Right Wing Blogger Provoked Attack On Islamic Center

by James M. Wall

The conservative anger that arose in the land last summer with the false furor over the “Kill Grandma” panels, has returned in a new form.

After smoldering for many months, this years’s conservative wild fire roared into full flame after the White House iftar dinner where President Obama spoke of the right of Muslims to build an Islamic community center in New York City, two city blocks away from the site where the World Trade Center buildings were destroyed on 911.

The political right rushed forward to throw gasoline on the wild fire, shouting “sacred space” as their ancestors might have shouted, “death to the infidels.”

Sacred space became a modern day battle cry. Leading the way was a previously unknown right wing blogger named Pamela Geller.

But what area does “sacredness” cover in the right wing political process of  sacralization? Does it cover the New York Dolls’ Gentleman’s Club, which is also located two blocks away from Ground Zero?

The  Gentleman’s Club is persumably a legitimate place of business, where, if it is like other such clubs in other cities, will most likely include scantily clad working ladies.  Should that Club be allowed to continue its bawdy business two blocks away from Ground Zero? Is the ground on which it conducts its business also “sacred space”?

The site where the World Trade Center was destroyed is, indeed, sacred. It is where 3,000 people lost their lives.

The attack on the proposed Islamic community center, however, does not come from a need to honor the dead, but from a perverted eagerness to defame the living.

On August 3, the new owners of the former Burlington Clothing factory, were granted approval, by a vote of 9 to 0, for the construction of Park51, by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

That 13-foot structure, when construction is completed, is expected to include two top floors for Islamic prayer r00ms, a 500-seat auditorium, a swimming pool, a culinary school, a basketball court, and many community meeting rooms.

In addition, according to its statement of purpose, the building”will be dedicated to pluralism, service, arts and culture, education and empowerment, appreciation for our city and a deep respect for our planet.”

The plan to include worship space in the center–not a stand alone “mosque”, by the way–has driven the political right into this summer’s fury, because the right’s response is not about objecting to the presence of an Islamic community center, but rather, a political exploitation of fear and ignorance which is, at least for the moment, directed at Islam.

The 13 story Islamic community center is located in a neighborhood that already includes a Gentleman’s Club, a Catholic church, and a Protestant church, as well a a great variety of other commercial enterprises.

Those churches, familiar structures that cry out, “Christian”, and the New York Dolls Gentleman’s Club, which is selling sex to men, are pretty clear as to their respective purposes. The Islamic community center, on the other hand, is a “community center” for everyone’s participation, with prayer space included.

TheTimesis more interested in exploiting the conflict, which it helped generate, than it is in detailing the purpose of the center or explaining what the center will actually include:

The debate over the center [that] has become a heated political issue,[has drawn] opposition from former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska and members of the Tea Party.

The Anti-Defamation League, an influential Jewish organization, unexpectedly entered the fray on Friday and said it opposed the project. .  .  .

On Tuesday, Rick A. Lazio, a Republican candidate for governor, appeared at the vote, in an auditorium at Pace University near City Hall, to oppose the project.

Mr. Lazio called on his Democratic rival, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, to investigate the finances of the group spearheading the project, the Cordoba Initiative.

Let’s have transparency,” Mr. Lazio said. “If they’re foreign governments, we ought to know about it. If they’re radical organizations, we ought to know about it.” He added, “This is not about religion. It’s about this particular mosque.”

Newt Gingrich joined the opposition with a blatant appeal to prejudice. (Even Pat Buchanan was disappointed in his fellow conservative, calling him a “political opportunist”)

Gingrich, the former Republican congressman and US House leader from Georgia, rushed to appear on a Fox television talk show to play the Holocaust card.

Politico reported the TV interview under this heated headline: Newt Gingrich compares mosque to Nazis.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Monday compared the mosque planned to go up blocks away from ground zero in New York to Nazis protesting next to the Holocaust museum.

