the racism, anti-semtism and bigotry in Obama’s church?

  8. Allison Kilkenny

    Oh, please. It speaks volumes of your party that all you really have left is to throw chunks of out-of-context remarks into the wind. What shall we bring up next. ACORN? Shirley Sherrod? What other video has Andrew Breitbart butchered lately? Sad.

  9. David Brown

    Well, now that you mention it…85% of the congress, including the majority of liberals in congress voted to defund ACORN. And, Obama was so sure Sherrod made those comments he fired her before she even had the opportunity to defend herself. Please comment on above if you wish but i would like to continue to debate you on the mosque please.

  10. Allison Kilkenny

    You realize you’re now defending a notorious con man, correct? Both the ACORN and Sherrod tapes were so heavily edited that Tom Vilsack was forced to apologize to Sherrod and offer her old job back. Additionally, a federal judge has said cutting ACORN’s funding without a trial (and review of the absurdly edited tapes) was unconstitutional.

    There’s no conversation to return to. You refuse to accept that you have racists in your ranks despite the overwhelming evidence otherwise. I don’t doubt that a majority of Americans turn to fear and bigotry during tough economic times. For a long time, Jim Crow was supported by a majority of Americans. That doesn’t make the bigotry righteous. That’s why we have the Constitution – to protect minorities from the mob when they unthinkingly lash out.

    Much to the chagrin of bigots, religious freedom is still protected in this country, and individuals have the right to worship wherever they wish.

  11. David Brown

    Where in my post did I defend a “con man”? What Breitbart did was wrong. Why Obama couldnt wait a day or two before firing her was beyond me. I am sure you would agree with that right? Of course there are racists on the right. Just as there are on the left. I just dont think 71% of the public is racist or Islamaphobic as you seem to think. The constitutional argument as well as the religious freedom argument you make are both straw men. No one serious is arguing either one. They have the right to put the mosque whereever they choose but becuase you have a right doesnt make it right. Liberals edited cartoons of the prophet Mohammed shone in an unflattering light. Liberals argued at the time it was done to show senibility to Muslims. I would have hoped liberals would apply the same logic to 9/11 families.

  12. Allison Kilkenny

    You’re still fighting with straw men. I never wrote “every single American who opposes Cordoba is a racist.” What I’ve written is that racism and xenophobia are deeply prevalent in the Park 51 controversy, and historically, nationalism and racist flare up during periods of economic tumultuousness.

  13. It’s laughable that you try to call the constitutional argument or the religious freedom argument “straw men”. I would like to explain more, but if that’s the point I enter the debate, it’s clear you are not worth the effort.

  14. Allison Kilkenny

    You seem to have completely misread my statement. “Straw men” was in reference to David accusing me of having labeled all Park 51 opponents as racists, which I never wrote.

    By fighting Park 51′s right to worship wherever they want, that’s inherently an attack on freedom of religion, and the Constitution. You can try to dress it up as concern for “hallowed ground,” but that’s clearly a distraction. There are already two mosques in Lower Manhattan that no one seems overly concerned about, and Park 51 would have been a cultural center, open to the public (and people of all faiths). At its essence, Park 51 is a celebration of moderate Islam, which would have made it enemy #1 of Jihadists.

  15. Allison Kilkenny

    On second read, I may have completely misread you, Ken. Not sure if you were responding to me or David. Apologies if I misread that. Also, I checked out your blog, uspoorwhitepeople.blogspot.com, and A) I like the name of the blog, and B) Your first post is hilarious.

  16. David Brown

    Allison, I think Ken was referring to my post but not 100% sure. Let me clarify. Conservatives are not opposing the mosque based on constitutional grounds. Nor are we opposed to it on religious freedom grounds. I cant speak for all conservatives so let me just speak for myself. I think the wound is not yet healed on 9/11. Its too soon. Of course I dont blame all Muslims. I dont know if you heard the news but Daniel Pearl’s father has come out against the mosque. Judea Pearl was highly critical of Bush re: Iraq if you recall. His point is that the pain to many of the 9/11 families should be paramount. I think this issue causes these families pain. I believe that in my heart. This isnt a political issue for me. Its a human compassion one.

