G.K. Chesterton, English author and mystery novelist once wrote, “Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is dead’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive! Seven decades later, Chesterton’s words still stand true. Journalism is synonymous with truth but these days media neither tells full truth nor complete lie. Media employs a pendulum that prefers to swing in the space between the full truth and the complete lie. It is in this context, we must zero on the so-called ongoing “Ground Zero Mosque” debate.
Media barons and editors transact with their readers in the currency of words. Words can be loose as well as loaded. Loose words can convert an issue into a non-issue. Loaded words act like a burning matchstick on dry grass. Therefore, the word “Iraqi insurgent” or “enemy combatant” is example of the loose words which have been heavily used by American media in Iraq war. On the contrary, “Jihadist” or “Muslim fanatic” is the example of loaded words which have been employed by a section of American press. The word “Cordoba House” will fall in the category of loose word while “Ground Zero Mosque” consists of loaded words.
So at what point proposed “Cordoba House” became “Ground Zero Mosque”?
Cordoba House is two long blocks away in north from the World Trade Center site. The five-storey building housed Burlington Coat Factory till September 11, 2001. The factory building was lying vacant since then until a group of Muslims led by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf bought it in July 2009. The factory building is being used for Friday prayer. New York Times was the first newspaper that ran a front-page feature on December 9, 2009 on the proposed Islamic centre but it never used the term “Ground Zero Mosque.” The front-page report did not attract any attention. On December 21, 2009, Daisy Khan, wife of Imam Abdul Rauf was interviewed by conservative media personality Laura Ingraham on Fox TV. The interview was cordial and Ingraham seemed to support the Cordoba Project. It was on this programme that the misnomer “Ground Zero Mosque” was used onscreen for the very first time. The term may have been used unconsciously on the programme but there was no controversy immediately after that. In fact, according to a search on Nexis newspaper archive, there was not a single news article on the mosque for next five and half months!
On May 6, 2010, New York City community board committee unanimously voted in favour of the Cordoba House. On the same day, anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller wrote against the Cordoba House terming it as “monster mosque”. It is precisely at this point that a proposed 13-storey proposed Islamic cultural centre, which, in addition to a prayer room, will include a basketball court, restaurant, swimming pool and 9/11 memorial, was just reduced to a “mosque”! Geller went further to plant a lie that the “mosque” was being built on the site of World Trade Center! “What better way to mark your territory than to plant a giant mosque on the still-barren land of the World Trade Center?” she wrote 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.”
On the same day, Rupert Murdoch owned New York Post ran a story which deliberately identified Cordoba House as “WTC Mosque.” News agency Associated Press (AP) ran a story on May 7 quoting relatives of 9/11 victims with differing opinions on the “mosque”. On the same day, Geller’s group Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), launched a campaign “Stop the 911 Mosque!” She posted the names and contact information for New York mayor and members of the community board, encouraging people to write. Uninformed, gullible Americans and anti-Muslims from all across the world wrote to the board without verifying the details that there is no mosque being built on the site of the terrorists attack!
On May 8, 2010, Geller and Robert Spencer, a known-Muslim-hater and associate director of SIOA, announced first protest against the “911 Mosque” to be held on May 29. One May 10, New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser becomes the first journalist-victim of Geller campaign. She openly wrote against the “mosque” saying that “there are better places to put a mosque.” On May 13, she devoted an entire article to Cordoba House provocatively titled “Mosque Madness at Ground Zero”. The article played an important role in raising and shaping the debate in the sense that it was the first article to be published in a newspaper which portrayed the Cordoba project as inherently wrong and suspect. Peyser quoted Geller thus giving credence to an agony aunt! (Geller once suggested that Malcolm X was Obama’s real father!)
Thus within a month, Cordoba House, unnecessarily became controversial. It began with anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller. Andrea Peyser peddled it into conservative media. Mainstream media lapped it up further. A serious newspaper like The Wall Street Journal used the erroneous term “Ground Zero Mosque” in its headline several times. Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, termed the mosque as “desecration”. Politicians like Sarah Palin, Peter King, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty followed suit.
Today, the atmosphere has become so much charged and heated in America that according to CNN poll 7 in 10 Americans say that they are against the Cordoba Project. By joining the words “Mosque” and “Ground Zero”, peddlers of hate have succeeded in creating fear in American hearts. To many Americans, “mosque” is still a dangerous place. “Ground Zero” is another dangerous word. Two meanings from the American Heritage dictionary would suffice. Ground Zero means; a) Area where an atomic bomb is detonated, b) A center of explosive change.
It is also true that many Americans including Mayor Bloomberg of New York have spoken in favour of Cordoba House. But men like Bloomberg seem to be in minority. There is another mosque in Manhattan, near WTC and Pentagon, another terrorist attack site, has a prayer room. Why have not Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer spoken against these two “mosques” in the ongoing debate?
Americans aren’t dumb but an average American is more ignorant than an Indian. According to a recent poll one in five Americans believes Barack Obama is a Muslim, even though he isn’t! A quarter of those who believe he is a Muslim also claimed he talks about his faith too much! Where are they getting their information? Sixty per cent said they learned it from the media!
America needs to have a mass public awareness campaign against the likes of Gellers and Spencers and misleading media. Barack Hussein Obama must make a distinction between “full truth” and “complete lie.”
Till then Pamela Geller will laugh that her wildest dream has crossed the Atlantic.