In the story, writer Andy Barr quotes Gingrich:

The leaders of the cultural center are “radical Islamists” who want to prove that “they can build a mosque next to a place where 3,000 Americans were killed by Islamists.”

“That’s why they won’t accept any other offer,” he said during an interview on Fox News’s “Fox and Friends.

Gingrich then declared that if the mosque is indeed being built as a symbol, which its leaders have repeatedly denied, New York authorities have every right to prevent it from being built.

“We ought to be honest about the fact that we have a right and this happens all the time in America,” he said.

Salon.com has provided key dates in the “sacred space” outcry, starting with some surprisingly supportive conservative report for the project.

On December 8, 2009, the New York Times published a lengthy front-page look at the Cordoba project, quoting Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the lead organizer, (pictured at right) “We want to push back against the extremists.

“Two Jewish leaders and two city officials, including the mayor’s office and the mother of a man killed on 9/11 all voiced their support.

The Times story was largely ignored, except for a few of what Salon described as “third-tier right-wing blogs, including Pamela Geller’s Atlas Shrugs site.”

On December. 21, 2009 conservative media personality Laura Ingraham interviewed Daisy Khan, the wife of Abdul Rauf, the center’s lead organizer.

Ingraham, a leading conservative media personality, was guest-hosting “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox.

In its time line story, Salon found the segment “remarkable for its cordiality”, quoting Ingraham as saying,

“I can’t find many people who really have a problem with [the Cordoba project]. At the end of the interview, Ingraham concluded, “I like what you’re trying to do.”

That was December 21, 2009.

By May 6, 2010, the conservative fire storm intensified. After the New York City community board committee approved the Islamic Community Center, the New York Post ran a story under this highly inaccurate headline, “Panel Approves WTC Mosque”.

That would be WTC, as in World Trade Center, which was destroyed on 911, a complete and deliberate false designation of the mosque projected to be built, not at the WTC site, but two city blocks away.

By now, Pamela Geller and her Atlas Shrugs blog were starting to be noticed by more than her usual right wing blog readers.

On May 6, she posted an essay on her blog which ran under this lengthy headline: Monster Mosque Pushes Ahead in Shadow of World Trade Center Islamic Death and Destruction. Ironically, In contrast to this hate language of  “death and destruction”, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf  is a Sufi, a spiritual, peaceful branch of Islam.

America did not yet know it yet, but Pamela Geller’s Atlas Shrugs blog was setting the narrative tone of extremism for the big summer news story. Her current posting, which deals with Israel, is the most recent example of her work.

On May 6, Geller warned her readers that the “Monster Mosque” would be approved:

This is Islamic domination and expansionism. The location is no accident. Just as Al-Aqsa was built on top of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Salon’s Justin Elliott tells the Pamela Geller story, describing her role as she led the way to create a massive fear against the threat of the Islamic threat to the nation. Justin is the author of the “Ground Zero Mosque” time line in Salon, which he describes here:

To a remarkable extent, a Salon review of the origins of the story found  that the controversy was kicked up and driven by Pamela Geller, a right-wing, viciously anti-Muslim, conspiracy-mongering blogger, whose sinister portrayal of the project was embraced by Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post.

Justin’s Time Line continues:

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. . . .

May 8, 2010: Geller announces SIOA’s first protest for May 29 against what she calls the “911 monster mosque” . 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 a 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.

Geller’s framing reaches the mainstream media through the pages of the conservative New York Post. Peyser quotes Geller at some length, promoting the anti-mosque protest of Stop Islamization of America, which Peyser describes as a “human-rights group.”

Since opinion makers on the right read the New York Post as faithfully as left wing opinion maker read the New York Times, it is no surprise that on May 13, the mosque story spreads through the conservative, and then the mainstream media “like fire through dry grass”.

Geller emerged from her blogger corner and appears on Sean Hannity’s Fox radio show. The Washington Examiner ran an outraged column about honoring the 9/11 dead. So did Investor’s Business Daily. The New York Post assigned news reporters to produce a Cordoba House story every day.

