The “Mosque at Ground Zero” has been a great story for the media.
National TV news channels, radio talk shows, magazines and newspapers have all stepped in to clarify/muddle the issue, succeeding only in creating the media equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard.
The controversy has also inspired the classic game of finger-pointing, so popular during the Spanish Inquisition and the McCarthy Trials. But rather than the devil or communism, this time the target is Islam.
If you are unfamiliar with these previous events, here’s how the game is played. Let’s say that you are one of the growing lunatic fringe that can’t seem to drop the irrational notion that our president is a) not a citizen, b) not a Christian, and c) in fact a Muslim. You get to start the game by running the ring, tagging your opponent and shouting, “You’re a Muslim!” loudly. Then (and this is important) you run for the sidelines.
The person who gets tagged, i.e. the President, then has several options. First, he can run back at his opponent and tag him in a similar fashion. Hardly dignified. Next, he can remain in the ring and loudly proclaim that he is not, in fact, a Muslim. If enough people cheer for him, then he’s free to run around the ring some more. His last option is to politely say that he’s not interested in playing this childish and mean-spirited game because he’s got a country to run. Choice number two it is.
This game may not reach the incredible popularity that it had when Senator McCarthy made a career of tagging pinkos, reds and commies, but the fact that it gets any play at all doesn’t depend on the people who use broad brush strokes to stain others’ reputations. The success of any defamation truly depends on our willingness to consider the term, in this case a Muslim, to be derogatory.
Our country has suffered much at the hands of Islamic extremists. Many would say that it’s not surprising we choose to denigrate this religion, especially in light of proposed expansion of an Islamic facility so close to Ground Zero. But freedom of expression is one thing, and freedom of religion, protected by the First Amendment, is another.
In addition to this domestic repercussion, our lack of tolerance won’t play well in places like Iran, Syria, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. Coverage of events such as “Burn the Koran Day” will only make terrorists’ recruiting efforts easier.
No matter what side of the mosque issue you are on, we all have the ability to argue the point without stirring up the fear-mongering ghosts of ghost of McCarthy’s era. We just need to change our tune.