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"Ground Zero Mosque."  That's the name (coined by Fox News) now popularly used to refer to an Islamic center which is neither a mosque nor located at Ground Zero.  Of course, such labeling isn't a linguistic accident (although Fox News' first use of the phrase didn't appear malicious), it is part of a concerted effort to attack the Muslim community.

As far as political labels go, "Ground Zero Mosque" is pretty effective.  It immediately conjures up images of the awful 9/11 attacks, and then it sticks a mosque directly atop the hallowed burial ground.  As if the imagery of the label isn't sufficient, politicians like Newt Gingrich irresponsibly build on that label by claiming that the "mosque's" construction is tantamount to Islam marking its victory over Americans with a monument.  

The term "Ground Zero Mosque" isn't just deliberately inaccurate, it is pernicious in that it pushes the listener to equate "Muslim" with"terrorist."  It doesn't make sense, for example, that Islam would mark a victory over Americans at Ground Zero unless Muslims were terrorists celebrating a terrorist victory at Ground Zero.  The word "Islam" has been preceded by the word "radical" so regularly in American media and conversation over the past decade, that "radical" no longer refers to an extremist subset of Islamic adherents, it instead qualifies the entire religion.

Look at the comparisons being made by conservatives right now which all require equating "Muslim" with "terrorist."  

Pat Buchanan:

Should the Nazis -- open Nazis -- be allowed to march through Skokie, Illinois? And I argued they ought to have a -- they certainly have a right to meet, but that's a provocation because that was a Jewish community, and so I said no.

Rush Limbaugh:

What would happen, do you think, if the Ku Klux Klan established a memorial at Gettysburg?... They wouldn't get to first base. Nobody would put up with the Klan building a memorial anywhere, much less Gettysburg.

Newt Gingrich:

Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There's no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.

The list goes on.  Islam, a religion practiced by 1.6 billion people, is being equated by significant conservative voices in the US to the Nazis, the Klu Klux Klan, and the Japanese after bombing Pearl Harbor.  There is no attempt to segregate the extremist Muslims from the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the quotes above.  Every single one of the 1.6 billion Muslims globally, about 25% of the world's population, are effectively being called terrorists.  You would think if about one in every four living people were terrorists, we would have had a few more terrorist attacks in the US by now.  Either they aren't actually all terrorists, or they are very poor planners.

When insane comparisons to the Nazis or the Klan aren't being made, conservatives (and increasingly many liberals) argue that sensitivity to the situation of New Yorkers generally and 9/11 survivors specifically requires that the "mosque" not be built at "Ground Zero."  This sounds more reasonable, but it overlooks many points, including that the Park51 site has been used for over a year as a Muslim prayer center (that's the very activity that gets the remodeled building the label "mosque") without issue.  More subtly, however, the "sensitivity" argument once again draws a parallel between Muslims and terrorists.  Nobody would claim it is insensitive to build a synagogue or a cathedral or a Mormon temple two blocks from the World Trade Center site, but mosques (or even buildings which we mislabel as "mosques") are treated differently.  Their house of worship is deemed an affront to the victims because it is equated with "terrorist headquarters."

In addition to equating "Muslim" with "terrorist," the "sensitivity to 9/11 survivors argument" makes another subtle assertion: 9/11 survivors are not Muslim.  This is the other side of the "Muslim=terrorist" coin.  Attackers cannot also be victims, and because Muslims are attackers, they can't be 9/11 survivors.  Of course, such an assertion is patently false.  Many of the 9/11 victims were Muslim, and they have every right to grieve alongside their non-Muslim counterparts.  Ironically, a key goal of the Park51 project is to foster moderate Islamic views in the New York community and to repudiate extremist elements which have abandoned guiding Islamic principles.  Indeed, the Park51 project plans call for a memorial to be erected in honor of the victims of 9/11.  

If the "sensitivity to 9/11 survivors" argument is broadened to a "sensitivity to New Yorkers generally" argument, it makes even less sense.  New York City is home to approximately 600,000 Muslims, close to 10% of the city's population.  How quickly we can redefine a city's population to exclude almost one out of every ten of its members (and if they really all were terrorists...).

Unfortunately, Muslims aren't the first group to be wrongly excluded from the definition of 9/11 survivor.  In March, Republicans offered an amendment to bar illegal immigrants who provided life-saving services on 9/11 from receiving any government funds to pay for treatments related to illnesses stemming from their heroic service on 9/11.  Every one of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's 23 Republicans who voted on the amendment voted in favor of barring payments to the illegal immigrant heroes.  Two Democrats joined them.  The amendment failed by four votes.

This is the height of politicization of an American tragedy, and it must be opposed.  For the benefit of a few point bounce in some polls in the middle of August, politicians on both sides of the aisle are willing to cast aspersions on an entire group of people and deny them their rightful place as Americans, New Yorkers, and 9/11 survivors.   It's not right.  Illegal immigrants who acted heroically on 9/11 were treated as criminals by Republican lawmakers five months ago.  Now the public is repeating the mistake with Muslims.  Republicans and Democrats alike, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, need to get on the right side of history no matter which side of the polls it puts them on.  Supporting Muslims' constitutional right to build a cultural center while advocating in opposition to the exercise of that right is a stand based on flawed, insulting and emotionally charged assumptions and premises.  

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Originally posted to thefourthbranch on Wed Aug 18, 2010 at 07:51 AM PDT.

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