  17. Allison Kilkenny

    I think the wound is not yet healed on 9/11. Its too soon.

    This is a common claim I’ve heard from Conservatives, many of who don’t actually live in Lower Manhattan (not to be presumptuous, perhaps you do). Of course, most Americans were traumatized by the events of 9/11 – not just New Yorkers, though I do find it interesting that a majority of Manhattanites actually support the construction of the cultural center.

    I find it difficult to reconcile your comment with what follows: “Of course I dont blame all Muslims.”

    Then how does the construction of a totally unrelated cultural center enter the same conversation as 9/11? These are moderate Muslims, so why shouldn’t they build a cultural center in Lower Manhattan? Should all Muslims now be banished from Manhattan “out of respect” for the 9/11 families?

    I wasn’t aware we were making decisions now based on what Daniel Pearl’s father dictates. That’s news to me. By the way, many 9/11 families came out in support of Cordoba – if we’re just throwing out the names of random people now.

    This is also a human compassion issue for me – compassion for millions of Muslims who had nothing to do with 9/11, and who are now the victims of racial bigotry by a country consumed by xenophobia and scapegoating.

  18. David Brown

    We fundamentally disagree about the imam. I dont think he is a moderate at all. Sure, the mainstream media tried to portray him as moderate but we now know that is not the case. I cant stress this final point enough though. I am not saying they cant build it there. I am saying in the name of “bridge building”, they should reconsider. Tolerance is a two way street, not a one way one.

  19. Allison Kilkenny

    No, “we” don’t know that’s the case. In fact, all tangible proof indicates the Imam is a moderate that has spent his life doing exactly what you profess is the paramount cause: building bridges. The Imam called 9/11 a criminal act, and was considered such an important moderate voice that he won praise from Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, and was invited to the White House by President Bush. He even worked with the FBI on counterterrorism efforts.

    Of course, the same voices that praised him have now turned on him, since it’s convenient to scapegoat their former ally. These same sources (Beck, Fox, et al) also peddled the intellectually dishonest non-stories of Shirley Sherrod, ACORN, the Black Panthers, and any other story pertaining to “scary, black” people.

    I’m aware that we’re not going to come to an understanding, but let’s get the facts laid out properly. The Imam is a moderate. He’s worked his whole professional career trying to bridge the divide between the west and Islam, and saying otherwise is simply false.

  20. David Brown

    Allison, the man will not call Hamas a terrorist organization. WTF? That is NOT a moderate. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by the U.N., the E.U., the U.S., etc. They are a vile and murderous group. No sane person disputes that or questions that, except for THIS imam. That didnt come from Fox or Beck or Breitbart or the boogeyman. It came from his interview on ABC radio just a few weeks ago. I would concede that at one time he may have been a moderate but certainly not now.

  21. Allison Kilkenny

    In the interest of getting the facts straight, here is what was said:

    On 77 WABC radio on June 18, the talk radio host Aaron Klein asked him, “Do you believe that the State Department is correct in designating Hamas as a terrorist organization?”

    There ensued a long conversation with many interruptions, in which Mr. Abdul Rauf said:

    “Well, I’m not a politician. … The issue of terrorism is a very complex question. … I am a bridge builder. My work is … I do not want to be placed nor will I accept a position where I am the target of one side or another. My attempt is to see a peace in Israel. … Targeting of civilians is wrong. It’s a sin in our religion, whoever does it. … I am a supporter of the State of Israel.”

    The Cordoba Initiative’s Web site elaborates:

    “Imam Feisal has always condemned terrorism (see his … hundreds of speeches). Hamas is both a political movement and a terrorist organization. Hamas commits atrocious acts of terror. Imam Feisal has forcefully and consistently condemned all forms of terrorism, including those committed by Hamas, as un-Islamic.”

  22. David Brown

    Allison you are making my point. When asked this question:

    “Do you believe that the State Department is correct in designating Hamas as a terrorist organization?”…

    There should be only one, loud, emphatic answer:


    In addition, he would not rule out taking money from Iran to build it. He is equivocating with regards to state sponsors of terror and evil organizations. That is NOT moderate.

