If you believe the headlines in the right-wing blogosphere, the so-called "mosque at Ground Zero" is not only a threat to western civilization but a grave insult to the victims of September 11, 2001. But just in case you weren't convinced, the opponents of the project--a Muslim cultural center that community groups plan to build near the World Trade Center site --wants to drive the point home with a new bus ad campaign. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority just gave its blessing to a disturbing effort to tar the center by association with the 9/11 attacks, brought to you by the American Freedom Defense Initiative.
According to the released graphic, the ad features an image of a plane heading for the Twin Towers, juxtaposed against a Photoshop-challenged rendering of the proposed facility, known as Park 51 or Cordoba House, plastered with a giant crescent logo.
It's a strange way to honor the legacy of 9/11 victims. The ad meticulously exploits the image of a global tragedy in order to frighten and retraumatize New Yorkers, and then channel their grief into hatred for a community of people who 1) bear no greater responsibility for the attack than the victims and 2) in many cases are victims or survivors themselves.
(The planned ad campaign is sure to make an impression on the imam behind the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative, who plans to undertake a campaign of his own with a diplomatic tour of the Middle East--to spread the message of religious tolerance, of all things.)
Meanwhile, the multi-facility, interfaith community center--frequently mischaracterized as a mosque alone--has become a popular campaign stop for many of 2012 hopefuls, according to Politico. Last week, Minnesota Governor and possible presidential contender Tim Pawlenty stumped on the anti-Mosque meme. Standing some 1,000 miles from Ground Zero, he declared:
"I'm strongly opposed to the idea of putting a mosque anywhere near Ground Zero-I think it's inappropriate," he said. "I believe that 3,000 of our fellow innocent citizens were killed in that area, and some ways from a patriotic standpoint, it's hallowed ground, it's sacred ground, and we should respect that. We shouldn't have images or activities that degrade or disrespect that in any way."
Or refer to Sarah Palin's Twitter plea to all of her Muslim devotees:
Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing.
Though, no one takes sacred ground more seriously than Rabbi Meyer May of the Simon Wisenthal Center, who bristled at the "insensitive" location of the proposed center in a Crain's article. The Los Angeles Times reports that he has since backpedaled by distancing his statements from his organization--which, incidentally, plans to build its aptly named Museum of Tolerance on some of the holiest real estate in Jerusalem, over the protests of Palestinians who say their relatives' remains will be shamelessly unearthed from a Muslim cemetery underneath the site.
Sacred ground. As a native New Yorker who grew up a few blocks from Ground Zero, I wonder how fellow residents will feel when they step onto a city bus and find themselves assaulted by pictures of that horrible day once again, in living color. Maybe they'll ride past St. Paul's Chapel by Wall Street, through an urban enclave that has hosted people of every nation and faith throughout the country's history, including earlier generations of Muslim Americans in Little Syria. And as they wend toward the site of the emerging Islamic center, they'll glance back at the words on the poster, exclaiming "WHY THERE?" Any true New Yorker would know the answer.