USA: Deconstructing Media Coverage of the “Ground Zero Mosque”

The logo for Park51

For the past several months, one story has consistently held media attention in the United States.  The story is of a planned Islamic community center a few blocks away from the site of the attacks of September 11, 2001–a site dubbed “Ground Zero”–and has polarized opinion across the media spectrum.  The community center, to be called Park51 for its location, has been called controversial by some pundits and politicians, such as Sarah Palin, because of its proximity to “Ground Zero,” and has caused some to call for the center to be moved.  At the same time, numerous groups and individuals–including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg–have spoken out in support of Park51, reminding Americans of the history of Muslims in the U.S. and invoking the first amendment, which calls for the free exercise of religion.

Beyond the actual situation of the community center is the issue of media coverage.  For months, much of the American mainstream media have referred to Park51 as “the Ground Zero mosque,” implying implicitly that the project is to be built on the actual ground (it isn't) and that the center's sole purpose is as a mosque (also false–the center will include a mosque, along with a swimming pool, theatre, childcare center, and numerous other facets).

Bloggers have jumped in to comment on a number of aspects of the story, from the history of Muslims in New York to the Islamophobia inherent in many arguments against Park51.  Writing for, one blogger discusses the media hype:

The current torrent of media hype about building a “mosque” near Ground Zero is part of a deeper Islamophobic fervor in direct lineage with the same unfriendly folks who have self-righteously hated Injuns, Negroes and Jews and found verses in the King James Version of the Bible to back up their hatred. Today’s New York Times carries a story by Laurie Goodstein about efforts across the country to stop construction of Islamic places of worship. If this is yet another tempest brewed in Tea Party forums, it looks more like a lynch mob than a ladies aid society brunch.

Moroccan-American writer Laila Lalami would appear to concur; in a blog post, she expresses frustration with the media's exclusion of Muslims in dialogue about Park51:

Notice that, in setting up the two groups of proponents and opponents of Park51, the Muslims who get mentioned are “former Muslims”, while the people who bravely stand up for religious freedom include ministers of every faith, except Islam. Are we to believe that no Muslims, whether ministers or not, are taking part in these interfaith groups, even though the matter at hand is an Islamic community center?

I see this kind of silencing everywhere in our media. Politicians constantly talk about the need for “moderate Muslims” to step up, and when they do, as Imam Feisal Abdel Rauf did when he tried to set up this community center, it is the extremists among Muslims—both the religious and the secular—who are given ample room to voice their opinions. Enough.

At Arab-American blog KABOBfest, author Sana explains the role Muslims have played in the history of Manhattan:

Lower Manhattan is also the final resting place of Muslims and other Africans, often slaves, who were forcibly resettled in New York when it was still New Amsterdam. The African Burial Ground, discovered in 1991, is six blocks away from the proposed Muslim community center. Scholars continue to debate the religious identity of the hundreds buried there, but the fact that some of the dead wore shrouds and were interred with strings of blue beads, frequently used as Islamic talismans, suggests Muslim were among the enslaved people who helped build Manhattan into a bustling city.

Of course, this history of Islam in lower Manhattan means little to the families of 9/11 victims who are protesting the proposed center. Far more troubling than their protest is how readily some political groups have used this issue to advance their own anti-Muslim agendas. Comments by Lazio and Palin are mere drops in an ocean of right-wing vitriol. In one outright lie, the Web site of the National Republican Trust has declared that the organizers of the mosque “intend to erect a shrine to the 9/11 terrorists.”

Rhetoric that treats Muslim-Americans like hostile foreigners fundamentally – and intentionally – skews the story of New York and its Muslim community.

One tactic opponents of Park51 have used in arguing against is comparing Manhattan to Mecca, in that inside Mecca, no Christian or Jewish places of worship may be built.  Blogger Desert Peace debunks that particular argument:

First, as far as I know, Mecca has not a single Jewish inhabitant, so why build a synagogue there? To start a settlement enterprise there? To teach Muslims Shulhan Aruch or Chesronot Shas or other Talmudic messages?

On the other hand, New York is home to tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Muslims. And the people in charge of the project are American citizens who broke no law, committed no crime and hurt no body. Indeed, if New York Muslims were of Hitler’s ilk, as the hateful and provocative signs would have us believe, then the Jewish mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, who supports the project, ought to be a Nazi supporter.

Not all bloggers support the mosque, however, even within the Arab-American blogosphere.  Iraqi Mojo writes:

However, out of respect for conservative Americans and for the victims of 9/11, and knowing that the money for the proposed project will likely come from KSA and maybe other Wahhabi-infested kingdoms, I believe it would be unwise for Muslims to insist on building a mosque near ground zero. Having said this, the actions of New Yorkers and mayor Bloomberg have already shown that Americans are quite tolerant of Islam and Muslims.


