Telling the story of a mosque in America

Published: August 25, 2010

Hundreds of protestors gather in New York to show their displeasure about the proposed mosque.

The controversy over the proposed Islamic centre and mosque near Ground Zero began earlier this year as a contained local story in New York. But today it seems that everyone is talking about it and arguing over it. The centre that had aimed to bring a community together has instead divided an entire nation. Just about every major political leader from the mayor of New York to the Senate majority leader, all the way up to President Barack Obama has weighed in.

The debate centres around two clear issues: freedom of religion and the location where the backers of the Islamic centre want to build.
The First Amendment of the United States constitution gives a person or group the freedom to practice their religion. Supporters of the project say it is their right to worship where they choose. Having the freedom to exercise this right is part of the reason they live in America, and not in another country where it might be illegal.

The second issue has touched a very sensitive nerve. The location of the proposed centre is 2 blocks from Ground Zero – the site of the World Trade Center where religious extremists killed nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. Opponents argue that an Islamic center and mosque this close to Ground Zero will be a monument to terrorism. Families of the 9/11 victims are divided.

The proposed centre is now a political football. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has come out in support, President Barack Obama seemed to show support as well and then backed off when he realised that some of his biggest allies were against it. The Republican party’s biggest names have said the Islamic Center in this location will be a victory for the terrorists. With the mid-term elections coming in November, politicians across the country from small town mayors to big city congressman are being asked to take a position on the Islamic Centre – just like they do with health care, the economy and immigration.

Ironically, the same amendment of the US constitution that allows for freedom of religion also allows for freedom of the press. The controversy over the project has grown because the national media has jumped on board. The story should be covered extensively, but America is now a country where each news organisation mainly on cable television has their own version of the truth. They all report the facts but by overemphasising certain points and underemphasising others the information is usually spun in favour of their respective agendas.

In order for the news media to continue to cover the story it has to come up with new angles, new developments and new information. This. of course, is part of reporting the news, but with this particular story it is getting quite dangerous. The new developments in some cases are twisting the facts and getting further away from the real issues.
Backers of the Islamic Centre and their supporters are being pressured to reveal where the money for the $100 million project will come from. Most of the dollars will likely come from oil rich Gulf countries who are allies of the United States. But does it really matter? Or is this just another story line?

Opponents have decided that it is a good scare tactic to associate the developers and the moderate imam who will run the Islamic center with Hamas, Hezbollah and al Qaeda. A recent headline in the New York Post caught my attention “Hamas Big Backs Mosque”. I opened the story to find that the “Hamas Big” was a man I interviewed in Gaza while working for Al Jazeera English. This does scare Americans, but drawing Hamas into the debate is a distraction from the real issues.

Most people I talk to here agree on one point and have one lasting question: while the developers of the Islamic Centre and mosque have a constitutional right to build near Ground Zero, is it right to build it there?


Todd Baer

An award winning Lebanese-American television journalist and international TV news consultant. He has spent the last year working as a freelance correspondent for Al Jazeera English; most recently in Beirut, Lebanon. As a television news consultant, Baer has trained staff and helped launch DAWN News, GEO News and Dunya in Pakistan, Aaj Tak in New Delhi, SAAM Marathi in Mumbai and K24TV in Nairobi, Kenya. He started his career in 1997 by covering the first ever US-Iran wrestling match since the Islamic Revolution.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • ehsun

    “World Trade Center where religious extremists killed nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001.” What proof does anyone have of this ?Recommend

  • Hasan

    “World Trade Center where religious
    extremists killed nearly 3,000 people
    on September 11, 2001.” What proof
    does anyone have of this ?

    3000 dead people?Recommend

  • hakeem

    Lets see it in domestic context of US otherwise about pakistan i remember all what was said on amount spent on churches some times backRecommend

  • Mahvesh

    I’m sorry, but Ehsun, what rock have you been living under? Recommend

  • aiyan

    i think ehsun thinks it was a jewish conspiracy..Recommend

  • Feza Khan Yusufzai

    its nothing but scare tactic, the DISTRACTION they are using to promote Islamophobia and gather support for ill conceived preventative wars. 1st amendment should be enough to shut anybody up but this freedom of press protected under the same 1st amendment is nothing but escalating the debate, making an issue outa nothing.
    As Ron Paul puts it best,

    In my opinion it has come from the
    neo-conservatives who demand continual
    war in the Middle East and Central
    Asia and are compelled to constantly
    justify it.If Islam is further
    discredited by making the building of
    the mosque the issue, then the false
    justification for our wars in the
    Middle East will continue to be
    acceptable.The justification to ban
    the mosque is no more rational than
    banning a soccer field in the same
    place because all the suicide bombers
    loved to play soccer.Defending the
    controversial use of property should
    be no more difficult than defending
    the 1st Amendment principle of
    defending controversial speech. But
    many conservatives and liberals do not
    want to diminish the hatred for
    Islam–the driving emotion that keeps
    us in the wars in the Middle East and
    Central Asia.


