Religion & Public Life With Mark Silk

Religion & Public Life With Mark Silk

Ground Zero Islamophobia

Outright expressions of religious bigotry are pretty rare in American politics. Even the most religiously bigoted political party in American history, the antebellum American Party, was known as the Know-Nothing Party because its members were ashamed to own up publicly to their anti-Catholicism. Not so the National Republican Trust PAC.

Right up on its website NRTPAC has placed what will earn it a place in American political infamy. A former student of mine who works in the Republican trenches and has seen a good deal of hardball for all his tender years, was appalled. “This is probably the worst, most offensive political ad I’ve ever seen,” he wrote in an email. “It really embarrasses me.”


NRTPAC describes itself as “an independent organization to help promote American values and support federal candidates for Congress, Senate and the Presidency who share those values.” Executive director Scott Wheeler, a veteran right-wing media attack dog, was on Fox a couple of days ago to promote the ad.

It’s plainly intended to benefit the Republican candidate for governor of New York, Rick Lazio. Along with his consiliere, Rep. Peter King of Long Island, Lazio has come out swinging against Cordoba House, the 15-story mosque and Muslim community center intended by a widely respected New York City imam to be a monument to religious tolerance two blocks from Ground Zero. Lazio’s Democratic opponent, New York AG Andrew Cuomo has spoken out strongly on the other side. So have Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Chuck Schumer,and former Mayor Ed Koch. In late May, the Lower Manhattan community board voted overwhelmingly to approve the building.


Now in my book opposing Cordoba House does not necessarily make you a bigot. You could take the position that, given that the al-Qaeda bombers were acting in the name of Islam, it’s
just too sensitive a matter to locate even the most irenic, inclusive Islamic Center that close to Ground Zero. Just as locating a Catholic convent on the grounds of Auschwitz was seen by the Jewish community as offensive.

But the NRTPAC ad is equivalent to the Jewish community equating all Christians with Nazis: “They sent us to the death camps, and now they want to build a church on sacred ground? Where we weep, they rejoice. Join the fight to kill the church!” The NRTPAC ad is Islamophobia red in tooth and claw.


Will the ad succeed in turning Cordoba House into a winning Republican issue in November? Religious liberty is something dear to Americans–and they continue to believe that Muslims must be included under its umbrella. As a recent Pew poll showed, where large majorities in Western European countries support prohibiting Muslim women from wearing full veils in public, a large majority of Americans oppose doing so.

But what’s insidious about the NRTPAC ad is its use of American civil religion–the “sacred space” of Ground Zero–to justify its antipathy to Muslims. To its credit, the Bush Administration was at pains to make clear that the “war on terror” was not a war on Islam.  Let’s see if there are any prominent Republicans who have the guts to act similarly, and denounce the NRTPAC ad for what it is. 

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posted July 15, 2010 at 2:41 am

This is anti-Islamic bigotry pure and simple. We are NOT at war with the Muslim faith. We are at war with terrorists who happen to be radical Muslims. This would be like denouncing the building of a Catholic church in London after an IRA bombing. But leave it to Republicans to try to stir the anti-Islam pot just to get votes. It’s shameful and I hope the Islamic center moves forward as planned. Enough with the hate!

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Nazim Haqqani

posted July 15, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Good luck finding more than a couple of Republicans, if even that, to condemn this most appalling anti-Semitic, uh-hum, I mean Islamophobic ad.
What pisses me off is that NBC’s ad division rejected the ad NOT SO MUCH FOR ITS ANTI-MUSLIM INCITING, MOSQUE-HATING content, but for its “vagueness,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Now Scott Wheeler of the National Republican Trust wants to run the hate ad on Fake News. Watch it get shown on Hannity as another false claim to liberal bias, when we clearly have a perfect case of Republican Muslim hatemongering.

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posted July 16, 2010 at 12:06 am

Opposing Cordoba House doesn’t necessarily make one a bigot. That’s very generous. And we are supposed to believe that a mosque named ‘Cordoba House,’ and largely funded by the Saudis, is supposed to be a monument to religious tolerance. Americans, with their ignorance of history, would do well to read up on the significance of the name. And while we build mosques next door to ground zero we have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan trying to remake these countries in our image. It’s kind of surreal.

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