Perhaps it's a fitting summary of the bizarre, and quite ugly, debate that has sprung up over a proposed Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan, that the best commentary I've read on the issue was written by Roger Ebert. This is no knock against Mr. Ebert's intelligence or his skills as a writer, but the man is renown as a film critic, neither a journalist nor a political commentator. But rather than flog my own post about the Cordoba House over at The Mantle, I thought I'd discuss some of the issues from Ebert's piece, which I suggest everyone reads.
Among my favorite bits were his questioning why an Islamic center located two blocks south of the Ground Zero site somehow “dishonors” the memory of those killed in the World Trade Center attacks, while digging through the dirt beneath the Towers, dirt that contains the pulverized remains of those killed in the attacks, to put in an underground shopping mall does not? Ebert also quotes two strippers who work at clubs within the Ground Zero Sacred Land catchment area (again, strip clubs somehow manage not to sully the alleged sacredness of the area the way a cultural center would, strange...) who offer up some of the best views on the whole controversy that I've heard – namely that the United States is a land built on the principles of tolerance.
It's also worth noting that this whole controversy wouldn't exist if not for some truly sloppy/lazy reporting on the part of the media in this country. The “Ground Zero Mosque” is neither – as I noted in my Mantle piece – it is in reality a cultural center with a prayer room that is located two blocks south of the former WTC site. Yet it seems that actual reporting in this country has taken a backseat to dutifully broadcasting the inane ramblings of Sarah Palin's Facebook page. Once the “Ground Zero Mosque” meme got out into the popular discourse, the debate was already framed. The media has also failed to press political critics – notably Rep. Peter King, former Gov. George Pataki, and aspiring Gov. Rick Lazio – why if Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the Cordoba project, is such a “radical Islamist” was he repeatedly employed by Pres. George W. Bush to act as an emissary for the United States to the Islamic world to foster an idea of reconciliation and to promote a tolerant, inclusive view of Islam in the modern world?
I guess decent reporting is too much to ask from the mainstream press these days. Besides, then they wouldn't be able to cover their own manufactured controversies like the Ground Zero Mosque...