  • Yusaf Khan

    This media circus over the mosque has claimed its first victim….more to follow as the issue is “debated”

    Aug 25, 2010 (SmarTrend News Watch via COMTEX) —
    A New York City cab driver was stabbed by a passenger with a knife Tuesday
    evening, which police are saying is a hate-crime.

    21-year-old Michael Enright of Brewster, New York, hailed a cab Tuesday

    He asked the driver if he was Muslim, and after the driver affirmed that he
    was, Enright cut and stabbed the 43-year-old man in his arm, throat and lip.

    Enright was arrested after the driver locked him in the back of the cab and
    hailed a police officer.

    The driver is reportedly in stable condition after him and Enright were both
    taken to Bellevue Hospital Center.

    Authorities have charged Enright with attempted murder as a hate-crime,
    aggravated harassment, assault and criminal possession of a weapon.Recommend

  • Riaz

    It is nothing but only a political stunt and drama created by Democrates to pressurise and blackmail American voters for mid-term election that is why Obama back off right after uttering the remarks in favour.Recommend

  • Saadi
  • ehsun

    I am sorry Mah wish, What rock have you been living under? Probably under a rock, where CNN/SKYnews does the thinking for you. Boogeyman (who was a CIA Agent), living in TORA BORA, made those un-marked planes hit those towers? Are you serious??Recommend

  • Harsh

    It’ only Americans who should have any say on the matter. whether they want mosque or not, it’s entirely their business. would Pakistan/ India or any other country entertain common Americian opinion in their on country’s matter?Recommend

  • readinglord

    This mosque business is becoming a nusense in the pakiland even where it means a dozen of holy loudspeakers affixed to its minarets, blaring full blast off and on, without any consideration of the peace of the neighbors. The mosque has also become a security risk now as it presents a soft target to the Islamic terrorists who have declared all mosques other than those relating to the Wahabi sect as ‘zarraari’ and liable to be destroyed, irrespective of the collateral damage,i.e., the massacre of ‘namazies’ and damage to the neighborhood.
    See, what the Qurane Hakeem says about such mosques:

    “9:107 AND [there are those] who have established a [separate] house of worship in order to create mischief, and to promote apostasy and disunity among the believers, and to provide an outpost for all who from the outset have been warring against God and His Apostle. [142] And they will surely swear [to you, O believers], “We had but the best of intentions!” -the while God [Himself] bears witness that they are lying. [143]”

    The last portion of the verse can perhaps be made applicable to the situation created by the ground zero mosque for the American nation as under:

    The controversial mosque at ground zero is to provide an outpost for all who from the outset have been warring against humanity. [142] And they will surely swear [to you, O American citizens
    ], “We had but the best of intentions!” -the while God [Himself] bears witness that they are lying. [143]”

    Of course, God;s message and especially, the wisdom contained in it, is meant for all the people and for all the times. Recommend

  • hakeem

    i wish just for amusement if zardari announces construction of a church with convent on constitution avenue…freedom of religion would be visible and audible thn Recommend

  • Katherine M Metres

    My dear cousin,

    We are so proud of you and your career. I believe it is right to build the community center there. The whole point of a community center is to bring people together, and the Cordoba Initiative is aimed at reviving the model of Muslims, Christians, and Jews living together in a community of mutual respect, learning from each other, and (dare we dream?) cooking and playing basketball together. What better message to send in Lower Manhattan than that Muslims want to bring the community together and practice their religion peacefully, like 99.9% of Muslims worldwide do on a regular basis. Recommend

  • Nabeel A Khan

    Firstly they don’t have any proof about 11 Sept incident killing nearly 3000 people, all the people even Americans now comes to know that they did it just to take over the Muslim countries. well its a long debate in short if they have the constitutionals rights then there shall be no issues of building Masjid or Islamic Centre. Recommend