  • 9/11/2010 – Washington DC – Pro-Freedom Event at Freedom Plaza

  • Fed Up American

    I haven’t heard anyone use this analogy, so here goes: building a mosque at ground zero is the equivalent of erecting a huge, building-sized swastika in the center of jerusalem. israeli’s would blow to smithereens anyone who would even suggest such insanity. yet our country has lost it’s mind, so here we are. no amount of political correctness can explain away this insanity.

    • Maybe no one used the analogy because it was incorrect, absurd even.

      A better analogy would be: Building the mosque near ground zero is the equivalent of allowing a German embassy in Tel Aviv.

      As for blowing people to smithereens, Israel still has to explain killing over 300 hundred children in each of its latest wars on Gaza and Lebanon.

      Your country might have lost its mind, but there are people fighting for it to not lose its principles.

  • jay kactuz

    So Obama supports building the mosque (ie, community center) because he supports religious freedom. Well, maybe for Muslims in America, but not in Islamic couintries. Why didn’t he mention (or demand) that Muslims show a little tolerance in their societies? Are Muslims exempt from standards and morality?

    Muslims need to understand that criticism of Islam and Muslims’ actions is part of free speech. I have read the Quran and hadith and believe me, there is much to criticize. It should be noted that if Muslims changed their ways, stopped the hate and violence, ended discrimination and the apostasy laws, then perhaps the so-called islamophobia would go away. Of course, Muslims prefer to complain and blame all their problems on others rather than change their ways.

    Respect is a two way street. We are constantly told that we need to be nice to Muslims and not offend them. It seems that building a mosque that offends millions of Americans is fine and dandy because Americans are infidels and we know that Allah says that non-Muslims are lower than animals.


    • Carol

      Someone has to be the adult here…respect has to start somewhere. Sure, respect is a two-way street but the more mature person/peoples need to set the example. Don’t you remember your morality lessons?

      Also, the intended mosque and community center is two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks within a neighborhood that already is known as a neighborhood with many Muslim residents. Does anyone realize how far two blocks really is in New York City??? I bet many of you who are complaining the loudest could not even walk two New York city blocks.

    • So…do you think that Americans should have the same religious freedoms as people in, say, Saudi Arabia? Good luck in that.

    • Hady

      Kactuz, you say that you read the Quran and the Hadith and then you say “Allah says that non-muslims are lower than animals” well it’s either you didn’t read the Quran or you didn’t understand anything out of it, because your statement is false. It’s not an easy book to read, you have to read it and understand it as a whole and that takes a lot of time.

      Moreover, I bet that when you’re reading you’re searching for things to confirm your negative prejudice about muslims and not to understand what the book has to say. And FYI, saudi arabia for islam is like the vatican for christianity, there are no mosques in the vatican, HOWEVER, christianity is respected and you can find churches in all other middle eastern countries who have a muslim majority.
      So wake up to the facts and enough with this neo-facism, I thought it’s an issue behind humanity but it seems that it’s not.

    • sifta

      You realize that this Mosque proposal was submitted by (Muslim) US citizens (many of whom are born citizens) to the relevant local NYC commissions and was approved *before* the neocon manufactured hullabaloo? Who don’t need your vote or permission as they have already gone through the relevant authorities?

      The point is that the US *is* the society of people building Mosques in the US. Just about anything will offend someone… In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

  • Philip2

    I remain surprized that no one had drawn the parallel between this and the Skokie, IL, Nazi parade.

  • Sufi Muslim writer Shireen Qudosi says: A Mosque on Ground Zero Will Devastate Muslim American Relations

  • Its worth including in this conversation Keith Olbermann’s comment recently”

    very powerful and timely and most importantly: very truthful.

  • M.V.Sankaran

    In India, the Muslim invaders had ruled over us for five or six centuries before the advent of the British rule. They had occupied the better parts of the country, converted many Hindus into Muslims, razed down Hindu temples and built their mosques. The British adopted a different approach and while colonial rule worked to their advantage, they also brought into this country an awareness of the modern advances in science and technology, values and ideals, apart from propagating Christianity. Even after the British left dividing the country into India and Pakistan (not to mention the present Bangladesh, which was once East Pakistan), we have a sizable ‘minority’ population of Muslims spread across the country, who have a fundamental right to ‘freedom of religion’ under the ‘secular’ Constitution of the country. They have their mosques across the country (except the Babri Masjid, which was demolished by a frenzied mob in the 1990’s under the instigation of some misguided leaders leading to untold misery in its wake). Notwithstanding their sense of being a ‘minority’ community within the larger fold of the Hindu community and some riots now and then, here and there, they are free to carry on with their worship as per their religious tenets. It may be difficult to imagine the re-building a mosque at the Babri Masjid site, our ground zero, where a Hindu temple was contemplated by right-wingers, but never came up; otherwise, they are at liberty to build their mosques across the country of Hindus, thanks to a secular Constitution whereby the State recognizes a multi-denominational society! However, with increasing industrialization and urbanization and an universal education preaching secular values, a time may still come when the Muslims also get ‘modernized’ along with the Hindus and become ‘secular’ in their outlook! Then we shall have clean-shaven faces, modern mode of dresses, attitude, outlook and manners. Slowly, but surely, the global modern man will emerge in India giving up the traditional mode of appearance, way of dressing and manner of speech. We, as human beings, shall move away from traditional religions of the world and overcome the ‘pride and prejudice’ based on region, race, colour, creed, language and gender! May be, an invasion of aliens from outer space, if not the next messiah or prophet, is the one factor that may trigger such an assimilation of races, language groups and cultures on this planet and put an end to all these wars and misery of poverty, illiteracy and ignorance!

