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August 13, 2010

Bus Ads Protesting So-Called Ground Zero Mosque Miss the Mark

A few months ago, we wrote about the opposition to a plan to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. Since then, the controversy has only grown and attracted more press coverage. The latest protest is a series of bus ads created by right-wing blogger Pamela Geller. If you're not familiar with her, her blog reads as if she's going for a gold medal in Islamophobia at the Bigotry Olympics. (Our friend Blue Gal has tried some outreach, to no avail.)

The ads show a plane flying into the smoking Twin Towers on one side, and a photoshopped image of the so-called "WTC Mega Mosque" on the other. Warning - offensive and obnoxious image below:

Charming, isn't it? The MTA initially rejected this ad, but eventually accepted it after Geller filed a lawsuit. Now, to do a quick review of the actual facts that we covered in our last post, the "WTC Mega Mosque" (which is actually called the Cordoba House) is not at the World Trade Center site (it's two blocks away) and is not really a mega mosque either (it's a cultural and community center with a prayer space).

As we also said last time we wrote about this, we do understand where some of the anti-mosque sentiment is coming from in this case:
I do understand why 9/11 survivors and the families of 9/11 victims might not like the idea of a mosque near Ground Zero. I can even understand why they might be a little Islamophobic or biased at this point. What happened at the World Trade Center on September 11 was horrible. In fact, "horrible" doesn't even begin to describe it. Even after almost 10 years, wounds are still raw, defenses are still on high, and anger is justified. So I can understand why a mosque - any mosque - might feel like a symbol of the monsters who flew planes into the Twin Towers. I get it.
But the truth is that most Muslims are not extremists or terrorists, and many Muslim families were negatively impacted by 9/11 just like families of every other religion. Fear-mongering, discrimination, and prejudice against moderate Muslims is only going to make things worse, not better.

Most of the people who oppose the Cordoba House project say that the location is "insensitive" and "disrespectful" to the 9/11 victims and their families. In an interview on The Joy Behar Show, Geller herself said, "I'm against the mosque at Ground Zero. We feel it is intolerant. It is insensitive to the families and to America that was attacked on 9/11...I'm protesting it because I feel that it's very insensitive. It hurts the 9/11 families. All the families that were there last night, I think that it is incredibly insensitive to our feelings that it is humiliating and demeaning." It's a little bit vague and unclear, but I think what she's trying to say is that she thinks it's insensitive.

So, there's one thing that I'm a little confused about. If this is all about sensitivity and respect, does that mean that Geller considers her bus ad to be respectful and sensitive and appropriate? I understand that she clearly doesn't care about offending Muslims, but did she ever stop to think that many New Yorkers might be a little sensitive when it comes to 9/11 imagery? My personal experience of being in Manhattan during and after 9/11 was "mild" compared to what many other people went through, but I still don't like seeing images or video of it, especially when I'm surprised by it. So I can't imagine how someone whose experience was more traumatic and painful would feel about being suddenly and unexpectedly confronted with an image of a plane flying into the burning Twin Towers on the side of a city bus.

Geller has called the MTA's decision to run her ad a "victory for free speech". She also complained that a New York Times article about the controversy quoted her in a way that made her seem...insensitive.

And of course I am misquoted. When asked if I was "concerned that the image of the flaming twin towers might upset some New Yorkers," The Times reports

Ms. Geller, in a brief interview on Monday, replied: “Not at all. It’s part of American history.”

This is untrue. Clearly, the reporter with an agenda needed to twist my quote in the hopes of making me seem .......somehow cavalier about the issue. What I said was, "it's part of American history, and not nearly as offensive as a 15-story mega mosque looking down on the cemetery of Ground Zero." Which is what I said earlier that day here.

It's amusing to watch the cold-blooded try and paint the passionate as ............cold-blooded.

They have no shame.

Oh yeah, that second quote is way less cavalier than the first one. And it's the New York Times that has no shame.

To give Ms. Geller the benefit of the doubt, and of fully in context quotes directly from her mouth, I watched the clip of her appearance on WPIX news:

"I have to remove the plane? Why do I have to remove the plane?"

"What's more insulting and offensive - that image of truth or a 15-story mega mosque looking down on the sacred ground of Ground Zero?"

Sorry Ms. Geller, but to me you absolutely do sound cavalier, and insensitive, and you can't blame the New York Times for this one. I find it really hard to believe that she truly doesn't understand how anyone might find the imagery on her bus ad to be offensive or disrespectful or in poor taste, so the only other conclusion to draw is that she understands and just doesn't care. I guess sensitivity to the 9/11 families is only a requirement for Muslims, kinda like how she describes herself as "a human rights organizer dedicated to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and dedicated to individual rights", but that apparently only applies to religions that she personally approves of. Her sensitive activism is so inspirational.


Anonymous said...

I'm definitely offended by that poster. Whether the mosque is offensive and insensitive is up for debate (I don't really think it is, but I guess I can get why some people might think it is) but the poster definitely is.

Anonymous said...

The mosque won't even be built at Ground Zero so I don't understand what this woman's problem is! Will it be visible from G0? Does that even matter? There is a CHRISTIAN CHURCH across the street from the site of the OKC bombing that happened 15 years ago. The bomber, Tim McVeigh, was said to be Christian. Why is that any different? Oh yeah, because we forget that white Christian male Americans are terrorists too. The mosque isn't the issue. This woman is clearly racist not to mention very insensitive to the fact that 9/11 images are a trigger for people. She is in the wrong. The mosque should be built and this woman should mind her own business.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I don't have any problems with a mosque there and neither should anyone else. There's a severe logical disconnect between equating all Muslims with extremists that the rest of the Muslim world is disgusted by. Plenty of extremist Christians in our country that have committed mass murder/bombings, but they get a pass because they're WHITE and CHRISTIAN and they murder people because they want to SAVE America from it's evils.
As the poster above me said, there's a church across from the OKC bombing.

kza said...

I wonder if she'd be just as upset if a McDonalds opened up near the Trail of Tears or a bratwurst place near a Holocaust memorial.

Marika said...

Lauren (and Prism Riot): your point is mine exactly. Christianity is what normal, good people are, so Christians who commit terrible crimes must do it in spite of their religion, and non-Christians must do horrible things because of their religion, right? This kind of thought process infuriates me.

Anonymous said...

Islamic cultural center? Islamic isn't a culture. There is Afghanistan culture but to combine many cultures into one is spurious.