The debate and controversy surrounding the Park51 Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan has been rife with misinformation and inflammatory accusations, and now the Cordoba Initiative (an organization affiliated with the project’s sponsors) has put up a useful FAQ web page debunking some of the most destructive myths and common misunderstandings about the proposed center. Many of the FAQ answers rebut specific attacks made by opportunists looking to stir up fear and bigotry for political gain. A few answers:
Regarding the initiative’s name:
The name Cordoba was chosen carefully to reflect a period of time during which Islam played a monumental role in the enrichment of human civilization and knowledge. A thousand years ago Muslims, Jews, and Christians coexisted and created a prosperous center of intellectual, spiritual, cultural and commercial life in Cordoba, Spain. [Hear that, Newt Gingrich?]
Regarding the project’s funding:
Who is funding the Community Center?
No funds for this project have been raised to date. Before fundraising can begin, a new nonprofit organization will be formed. A project of this scale will require very diverse fundraising sources, including individuals from all faiths and beliefs, including Christians and Jews, who are committed to peace and understanding. We expect that our sources of funding will include individuals of different religions, charitable organizations, public funds, institutional and corporate sponsors.
You will need a lot of contributors. Who will review your donor list?
We will invite the New York Charities Bureau and the US Treasury Department to review our donor list to ensure that all funding sources are vetted to their satisfaction and approved. In addition, the new non-profit’s Trustees and Advisory Board will include a multi-faith group of distinguished individuals who will ensure that the community center stays true to its objectives of peace, tolerance and understanding between all. [Did you hear that, Fox News?]The page also addresses numerous accusations made about Imam Feisal.
Regarding accusations that the center will become a haven for extremists in the future:
Will the extremists take over the Community Center once it’s built?
Extremism on both sides is the danger – it’s what we’re working against. A community center that celebrates diversity and multi-faith collaboration is antithetical to the extremists’ worldview. This center will be a blow to all extremists. In addition, the new organization’s multi-faith Trustees and Board of Advisors will ensure that our good intentions are not hijacked by extremist elements who reject our vision of peace, tolerance and understanding.
In today’s Washington Post, columnist/torture-apologist Marc Thiessen dismisses the importance of a recent Pew poll revealing that 1-in-5 Americans mistakenly believes President Obama is a Muslim. According to Thiessen, the President shouldn’t bother correcting the misperception, but rather should concern itself with addressing other reasons for his approval ratings:
Clearly the White House is worried by the poll results. And it should be worried — but not for the reasons it seems to think. It should be concerned that, after watching the president in office for a year and a half, many Americans still don’t know who Obama really is — and that a growing number have concluded that he does not believe what they believe.
Rather than trying to convince Americans that Obama is indeed a practicing Christian, White House officials should be doing some deep thinking about why the president’s job approval rating has flipped — with most polls showing that more Americans now disapprove of his performance in office than approve of how he’s doing.
Thiessen misses a crucial point – the high correlation between belief that Obama is a Muslim and disapproval of the job he’s doing as president. The Pew poll found that the President’s job approval/disapproval rating among people who (correctly) believe he’s a Christian is 62/29; among those who don’t know his religion it’s 44/40; and among those who (incorrectly) believe he’s a Muslim it’s 26/67. (Emphasis added.)
Correlation is not causation, of course, and myriad nebulous factors influence approval ratings, but the link between believing the president is a Muslim and disapproving of his handling of his job is striking. Couple this with the consistenteffort by conservative media to portray the President as a Muslim, and it becomes apparent that cultivating this misperception is a political strategy meant to discredit the president by appealing to religious bigotry and Islamophobia. Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and other purveyors of fear and prejudice are maligning a religious minority to further the short-term goal of scoring political points.They should be called out, not ignored.
Stories this week about the demagoguery surrounding the Cordoba House Islamic Center and the widespread, mistaken belief that President Obama is a Muslim reminded of Colin Powell’s forceful words about then-Senator Obama, anti-Muslim bigotry, and Muslim Americans shortly before the 2008 election in an appearance on Meet the Press:
And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards-Purple Heart, Bronze Star-showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way.
His words are as poignant and relevant today as they were two years ago.
A Pew poll released today revealed a trove of interesting and important data. The most-discussed finding is that 18 percent of Americans mistakenly believe President Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 percent who believed that in March 2009. Amy Sullivan and James Besser have interesting comments on this. A few things jumped out at me:
Â· Between March 2009 and July 2010, belief that Obama is a Muslim increased among demographic group listed in the survey, but the biggest increase was among conservative Republicans (from 18% to 34%).
Â· As Amy pointed out, 60 percent of those who believe Obama is a Muslim say they learned about his faith from the media.
Â· 58 percent of Americans have heard of the religious right, and 41 percent of Americans have heard of the religious left. However, only 10 percent say they’ve heard a lot about the religious left. I’d love to see how much the latter two figures have changed since 2004.
Â· 52 percent of conservative Republicans and 34 percent of liberal Democrats have heard of the religious left. Could this have something to do with Glenn Beck’s sustained attacks on social justice?