  23. Allison Kilkenny

    David, I’m really at a loss here. If you can’t see that the responses, “YES!!!!!!” and “Hamas is a terrorist organization” are identical, then I really don’t see where we can go from here.

  24. David Brown

    You are a communicator and a good one I might add. Surely you see he is saying different things to different groups and that causes mistrust. You didnt address my point about Iran. He has also said (paraphrasing) that “the U.S. has more blood on its hands than Al Qiada.” Did you see his interview on 60 minutes where he said “the U.S. was an accessory to the crime of 9/11″? Take a look at Ed Bradley’s reaction. Look, we are not going to agree on this but I think it is very important that liberals and conservatives have these discussions without resorting to name calling. We are humans first, Americans second and politicos hopefully a distant third. You seem like a nice person who is well informed and passionate about the issues. I hope you have found me to be respectful and I would hope you would agree I can have an honest disagreement where this mosque should be placed without you thinking I am Islamaphobic. I greatly appreciate your replies and your valuable time and would gladly debate you on other issues.

  25. Allison Kilkenny

    I appreciate the kind words, and thanks for sticking with me to talk about this. Before I hit the hay, I wanted to respond to your last post. The Imam was dealing with a difficult, touchy subject (“Blowback”) that is both incredibly important, and also incredibly difficult to discuss in America. Ron Paul was practically heckled off stage when he suggested some of America’s imperialist foreign policies stoke extremism during the Republican debates.

    The Imam is correct that the U.S. military has killed far, far more innocent civilians during the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions and occupations than Al-Qaeda could ever dream of killing. For example, AQ doesn’t have an airforce, or an organized army. In fact, CIA Director, Leon Panetta, said there are “less than fifty” Al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan. So obviously, they are no longer a formidable foe.

    The point people like the Imam are trying to make isn’t that America deserves to be attacked, but rather there are good ways to protect our country – namely by not killing innocent civilians abroad, the #1 recruiting tool of jihadists. Of course, it’s difficult for a man like the Imam to make that point without scared, paranoid individuals immediately recoiling and labelling him as a “bad Muslim.” The Imam has always been cautious to preface this claim by calling 9/11 an atrocity and crime, and never excusing acts of terrorism, but his statements have still be mangled by certain nefarious media players.

    What he was actually proposing is a way to keep America safe in the long term. Otherwise, more cases of blowback are inevitable (as we’ve seen with the Times Square bomber, and the Christmas Day bomber).

    Thanks, and I hope I was able to clarify things a little bit!

  26. David Brown

    Thanks for your lenghty reply Allison. I think it is very dangerous for him to have compared the U.S. to Al Qaida in any matter. I hate when people use “Nazi’s” or “Hitler” in analogies for they rarely, if ever, work. The first person to mention Hitler loses in my opinion and Newt should not have made that comparison the other day. The same is true, for me, when comparing to Al Qaida. I believe most mainstream Americans are angered when he compares the U.S. to Al Qaida in any respect. We are NOT like them. Yes we do on occasion kill innocents. But we dont do so intentionally. AQ does so intentionally. Our justice system, as well as all responsible justice systems all over the world consider intent when determining the severity of a crime or whether or not a crime was committed at all. A person who accidentally kills someone is treated completely differently than someone who plans and plots a murder. If I were helping this imam with his PR, which he so desperately needs now, I would implore him not to draw those analogies in the future, especially if his goal is to unite and bridge build. In addition, I dont think his wife helped him any with her appearance on ABC Sunday. She went beyond saying that people who oppose the mosque are Islamaphobes. She called them haters of Muslims. Bridges dont get built when you ostenibly call almost 3/4′s of the American public bigots. I understand he is overseas at the moment but i think he should have sat down with a member of the main stream press to answer all of the questions that are swirling. When he gets back, I would advise him to take on his critics, sit down with someone who will ask him tough questions so we call move on with our life. Take care.

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