  • moulana saleem ebrahim

    Are you all surprised by this ? Do not forget hijaab issue in France , minaret issue in Switzerland and every other issue that offers a postive for Islaam is deemed as threatening .

  • Dennis Wells


    Your “deconstruction” is strangely lopsided in favor of the ground zero mosque. Where is your consideration for the simple concept of decorum? Sure, the builders of that facility have the RIGHT to build it… and the protestors have no legal standing for their arguments, but where is the Muslim sense of propriety?

    Islamophobia isn’t driving the objections. It’s a simple reflex to a slap in the face.

    • Yes, Dennis, they are, because the media coverage in the US is “strangely lopsided” against the “ground zero mosque” (which is neither a mosque nor on Ground Zero).

      I believe that neutrality in this debate means seeking equal rights for all. In that case, being “neutral” is supporting Muslims to exercise their right to the first amendment.

      I too am an American, and I don’t find this remotely to be a “slap in the face.” Furthermore, while I do understand that, for some people, this is not about Islamophobia, the driving force in the media, led by Pamela Geller, IS Islamophobia and straight-up hatred of Muslims. That much is clear.


      • Dennis Wells

        I am not aware of anyone contesting American-Muslim’s right to the first amendment. I definitely support that right. The issue at hand is WHERE, not IF. People that think the developers should consider the propriety of location are no more Isamophopic than you are Christianphopic… (But maybe you ARE afraid of Christians. You write like you are… Or is it just simple hate?)

        • I didn’t mention Christians – not in this post nor in my comments to you, so I’m not sure exactly where you get off.

          If you are not aware of anyone contesting Muslims’ right to build, then I suppose you missed the comments by multiple politicians referring to Islam as a “cult” and thus arguing that perhaps they shouldn’t have the right to the first amendment.

          Your personal opinion about Park51 may very well be based in genuine feeling about Ground Zero and 9/11, but I strongly believe that you are in the minority.

          • Dennis Wells

            You’re right, I did miss “the comments by multiple politicians referring to Islam as a cult, and thus arguing that perhaps they shouldn’t have the right to the first amendment.” If they did say that, they would not only be wrong, they would be stupid… The first amendment does not exclude cults! It is wrong for anyone to dispute the right of Muslims to build. It is not wrong, or islamophobic, to ask them to be more sensitive about the location.

            It seems that you’re arguing more against those who are suggesting relocation, rather than for those proposing Park51 at “ground zero.” Is that right? Do YOU think that Park51 is the ideal location?

            Many times, anyone who voices an objection to a liberal trophy issue is automatically dismissed as “afraid” (homophobe, islamophobe, etc.), which is usually mistranslated into “hate.” This is a handy mechanism, but shields you from the root issues behind many of the objections, and causes your arguments to be so far off base that they’re meaningless to rational readers. You would do well to deconstruct without bias… your arguments would be much more effective.

            No, this doesn’t make me a Jillianyorkophobe.

        • Dennis,

          (this is a reply to your later comment, but the threading reached its limit so I’m leaving it here.)

          I wasn’t, in this post anyway, actually arguing anything. I was simply sharing blog posts of others, whose feelings are their own.

          You can call this a “liberal trophy issue” all you like, but that still doesn’t make it so. This is about Americans having the right to worship in their neighborhood and as they please. I don’t consider Muslims any less American than their Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, humanist, pagan, (etc.) counterparts.

          Do I think Park51 is the ideal location? Yes. Why? Because that area has long been a neighborhood where Muslims work and live, and because I don’t assign magical properties to ground zero.

  • Dena

    This comment confused me a bit.

    You said: “I am not aware of anyone contesting American-Muslim’s right to the first amendment. I definitely support that right. The issue at hand is WHERE, not IF. ”

    Basically your saying that the first amendment applies but WHERE it applies is in question. Like it or not that is their right. We can’t pick and choose rights if we are going to walk the talk.

    This hasn’t really dominated the media that I watch. I must be tuned to other channels. If it did dominate, I would turn the channel. This is the breeding of hate that seems to go on when the first amendment doesn’t suit certain people.

    And why is Sarah Palin’s name even mentioned on this site? This is a woman who didn’t know there are different countries on the continent of Africa. If the world thinks that Palin speaks for the majority of America, no wonder others question our idea of rights of a citizen in this country.

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