Within a month, Rudy Giuliani had called the mosque a “desecration.” Within another month, Sarah Palin had sent out her famous, “peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate” tweet.

Republican New York Congressman Peter King, Newt Gingrich and Minnesota governor and Republican presidential aspirant Tim Pawlenty raced to catch up with Palin.

Main stream political reporters and television news programs dutifully covered “both sides” of the controversy.

Justin Elliott concludes his time line with the assertion: “Geller had succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.”

And the rest of us? We have all been swept up in a right wing created “debate” that has dominated our national news coverage.

We thought the outrage against the “Ground Zero mosque” was a natural concern for “sacred space”.

Little did we realize that we had been manipulated by a right-wing blogger named Pamela Geller, the New York Post, and every politician, media outlet, and pundit who fell dutifully into line with the narrative.

Those of us who embraced the narrative enabled the right wing to have its way with us. We have met the enemy and, as Pogo says, he is us.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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8 Responses to Right Wing Blogger Provoked Attack On Islamic Center

  1. Sam Jones says:

    A trivial point but perhaps Ms. Geller should consider the author behind the namesake of her website “Atlas Shrugged” [Ayn Rand] for some perspective, as Rand was known for fiercely opposing government interference in enshrined civil liberties. A more appropriate namesake might be “God’s Batallions: The Case for the Crusades.”

  2. Cotton Fite says:

    This time, and the outrageous rhetoric that characterizes it, has the feel of the McCarthy era in which so many seemed to lose sight of the principles which, when we are at our best, make us proud. I look forward to the time when Sarah is thoroughly discredited (I don’t think she has enough integrity to be ashamed) and Newt (who is at least bright) is at the very least embarrassed.
    We will get there sooner or later in part because of the careful documentation you and others provide us. Many thanks.

  3. Ruth Walker says:

    It is ironic that Muslims already worship at the location questioned!


  4. John Hyde says:

    The Conservative attack on Obama’s defense of the building of the Mosque in lower Manhattan is an attack on the “Freedom of Religion” for us all. President Bush and Obama have stressed many times that our military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are to defeat terrorism, not Islam. Now Conservatives want them to understand that it is all about religion. It’s the Conservatives who are insensitive and dead wrong. Moderates must raise their voices in strong opposition. America is where we celebrate freedom of religion for all, not just for some

  5. Ed Thompson says:

    Thank you Jim for your excellent digging into the facts that underlie some of the main stream media reports. You are required reading for anyone who wants to understand the realities that we face. Unfortunately, the main stream media (for the most part) and certainly our government officials in Washington have had their brains highjacked by extremists who grind axes rather than search for the truth about realities that we face.

    In the long run, reality will prevail. Hopefully it will be in our lifetimes.

  6. Harris W. Fawell says:

    Jim: Thanks for your recent article in regard to the attacks of the proposed Islamic Community Center in New York. I note that you point out that the lead organizser of this project is Iman Feisal Abdul Rauf who is a Sufi, “a spiritual, peaceful branch of Islam”. The Sufi branch of Islam is surely the peaceful branch of Islam. In fact, it is so peaceful that Islam at times has disowned it. I can think of no representatives of Islam that should be more welcomed in New York and in America than the Sufi branch of Islam. Thanks for pointing this out in your very fine article. Harris Fawell.

  7. Bilgix says:

    Thanks really nice blog 🙂 🙂

  8. Natassia says:

    What a ridiculous comparison: The political right rushed forward to throw gasoline on the wild fire, shouting “sacred space” as their ancestors might have shouted, “death to the infidels.”

    Shame on you. No one is advocating violence by shouting “sacred space.”

    And the reason people are not throwing a fuss about shopping centers and stripclubs near Ground Zero is because strippers with shopping bags did not kill thousands of people in the name of their ideology (which would be what? Shopping for Allah while topless?)

    The historical significance of mosques in non-Muslim lands cannot be denied, especially when considering the name “Cordoba House” in reference to the Moor-invaded lands of Spain.

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